The Cross and The Eucharist

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17

Yesterday we heard these words as a part of our Gospel reading at Mass. It was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and hearing these familiar verses emphasized just how important the cross is. Before Christ’s crucifixion, the cross was a symbol of death and cruelty. And if the story ended at the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the cross would mean nothing. But the story did not end! Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, forever opening the way to eternal life with Him and the Father in heaven. The crucifix and the empty cross serve as symbols of the immense love God has for us.

As we were preparing to receive communion during Mass, I opened my hymnal to join in our communion song and was surprised to see the music choice: “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” While I love the hymn, I am used to singing it solely during the Lenten season. But as I listened and joined my voice in our sung prayer, I could not think of a better song for the moment.

During Lent, I sing this song and find myself meditating on what Our Lord went through at Calvary.  Meditating on His sorrow and pain and the incredible fact that He did it all willingly for us.  Certainly a worthwhile and emotional meditation, but it was in a past tense.  The song lyrics, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” drew my meditation to the past.  Singing this hymn outside its typical Lenten context and during Communion gave it a whole new meaning.

“When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”  – Blessed Mother Teresa

The Holy Eucharist is a beautiful mystery beyond comprehension or explanation.  It is the full presence of Christ, of His crucifixion and death.  It encompasses His love in a way we cannot fathom.  This most Blessed Sacrament brings us to Calvary, to the foot of the cross, to our Savior in a way far more personal than we might even realize.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross draws our attention to the beauty and love that is held within the cross.  By singing this hymn, it connected this wonderful Feast to the Eucharist in a way I was not anticipating but that truly resonated with me.  The love that is spoken of in John 3:16, the love that resulted in Our Lord’s sacrifice to us in the crucifixion, the love that we see in the empty cross as a symbol of the Resurrection and conquering of evil and death, that love is still present to us here today.  We can feel the love of the Lord within us, surrounding us, and in others.  That love is felt so strongly and shared so miraculously with us through the Blessed Sacrament.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

While we may not have been there some 2,000 years ago for the actual crucifixion, through the mystery of the Eucharist, we are united with Christ in that moment.  And that surely is a cause to tremble.

 

Lessons from an Adventurous Pup

800px-Whipps_LedgesThis past weekend my husband and I took our little puggle pup Amber for an adventure to a beautiful park with tons of gorgeous and fascinating cliffs, rocks, ledges, and more. Amber is about 18 pounds and full of energy. The combination of beagle determination and pug goofiness makes her a crazy ball of fun in any situation but is heightened when surrounded by new smells and exciting trails to explore.

While my husband and I were careful to watch exactly where we were going, little Amber was not so cautious. She ran up ahead as far as her leash would allow her to. She pranced around and jumped from rock to rock without a care, occasionally glancing back at us as if to say “Come on!” She was happy as could be without a care in the world. She couldn’t see the path ahead through all the rocks, but she trusted that we were right there behind her, holding onto her leash and ready to stop her from going too far ahead or too close to the edge.

At one particularly adventurous moment, she took a leap onto a large slanted rock to the side of our intended path, much too steep for her to climb up.  She started to slide back down and my husband quickly picked her up, placing her back on the ground in the direction we had been heading.  Still she wasn’t scared or cautious as we came to the rocks again.  Her tail was wagging in its curly pug fashion as she happily continued along.

As Amber proved to be quite the trooper on our hike, she also knew when it was time for a rest.  The discovery of a small babbling stream through the rocks caused her to slow her step and take a few moments to drink up and cool off.  The sight of a little toad hopping along the path made her stop in her tracks to see just what this new creature was up to.  The lush green grass that grew in clusters along the trail provided more opportunities for breaks as Amber paused to munch on a blade here and there.  Despite her adventurous spirit, even Amber knew when to take a break and just relax.  She knew when to stop and enjoy the treasures she found.

