My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Thursday, March 18, 2021

On Music and Grief

I never thought a piece of music could make me feel guilty.

Until March 2018.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Lenten Parish Mission Notes, Day 3, part 2

Day 3, part 2

Mark 5:25-34

The Eyes in the Life of the Woman with a Hemorrhage

 Eyes speak eloquently and persuasively, but not always truthfully.

The eyes of those around her tell her she is unclean, an outcast.

Former friends, now moms with children: go away, you're dangerous, you're not wanted here.

Doctors, at first looked at her with hope and expectation.

As time went on, with desperation.

As she spent all her money but grew worse: you're hopeless, you're a lost cause.

The people, with a mis-formed religiosity: she's condemned by God, she's a sinner, she's rejected; why else would she be suffering if not for some offense committed against God? You're forsaken by God, and it's your fault.

Her family: visits her at first, then they stop going as their lives go on, as they hear people gossiping about their sister, their daughter, their cousin: the shame cast on her was cast on them

The lack of eye contact from anyone around her tells her you're no one, you're nothing.

All these words, communicated so eloquently and persuasively by these eyes, are lies; but as the years went on, these lies became the way this poor woman spoke to herself: she saw herself to be unwanted, hopeless, a lost cause, condemned by God, no one, and nothing—and there was darkness.

She heard about Jesus, Who was healing people, and a little candle was lit in her darkness.

She goes seeking Jesus because she believes that if she touches the tassel of His cloak she will be healed; yet she comes from behind. Although she believes He can heal her, she has given up all hope that good news can be written on a human face. She doesn’t dare look Jesus in the eye. She sneaks through the crowd and touches the hem of His cloak—and immediately she knows she’s healed.

She immediately returns to being anonymous, to hiding. She becomes one of the crowd.

People are pressing around Jesus, and He says: Who touched Me?

She falls at His feet with fear and trembling: she begins to apologize at the feet of Jesus for being so gold as to come in faith and to touch the tassel of His cloak, seeking healing. She apologizes and she cries at the feet of Jesus.

There she is, with expectation to be condemned, cursed, chastised, scolded, publicly shamed.

And there is silence.

And then she hears the rustling of cloth as Jesus kneels down in front of her. And very slowly, she begins to raise her gaze, tears streaming down her face. She sees His feet, His knees, His cloak.

There’s a moment of hesitation before she dares look Him in the Face. It’s been so long since she’s seen a human face that loved her.

Her eyes come to the eyes of Jesus.

And His eyes say: I love you. I’ve been searching for you. You’re beautiful. You’re Mine.

And all of these words can be summed up in this word that falls from His lips: DAUGHTER.

It was the truth of the eyes of Jesus which eclipsed all of their lies, and in the Face of Jesus, she received her peace, and she received the true healing that she so desperately needed.

She is daughter.

There’s a whole lot being spoken into our lives, in words, or without.

We look at ourselves and think of ourselves as lost, forsaken, abandoned, hopeless. It feels like reality is indifferent to us. 

It is in the Face of Jesus that we realize who we are, and it’s only in the Face of Jesus that we come to learn the deepest truths of who we are: Beloved, Pursued, Forgiven, Desired, Loved, Daughter, Son.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Lenten Parish Mission Notes, Day 3, part 1

 Day 3

Wherever Jesus is, there is healing.

Pope Benedict XVI: healing encompasses the whole story of salvation.

God's desire is to heal us and to not leave us alone in our darkness, to not leave us alone in our brokenness, to not leave us alone in our pain.

Healing is God's deep desire for you.

There was an elderly, blind priest who went on the same walk every day. One day, he got disoriented and found himself in the middle of the street, and he didn't know what to do.

He was a very holy priest, and he said to the Lord: Lord, I don't know what to do. I can hear the cars and I don't know which way to turn and this is dangerous. What do I do?

The Lord said: Sit down!

The priest: Uh, Lord, excuse me? I'm in the middle of the street!

The Lord: Yeah. Sit down!

So he sits down, and a woman stops and drives him home.

And he hears the Lord say: Sit down and let yourself be found.

Let yourself be found.

Where is your heart? What are you experiencing right now? Pain, struggle, fear, anxiety, dissatisfaction, longing for more?

Sit down and let Jesus find you.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Lenten Parish Mission Notes, Day 2

Day 2

Fr. Angelus:

If we are only met/loved where we're successful--that love is shallow.

When we are still loved in our weakness and in our vulnerability, that is a deeper love, that is mercy.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Lenten Parish Mission Notes, Day 1

 If, on the eve of the Second Sunday of Lent, you've already "failed" at all your Lenten resolutions, and you're beating yourself up...if you have an hour here and an hour there, give yourself grace and go listen to the Parish Mission preached by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, at St. Theresa church in Phoenix, AX.

It's on YouTube. The first day is about two hours, the second day one, the third day about two hours, and the fourth day one, but it's worth it.

I totally bombed Lent already, but this mission--and the gift of being able to watch it from my home in Northern Virginia, because it was livestreamed--this mission may have just saved my Lent.

So I wanted to share a few highlights with you all.

