The Spirit is Willing

rose-655361_640Each year as we reflect upon the Passion of the Lord during Holy Week, I am filled with resolve to be a better person.  To turn away from sin and to fill my life with all that is holy.  To think of the pain Christ endured because of my sins makes me yearn to never sin again.

And yet, as wonderful as it would be to say that since last Easter, I have not sinned, that is certainly not the case.  Although in my heart I firmly intend to turn away from sin, in my soul I long to be closer to the Lord, I am still only human.

Thinking about our sins and our failings in light of the sacrifice Jesus made for us is one thing.  What would it have been like to be there?  We sing the words, “Oh  sometimes it causes me to tremble, were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  And while we journey alongside Christ through prayer and the Mass, we were not there.  But the apostles were.  They followed Him, learned from Him, left everything for Him.  They loved Him deeply and in their hearts they were so filled with resolve to follow Him always, never to sin again.

We hear the apostles one by one almost pleading with Jesus to not be the betrayer, “Surely it is not I?” (Mk 14:19)  We hear Peter promising the Lord that “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29) and “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly. (Mk 14:31)  They ate with Him and listened to Him as He told them of His coming death, even while their hearts did not fully understand.  They followed Him to Gethsemane to be with Him while He prayed and stayed there to keep watch as He asked.  And then, in their final moments with the Lord, they fell asleep.

Jesus comes to Peter saying, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  (Mk 14:37-38)  Despite His words, twice more Jesus returned to find them asleep.  Though their hearts were in the right place, they could not bring themselves to stay awake!

After Jesus is arrested,  although Peter proclaimed His dedication to the Lord and was determined never to deny Him, we know that he does just that. Not once, not twice, but three times does he deny even knowing Jesus.  After this the Gospel tells us that Peter “broke down and wept”. (Mk 14:72)

Peter was not just a bystander who listened to Christ from a distance.  He had dedicated his whole life to Christ!  He had boldly answered Christ,You are the Messiah.” (Mk 8:29)  And while his spirit was so very willing to follow Christ no matter the cost, he still fell to sin.  Though his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak.  Weak with fear, confusion, and exhaustion.

But Peter’s story does not end here.  Despite the weakness of his flesh, despite his failings and sin, his spirit was still willing!  He wept at the realization of what he had done.  He resolved once again to try harder, to follow more closely, to turn away from sin and live a holy life dedicated to the Lord. The Lord knew that He could do great things through Peter.  Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 18:18)

Jesus knew that the willingness of Peter’s spirit would prevail against the weakness of his fleas.  Peter’s story is not one of despair, but one of hope and of great mercy and grace.  Despite his failings, Peter allowed the Lord to work within him.  He repented of his sins and did not let his past failings prevent him from continuing on in Christ.

As we celebrate our Lord’s passion this week we call to mind our own sinfulness.  While we are called to repent and turn from sin, sometimes our flesh is weak.  During these moments of weakness, we do not need to despair.  Our God is loving and merciful beyond our understanding and His grace is more than we can fathom.  When we find that we have failed, we need only to ask forgiveness, turn away from sin, and return fully to His endless love.  We are not held back by past failings but are renewed in Christ.  Though our flesh may be weak, if our spirits are willing He can still work within us to draw us ever closer to Him and to share in His love.

How Can this Be…?

Paolo_de_Matteis_-_The_AnnunciationMary’s YES to the Lord can seem incredibly daunting.  How could Mary, as a young virgin girl, hop on board so easily?  Why do I struggle so much with discerning God’s will for my own life?  Why can’t I say YES in the same way?

When Gabriel greets Mary he tells her that she is full of grace and that the Lord is with her.  What wondrous words!  God’s grace had already filled the Blessed Mother.  And while this was her biggest YES to the Lord, it was hardly her first.  Gabriel tells Mary she has found favor with the Lord.  She has been living a holy life, following the Lord, and placing her trust in Him.   She was given a special grace from God to prepare her for this moment.  In short, she was given everything that she needed to make this decision.

