A More Excellent Way

There is a vast misunderstanding of the four-letter word St Paul writes about in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:4-8). He chooses to give the reader concrete examples to understand better. What is authentic love, and what does it require? The brilliant St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, “To love is to will the good of the other.” Love is an act of the will, a choice we make. We choose to love or not to love. We often get confused because we think love is simply an emotional feeling like “falling in love.” The error in that kind of thinking relies upon “feelings” as an indicator of the presence of love. Feelings change. The giddy emotions will fade, and we wrongly assume we are no longer in love. Sadly, this same excuse can end a marriage. One cannot “fall out of love,” instead, the choice is to no longer love. Even that language is misleading. “Falling” is something we try to avoid at all costs. I know this personally because my falls usually involve an ambulance and brain surgery to repair. St. John Paull II reminds us that the “opposite of love is not hate but use.”  

If we truly understand what love is, we should also realize that it demands something.

God will not ask us to do what we are incapable of doing on our own.

We must understand love’s sacrificial nature; it always puts the other before the self. I once heard it said this way, “love is not give and take; it is just give.” This statement may seem utterly exhausting and unbearable. Yet we have examples all around us. Look at the mother who continues to pour out love for the life of her children with little sleep and negligible rewards. How about the father who works long, tiresome hours in a job he hates to provide for his family? The teacher, nurse, and priest give their best for the good of the people they serve daily amid complaining ungrateful hearts? I saw in my mother a woman who woke up one morning to a paralyzed husband who never walked the rest of his life ten years into her marriage. Her loving, devoted care grew significantly in the later years when she, too, was ill and aged. The tenderness in which she poured herself out daily for my father was heroic and exemplified love.

We are so accustomed to measuring and keeping the score of the little we do for one another. St. Paul reminds us that there is no room for that in authentic love. It appears nearly impossible to love one another selflessly and adequately, especially when we may not even like one another. Yet, God’s second greatest commandment is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

It requires heroic virtue to choose love. God commanded that loving our neighbor is the means whereby we grow in holiness and prove our love for Him. Love forgives because that is what Christ showed us on the Cross, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Lk23:24) Forgiveness, like love, is not a feeling but a necessity. It releases the other and ourselves and is conditional to God forgiving us. There must be generous, merciful compassion and forgiveness in love.

Love is patient. “Patience is not proved except in suffering, and patience is one with charity.” (Siena) Patience requires endurance. We must learn to endure the faults of others and pray for their conversion. God readily sent His Son because of His love for us. He willingly suffered for the sins he did not commit and paid the ransom due to our sinful choices. Why would God the Father ask something so seemingly cruel of His Beloved Son? His Infinite love and mercy. That is how much we matter to our Father in heaven. We choose sin instead of obedience and virtue. We do this to ourselves and could never be free from the punishment owed, nor make enough restitution for them to God who is ALL GOOD. 

Sin is poison. Love is the antidote.

The visual par excellent is the Crucifix-after all, that is what love looks like and what our sins cost our Lord Jesus. We must try and emulate this level of forgiveness as we seek to love one another.

This generous love poured out on the Cross is given to us at every Mass in the Eucharist. It is supernatural food and the gift of Love Incarnate that has the power to transform our hearts and conform them to Love Itself. There is nothing else more powerful. Nothing else so necessary.

“You test the virtue of patience when your neighbor insults you. Your humility is tested by the proud, your faith by the unfaithful, your hope by the person with no hope, your justice is tried by the unjust, your compassion by the cruel, and your gentleness and kindness by the wrathful. Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come to birth….”  St Catherine of Siena

Everything!

A month ago, I was introduced to the Surrender Novena. In practice, I realize the importance of surrendering everything to God, and letting God be God. What prevents me from abandoning myself to the Omnipotent Father when I know He can do everything well? This is easier said than done. Hence, the Surrender Novena has become a timely gift helping me to let go of the reins and surrender completely to God’s plan for my life. I recommend you do a test run yourself and let “Jesus take the wheel.” 

A novena is simply a prayer prayed for nine days and is often asking intercession through a particular saint. Why the mediator? Because we believe they are closest to God and can better aid us through their constant presence in heaven.

You may agree or disagree that God is in control. Perhaps you hold the Deist view that believes that God put things in motion a very long time ago and now just sits back and watches it all play out like a bad movie. Yet, the Christian perspective trusts that God is always close and attentive in our lives. Every single person is precious in His eyes, believer or not. We are His children, the work of His hands, willed into existence by His love.