Father Innocent's prayer at the beginning of Adoration:

Jesus, we love You, we thank You, we praise You, we adore You. We thank You for calling us so close to Your Heart. We thank You for being the God Who comes close, the God Who is not afraid to enter into our darkness and our suffering. We thank You for revealing Your Heart to us in the Blessed Sacrament. We thank You for being the answer to the deepest longings of our hearts. We thank You for seeing us, loving us, knowing us, and hearing our cries. Jesus, we come before You tonight with deep desires, and we are resisting the temptation to settle, 'cause we want more of You, Lord. We want the fullness of Your Love and the fullness of Your mercy. We want breakthroughs in our lives, Lord. We come to You tonight with deep trust and confidence, and we thank You in advance for the grace that You will give us in this parish mission. We thank You in advance, Lord, for changing us, ,we thank You in advance for increasing our faith and revealing Your Heart to us in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus, we need You. We need You. We come to You. We have tried so many other things, but tonight, we come to You. You are the Lord. You are Love. You are Life. We come to You, and we give You everything, we surrender to You everything. We give You full permission, Jesus. We give You full permission to come do what You desire.

Jesus is the Answer to our brokenness and disorientation and sin and blindness. 

He comes close. He does not stay far away. He seeks us out.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

An "ANCHOR" in the Deep Waves of 2020, and for this New Year

 There were a lot of good Christian songs published in 2020: "The Blessing" by Elevation Worship, "Waymaker" by Michael W. Smith, "Peace Be Still" by Hope Darst, "Yes, I Will" by Vertical Worship, to just name a few.

But the song that got me through 2020 was "Anchor," by the Christian rock band Skillet. It actually was published in 2019, but I first heard it on the radio in early 2020, about a month after my car accident.

The lyrics resonated immediately. This song is a prayer for help reminiscent of David's cries in the Psalms, especially psalm 69:1-2:

                             Save me, O God!
                             For the waters have come up to my neck.
                             I sink in deep mire,
                             where there is no foothold;
                             I have come into deep waters,
                             and the flood sweeps over me.

With the first words, we know all is not well with the singer: He's "drifting"--never a good thing, whether he's drifting aimlessly through life, or drifting unmoored at sea.

                             Drifting beneath the horizon
                             Body is weak but I'm trying
                             To make it to shore, but I'm falling short
                             I need You more
                             Wave after wave, I've been sinking
                             So unto Your promise I'm clinging
                             You say that I'm strong, to You I belong
                             Keep holding on

His body is weak…he doesn’t say his soul, but “body” here means him as a whole person, body and soul, mind and spirit. If it were just his body that was weak, if he viewed himself as only a body, as only a physical thing, then he wouldn’t be crying out to the Lord in this song.

He’s in the ocean, desperate “to make it to shore.” But he’s “falling short”…physically, in the metaphor, too exhausted to swim any farther; spiritually, he’s “falling short,” which prompts this cry: “I need You more.” He knows he needs the Lord to reach out His hand and save him, like He saved Peter.

He’s been swimming, and sinking for a while: “Wave after wave I’ve been sinking," and he has realized that the only thing he can rely on is God: “So unto Your promise I’m clinging.”

What is that promise? “You say that I’m strong, to You I belong.” And he begs the Lord: “Keep holding on.”

He needs the Lord to hold on to him because he doesn't trust his own strength; he might accidentally let go. But if the Lord holds on, like He "immediately reached out His hand and caught" Peter (Mt. 14:31), then he'll be safe.

The refrain is powerful:

                             You are my anchor
                             So steady me, steady me now
                             You are my anchor
                             You're keeping my feet on the ground
                             In angry oceans, You've never broken through
                             Every wave of the storm
                             You are my anchor
                             So steady me, steady me now
                             Come steady me, steady me now

God is his anchor. God can steady him, keep his feet on the ground, keep the waves from knocking him off his feet and drowning him. No matter the storm or the fierceness of the ocean, God has never been taken by surprise or knocked off-guard; so he begs God: “So steady me, steady me now / Come steady me, steady me now."

Another wave crashes over him in the form of fear: 

     When I get tired of fighting
     All of the fears I've been hiding
     You gave me Your breath, and tell me to rest
     You never left
     I can, I can, I can hear You, calling me by name
     Pulling me up from under my shame
     I'll never be the same
     I can face anything, so let it rain.

The waves of fear are pulling him down, suffocating him. He’s exhausted from trying to keep his head up, and then the Lord gives a rescue breath—not "a" breath, but "Your" breath, the Breath of the Holy Spirit. He tells him to rest: “When I get tired of fighting / All of the fears I’ve been hiding / You gave me Your breath, and tell me to rest.”

He gets distracted, maybe, by his fears, by fighting them--just like Peter took his eyes off Christ and started to sink; and then the Lord gives him rest and he is reminded: “You never left.”

Not only is the Lord still there; He is calling him, begging him to let Him save him: “I can, I can, I can hear You, calling me by name / Pulling me up from under my shame.” God calls him from his life of sin and shame, and "I'll never be the same"—Baptism conforms him to Christ and makes him a new person.

He’s so confident that he tells the Lord: "I can face anything, so let it rain." That is, as long as You're here, as long as You're my anchor, as long as You're holding me steady, I can face anything, even if this ocean gets bigger because it rains.

Another refrain, and then he really cries out—not in despair, because he still has hope that the Lord will save himbut in desperation: 

     Don't let go
     I don't want to do this alone
     Don't let go
     I know that I'll drown on my own

He begs the Lord to not let go. He doesn’t want to do this alone—because he cannot do this alone: he will drown if he tries to get to shore alone: “I know that I’ll drown on my own.”

The refrain is repeated for a final time, interspersed with those pleas: “I don’t want to do this alone” and “I know that I’ll drown on my own.

You are my anchor
So steady me, steady me now
(I don't want to do this alone)
You're keeping my feet on the ground
(I know that I'll drown on my own)
In angry oceans, You've never broken through
Every wave of the storm
You are my anchor
So steady me, steady me now
Come steady me, steady me now.