Our God loves us.  He does not desire to put us into situations we are completely unprepared for.  Instead, He calls each one of us and is by our side constantly in life to prepare us for what He has in store for us.  He gives each of us the grace we need to say YES to His call in our own lives.

But as I am only human, there are times when I still feel confused by it all.  Times when I want to know more, to understand what will happen next.

Then I read those words again,

“How can this be…?”

Mary did not understand it all either.  When Gabriel greets Mary, she is troubled and confused.  Even after Gabriel tells her not to fear and that she will be the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High whose kingdom will reign forever, she asks, how?  She wanted to understand.

Eve wanted to understand, too.  She was literally surrounded by God’s goodness, but she still wanted to know more.  She wanted to know the how and the why of it all.  She also had a choice to make, and she chose to follow her own path, to turn away from God.  Rather than trusting in His promises, she took matters into her own hands, choosing sin over God.

Mary chose differently.  She was still confused.  She still wanted to understand more.  But rather than trying to figure it out on her own, she turned to God.  She asked, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”   And she took the explanation that was given to her.  Gabriel did not explain exactly how it would all work.  He didn’t tell her how to deal with the questions from others, including Joseph! He didn’t reveal everything that the future would hold.  But he did remind her “nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary didn’t continue to question the specifics of everything.  She knew what she needed to know.  And so she put her trust in the Lord and said YES.

Sometimes saying YES to God means we can see it all clearly before us.  And sometimes, saying YES means knowing that we need to trust in Him even when we can’t understand how it will all work out in the end. We may ask the Lord, how can this be?  To ask Him this is to seek His guidance.  And though we may not see it right away, He will always answer with whatever it is we need to know.  Even if all we need to know in that moment is that nothing is impossible for God!

When we are faced with confusion and doubt, when tough decisions come our way, when we simply feel the need to know and understand, we have two choices. We can choose to give into the temptation and place our quest for knowledge above our trust in God, as Eve did.  Or, we can use the grace He has given us to say YES to God even though we may not understand it all. We find hope in the knowledge that nothing is impossible for God.  And through this hope, through His grace, we can follow the example of our loving and holy Mother Mary and say “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

In the Simple Stillness

daisy-143186_640People want miracles.  They want to see instant cures and lasting peace.  They want to see the stars and the moon dance around in circles and for the world’s hunger to be instantly gone. They want to see something astounding.  Something that defies all explanation.   Something AMAZING!

People want a sign.  They want God to answer their prayers in a visible and immediate manner.  They want to hear God speaking and see Him working through a grand and wondrous spectacle.

People say that if they saw these things, if they heard His voice, if they had actual proof, then they would believe.

The truth is that God has worked miracles too numerous to count in people all over the world since the beginning of time.  Those miracles still happen today, even if we cannot open our eyes and our hearts to see them.

Miracles are little glimpses of Heaven, of the glory of the Lord that is too awesome to fathom.  But we do not need miracles to hear God’s voice and to feel His presence.  For even in the presence of great miracles, many saw and still did not believe. Beyond the miracles that leave us speechless, God is still there.  In every moment of every day, He is there.

The Lord meets us in the stillness of our hearts, in the silence of prayer, in the beauty of the sacraments.  He speaks to us all in a manner so beautifully and exquisitely simple that it touches the deepest parts of our souls and transforms our entire lives.  All we need to do is open our hearts to Him.

“This is how the Lord acts: He does things simply. He speaks silently to you, to the heart. Let us remember in our lives the many time we have felt these things: the humility of God is His style; the simplicity of God is His style. And even in the liturgical celebration, in the sacraments, what is beautiful is that which manifests the humility of God, and not the worldly spectacle. It would do us good to journey through our life and to consider the many times the Lord has visited us with His grace, and always with this humble style, the style He calls us, too, to have: humility.”  ~ Pope Francis

‘What Color is the Dress?’ A Lesson on Faith by Amanda Rego

635605843196354135-Screen-Shot-2015-02-26-at-9.51.11-PM“What Color is this Dress?” is the question the whole Internet has been going crazy over. Some people, including myself, see a white and gold striped dress, yet others swear they only see blue and black. At first I thought the #blueandblack crowd was crazy, and I jumped on the #whiteandgold bandwagon refusing to budge. That is, until the designer of the actual dress announced the actual colors to be…blue and black?!