Many of us may have never realized or experienced God’s all-encompassing love, so we doubt He exists or its transformative power. 

We are given freedom from above to choose either for or against God. We are not puppets being manipulated for some sick cosmic entertainment. This freedom gives us the right to choose good or evil, to take a path for our lives that leads to ultimate happiness or unhappiness, misery, and pain. We are not hapless victims, much like dead leaves floating on the current of life heading downstream. We are active, intelligent players on this journey; that is only a journey and not the destination. We can choose to believe that there is something more than this life and pay attention to all the signs left by our loving Father, which steer us towards a greater purpose and destiny; or we can peer inward, focusing on ourselves in a self-made tiny narcissistic world. It is our choice, after all. 

There are certain things within our grasp and control, but we can erroneously believe that everything is in our power to control. There is, however, much that is entirely out of our control, and that is the rub. Anxiety and stress come from wanting and expecting control over all things which realistically are simply outside our control. Our expectations for people, situations, and events further complicate the matter. It all feeds the delusion that I can be in control if I just work hard enough, pray long enough, or constantly worry. Not so. Whether we wake up tomorrow or not is entirely out of our control. It has taken me decades to learn to let go, to surrender to the One who is Lord over everything and has a immensely better plan than I.

Have I mastered surrender? No, of course not. I am a work in progress, but it is sweet progress indeed. What I have experienced thus far is greater peace, clarity, and less agitation. It has freed me to let certain situations and people that in the past made me nuts slip by me with nary a blip on my radar. 

God always has a better plan.

 I believe it all boils down to trust. Do I trust that God is supreme, all-loving, merciful, and in Whom all things are possible, or do I think that little old sinful, selfish, mortal me knows best? I dare say we can look no further than our own families, nation, and world to see that we as humans will mostly tend towards self-interest, flawed ideologies, greed, and power. We are kind of predictable that way. It is a matter of physics, what do we let take up our days and hearts because it will leave room for little else.

So, I invite you to try something different. Let go, and let God be Lord of your life. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, but it is up to you. You cannot simply go through the motions; you must believe with your whole mind and heart that Jesus will “take care of everything.” If all this sounds frightening, small-minded, archaic, or futile, go ahead keep running on the crazy hamster wheel to hell. I hope it works out for you. Afterall, how many of us have fallen for the delusion that “if I just work harder, I can gain control of every aspect of my life.” I prefer instead to place my future in the hands of the Almighty, all-powerful, all-loving God, and it is rather remarkable.

I wrote this down recently after praying the Novena for the third time. By personalizing it and writing down those issues and challenges that take up space in your head, helps you begin to release control of them, thus relinquishing them over to God. I cannot begin to tell you how pertinent and helpful this Novena is. I literally pray this repeatedly because I need to be constantly reminded to let Jesus take care of everything. I invite you to do the same.

Every situation. Every frustration. Every event. Every encounter. Every family member. Every co-worker. Every decision or lack thereof. Everything, I surrender to you.

Every insane tactic of evil in our nation. Every year. Every tear. Every moment. Every failed expectation. Every breath. Every morning and evening. Everything!

Every minute of every day. Every unanswered prayer. Every Mass and Eucharist.

Every whispered prayer. Every exasperated situation. Everything out of my control.

Every faulty decision of mine and of others. Every time I fail at remaining holy and choose instead the easy path. Every desire for the good of another.

Every hurt and exhausted moment I pour myself out for you through another. Every ingratitude and thoughtless word. Everything!

Jesus, I surrender myself to you ….TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING!

Liquid love

Wanted! Swanky Bubble Suit

Have you ever had one of those days (or years) when it feels like your worst nightmares are being played out? Or perhaps a supporting actor in some “B movie” that just can’t catch a break and the brunt of everyone’s pitiful whispers? Maybe your respites are short-lived, and the challenges numerous? I get it. Believe me, I do. I have a bit of an unflattering reputation for untimely and bizarre falls and accidents. And no, I am no thrill seeker nor attention junkie looking for the next pity party.

On the contrary, I would prefer to slip into a quiet, predictable, and banal existence most days. This status, I have found, makes me the brunt of good-hearted humor from family members. For instance, there was the perfectly timed meme of a bubble-wrapped woman sent just before our last family vacation.

