Fortnight for Freedom: Witness to Marriage

Marriage.Fortnight for Freedom is a 14 day period leading up to the 4th of July where we take time to bring awareness to and pray for our religious freedoms.  It is a time to give thanks for the freedom we have, to pray for those who are persecuted for faith, and to pray that our own country will honor the religious freedoms that we hold so dear.  My parish takes part in this Fortnight for Freedom with a prayer service each year that incorporates speakers, song, and prayers for our religious liberties.  This is my first year participating and I was asked to speak on marriage.  I wanted to share with you my witness to marriage that I will be presenting this coming weekend:

The theme of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom is to “Bear Witness.”  I wanted to share today my own witness to marriage, what marriage means to me, and why it matters to begin with.

This July will be 4 years since my husband and I were married. When we were preparing to get married, plenty of people had advice on how to have a happy, successful marriage. Communication, compromise, making time for each other, and other things like that. Of course those things are great, but it’s something more that makes a marriage strong. I may only be married four years, but I look to the example of my husband’s parents who have been married 29 years, to my own parents who are celebrating their 30th anniversary in November, and to my grandparents who have been married over 60 years and I see one thing in common. They all had God at the center. It is God’s presence that makes a true marriage work.

Without God, there is no love.  God is love! We think we know what love is.  But one look at the cross reminds us that there is a love so deep we cannot begin to grasp it.  A love that created life. That sacrificed itself for us, even when we stubbornly refuse it.  The love of Christ is never-ending. Knowing that such a love exists, even while not fully understanding the depth of it, opens our eyes to the reality that we have so much to learn about love. We need Christ to show us how to love.  We need Him beside us in all aspects of life, in all our relationships, and definitely in our marriages.

Marriage is a gift from God. It is the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. Marriage is more than the “next step” in a relationship. To me, marriage is a calling from God to live as husband and wife being open to whatever God has in store for us. It is not something to be defined or changed by us. It is a sacred and beautiful sacrament given to us by God.  Marriage is not just about the individual. It is about the unbreakable union between man and wife.  And for a marriage to remain strong in love, peace, and joy despite what life throws our way, that union must include Jesus.   With God at the center of our marriages, we may continue to grow in love for each other and for Him.

“Laudato Si”

butterflyPope Francis’ Encyclical  “Laudato Si, (Praise Be): On Care for Our Common Home” has generated a lot of publicity.  As is common with many media reports involving our dear Pope Francis, I am certain many things will be twisted and portions will be taken out to suit specific agendas.  I decided to give it a read myself and highly recommend it to everyone!  It is a wonderful document filled with praise for our Creator and an urgent pleading for the greater care of all His creation.  I encourage you to read it for yourself to truly appreciate all the Pope has to say instead of just the bits and pieces the media might pull out.  You can read the full encyclical here.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from the document (it was so hard to choose just a few!):

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps 33:6). This tells us that the world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things: “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it” (Wis 11:24). Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection.

The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.

In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enables us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings.

Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances?

It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God.

The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways.

Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast.

Ever Shall Be

Glory Be

The Glory Be.  This short and simple prayer that many of us learned as young children manages to capture some of the most profound mysteries of our faith in its few simple words.

As we pray these words, we give glory to God in all three persons of the Trinity.  We acknowledge the glory that is due to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Not just now, not just when things are going well, but always!  We declare our belief that the glory of God in the Holy Trinity existed in the very beginning, before anything that we know here on this earth.  And His glory has never faded, His presence has never wavered.

He is here with us today through all our trials and all our rejoicing.  God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is here with each and every one of us in every single moment.  To have the love of the Lord with us in such a personal way is something that we should never cease to give thanks and praise for.  He has created each of us in His own image, He has given us His Son to save us from our sins and bring us to an everlasting life in Heaven with Him, and He stays with us every step of the way to guide us, forgive us, and love us.  Glory to God indeed!

