“Be Not Afraid”

As I walked into Church this morning I almost ran into a tree. You heard that right. I was looking down at my phone (really, to pause the prayer I was listening to, honest!) and next thing I know, I realize that one more step, and a tree will be in my face.

Thank you, distractions. Thank you, tree. This may seem ridiculous to thank my distractions and the tree but bear with me.

crucifixion-salvador-dali.jpgI walked into the narthex, and not only were my glasses fogged up (because of my face mask), but the sun was shining brightly through one of the far windows, blinding me. “Sit where the sun is not in my eyes,” I told myself as I walked into the nave. I could barely see where I was going, but I found a spot to sit down and begin writing in my journal. I invited Jesus into all of me for Mass — all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.

Does that seem strange, to invite Jesus into the darkness?

Mass began and I stood up. The blinding sunlight was coming through the window, right into my eyes again as I stood. “It will be gone when I sit down for the readings,” I thought.

The first reading was from Ephesians. I love Ephesians. Just a note to the reader, if you read the daily Mass readings everyday we will be going through most of Ephesians for the next two weeks. Today this struck me: “You…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14). Our being sealed in the Holy Spirit is only the first installment. “There is so much more to come!” I thought. We are His possession, His sons and daughters. Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

The psalm verse “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own” fits right into this.

Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down;
he sees all mankind (Ps 33:12-13).

God is in charge. We are His people. He gives us everything.

We stood up for the Gospel and I was blinded by the light again. I tried moving to my right. The light was still in my eyes. I decided to just close them and listen to the Word.

“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows (Lk 12:2-7).”

I sat down for the homily. “Every cell of our body is known by the Lord,” the priest said. “Bring everything into the light.”

I laughed at myself. “I can’t hide from you, can I, Jesus?” I thought of the bright sunlight through the Church window that seemed to be chasing me and blinding me.

I remembered what I wrote in my journal at the beginning of Mass. “I invite You into all of me, all of my thoughts, even the darkest ones.”

Jesus wants to be there to heal! He wants to be in every part of us. We can think of every cell, but is that all? A cell is a material thing. What about the spiritual “parts” of us? Our memories, our thoughts, our intellectual ponderings.

Our feelings. Even the darkest ones. He wants to be there, too.

His light may feel too bright. It may burn at first, but the burning is purifying.

What do we know about Him?

Look at the crucifix. Do not be afraid. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

While we were still sinners? He chases us down. His light shines in the darkness. He wants to be in everything — in the distractions, in the falls. He is not afraid of our sins, even the darkest ones. He felt all of them in His death, and in the moment of His last breath, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Having been sealed in the Spirit was only the beginning. We now live the redemption and claim our inheritance in and through Christ and His loving sacrifice. There is nothing we can give Him that He cannot make new, even our darkest sins. Because we were created “very good” God can bring good purpose to all! Even the distractions. Even the bumps in the road. Even the trees we may run into! Our inheritance is His gentle care, His love, His tenderness.

Be not afraid.

A Saint, “Who, Me?” St. Thérèse says, “Yes, YOU.”

When you were baptized, you were meant to be a saint.  You were baptized priest prophet and king, and equipped to build the Kingdom of God just by living your life, clothed in Christ.  His Holy Spirit was not only breathing natural life within you, but supernatural life of grace and power!

St Thérèse of Lisieux

How many of us know this?  How many of us live this?

From this context, I want to talk about the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  I highly recommend that you read her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul”.  Thérèse was born in France in 1873, the pampered daughter of a mother who had wanted to be a saint and a father who had wanted to be monk. (They are both saints now, by the way – the only married couple to be canonized together!)  The two had gotten married but decided to be continent, that is, until a priest reminded them that their marriage Sacrament was meant to be fully lived! They must have followed his advice very well because they had nine children, of whom, five survived. The five children who lived were all daughters.

Thérèse’s mother died when she was young, and it was devastating for her.  Her sisters and Father did their best to foster a loving family atmosphere and raise little Thérèse.  They were a very devoted and faithful family.  Without realizing it, by the time Thérèse was eleven years old she had developed the habit of mental prayer. She would would pray in solitude and think about God, life, and eternity.