If such a thing as a chic bubble suit were available, wherein I did not appear to be a walking blowfish, I would happily consider purchasing it? An adorable matching chapeau would complete my ensemble and protect what’s left of my grey matter.

A few weeks ago, I was praying in the Church by myself around 3:30pm. I like to stop in and say a Chaplet of Divine Mercy during my workday. I knelt first for a few decades and then eased into the chair behind me. I continued praying when suddenly, my chair slid out from under me and dropped me to the ground, but not before whacking me in the head as I fell.

To say I was stunned is an understatement. How did this happen? How do you fall sitting down?

I was not rocking the chair nor in the process of sitting down. I was already seated when this bizarre event occurred. I’ve got to say, more than my other mishaps-this one made me mad. I literally shouted out to the empty Church, “Really, God? Come on! I’m in here praying!”

I don’t know why this strange occurrence caught me off guard. You would think I would be used to this stuff by now. Thank goodness no one else was around to observe this nonsense, minus all of the heavenly host. I imagine my guardian angel is getting used to this kind of business with me. There was no audible giggle from the dark angelic host either. It literally felt like the chair was jerked out from under me. Seems impossible, and improbable but there you have it, all the ugly humiliating details.

I wish I could say it was my first fall in the Church. It was not. One Saturday morning after Mass a few years back, I was blowing out the Christmas candles. The whole wreath assembly was only inches from the edge of the stairs and wedged between a nativity set that spanned three steps and a pile of perfectly placed poinsettias. I began to lose my balance in such a tight spot and had to make a split-second decision, fall sideways, damage my already beat-up left brain, or attempt to control what I could. I decided to propel myself forward, jumping with enough momentum to hopefully clear three steps. I almost made it too, but my heels slide like skates on the marble floor, landing me hard amongst the poinsettias and only slightly splitting my head. That unplanned stunt came with an audience of the lingering after Mass crowd. It must have been something to look up from prayer, only to see me landing on my back among the flowers. This is where the bubble suit and hood may have come in handy?

About a year later, one of the regular daily Mass attendees appeared to be waiting to talk with me. I recognized him but did not know his name. He started off by saying that the “priest told him he would know the right time to tell me something.” My curiosity piqued; he had my rapt attention. Apparently, he can see supernatural things at times, a charism called the Discernment of Spirits. He asked me if I remembered that morning of my fall a year previous. I assumed he was one of the lucky folks in the Church when it happened. He told me how he “observed an angel come out of nowhere and cushion my fall as I was going down.” Therefore, I was not hurt worse. He told me that my head landed alongside his wings.

Thanking him, I was taken aback and deeply touched by what he had shared. I felt great comfort from his words. I was again reminded how God is so close to each of us, constantly loving and protecting us. This mighty God who willed the universe into existence is never too busy for me and my regular nosedives. It also helped answer questions I pondered regarding my unfortunate encounter with a car a few years ago that almost killed me. Why weren’t my injuries much worse? Why were my legs intact when the steel rod of the bike was snapped? No internal damage, just a bunch of broken bones, bruises, and road rash. Perhaps once again, there was an angelic buffer to minimize the impact on my body that day?

I have only shared this story with a handful of people. It is precious and personal to me. Do we realize that we too have a Guardian Angel, given to us since our very beginnings of existence? How many times have we been guided, protected, and assisted without knowing it? Our Angel, who sees the face of God, is with us always. Do we call on him? Thank him? Ask for his intercession and help?

“Our guardian angels are our most faithful friends because they are with us day and night, always and everywhere. We ought often to invoke them.”

~ St. John Vianney

You might question their existence due to the catastrophes in your own life. Why were you not spared from any of it? Why aren’t we saved from all pain and misery? This is where God’s Permissive or Provident Will comes in. There is, in fact, a purpose for everything in God’s plan. Even suffering plays a part in our salvation and purification. We are reminded that His ways are not our ways. (cf. Is55:8) I believe if we could see the constant attentiveness given to us through God’s Providential love, it would blow our minds! Our own ever-present Angel stands ready to guide and guard us at every moment of our lives. We have no idea how many disasters have been averted or illnesses that were lightened. The Feast of the Guardian Angels is October 2nd! Blessed be God for His gracious, watchful care of us.