During the trials of our lives it can be harder to give the glory.  Sometimes it seems easier to see the bad.  To see the wars, the drought, the famine.  The storms that wreak havoc on homes and take away lives.  The lack of morality that seems to permeate our culture.  If you watch the news even for a second it seems there is so much bad in our world today; not to mention the trials we face in our own personal lives.

In those moments when we feel consumed by the negativity and struggle to see the good through it all, those last words of this short prayer bring us hope.  “…and ever shall be, world without end.”

The glory of the Lord is not something that is reserved for moments past, not something that we need to search for to see if it still exists, not something that will one day die out and cease to exist.  The glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will remain forever!  Our human minds may not comprehend how or why something is happening here on earth.  But we know that God’s glory is everlasting.  All the pain and sadness that we see or experience is only temporary.  In this world there is still sin.  There is still sorrow and death and sickness and pain.  None of these things will last forever.  Jesus has already overcome sin and death!  There is the glory!

The glory of the Lord shines around us in so many ways if we only take a moment to see it.  The colors of the sky, the baby being born, the crashing of the ocean waves, the stillness of the mountain air.  His glory is everywhere!  And even if we find ourselves struggling to see His glory in our everyday lives, we can find peace and comfort in the knowledge that it truly is there and always will be.  We can remind ourselves that whatever trials we may face will not last forever because God is greater than all of them.  The things of this world will come and go, but the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was there in the beginning, is here with us now, and ever shall be.

Casting Into the Deep {Podcast}

I haven’t had a chance to write this week but my younger sister sent me this awesome podcast on prayer (click on the picture below to access it).  It’s 35 minutes and definitely worth listening to when you have a chance.  God Bless!

Casting Into the Deep

ALL IN

all-in

“ALL IN”

This has become the rallying cry for the Cleveland Cavaliers as we have advanced through the playoffs and are now headed to the NBA Finals after an exciting four game sweep against the Atlanta Hawks. In those two little words, the team, the fans, and the city itself are daring to hope for the championship that we have never managed to win, while acknowledging exactly what it will take for us to finally make it all the way.

Cleveland has a lot of almost championships. The Indians have almost made it several times. The Browns have almost made it to the playoffs on many occasions as well. And the Cavs, well the Cavs hold perhaps the most bittersweet memories of almost winning for Cleveland.   After several years of being so close, the team, the fans, and the whole northeast Ohio region was angered after the highly publicized decision of LeBron James to leave Cleveland for Miami. The years that followed showed just how much our team had relied on LeBron as we failed to play even close to the level of basketball we had been playing with him.

After last season ended, LeBron announced he was coming home to Cleveland. The announcement was met with a cautious optimism. While the possibility of a championship was exciting, every loss, every “slump” and every injury brought back doubts that this may not be THE YEAR. That maybe, like years before, we just didn’t have what it takes to go all the way. When the playoffs became a reality, it was clear that everyone needed to move past their doubts, beyond what happened in previous years, and support the team fully. The team, the fans, the city itself needed to be ALL IN to make this championship dream a reality.

To be ALL IN playing the game or supporting your basketball team is great. Sports have a way of uniting people even under trying circumstances and a long awaited win would certainly be exciting and uplifting for the whole region. But in the end, it’s still just a game. When it’s all said and done, win or lose, it’s just basketball.

What things in our lives do we really give our all? Sports? Work? Money?   Family & Friends?

If the players, the fans, the whole of northeast Ohio can go ALL IN to support a basketball team, how much more willing should we be to go ALL IN for the things that are most important in our lives? To go ALL IN for the One Thing that is more important than any of it?

Basketball will come to an end. Players will come and go. We may be left with the memory of a championship or of another almost. And while it is nice to be a part of the excitement, to be ALL IN for the Cavs, we are called to something much greater.