M I N D   B L O W I N G !

Even after more photos of this royal blue dress were revealed, I’ll admit I was and am still a bit skeptical. It’s never easy to trust someone when you don’t see what they see. The more I thought about this phenomenon the more I realized that ‘the dress’ might just be the perfect example to illustrate faith.

Continue reading this awesome blog post by my sister here!

Stop and Listen

Giovanni_Gerolamo_Savoldo_005Yesterday at Mass we heard the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  It is a truly wondrous and awe-inspiring event.  The disciples saw Jesus in all His divine glory shining brilliantly before their eyes.  They saw Him talking with two of the most respected and holiest men, Moses and Elijah.  How amazing to be witness to the Lord in such a holy and divine moment!

In the midst of this, Peter wanted to help out.  He sees Jesus standing there with Elijah and Moses and offers to make tents for the three. I wonder what motivated Peter to make such an offer?  Perhaps he was simply responding to what he saw as a fundamental need in front of him.  Or maybe he thought by building tents for them to rest in, Moses and Elijah would stay longer.

Obviously I do not know what Peter was thinking in that moment.  But if I try to imagine myself in that position I think I know what my reasoning would be.  And I can’t help but wonder if Peter’s was the same…What if he was feeling overwhelmed by the encounter and felt the need to do something?

When I feel myself overwhelmed by a situation, often my first response is, what can i do?  In my feeble human attempts to make sense of the things in my life that may fill me with emotions, I feel the need to do something.  To make myself useful.  Sometimes this urge is good and motivates me to take action where needed.  But many times, my desire to act pushes aside the greater need to stop, take in the moment, and listen for God’s voice to be my guide.

As we have been trying to have a family, there have been many when I feel overwhelmed with emotions.  When I feel myself getting upset, confused, or discouraged, often my first thought is, “I need to do something.”  But the fact is that many times, there is simply nothing I can do.

My frustration at not knowing what to do next only overwhelms me even more.  My mind begins to race and I feel as though the only way I can find peace in the situation is to find the next action to take.  I fool myself into thinking that if I am not actively doing something, I am only prolonging the situation or even moving backwards.

While Peter was offering his suggestion to make tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, a cloud came over them.  Suddenly from the cloud came the voice of God, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Sometimes in the midst of life’s most overwhelming moments, rather than rush into action, we simply need to stop and listen to the voice of God.

I may not be witness to the glory of Our Lord transfigured before my eyes, but I know I am surrounded by His glory.  The wonders of His creation, the countless blessings He has bestowed on us, the very gift of Himself on the cross for our sins and the miraculous gift of Himself to us each and every Mass in the Eucharist.  Yes the glory of the Lord is not hard to find if I simply take a minute to stop and open my eyes.

The voice of God may not come to me from a cloud in the sky, but I still can hear Him.  Just as He told Peter, James, and John on the mountain, I can hear Him telling me that Jesus, who came and died for our sins and rose again to bring us all new life, He truly is the beloved Son of God!  And just as the disciples were instructed to listen to Him, I am called to do the same.

What does He tell me?  He says not to worry (Mt. 6:34).  Do not be afraid! (Mk. 6:50) He tells me to ask God for the things I need and to trust that He will provide  (Mt. 7:7-11).  He tells me just how much God loves each one of us (Jn. 3:16).  He tells me to pray to Him as a Father (Lk. 11:1-4).  He tells me that He is always with me (Mt. 28:20).

Knowing all that He has told us and seeing His glory surrounding me, I feel at peace. I do not need to find the solution on my own or rush into action simply for the sake of doing something.  I need only to keep focused on Christ, to pray, and to listen to Him as He guides me.

How Much Does God Love Us?