Thank you, my dear guardian angel, for your attentive presence in my life and in the lives of those I love.


St Michael the Archangel, pray for us!

Prescription Grade

Most of my articles used humorous family tales to connect with my readers when I first started writing. I missed the lighter side and thought it was time to put the “fun-sucker” in time-out and bring out some humor again. My current senior state of being is an excellent place to begin.

The term twilight years has always baffled me. I do not know who falls in that category because I haven’t bothered to look it up. Who cares anyway? There are already far too many labels in the world for my liking.  I have decided to continue living in the fantasy that my body is as young as my mind thinks it is. If I can just stay off the playgrounds, away from mirrors, bicycles, and ice rinks, I’ll be in good shape and safely “ICU-free in 2021.” Granted, my mind is not as sharp as it used to be. Or at least I don’t think it is.

All life on the planet ages, but seems especially challenging for homo sapiens. Ok, I am aware that it isn’t a walk in the park for the aging water buffalo or zebra who end up as easy pickings for a hungry lion pride. As humans made in the image and likeness of God, we have intellect and will which helps us over-process the effects, concerns, and deficiencies at a higher level. “Yikes, who is that old lady looking at me in the mirror!” Random aches and pains come without warning and remind us that we are only mortal and meant for more than this earthly abode. Having to recall specific details, names, or events can be an additional, unwanted frustration.

Kid: “Mom, remember that place we went, and you bought that rolling pin? Whatever happened to the shirt I was wearing?”

Me: “Did I buy a rolling pin? Were you even born yet? I need more details.”

Kid: “Come on, really? It was my favorite shirt. Remember you bought that candy from Rocky Mountain Chocolates?”

Me: (instant clarity) “Oh yes, the orange jelly enrobed in dark chocolate. That was delicious. THAT shirt? I threw that away ages ago.”

I had found over the years that when the event in question involved me stuffing something delicious in my mouth, I had better memory recall. Popular Chocolate Science Weekly did a whole segment on the connection between food intake and memory association. Thankfully, I still have the wherewithal to whip up emergency brownies and always carry them in my purse. You never know what essential memories I’ll need to archive. This critical memory-saving practice keeps a smile on my face and the innertube firmly inflated in my middle.

If I wanted to make excuses for my lapsed memory, I could blame my far too many head injuries for turning my brain to mush. That is a well-documented, valid defense. My adult kids find it hilarious when I am not making lightning-fast decisions, to audibly whisper to each other and wink, “it’s the accident.” Little farts!

Since I have opened Pandora’s box, eliciting excuses connected to my dubious memory, hearing with only one ear has a considerable impact. It boggles my mind how many people automatically go to my non-functioning left ear to share a trifle with me. One might as well share their confession in that ear, ’cause it hears nada. Mix in a bit of background music at a restaurant, forty other happy diners, and I basically get zip. I, however, just nod and smile trying to keep up. So what I miss eighty percent of what was said, I cannot be held accountable for remembering information I never heard in the first place.

There, I feel better already. Maybe it isn’t an aging thing after all and just all my other abnormalities. I have an excuse to fit every scenario except the recent one where I used the prescription powdered stuff from my recent colonoscopy. Why you ask ? Waste not, want not! Apparently, it packs a serious punch even in tiny doses. Good thing I am still fairly quick on my feet. I am happy to report I survived the prep for my roto rooter job. You would think by now there would be a pill or less invasive technology like something out of Star Trek. I hardly can handle the appalling beverage required to do the prep. I have polled many who feel the same way. Not my husband, he just drinks it right down and thinks it “tastes just fine.” REALLY? He could possibly be the only person on the planet who feels that way. I shall spare the faint-hearted and rookies’ further details and simply state that hell might just be an eternal colonoscopy prep.

Thank goodness heaven is for real, and none of that business is necessary. Stay on the straight and narrow- it’s worth it now for the prize that awaits us.

 

 

 

Sneaky Mom Does Good

I rather like that we mothers are surprisingly adept at reading our brood. Age does nothing to deter us. I’m sixty-two and my mom is still working her magic on me. We have a knack for being annoyingly effective in getting necessary information and reminders into their little psyches.  

