Being with Jesus in the Ignatian style of prayer (see https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/ignatian-spirituality/examen-and-ignatian-prayer/praying-the-ignatian-way-reflective-prayer/) I found myself praying with Jesus in Capernaum this week. Sometimes it’s hard to find time for prayer in the busy of the winter, but we can use our imagination and be with Jesus if we can prioritize some time to be in prayer.
This winter season has been busy with ill children. The schedule for today was full, a mix of routine care with children who were mostly ill with upper respiratory infections and its secondary bacterial infections. After waking up early around 4 am and not being able to go back to sleep, I decided to get ready to go work. Illnesses presented themselves in many forms, from simple colds to ear infections, pneumonias and bloody stools. Routine care visits sprinkled the schedule throughout the day, including well child visits and ADHD follow ups. Every parent had an opinion of their child’s illness and part of my job was to educate them on the current illness and how to help their children get better. It was a hard pace to keep up, to the point that sometimes it was a challenge trying to figure when it was a good time to go to the bathroom.
Nevertheless, after working for almost 12 hours, I came home, had dinner with Anne, took a shower and proceeded to pray in the Ignatian style of prayer. As I centered myself and prayed with God our Father, I closed my eyes and began to place myself in Capernaum with Jesus. The gospel readings this week in January have been from the Gospel of Mark, starting with Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Mark 1: 9-11) and hearing, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
The Holy Spirit then takes Jesus into the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13) where he is tempted by Satan for 40 days. He then goes to the Sea of Galilee and begins to call his disciples, first Simon and his brother Andrew, and then James and John, sons of Zebedee (Mark 1:16-20). They then head to Capernaum and Jesus teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Upon learning that Simon’s mother-in-law is ill, they go to her place. It is here that I begin my prayer.
I can see that the house is rustic. Simon’s mother-in-law is in a room by herself, the entrance is covered with a red curtain. Jesus proceeds to enter the room and I can see empathy in Jesus’ facial expression as he looks at her. He holds her hand and closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and just rests with her. It’s as if his energy if flowing out to her and soon thereafter, she opens her eyes and smiles. As Mark states in the gospel reading, “The fever left her, and she began to wait on them” (Mark 1:29-31). Jesus thanks our Father for helping him heal her.
Many others come for healing that evening: leprosy, pneumonias, stomach ailments. It turns into a long day for Jesus, and he decides to get up early the next morning to pray. I decide to join Jesus in prayer and head out in the cool morning. There is dew on the grass and the sun light is just barely coming up in the horizon. I close my eyes while Jesus and I sit together in this solitary field under a fig tree. We pray in quiet as we feel the Father’s peace and love. For a moment, we are one with the Father, feeling God’s love for us. It is here that we find our source of energy, full of love, as we ready to tackle another day to heal people. I thank Jesus for letting me be with him, we smile at each other, and proceed to look straight ahead as the sun continues to rise.
I can already see our street lined with luminaries. It is a tradition that our neighborhood has been doing for about 40 years. I am not sure if we’ll have snowflakes coming down on Christmas Eve as the last few years have been warmer than usual and we have not had snow, but families will be strolling on the sidewalks with their kids, a family-feel to the evening. The Holy Family will be in my thoughts as I get ready for mass.
I think about Jesus’ birth, and I feel engulfed with love from St. Joseph, our Blessed Mother Mary, and God our Father. I can see them in the manger, with animals nearby and the shepherds looking in awe. It is an image that I have drawn from the Bible passages, from readings in school, and from paintings. It is a picture created by my intellect, my imagination, and my memory.
But being a Christian pushes me to go deeper into my heart and beyond my intellect. I experience God in my heart as I encounter experiences in life, and if I’m humble enough and don’t get busy in my mind, I can hear God whisper to me expressions of love that God has for me, “John, you are my beloved son.” I can read as much as I want about God and Jesus, and admire the beautiful art on display, but in the end, I need to experience God in my heart.
As Pope Benedict XVI states, “being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Father Richard Veras in Magnificat, November 2023).
Further, in Benedictus Day by Day (December 24), Pope Benedict XVI states, “God is not a conclusion we have reached by thinking, which we now offer to others in the certainty of our own perception and understanding … when we talk of the living God, it means: this God shows himself to us; he looks out from eternity into time and puts himself into relationship with us.”