We are called to be ALL IN for the One who gave us life, who forgives us time and time again, who fills us with joy and peace that cannot be found anywhere else, and who loves us with a love so deep that He gave His Son for us. To give to the Lord everything that we have without doubts, without reservations, without fear. We are called to trust fully in His promises and to give our ALL to God. He promises far more than a basketball championship. He promises love beyond compare, forgiveness of our sins, a joy that cannot be found anywhere else. He promises eternal life! And that is something definitely worth giving our ALL for.

Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart (Proverbs 3:5)

I will give thanks to the Lord with ALL my heart (Psalm 9:1)

You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind, and with ALL your strength (Mark 12:30)

With Us Always

sun-441565_640As the apostles gathered on that mountain preparing to say goodbye to Jesus once again, I imagine there was quite a mix of emotions. They had already said goodbye before, in a very different setting.

That night of the Last Supper may have been on their minds. Then they did not know what was to happen. They were confused and frightened by His words. They scattered when Jesus was arrested. They hid in fear and shame at betraying their teacher, their friend, their Lord. They wondered what they were supposed to do next. With Jesus dead, now what?

And the Jesus was resurrected from the dead! He was there with them! Not merely as a vision or a ghost, but as an actual person with flesh and bones. A person who ate with them, talked with them, and once again taught them. In these moments spent with Christ after His resurrection, I imagine the apostles were filled with joy. Despite the fear of persecution that followed them, they knew now that Jesus had conquered death! They knew that He truly was God! In the presence of His fully glorified body, they knew in their hearts that He had changed everything and that following Him was the only way to live.

Now, here they were preparing to say goodbye again. Not goodbye forever. No, they knew they would see Him in Heaven one day. But for the remainder of their time here on earth, this was goodbye. Before He ascended into Heaven, He told His apostles to go! They were not to merely sit around amongst each other and reminisce of the “good old days” when Jesus was here. They were not to hide away in secret so that no one would ever find them or know who they were. No. They were called to go forth! To share the Gospel, to baptize, to do all that Jesus had taught them to do while He was there with them.

I wonder if they felt inadequate. If they were worried about how they would fulfil this call. I wonder if Peter’s mind raced back to his betrayal. I wonder if Thomas remembered his doubt. I wonder if in that moment, as Jesus commanded them to go forth and continue on in His work, they felt scared and uncertain. After all, they had messed up before. What if they failed? How would they carry on His mission without Him? How would they know what to say? What to do? How would they know where to go?

Jesus doesn’t leave them stranded though. No. Instead, He blesses them, He tells them of the signs and good deeds they will do in His name, and He tells them that they will be receiving the Holy Spirit.  And then He assures them that He will still be with them. Not just for a few days, not just a few weeks or even years. Jesus promises them “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)

Jesus is always with us. It is something we learned as children, something we may have sang songs about in Sunday School. Something that perhaps, sometimes, we begin take to take for granted. Something that we are so used to saying, so used to hearing, that we fail to recognize the awesomeness of it! Jesus, our Lord and Savior is with us always!

When we are lying in bed at night worrying about bills to pay and work to do; He is there. When we are busy with the family, rushing from one event to another, making phone calls all day long; He is there. When we are angry, when we are sad, when we are joyful; He is there. He is always there.

Jesus is here with us in our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls. And through the immeasurable beauty of the gift of the Eucharist, He is here with us not just as a vague idea but actually, physically present among us! We are blessed with the wondrous gift of receiving His Precious Body and Blood into our very selves each Mass. How truly amazing that is!

Just as the apostles were told to go forth in Christ and spread His word, we are called to do the same. And just like the apostles, we are not expected to go do this alone. Through the Sacraments, we have been baptized, we have received the Holy Spirit, and we are able to receive Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist. We have been given all that we need! Sometimes we may feel inadequate or doubt that we could ever live up to what it is we have been called to do. We need only to remember that He is truly here with us. Right now, in this very moment, and in every moment still to come.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles “after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52) With the gifts we have been given and the promise we have of Christ’s constant presence here with us, we are called to do the same. To worship Him and to go forth in joy to spread His word. All the while knowing that He is still here.