As I carefully watched her to make sure she would be safe, it occurred to me that this is how I should be on my own adventure through life.  To go through life enjoying all the things we have been given and willing to try new adventures without fear.  To be able to feel the tug of the Holy Spirit guiding me even when I can’t quite see the path ahead.  To go forward knowing that if I start to wander in the wrong direction, to get too close to the edge, to attempt a climb too steep and dangerous, God will be there the whole time to gently pull me back to safety and help me find my way again.   And in the midst of it all, to be able to stop, rest, and enjoy the blessings that surround me.

I wish I could see the exact plan all laid out ahead of me with little signs telling me which way to go, what decisions to make, and so on.   But I can’t.   The best I can do is pray for guidance and keep going forward with my full trust in God.  When I feel myself beginning to stress over which way to go next or worrying over what might be ahead in life, I am going to take a cue from my pup and keep moving forward with the plans God has for me, stopping to rest and listen to His voice, and continuing on my journey with faith, hope, and excitement at the wonders God has in store.

image credit

How to Achieve World Peace

If you even so much as glance at the news headlines, you may find yourself convinced that peace is nowhere to be found.  From the inhumane acts of terror the hands of ISIS to the tension between Russia and Ukraine walking the tightrope of war. Then there’s the never-ending fighting between Israel and Palestine and the disturbing rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria. It seems that the world has gone mad. When it seems the peace has disappeared, what do we do? How do we make it return?

Being President, Prime Minister, or any other position of such authority in a time such as this cannot be easy. These are the people who have to make the tough decisions.  Decisions that cost money, resources, and lives.  These are the people who prepare every word that comes from their mouths to try and maintain some sense of control over the chaos that ensues.   These are the people who we rely on to find and restore peace.

But how?  How do we achieve peace in our world?

Perhaps through dialogue. Everyone will sit down together and talk until there is a solution.  But what happens if those inflicting terror and harm have no desire to talk?  Not only that, but what if they don’t care what you say?  What if, even when using the strongest language possible, they still resort to only more killing?

Maybe world peace can be achieved by humanitarian aid. We can work as one towards a common good to battle things like hunger, disease, and poverty rather than fighting one another.  But what happens when even those who are working as humanitarians are kidnapped and killed?  What happens when some have decided that not all people are worthy of basic things like food, water, or even life?

Peace might be found if we rely more heavily on strict sanctions.  If we cut off outside assistance and force the parties to talk things over.  But what if the sanctions don’t work?  What if instead it only hurts the civilians and brings more pain and suffering?  Maybe that is not the way to achieve peace.

Can peace be achieved through war?  If the cause is just and war is necessary, will that bring peace to our world?   Even if a war manages to stop one atrocity, will it only fuel the anger and resentment that leads to the next?  And if there is a war, who will be called upon to fight?  Will it be left to one country to lead the way?  Or will everyone work together?  Who are we even fighting?

It seems as though there is no solution.  It seems as though peace simply cannot be found.

Perhaps that is because it never left.

I am not a world leader.  I do not know if talks or aid or sanctions or war will help.  But when it comes to finding peace for our world, the first step is to realize it has not gone away. True peace comes from Christ, and He has never left us.  As dire as things may seem, peace is not altogether gone as long as God is still with us.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27

595474-bigthumbnailWe look around the world and think that peace has gone, but that is because we are looking for peace in all the wrong places.  Peace is not something we can achieve.  Peace is a gift from God.  Peace is something that is in our hearts from the Holy Spirit.  The Lord gives us His peace, and it is not as the world gives.  His peace does not promise that there will be no pain and suffering here on earth.  But it does promise that through His ultimate grace and love we will have peace and joy beyond our comprehension with Him in Heaven.  His peace calls us to trust in Him alone. To keep from fear by filling our hearts with His love and His peace until they become so full that they overflow; spreading that true love and true peace throughout the world.

There is a lot of sin in this world.  A lot of pain and suffering.  There are things happening all over the world that I cannot even begin to imagine.  We can watch the news and feel overcome with despair.  We can read the headlines and allow our hearts to be troubled by the atrocities happening.  We can feel like all hope is gone, like peace has disappeared, like there is nothing we can do to make it better.  But that is not true.