Thus, I find myself in relationship with the baby Jesus as I try to practice love, being charitable and merciful. I look forward to being in relationship with my family and friends. I give myself with my time and my love for them. I may also consider giving a gift as an expression of my love. If you are looking for gift ideas for your children, spouses or relatives, you can visit the Catholics Online website and claim a free Cozy Catholic Christmas Catalog.
But in being together, we share our stories of joy and hardship. We support each other as Jesus supported the disciples, both in times of laughter but also in distress, like consoling Mary Magdalene at the resurrection (“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” John 20:11-18) or Peter when he thought he might drown (“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:22-33). These interactions with the disciples extend to me as Jesus takes care of me and loves me. But I also may reciprocate this love for Jesus.
As the Baby Jesus lays in the manger, I am tempted to pick him up and cradle him in my arms. He is so fragile and so dependent on us that I want to feed him, change his diaper, maybe rock him to sleep. I can smell his baby skin and find peace in my heart as I listen to the small breaths.
It is an experience of Jesus loving me and I am also loving the Baby Jesus. It is this Baby Jesus who takes care of me, soothes me, and loves me. And in this experience, as my cup is filled, I can pass this love to others, including those I don’t know but I see on the streets as they wonder where they will stay for the night to get relief from the cold.
So, in this Advent Season, as we wait and approach Christmas Eve, I hope you feel Baby Jesus’ unconditional love for you so that in turn you can pass it on. Merry Christmas and Happy New year!
“Let the children come to me” is a line from one of my favorite stories of the bible, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+18%3A1-5&version=NIV. It is a point of intersection where the disciples are feeling annoyed and irritated by the children playing around, feeling perhaps some element of pride as they think they know better what is needed for a teaching moment. And then, there’s Jesus wanting to highlight the simplicity and humility of children.
It was the end of this summer when I found myself reflecting on this story. The air felt warm, although it was tempered by a slight breeze. The clear blue sky with occasional cloud gave me energy and excitement for soccer practice that day. As I finished lacing up my soccer shoes, I saw the middle-Schoolers roll in for practice. We were in pre-season and about two weeks away from our first game.
I was an assistant coach last year and I’m doing it again this year. My responsibilities are not as heavy as the head coach’s job, but I have been wondering if I would like to get back into that position. There’s a certain excitement that goes along with managing a team, in particular as it relates to teaching children how to play the game, from developing their individual technical skills to learning the tactical aspect of how to play as a team. The last team I coached was a competitive U19 travel team before I decided to take a break a few years ago. Now I’m looking at a group of kids who have a wide range of skill, from never having played on a team to some who are playing travel soccer.
As we went through practice, I found myself following instructions and commands from the head coach to help the kids with their drills. It was in this state of humility that I found myself in the Ignatian style of prayer one more time with Jesus in the foreground. We were in Capernaum where Jesus had done many teachings. The weather was comfortably warm with a slight breeze coming from the west. The simple tunic I wore seemed cool enough as we sat in the shade. The houses were close by and there were multiple open areas for children to play. As Matthew in Chapter 18 recounted the story, “at that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, who he put among them, and said, “truly, I tell you unless you change and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” 1
I thought of this story and realized that being an assistant to help these children of God was actually a gift that God had given me to help me be more humble and more obedient. I desire nothing more than to be God’s servant so that I can be one with Jesus as I set my sights in God’s kingdom. It is only in this state of accepting humbly and receiving God’s love that I can return love to God.
Now two weeks later from that soccer practice, I find myself in mass today contemplating the first reading from Jeremiah and the love he is feeling for God. Jeremiah finds himself at odds with the chief officer Pashhur in the house of the Lord. After Jeremiah’s prophecies that terror will beset Jerusalem, Pashhur “struck the prophet and put him in the stocks at the upper gate of Benjamin in the House of the Lord.” (Jer 20:2)
Jeremiah finds himself in internal turmoil and exclaims, “you duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped. You were too strong for me, and you prevailed. All day long I am the object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” (Jer 20:7).
But despite his internal struggle, he cannot contain his love for God: “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. I grow weary holding back, I cannot.” (Jer 20:9)
This living flame of God, as St. John of the Cross explains in his book2, consumes my heart and wants me to do nothing else but to please God. I want to get close to God, but I have to do it from a humble position, obedient to God and to God’s people. Only by being like a simple child, pure in heart and feeling free with the Holy Spirit, can I “go here or there,” and be God’s servant, can I be more like Jesus.