I am currently teaching the 2nd grade CCD class at my church. I began halfway through the year when the regular teacher fell and needed someone to step in until she recovers. I was a bit nervous at first since it has been a few years since I taught. But in the month and a half I have been teaching them, I have been reminded how much I love it and how much we can learn from the little ones.

Yesterday during class I asked the children how much God loves each one of us. One student held their hands out as wide as possible. One said “a lot!” And then one student said,

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God’s love is so wondrous, so amazing, so infinite. He loves us so very much. Enough to forgive us time and time again. Enough to look beyond our faults and see the person He created each and every one of us to be. Enough to give His Son to show us the way and die for us.

There are many things we do not understand. Many things in this life that can bring us down and make us feel lonely, scared, angry, confused or sad. But greater than all those things is the love of the Lord. So many times we try to find the answers to the things that trouble us. We want explanations. We want all of it to make sense. There are things we will never understand in this life. The one thing we can all understand is love.

Despite the troubles we may face, we can find peace in our lives when we fill our hearts, our minds, and our souls with the love of the Lord. When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, we need only to focus on this overflowing and everlasting love that God has for each one of us. A love so deep and strong we cannot fathom it. A love more grand than all the stars in the whole sky.

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An Eye for an Eye?

desert-613003_640Violence and War. These are not new concepts. Ever since the fall of man, these have followed us. What began with Cain and Abel has followed humanity through centuries upon centuries of death and destruction.   By looking back at history we can see the negative effects of war. The violence, the death, the families and nations torn apart. And yet, the pattern continues still today.

Why?

As human beings, why do we continue along this path? Is it blind oblivion to the pain that such violence causes? Is it ignorance of past grievances? Is it a complete lack of any sort of moral conscience? Perhaps these things may contribute to violent behavior. But I believe at the heart of this is a dark desire for revenge.

A radical branch of religious extremists feels wronged and threatened by the way of life in other civilizations. Not content to let this be, they seek a twisted form of revenge carried out in brutal acts against humanity.

And leaders of nations, appalled by such acts of brutality, vow revenge on the terrorists who carried them out to begin with. In the wake of the recent barbaric killing of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS, a distraught Jordanian politician shouted in an interview “Let’s use the same methods as them! Let’s kill their children! Let’s kill their women!”

And so the cycle continues. Following the killing of the pilot, two al-Qaida prisoners on death row in Jordan were executed for their crimes. But will this help? More than likely the terrorist groups will only seek revenge yet again for the executions of these prisoners. And so it continues on and on.

Many in the world seem content to live by “an eye for an eye.” And how does this help anyone? By murdering someone who has murdered others, by vowing death on the families of those who brought death to others, are we getting any closer to peace? Or are we only falling deeper and deeper into the cycle of violence and war.

There is only one way to break this cycle.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

Instead of living “an eye for an eye” we need to learn to turn the other cheek. Not that we are to turn the other way and ignore the violent acts in our world. Not that we should allow murderers or terrorists to simply go about their lives free of any consequences. No. What our Lord is telling us in these words is that rather than seeking revenge, we need to seek love. Love of the innocent, love of the needy, love of our neighbor, and even love of our enemies.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44)

flower-62291_640Love has the power to break the cycle of war. If our end goal is love and peace then we have no room for revenge. We must learn to work to defeat violence and war by working towards love. In our imperfect world, sometimes wars happen. The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges these circumstances:

“Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death. (CCC 2306)

“All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.” (CCC 2308)

We live in a world of sin. People do terrible things to one another in acts of anger and revenge. By halting acts of aggression through a desire to spread love and peace rather than the desire to bring revenge on others, we can end this cycle. It is a monumental task; one that us mere humans could never accomplish on our own. But we live in the knowledge and hope of Christ. We know that violence, death, war, destruction and sin do not win.   Christ has conquered sin and death! Through Him, we can know peace.

Let us pray that leaders around the world will come together in an effort to bring about true peace and not to seek revenge. That they may work together to protect and preserve life in the name of love. And that the Holy Spirit might enter into the hearts of us all to lead us away from the darkness of anger and revenge and towards the light of the peace and love of Jesus Christ.sunrise-71287_640