We can pray. When we feel like peace is gone, we can find it again within our hearts through Jesus Christ.

And so today I pray. I pray for all those suffering in wars and conflicts that are splashed across the news and in the ones that don’t make the front pages.  I pray for our world leaders as they are faced with the monumental task of finding a way to stop all the pain and horror.  And I pray for those whose hearts have been overtaken by sin and who commit such terrifying acts.   I may not know how to end wars, how to alleviate the world’s suffering, how to stop people from hurting and killing one another.  But I know the way to peace is through Christ.

Let us all come together in prayer that the true and lasting peace of Christ will come to the hearts of all.  To heal those in pain, to comfort those surrounded by sorrow, to guide those in positions of authority, and to lead those in darkness into the light.

Defeating the Distance

3,633 miles.  That is the approximate distance round trip from my house, to my sister, to the 3rd sister, to my parents, to the 4th sister, and back to my house.  It would take approximately 54 hours, not including stops, to make the trip to all places.  3,633 miles seems like a lot.  It is a lot.  You could travel across America, from San Diego to the northern tip of Maine or from the most southern tip of Florida to the northern corner of the state of Washington in fewer miles.  In fact, if you started your journey in Grand Forks, North Dakota you could go all the way to Costa Rica for about the same amount of mileage.  No doubt about it, 3,633 miles is a long distance.

With so many miles between us all and with everyone at different points in their lives, it would be easy for us to lose touch.  Easy to focus on relationships closer to home and keep in touch with the family just for holidays and big events.  But we don’t.  In fact, if you saw the four of us sisters with my parents, my husband, and my brother-in-law all interacting together, you would guess that we live within 20 minutes of each other and see each other weekly.

There is no awkwardness.  No searching for things to say or for common ground to connect us.  We don’t need to worry about small talk to take up time.  Despite the miles, we keep in touch more than a lot of families I know.  Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to my mom.  Not a week passes without talking to my dad and all three sisters in one way or another.  Sure there are times when we are busy.  When one sister is studying for college exams while the other is doing traveling the country racing as a professional runner.  Times when I am busy with work and my sister is trying to find time for writing a paper.  But we still make time for family.

It might be an hour on the phone in deep conversation about faith or it may just be a quick text on lunch break to say hello.  It may be a group video chat with all four sisters while our internet connections try to keep up with the commotion of four girls talking and laughing at once. It might be an inspiring story shared via email, a funny joke sent to make someone laugh, a card sent to their home to make them smile, or pictures of a new adventure shared with the family online.  Thanks to the technology we have at hand, keeping in touch is easier than ever.

But it is more than technology which keeps us together.  Mere computers and cell phones do not make the relationship we have so special.  The love that defeats the distance before us is the same love that we learned from our parents from day one.  It is the same love that, one by one, we are able to express in a new way with our husbands.  It is the love that comes from God.

We were raised with family meal time and grace before meals.  We were raised with family bedtime prayers every night, Mass every Sunday, and PSR (parish school religion) classes every Monday evening.  We were raised with family camping trips, board games, pool parties, hide-and-seek, and story times.  We were raised to dress up for church for the Lord, to be more excited about Mass than the Easter Bunny, and to make Christmas about far more than presents under the tree.  And it is all of that and so much more that keeps us so close today.  It is the countless family memories that shaped our childhood and the presence of God at the center of them all.

Being spread apart can be tough.  But we are stronger than 3,633 miles.  Our family bond together defeats the distance that separates us.  We know what it is to be a family.  We are united not only by the love we have for each other, but for the love of Christ that we all share.  No matter the miles, no matter how busy we may be, we are always there. To help each other grow, to listen, to talk, to give advice, to argue at times, to forgive at times, to share stories, share recipes, share laughter, share prayers.  We are always there to love each other.  And with that love the miles melt away and the distance disappears into nothing.