Psalm 63:2-9 pops into my head, a psalm of David when he has in the wilderness of Judah. I rest in God’s arms as I pray this psalm3:
Oh, God, you are my God –
it is you I seek!
for you, my body yearns;
for you, my soul thirsts
in a land parched, lifeless, and without water.
I look to you in the sanctuary
to see your power and glory
for your love is better than life;
my lips shall ever praise you!
I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.
My soul shall be sated as with choice food,
with joyous lips my mouth shall praise you!
I think of you upon my bed,
I remember you through the watches of the night.
you indeed are my savior,
And in the shadow of your wings, I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you, your right hand upholds me.
- Matthew 18: 1-5. Bible Gateway, New International Version.
- The Living Flame of Love by St. John of the Cross. Cosimo Classics, New York, 2007. Translation by David Lewis.
- Psalm 63, New American RE Bible in Laudate App, https://catholicapps.com/laudate/
We celebrate on July 22nd, the Feast of Mary Magdalene. We know little about Mary but there seem to be some generally accepted truths: there were women who accompanied Jesus on his mission, some who had been cured of evil spirits, among them Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-2); Mary Magdalene is among the women who witness Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:25); and Mary is the first to visit the empty tomb, tell the apostles, and then encounters the resurrected Jesus (John 20: 1-18).
Perhaps the story that I can relate the most is when she comes back after Peter and John have raced to see the empty tomb. As I place myself in the scene and let my imagination participate in the Ignatian style, meditative contemplation, I can feel Mary’s anguish and pain. It has been less than three days since Jesus was crucified. I’m having a hard time understanding why the Romans would crucify him, he seemed to be such a good person, kind and merciful. His unconditional love touched all of us and advised us to turn the other cheek when trouble and insults would arise. Even the Jewish elders were angry at him and wanted him to go away. I could feel Jesus’ love for me and how he touched my heart. The whole crucifixion seemed so barbaric with so much bleeding, it just did not seem fair!
We wanted to give Jesus a proper burial on Friday instead of leaving him on the cross, and now it seems the Romans have taken him. Or was it the gardener. I watch Mary as she interacts with the angels inside the tomb as noted in the Gospel of John:
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-18, NIV) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+20%3A1-18&version=NIV
How often have I found myself in Mary’s position, stuck in my own feelings of pain and sadness after an adverse event, wondering where was Jesus so he could help me out? It has been easy to be blinded by my own preoccupations, particularly if I’m feeling strongly that I want to do things my own way, make things better by myself.
But as I humble myself, acknowledging that I am so dependent on God and I am not much without God, I can feel the gardener become Jesus who looks at me and says, “John, I am right here. I have always been with you to guide you, to take care of you because you belong to me, you are one of mine. Your load may feel heavy, but I am here to lighten it. Let me love you and have mercy on you so we can go together to our Father.”
As my eyes become cloudy, I let Jesus put his arm around me and we walk together. I am no longer wondering where Jesus’ body has been placed, I know he has ascended to be with our father. Hopefully, it will not be long before it’s my turn to ascend and be with the Holy Trinity.
Thank you, Lord, for taking care of me, for guiding me, for giving me your unconditional love, for having mercy on me. May we rest in your peace.
This coming Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Spirit. As I contemplate this feast, memory takes me back to my battles with cancer.
In October of 2012, I found myself wondering if I was developing multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells from my bone marrow. On a routine physical exam and blood work we found a protein that was elevated, suggesting this cancer as a possibility. I had battled testicular cancer when I was in my mid-twenties with subsequent relapses in 1998 and 2000, so it was not fun to contemplate having another bout with cancer.
The medical challenge caused me to go deep in prayer, and one more time, to work on my faith in God. As I found myself contemplating the trees and leaves at a golf resort where my wife was attending a conference, I experienced a communion with the Holy Trinity and wrote this poem:
Your arms engulf me,
Your touch is delicate.
Not by the fire that purifies my soul,
But by your warmth, Father,
I realize you are here to console me.
My heart is at peace,
Weightless and without care,
For there are no regrets from yesterday,
No worries about tomorrow,
But simply joy in being here with you,
Joy to be here with my brothers and sisters.
As I rest in you
I feel complete.
I am in you,
And you are in me.1
This poem was in part inspired by Jesus’ high-priestly prayer where Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples, so that they may be one with the Father as Jesus is one with the Father.