Thérèse was admitted to the Carmelite convent after her sisters Pauline and Marie had already joined. She never expected that her convent-life fantasies of redemptive suffering would be realized so soon. Her father suffered a series of strokes, leaving him physically and mentally impaired. He, at one time, hallucinated and grabbed for a gun as if he were going into battle. He was then taken to an asylum for the insane. Thérèse was horrified at the humiliation of the father she adored and admired, as she heard of the gossip and pity of their so-called friends. As a cloistered nun she couldn’t even visit him.

This began a horrible time of suffering.  She experienced dryness in prayer and decided that Jesus wasn’t doing much in response. She often fell asleep in prayer.  She was consoled by the truth of Jesus’ love for little children, whose mothers love them when they lie asleep in their arms!  Therefore God must love her when she falls asleep during prayer.  The philosophy of the “Little Way,” or doing little things with great love, was born.

She knew she could never do fantastic things as a Carmelite nun. “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love?  Great deeds are forbidden me.  The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”  She would take every chance to sacrifice, no matter how small. She smiled at the sisters she didn’t like and cared for infirm and grumpy sisters with ever so much love. When she was accused of breaking a vase she took the blame and begged forgiveness. Jesus knew of these little sacrifices done for love of Him.  Never was she told how wonderful she was for these secret humiliations and good deeds.  Because of her Little Way, Thérèse is a Doctor of the Church. Thérèse died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.  Her last words at death were, “OH!…I LOVE HIM!…MY GOD, I…LOVE…THEE!!!”  She ran to Jesus like a little child runs to her daddy.

The Little Way made her a saint, and it also can make US saints!

St. Thérèse showed us that doing little things, with love, actually makes them big things in God’s eyes!  We all have this capacity in whatever life brings us.  This is how we build the Kingdom and bring Jesus’ love to the world.

I would like to conclude with an analogy, which I hope will help the reader understand how, as Christians, everything we do can be done through, with, and in Christ. 

Suppose you are graduating from college with a mechanical engineering degree, and you have a job lined up with one of the automakers earning $80,000 per year, along with many other benefits.  You are fully equipped with your degree to act as an engineer and apply your knowledge (ie., as a Christian, you are priest and prophet — fully equipped), and in service to your company you use your skills to build not only cars but the engineering discipline through your creativity (ie., king).

All you have to do is get up in the morning, go to work, and do your job.  

You show up and do the duties that are expected of you (ie., you fulfill the precepts of the Church), but is this all you bring?  No!  You bring who you are as a person.  You build relationships as you work with others in your field of expertise.  In essence, there is no “just getting my paycheck.”  You offer yourself and you offer your knowledge.  Your small part builds the company and the body of knowledge.  Sometimes you are even asked to sacrifice.  The bottom line is, you are more to your work environment than your education or your body.  You bring your natural gifts to build your company, but you can also bring your supernatural gifts that you receive at baptism to everything you do and say.

Here is one major difference between this analogy and our Christian vocation.  God’s gift of grace and life in Him is free and unearned, and is worth so much more than even your earned degree and your experience.  This gift completes you as a person, made in the image and likeness of God.  Just as God’s Holy Spirit completes the human person, allowing him to partake of the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4), you ‘complete’ the secular world!  You are given the grace and are anointed, and it is now your decision how to live out your Baptism.  God is a generous benefactor and a generous lover, but he waits for our decision.  You are called and equipped, and you just need to go to work and do your job, serving God and serving others. 

We (that’s YOU and ME) have been exhorted by the Church at Vatican II: “by [our] competence in secular training and by [our] activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let [us] vigorously contribute [our] effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word.”  This is how we as baptized Christians exercise our priestly ministry.  The more we do this, in anything and everything, every moment of every day, we live out our baptismal call.  

“Christ has communicated [His] royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves.”  Every time we celebrate together the Holy Mass, offering the sacrifice of our lives with Jesus to our Heavenly Father, Jesus nourishes us and strengthens us with His Body and Blood for the mission.  In our vocation to marriage or the religious life we offer ourselves in daily activities to the glory of God.  As prophets God gives us “understanding of the faith (sensus fidei) and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in [our] daily social and family life.”  As kings we participate in spiritual combat with the flesh, overcoming the sin in ourselves and in the world.  We are co-creators with the Creator, who gave us “dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth” (Gen 1:28).  By our baptism we are renewed, redeemed, and equipped to order the world for the good of humanity to the glory of God.  

You have been given your mission!  Are you ready?  It is as simple as doing that first little thing, with love.

St. Thérèse, pray for us!

(All Vatican II quotes from Lumen gentium, 36).