Love Stories

The world is full of love stories. Fairytale love stories. Tragic love stories. Funny love stories. We read books about love stories. We watch movies featuring love stories. Most of our television shows include some sort of love story. From the snippets we read online about a particularly romantic engagement, to the photos of an extravagant wedding, to the touching stories of a man and wife by each other’s side through the most trying of situations until the very end.

hOn August 2 my little sister took a big step in her love story. Family and friends from all over came together to be a part of her and her new husband’s wedding day. It was a beautiful Mass full of reverence and love followed by a joyous celebration at the reception. She is an absolutely beautiful girl but looked even more beautiful than usual as she was filled with the joy of marrying the love of her life. All the planning and preparing paid off as the day was absolutely perfect and a wonderful time was had by all.

In the days following the wedding I have found myself reminiscing about my own wedding three years ago and thinking about weddings, marriage, and love.  A joyous marriage with Christ at the center of it presents one of the best love stories we can live out in our lives.  After all, the love that a husband and wife share carries with it respect, forgiveness, patience, and a lifelong commitment.  What could be better than that?

“The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.”  Archbishop Fulton Sheen

sacrament-of-holy-eucharistAll the love stories in the word, all the perfect wedding days and long lasting marriages and romantic engagements, cannot compare to the greatest love story of all: the love of God the Father shown to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  We may not have been there at Calvary with the Lord.  But we are blessed to have the most precious gift of the Eucharist to receive our Lord and be filled with His love.

The love stories we write here on earth are only ever possible because of the greatest love story of them all.  Love is a wonderful gift given to us by the Lord.  The love between a man and wife through marriage is the human attempt to mirror the divine love of the Trinity.  Fully and freely giving of oneself to another as Christ fully gave of Himself to us.

We are called to share the love of the Lord.  With the love stories we take part in through marriage, family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, we grow in love.  As we strengthen our own love stories, we find ourselves pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery of true love shown to us through Jesus Christ and made fully present to us in a reality far beyond our understanding in the Holy Eucharist: the greatest love story of them all.

Eucharist Image: http://www.family-prayer.org/sacrament-of-holy-eucharist.html

Walking on Water

“After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.  “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  (Matthew 14:22-33)

387px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_Walks_on_the_Sea_(Saint_Pierre_marche_sur_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overallBeing out at sea tossed by the waves with the wind howling all around, the disciples are understandably afraid.  Seeing the Lord walking out on the water does not immediately alleviate their fears but instead terrifies them even more as they mistake Jesus for a ghost!  Peter wants proof that this man walking on the water towards him is in fact Jesus. Peter wants to trust God.  He asks for proof that this really is the Lord.  And when Jesus replies “Come,” Peter follows His instruction without hesitation. Peter does trust Him!  He trusts in Jesus so much so that he leaves the boat to go out onto the water with the wind whipping around him.

Peter’s faith in leaving the boat is quite strong.  But once He takes His eyes off of Christ and sees the wind whipping around him, he begins to panic and sink.  Even in his moment of doubt and panic, he still trusts in the Lord’s saving power, “Lord, save me!”

What makes this Gospel reading so relatable to me is that I can feel Peter’s struggle within myself.  I feel within me the desire to fully trust, to completely give it up to the Lord without any fear or doubt.  Being completely honest, there are times when I am too afraid to even leave the boat, let alone calmly walk on the water.  I see myself time and time again giving into the fears and doubts when I take my eyes off Christ and try to reason things out for myself.  I want to walk out on that water.  But, like Peter, I have a hard time keeping my mind off the winds and waves that surround me.

Peter, despite his flaws, was given the keys to heaven and was the rock upon which Christ built His Church (Matthew 16:17-19).  Despite his doubts, despite his denial, despite his fears, he still trusted in the Lord and the Lord saw the faith that was in Peter’s heart.  Even though Peter panicked while out on the water, in the midst of that panic he still called out to the Lord.  He knew his own trust was weak.  But as he felt himself starting to sink, he did not thrash about and try to save himself.  Instead, he called out to the Lord who immediately reached out His hand to save him.