God is calling us to be in relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father engulfs us with God’s arms to take care of us and to love us, to understand our shortcomings and to give us mercy. It is an energy that flows with the Holy Spirit, which listens to the Father and Son and imparts knowledge, wisdom, and love to our hearts. The Son, the Word incarnate, in full communion the Holy Spirit, has become visible and audible to what God wants us to see and hear. Jesus came into the world so that we could see and hear how God wants us to be. Everything the Father has He gives to the Son, so we too can have what the Father has. Seeing God in person through Jesus helps us relate better to God. God wants us to be in relationship with God, and we can do this if we acknowledge and realize that the Holy Trinity dwells in our hearts.
We have just celebrated the Pentecost as we awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It is the tradition of our Western and Catholic church that the solemnity of the Holy Trinity comes the following Sunday after Pentecost. We started this relationship with the Holy Spirit with our baptism as the Holy water was washed over our heads. Now through our lives, we have been asked to take a risk in developing this relationship with God so that then, as Pope Benedict XVI states in Benedictus, “to risk giving oneself to the other can great love ensue.”2
When we make the choice to be in relationship with Jesus and learn how God wants us to be as God made us out to be, we take a step in the direction of risking and leaving behind the type of life we have. With the Holy Spirit burning in our hearts, we can make decisions daily to live as Jesus lived, imparting love, understanding and charity to all.
We are invited to share in this relationship within the Holy Trinity, to experience this energy of Three in One to help stabilize us from the chaos of the material world. In turn, we are invited and called to be in harmony with our community as we share the energy, love, and charity of the Holy Trinity with each other. Then, as a community, can we then reflect our world in the truth as God intended it to be.
Saints help us learn of God’s ways. One such saint is St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, who was born in 1880 in France and grew up near Dijon which had a Carmelite monastery. After reading the original and first edition of St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul, she decided to become a Carmelite nun. She died of Addison’s disease at the age of 26. Pope Francis canonized her as a saint in October 2016.3
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity is known for her poem, “Oh My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.”
“O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling, and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole, and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.”4
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us!
- Finding God Again and Again by John Spitzer
- Benedictus, Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI. Ignatius Press, Magnificat 2006.
- Catholic News Agency & St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
- spiritualdirection.com & St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
We celebrate on January 31st the Solemnity of St. John Bosco, who founded the Salesians of Don Bosco who give assistance and educate the poor children across the world.
Learning about St. John Bosco in Colombia
I remember when I first entered the catholic schools in first grade. I wondered about the priests’ white cassocks and if these outfits made them closer to God. There was a mysticism about their behavior and how they conducted themselves: adults with wisdom and knowledge who commanded respect and obedience, but also had a sense of humor and seemed kind, and easy to talk with. I wanted to get close to them, but not too close. Making the jump from a public kindergarten to a catholic school seemed to have enough unknowns. I needed to make new friends, meet new teachers, learn about the new classrooms and the cafeteria. I even wondered if the students at San Juan Bosco elementary in Cali, Colombia, South America, were different children from me, or whether they were they just like me.
With time, I became more comfortable in the new school environment. I made new friends and became acquainted with my new teacher, who fortunately knew both English and Spanish. When we moved to Cali, Colombia that year, I only knew English. Learning Spanish was a challenge, but I made friends who were eager to teach me their language as much as they wanted to learn some words in English. As I progressed in elementary, I came to appreciate the school’s teachings of compassion, kindness, and care for the poor. With time, these virtues became a way of life for me, and today I thank Don Bosco for helping me be God’s instrument.
Who was St. John Bosco?
As we celebrate the Solemnity of St. John Bosco, I think about his life and the challenges he had during his mission. Born Giovanni Bosco in 1815, he lost his father at the age of two and was raised, along with his 2 older brothers, by his mother Margherita. They were a poor family in Turin, Italy, where John worked as a farmer and shepherd. Despite their difficult financial circumstances and food limitations, they felt a strong sense of duty to feed the poor and hungry. John became a priest at the age of 26 years, founded the Salesian Order in 1859, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934, giving him the title of “Father and Teacher of the Youth.”