6am text from me: “Happy birthday, I love you! (Lots of emoji’s)

6:02am text from me: “Oh my bad! I meant to send that to grandma. I bet you already wished her a Happy birthday LOL!” (kissy face emojis)

6:03am return text: Mahmmmmm! U woke me up! (angry face emoji)

Obviously, this skill must be well-honed over time. Technology threw us a curveball, but we caught up soon enough, broadening the possibilities to hit our marks. Occasional failures are part of the learning curve, but we are quick to ascertain new skills, becoming more bothersome as the situation demands.  

Point in case: last year my mother kept asking me if I had “watched, the Chosen series yet.” No, I would reply with some lame excuse. A mom with any credibility can see right through that stuff. The trailers looked interesting enough, but I was convinced without ever seeing it, that it was cheesy and ultimately poorly done, a well-meaning Christian effort to shove Jesus down our throats. So, I stayed busy and distracted until she came for lunch one fall day. She asked again if I had seen any of the episodes of the Chosen. I replied, “I had not.” She said flatly, “sit down, we’re watching it now,” and whipped out the DVD set. Moms are good at getting what they want, but isn’t that what love does? It persists even when rejected and discounted, especially when it is good for the person they love.

Maybe you have heard people talking here and there about “The Chosen” series but have never taken the time to check it out. Perhaps you have never heard of it at all. Not to worry, I am happy to introduce you to it and share what I have experienced.

My mom knew, that all I needed to do, was to get past my bias and watch one episode. Being a lover of Christ, it was not hard to convince me after the first episode that “the Chosen” was different. It quickly dissolved for me all the previously held erroneous assumptions. Rather than the starting point of Jesus as the chosen Messiah, this series is about those whom Jesus chooses to follow Him.

What might those early men and women who followed in His company been like?

They came from various walks of life, personalities, and back stories. What was it like to follow the Messiah that they had prayed for and yearned for their whole lives, and then by chance to be chosen despite their woundedness, imperfections and human limitations?

I have to say, with each episode I am touched in unexpected ways. Some are profound and deep, touching the pains in my own journey of life and faith; while others give me a different perspective to consider. Woven into each episode is the reality of life, both challenging and humorous. What was it like to be in the company of a rogue preacher traveling together with the insecurity of what each day would bring? What roles would each of them play, as the true mission of the Messiah is revealed, and contradicts their commonly held beliefs? For a historical piece it is hugely relatable, because it is our human experiences that unites us. They had the same concerns we do today.

What is God up to in our crazy current age?

Where is God in the suffering of humanity?

What is the purpose of my life, and how can I know His plan for me?

I really cannot recommend the Chosen series enough. Many people I speak with have never heard of it or are reluctant as I was, to just watch it with an open mind and heart. I find that it gives me endless possibilities to meditate on in prayer. It opens my eyes to the immense compassion and love of our God through His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus was true God, but also true man. He got tired, angry, laughed, and danced at weddings. He was frustrated by the hardness of hearts in his time (and ours). Yet He deeply loved and desired to make whole those lost sheep He came to find; to bring them and us today, into right relationship with the Father.

This series brings to life these early saints of old and their humanity.

It would be a disservice to diminish them as nothing other than ancient one-dimensional canvases or dusty statues of plaster stuck in time. We share similar stories and struggles. God’s answers and solutions for them are the answers and solutions that we desperately need for ourselves.

The portrayal of Mother Mary is also beautifully played, demonstrating her humility and wisdom. As Catholics we hold our dear Mother in such high regard and rightly so. Like me, she was a woman, wife, and mother. Unlike me, she was the Mother of the Son of God, without sin or stain. However, that does not imply she was without human emotions, laughter, or tears. Immaculate yes, unapproachable and aloof, no.

What mother when she knows her child can do something to help someone will not ask him to do so?

What mother does not feel as her children grow, that they do not need her as they once did?

What mother does not worry nor carry in her heart, pain and sorrow in union with her children? When they suffer, she suffers.

Watch the series. (you’re welcome) It is free. I want to hear what touched you. Don’t be afraid to talk about it and share it with others. Ponder it in your own heart. Support it financially if you are able. This beautiful worldwide means of evangelization is bringing all walks of life and beliefs together and changing lives for the better. What other viewing can we say does that?

Thanks, mom! You knew what was best, and were persistent in sharing this amazing series with us. We are forever grateful.

Note: St. Andrew the Apostle will be featuring select episodes of “The Chosen”, followed by discussion groups. Watch for the details coming soon.

The Chosen, first season