We will all face fears and doubts in our life, just as Peter and the disciples did.  When we find ourselves scared to leave the boat, we need to pray for help in trusting the Lord.  We need to take the leap and jump out of our comfort zone to follow Him when He calls to us.  And when we find ourselves faltering and about to sink, we need to realize that God is always there by our side.  He will not leave us to drown.  Rather than relying on our own understanding to solve the problems and fears we face, we need to call out to God to save us and steady our steps.

God is always there even when we are too wrapped up in fear and doubt to realize it.  He knows our hearts, knows our desires, knows our fears.  Oh how I would love to have faith so strong that I would leap from the boat and stroll out without the slightest of doubts. Let us pray that our faith might grow and be strengthened so that not only do we jump willingly out of the boat but that we stay on top of the water, eyes focused on Christ, fully trusting in Him despite the winds that rage about us, knowing all the while He will always be there to catch us if we fall.

Image: “Saint Peter Walks on the Sea” by James Tissot

Helping God Out

urlDo you ever feel the need to help God along in His plan? Maybe we don’t say those exact words, but I think it’s something we all end up doing at one point or another. Sometimes it may be that we are called to pursue certain goals, work towards specific accomplishments, or follow a certain course of action. We believe that this is what God is calling us to do and so we do what we can on our end to work towards His will.

When we feel called by God to a certain direction in our lives, there is always something we can do to follow His call. But if we place the full responsibility and burden on ourselves, we become pulled down by the weight of it all and stressed out by trying to figure out and plan every little detail. We may become obsessed with how we feel we need to “help” God and lose sight of the fact that He already has is under control!

It has been almost two years that my husband and I have been trying for a baby and it has been a struggle emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Anyone who has dealt with infertility in any manner knows that there are tons of things you “should do”. Things to track, things to chart, things to eat or not eat, medicines to try, and so on. At the same time, the number one thing everyone tells you is “Don’t stress so much!” or “Just try not to think about it.” That can be frustrating to say the least. Especially when the act of daily charting, tracking, doctor’s appointments, medicines, and so on, makes it near impossible to take your mind off of it for even a little while.

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 3 year anniversary. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful man as my husband. As I thought about our marriage and our life together, I began to reevaluate my “plan.” I believe without a doubt that I am called to be a mother and I know in my heart that it will happen in God’s perfect timing. But before being called to motherhood, I was called to be a wife. On days when I feel frustrated at not fulfilling my call of motherhood, I need to remember that I am so blessed to be carrying out my vocation as a wife.

The second thing I thought of was how complicated it has all become. If I truly believe in my heart that God has called me to be a mother, why do I stress so about doing everything “just right” in order to make it happen? Do I feel the need to help God out? Do I doubt that He can do it on His own and requires me to meticulously plan each detail for Him? As much as my mind screams “No!” in answer to these questions, I know that my actions seem to state otherwise.

I have become so wrapped up in what I have to do to make this happen, that I have seemingly forgotten it is not up to me. All the charting, all the doctor’s visits, all the medicine in the world does not make a baby. God alone is the Creator of life. Despite what I may or may not do to “help out”, the truth of the matter is that I cannot control it. When it is God’s perfect timing, we will have our baby. But until then? I am resolved to stress less about what I need to do and to put it in His hands and trust more confidently in Him.

Of course there are things we can all do to follow God’s will for our lives. There are things I can do to help my body out as we prepare to have a family.  But in following His will, we need to be attentive to how He is calling us. Is He telling us to take a specific action? Or is He telling us that He has it under control and we need to trust? We need to remember that even though there are things we may be called to do and actions we must take as we follow the Lord, at the end of the day He is the one in control. He can do all things, and He doesn’t need our help to make them happen.

“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;

-Psalm 37:4-7