Dreams became an important way for God to communicate with Don Bosco. At the age of nine, he had his first prophetic dream where he found himself with a group of children who were being mean to each other, swearing and hitting each other. A man whose face was filled with light and dressed in a white flowing mantle appeared and told him, “You will have to win these friends not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness.1” Thus began his vocation and dedication to children. Later in his teen years, he learned to perform magic, acrobatics, and tricks after watching a circus perform in town. He used these tricks to get children’s attention and then discuss with them the homilies from the mass. At this point in his life, he discerned he wanted to become a priest.2
His style of work leaned on being patient, kind and understanding. Another dream that he had of walking on roses and thorns helped him develop perseverance. He needed this virtue to tackle the obstacles he faced through his mission. Government officials wanted him out of the way as they saw the homeless children as a nuisance and a danger; the entrepreneurs from the industrial revolution saw him as an obstacle to using the children for manual labor; he opposed the political fanatics who wanted to recruit the young for political gains; the bishop opposed his work, misunderstanding Don Bosco’s passion for pride; people from the “house of sin” near his oratory saw Don Bosco as an obstacle to their “business.”
But he was able to persevere because of his life in prayer. In particular, he had a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother. His way with children and teens, along with his sense of humor and teaching abilities, allowed many orphans to learn about God and learn trade skills for later in life. Today, the Salesian brothers are present in 1,830 institutions in 128 countries.2
We all care for children
When I think about the people and circumstances of life that played a role in my choosing to care for children, I think about those years at San Juan Bosco elementary in Cali, Colombia. As I contemplate the gift that God has given me to take care of children, I also think about all of us parents caring for our children, and the love we give them just as Jesus and Mary show their love for us.
Putting the final touches on this blog, I think of Jesus with his disciples. Jesus had left Capernaum and had gone into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Children were coming to Him, and the disciples were becoming annoyed and indignant. Reading from the gospel of Mark:
He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.3
On this feast day of August 15th, I found myself meditating and contemplating our blessed mother, the Virgin Mary. In our catholic tradition, we believe the Assumption Day commemorates the belief that when Mary died, purely and holy as she was, her body was “assumed” into heaven to be reunited with her soul, instead of going through the natural process of physical death and decay. For us, in our state of imperfection, it becomes an invitation that we too can hope for and expect the resurrection of our bodies at the appropriate time so that our bodies can be reunited with our souls.
One of the more pleasant memories from my monthly meetings with my late spiritual director Father Fitz (Msgr. William Fitzgerald, 1931-2015) was sitting in a small alcove in his “house of discernment,” a house for students contemplating the priesthood, which lent for very personal conversations and silent prayer. Just off to my left on one of the walls was a painting of Mary and Eve. This original work was a crayon and pencil drawing created by Sister Grace Remington, OCSO, of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey. I found the artwork so interesting in that Eve, represented by our fallen nature, so prone to making mistakes as we are often seduced by the material world and the dark side, was being consoled by Mary, who displays by her facial expression so much hope and mercy. Mary looks at Eve with love, placing her right hand on Eve’s shoulder to soothe her and console her, while she takes her left hand to grab Eve’s left hand and places it on Mary’s womb, trying to help her connect with our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider reading Mary and Eve by Garrett Johnson to get a more in-depth understanding of this painting. Using this picture as inspiration, I found myself in meditation and contemplation.
In the Jesuit style of prayer, I placed myself in a garden as a bystander, observing the interaction of Mary and Eve. It is early morning, and the air feels a little humid on my arms, but there’s a freshness and crispness to the air while I breathe the wet bark of the trees and sweet smell of the lilies. The green grass hovers the land and the dew makes my sandals wet. I can hear the buzzing of bumble bees, the sharp peek and yeep of the robin, and the three-second, crescendo and decrescendo whistle song of the cardinals. The rays of sun are just popping through the trees as they illuminate Mary and Eve in the middle of the grass.
I can relate with Eve. The serpent has wrapped itself on her legs, dragging down her movement towards spiritual development and closeness with God. Good and evil reside in me, and I struggle daily to do what is right. I often don’t see with the eyes or hear with the ears of the heart so that I can be in tune with God. Deep down, my heart and soul want to abide by God, but I get distracted often with what surrounds me. In this state, I often feel the tug back and forth between doing the right thing and sometimes falling because I am impatient, or maybe I’m too quick to jump to a conclusion.
You can see from the painting that Eve feels sorrowful, perhaps ashamed. Don’t we feel the same when we fall short of doing what is right? Perhaps, I may feel hopeless and despair because pride gets in the way. It becomes hard to accept my fault and I am tempted to hide behind the trees when God comes into the garden, calling out for me, “where are you?”
As depicted in the picture, Mary comes to me as she comes to Eve. She places her hand on my shoulder and consoles me. She takes my hand and has me touch her womb so that I can feel her son, Jesus. It is an invitation for me to be in relationship with the Son of Man.