The Wait

 

 Holy Saturday.  Can you imagine for a moment the feelings those first disciples of Christ must have had on this day?   They had spent the past three years following this man.  Learning from Him, loving Him, and coming to know that He was the Son of God.  Just a week earlier they were filled with such hope and excitement as they joyously followed Him into Jerusalem proclaiming “Hosanna!”  How much changed in that one week!  Their excitement turned to confusion and fear as He spoke of His coming death.  In that upper room for the Last Supper they saw Him begin His sacrifice by offering His body and blood in the bread and the wine.  They wanted to remain with Him and followed Him to the garden but could not keep awake.

Then the arrest.  In that instant fear took hold and most of the disciples scattered.  Those who remained followed at a distance as their Lord was taken away like a criminal, though He had done no wrong.  And on that Friday, Jesus,  their teacher, their friend, their Lord, died.  They were afraid and troubled.  They hid themselves in the upper room with the doors locked.

Filled with sorrow and fear, they hid.  Where they had hope before they now felt lost and confused.  Everything seemed dark.  Did they wonder, how can we possibly go on?  Did they recall His promises of rebuilding the Temple in three days?  Did they dare to hope in their hearts that this would be fulfilled?  Or did the fear overcome the flicker of hope so that they forced themselves not to think on it so as not to be disappointed?

How do we celebrate Holy Saturday today? Most of us probably use the day to prepare for Easter tomorrow.  Preparing food and getting the house ready for visits with famiky and friends perhaps.  We know that Good Friday was not the end!  We know that Jesus Christ lives!  With this knowledge we can go about today not in fear or confusion but in hope and excitement as we prepare for the wondrous celebration of Easter!

What about other times of waiting though?  All of us face those in between periods.  Those times when things seem dark, when hope seems lost, when we feel confused and do not know where to turn next.  While we wait for His plan to unfold in our own lives, do we wait in fear and hide ourselves away?  Do we let the hope within us fade so that even when the wonder of God is right before our eyes we still doubt it in our hearts?  Or do we face our own times of waiting filled the hope and peace of Christ?

We know that Christ is Risen!  It seems easier to celebrate this time of waiting on Holy Saturday since we know the outcome.  Even if we do not know the outcome of whatever it is we may be waiting for here on earth, we know that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!  He conquered sin and death and by His wounds we have been healed!  This wondrous love is what awaits us.  Though we may not know what will happen from day to day as we wait for answers to our earthly questions and worries, we know the One who is in control.  We know the immense love He has for us all, the love that was shown on the cross.  We know that He has a plan for each of us greater than we could imagine for ourselves, even if we cannot see it yet.  By following in His footsteps and accepting the love He poured out for us on the cross, we know that we have so much more to look forward to: eternity in Heaven with our Savior!

As excruciating as Good Friday was for those first disciples, as sorrowful as that first Holy Saturday, it was not the end.  The pain and sorrow turned to a greater joy than they could have imagined.  A peace beyond all understanding and hope beyond any they had known before came to them in the Risen Lord.

We will all face tough times here on earth.  Times of sorrow, times of doubt,  of worry, confusion, of frustration with the waiting. But we can find peace and hope while we wait.  Because in the midst of all our trials, Christ is still there.  And the love that He has for us will never die.  As we continue our celebration of the Triduum, I pray that we can look to Easter with a hope and peace that fills every part of our being.  I pray that we will carry the love and joy of Easter within our hearts as a promise to us all that the “Saturdays” in our lives, those dark and confusing times of waiting, those will come to and end! I pray that we may strive daily to live our lives not in fear or confusion, not in sorrow or pain, but in the glorious hope and peace of Christ and His wondrous love.  May the peace of Christ be with us all and may each of you enjoy a very blessed, a very joyous, and a very hope-filled Easter.