For as much devotion as we Catholics have to Mary, we really don’t know much about her from biblical readings. And to the point, as Thomas Merton explains in chapter 23, “The Woman Clothed with the Sun,” in New Seeds of Contemplation, “She remains hidden.” It is in this state of hiddenness where she exhibits her poverty in loving submission to the Lord, in pure obedience of faith. This transparency allows her “to be the perfect instrument of God, and nothing else but His instrument.” It is in this transparency that God flows through Mary, so pure with love and mercy. It would be easy to think that Mary is in God and God is in Mary.
Lately, I have been feeling a pull to understand Mary better and pray to her that she may intercede on my behalf before God. I read several years ago True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis De Montfort (1673-1716) and pulled it out again when we read in our men’s prayer group the chapter from Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. As the back cover of the book states, “it explains the wonderful spiritual effects it can bring to a person as they search for sanctity and salvation.” He emphasizes that Mary remains hidden and transparent as she brings us closer to her son, the Word incarnate. And as St. Louis De Montfort explains, “the more the Holy Ghost finds Mary, his dear and inseparable spouse, in any soul, the more active and mighty He becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul, and that soul in Jesus Christ.”
This concept of “nothingness” is well explained by St. John of The Cross. In his Ascent to Mount Carmel, he draws a picture and uses terms to explain how the soul can reach the top of Mount Carmel, where “only the honor and glory of God dwells in this mount.” On either side of the middle aisle going to the top of the mount are terms that he considers undesirable. On the left he states, “the more I desired to possess them (goods of heaven, glory, joy, knowledge, consolation, rest), the less I had them.” And on the right side of the graph he states, “the more I desired to seek them (goods of earth, possessions, joy, knowledge, consolation, rest), the less I had them.” In the middle aisle on the way to the top of the mount, he writes, “nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.” He wrote “nothing” six times, that’s how much poverty he felt was needed to experience God.
There were two key concepts that I gathered from Thomas Merton’s chapter:
- Mary’s greatest glory was having nothing of her own, retaining nothing of a “self” that could glory in anything for her own sake. She placed no obstacle to the mercy of God and in no way resisted His love and His will. He was able to accomplish His will perfectly in her.
- All our sanctity depends on her maternal love. The ones she desires to share the joy of her own poverty and simplicity, the ones she wills to be hidden as she is hidden, are the ones who share her closeness to God.
As St. Louis De Montfort explains, we need Mary to be an example for us so that we can attain salvation, “and still the more necessary to those called to a special perfection.” In addition, we can lean on Mary as our mother of humanity so she can bring us closer to Jesus: “Jesus Christ is the last end of devotion to Mary.”
With these thoughts, we celebrate Mary’s assumption to Heaven. It is our hope that we too one day, by the grace of God, can dwell where she is. As Merton states, “if human nature is glorified in her, it is because God desires it to be glorified in us too.”
- https://catholic-link.org/mary-and-eve/. Garrett Johnson
- New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. New Direction Books, 2007. Original copyright by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1961.
- True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, Tan Books & Publishers, Inc., 1985. Copyright 1941 by the Fathers of the Company of Mary.
- The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. Institute of Carmelite Studies, ICS Publications, 1991.
In our prayer group this past week, we had an opportunity to read Chapter 22, The Life in Christ, from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. It was a chapter rich with concepts as we discussed the mystery of Christ living in us. There were some basic points that I gathered from the beginning of the chapter:
- We respond in faith and charity to his love for us. God always initiates God’s love for us as we are God’s children. It is up to us to respond to this call.
- There is a supernatural union of our souls with His indwelling Divine Person. This is one of the harder concepts to accept and understand as we go to mass and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
- We participate in His divine sonship and nature. Being sons and daughters of God, made in God’s image, we too get to embrace our divine nature if we are willing to accept this concept. Acknowledging that we make mistakes in our lives, hopefully we can be merciful with ourselves with God’s love, and then be merciful to others around us as God is merciful with them too.
Taking a trip with the Bible
As I contemplated Jesus living with me, being in me, I was taken to Chapter 17 (BibleGateway) in the Gospel of John. Jesus is participating with the apostles in the last supper and has just explained to them that he must depart so the Holy Spirit can come to them (Chapter 16). As we head into the next chapter, it’s almost as if Jesus takes a deep breath and exhales, and then finds himself in gratitude and does his Highly Priestly prayer. Here, I get to see how Jesus prays for me that we may be one with God the Father and God the Son:
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Reflecting with Thomas Merton and Jesus
We become a new person, mystically and spiritually as one identity, who is at once Christ and me. This union is the work of the Holy Spirit of Love. Christ himself becomes the source and principle of divine life in me.
The challenges of life can make it hard to understand this mystical union. When I contrast pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow, living in my body and dying a bodily death, it’s easy to lose faith.
It can be the hardest thing in life to rise above what seems to be external to me: work, friends, politics, the environment, financial security, war, poverty, among other challenges in life. Not that they are not important to deal with as we try to live as a community, but they are external to my interior life.
For me to live in the joy of God, I must let my soul accommodate to God’s will. As Thomas Merton says, “souls are like wax waiting for a seal. By themselves, they have no special identity. Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeliness to God in Christ.”
In addition to Merton, other saints (St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila) talk about a fire of purification so that our souls and will line up with God’s will. There is a heat associated with this fire and it is easy to run away from it. We don’t like it, sometimes if feels too hot. It may seem like this is a major sacrifice and the easy way out is to continue to enjoy life on the surface. But on the surface, we experience that contrast of pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow.
Interestingly enough, this sacrifice is commonly viewed as a hardship, a moral act, a work of virtue. These thoughts and feelings come because we commonly feel the heat and fire of purification. But it is Christ coming to me and dwelling in me as a mystical union that is the actual sacrifice, not the pain that I may endure during this process. As Merton states, this sacred sacrifice “effects a divine and religious transformation in the worshiper, thus consecrating and uniting him more closely to God.” If pain and discomfort is felt in this process, it is an incidental occurrence in proportion to our weakness and fallen nature along with its corresponding will power as in comes into conflict with God’s will.
When I receive the body of Christ, I experience this mystical union so that Christ and I become one identity. In this mystical union, I experience the mystery of the Cross and with it, the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus. This gives me hope and helps me look forward to my redemptive death and resurrection. And when I attend mass, I do so in communion with my friends and relatives, who together as one body in Christ, we experience this mystical sacramental union in Christian charity and with the love of the Holy Spirit.
This mystical union transforms me, it changes my substance of who I am. With this change, I move closer to the person God meant for me to be, fulfilling God’s promise that I can be God’s son imparting love, charity, and mercy to those around me. By being their brother, I can help people become who they are meant to be, sharing God’s love in this process as God loves you as a son and daughter.
- New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton. New Directions Book, 2007. Original Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
- Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/
The month of June is that time of the year where we can contemplate on the boundless and passionate love that Jesus has for us. As I reflected on my integrity and humility, I decided to write and post a blog in Finding my Integrity with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
I have been gradually learning about www.catholicsonline.com and have discovered a great social media to learn more about the ways we can express our love for God. From quilts to books to shirts and coffee mugs, we can surround ourselves with all things God. Celebrating this month with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, here a few more posts to look at.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Quilt Pattern by Jen Frost
Her talent for quilts is remarkable! Visit her site Faith and Fabric Design to learn about what the Sacred Heart of Jesus means to her and learn more about quilts for other occasions.
Live speakers with Lisa Martinez and Alyssa Sanchez
Lisa and Alyssa have a June program on Saints of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with live speakers on 6/6, 6/13, and 6/20 (YouTube promo https://youtu.be/TD8Syx6p_Qc ). Little with Great Love also showcases several of their art and products (art print, pillows, embroidered hats, phone cases, t-shirts).
You can read Alyssa Sanchez’s post at Sacred Heart Round Up
What is the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Andrea Frey
Check out her post in 7 Must Read Posts About the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Catholic365
Amy Brooks and Prayer
Amy shares with us a very personal and special prayer in PrayerWineChocholate . Also, visit her site for books she has written for girls and boys to journal at Journal for Catholic Girls and Journal for Catholic Boys
The Sacred Heart and Michelle Nott
Michelle shares with us her experiences of moving as a youngster while her father was in the military on her site Raising Small Things with Great Love . Her one constant in her moves was having a crucifix and a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you by Monica McConkey
Monica shares with us ways to stay in prayer during the day. As she states in Sacred Heart of Jesus I Trust in You , “We are called to pray “Jesus, I trust in You” throughout the day, especially during times of struggle or doubt or fear.”
As we approach the month of June and celebrate the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I found myself in prayer, contemplating God’s boundless and passionate love for us. I sometimes find praying in the Ignatian style to be helpful as I try to contemplate Jesus’ teachings. Part of this prayer is to rely on my imagination as I place myself in the scene. Dealing with the concepts of personal integrity and humility pushed me to be with Jesus at the last supper.
The Last Supper
It was evening and the air was cool. The room was small but cozy, walls painted in light yellow and beige. Pillows were on the floor and the disciples gathered at table with Jesus for his last supper. We had lentil soup, bread, and wine. We dipped our bread in freshly made olive oil made that week. After we ate, Jesus stood up and got everybody’s attention. The gospel of John 13: 4-51 recounts the story:
“So, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
When Jesus came to me, he knelt and grabbed my left foot. The softness of his touch made me hold my breath. As I looked down on him, I found myself thoughtless, wondering what I was going to feel. I wanted to carry a conversation, but the moment told me to be still, to simply feel his presence and his care. He washed my right foot and then dried both feet. He looked at me one last time and smiled. I returned a smiled. I felt special by Jesus’ love and care. I then felt a tear drop down my cheek. My body became warm, and my palms got sweaty as I saw him move to the next disciple.
How confident was Jesus in who he was that he proceeded to kneel before us and wash our feet? The gospel of John, again, helps us understand this identity:
Jesus is explaining to the Pharisees about the good Shepard and his sheep in John 10: 29-30. They are wondering if he is the Messiah and who are his sheep. Jesus replies, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Later, after Jesus explains to the disciples that he is the way and is going back to the father, Thomas wants Jesus to show him the Father. Jesus replies, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)
Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, the Son of the Father, consubstantial with the Father. The Holy Spirit binds them together, but also binds us together: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20).
What is Integrity and Humility?
It takes integrity, humility, and self-confidence to perform Jesus’ act of washing our feet as he taught us about serving one another. He is not thinking highly of himself, and he is not exalting himself. His firm confidence on who he was allowed him to kneel before me and wash my feet. It would be natural to think like Peter and react with objection, “No … you shall never wash my feet.” (John 13:8). But in accepting Jesus’ desire to wash my feet, I get to feel in my heart his sense of being one with the Father, full of love and mercy. That feeling stirs my heart, and I feel compelled to pass on that love and mercy as well.
I decided to look up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of integrity: “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.” I also recently read from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation2, “In great saints, you find that perfect humility and perfect integrity coincide.”
What is humility but being precisely the person that I am before God. I am no greater than or smaller than I actually am. If I think that I am greater than I am, and I am letting pride take over me. If I think that I am being smaller than I am, I deprecate myself against God’s truth of who I am. I playdown and push away against God who is truth. But God resides in me, and God’s divinity is my divinity … thus, this is part of my being that God wants me to attain.
In humility, as I acknowledge who I am as God sees me in a truthful manner, I consent to God being my all and I surrender myself to God. So, what holds me back from being humble so that I can have integrity?
There are attachments to this world that pull me in one direction or another and don’t allow me to be my true self. These attachments can be material, emotional or spiritual. For example, I may feel attached to my house or car (like I really like them and can’t envision myself without them), or to money, to my body and health (I may worry and feel anxious about my health), or to anger and resentment, or as St. John of the Cross would say, even to certain forms of prayer.
The background noise in the world can also affect my integrity. I want to gel with the current movements of thoughts and action. I want to “fit in.” These pressures, mainly stemmed from my desire to be accepted, can guide, and direct my thoughts and action. I may run the risk of compromising my beliefs and values. I may even be tempted to compromise my faith and my relationship with God.
Where do I go from here?
So how do I remain humble so that I can have integrity? I lean on St. John of the Cross3 and try to die to myself slowly but steadily. In detaching myself from the material, emotional and spiritual realms, I become naked before God, and let God see me as I am, as I truly am. Here, I can let God look at me and love me with all my good qualities and faults. In this relationship of love, God heals me and completes me.
As I look at Jesus one more time, His Sacred Heart overflowing with boundless love, compassion, and mercy, I can see he understands our brokenness and lack of integrity. So, I ask Jesus to pray for me, a sinner with many faults, to heal me, to complete me. In this month of June, what a good opportunity to ask Jesus to have mercy on us and heal us, to let us be open to his boundless and passionate love for us!
- BibleGateway, New International Version. https://www.biblegateway.com
- New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton. New Directions Book, 2007. Original Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
- John of the Cross by Kieran Kavanaugh. The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.F