We have a small ring of cards on our kitchen table that prompts family conversations during meal time. One of these cards asks, "what is love?" While Valentine's Day may be over, this is a good topic to address. What is love? Is it an action? Is it a feeling? Is it a gift?
My 1st grade son says that an example of love is when someone else gets the classroom job that you want and that you are happy for the other student. Let's examine this statement. In essence, it is a statement of self-denial; putting others before yourself.
In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us to be like little children. In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus says, "let the children come to me." Children and their prayer intentions are very near and dear to Christ's heart. Why? Because they love simply. They are unconcerned with political consequences. They will express their feelings of love before worrying about what others may think. Adults tend to do the opposite. Adults will think of how they will be perceived and then act; especially, if it is perceived that their action will be favorably welcomed. In other words, adults will over-complicate a simple act of love by putting their head before their heart. Jesus wants us to follow our hearts. For it is within our hearts that Jesus resides.
Yes, discernment is critically important and requires both head and heart. It is when these two vital parts move as one that we can discern what is God's will for our life, or for a particular situation. I'm not telling you to think with your heart and forget about your head. I'm challenging you to use both- equally. Don't over complicate a situation. Pray about it. Discern. Use your head and your heart together. Make your decision based on the love of Christ.
My 3 year old daughter showed me an action of love yesterday. On Friday afternoons, I'm exhausted. Each Friday, we unwind with pizza and family movie night. Yesterday, I woke at 3:45am. By 5:00pm and after a full day of work with my favorite 3rd graders, I was done. (By the way, ALL of my students are my favorite!) Before we could relax for family movie night, my daughter absolutely INSISTED that we bring flowers to our elderly neighbor next door.
These "flowers" were nothing more than weeds. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't want to go. I was afraid that these "flowers" were not good enough to give as a gift. The gift, however, was not the "flowers." I stood at the end of my neighbors driveway, while my beautiful daughter delivered her gift. The gift wasn't just flowering weeds, it was her smile. By ringing our neighbors doorbell, she let him know that she was thinking about him. That alone is gift enough. It was a pure and simple gift of love from one person to another. The smile that my neighbor returned when he opened his door to see a little girl with pigtails and flowering weeds clutched in her small hand to offer to him as a gift - was priceless.
So, what is love? My definition of love is Jesus Christ crucified. Christ offered Himself completely, thus providing for forgiveness of sins and opening the gates of Heaven. His love is that of the ultimate self-denial. Jesus uses the word, "love" over 500 times in the New Testament. Therefore, love must be important. It is after all, the central reason why God gave His son to humanity. Love is an act of self-denial and serving others. For this is what Christ taught us. Love is living your life for God. Love is serving others for the love of God. Love is placing others before yourself.
Self-denial doesn't have to be a miserable existence. Instead, serving others brings us a sense of joy and peace. Think about it, when was the last selfless action that you performed? Did you feel a lightening of your heart? Did your heart skip a beat because you felt a sense of joy at making another person happy? Self-denial, when applied in a manner that serves Christ, is the greatest form of love.
We will enter into Lent next week with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. As Catholics, we receive the ashes on our foreheads within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. A priest or other minister places the ashes on our foreheads saying, "remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return." Or, he says, "repent and believe in the Gospel." Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. It is to remind us that life will pass us by very quickly and that we should live each day for the love of Christ. What better time to reflect on love and self-denial than during this holy time of Lent? Lent spans from Ash Wednesday until sundown of Holy Thursday. Let us prepare ourselves to receive the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday by spending the days of Lent in acts of love- love for others because of our love for Christ.
We are less than 2 weeks away from our annual Lenten journey. Lent is my favorite Liturgical season. It is my favorite because of it's simplicity, yet it's complexity. Lent is stripped down and raw. It is a 40 day journey of fasting and prayer that will unite us with Christ's suffering and passion.
We will soon be entering into an period known as "Shrovetide." Shrovetide is the pre-Lenten time in which the faithful attend confession and discern what they feel spiritually called to do during the Lenten season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. During our short 40 days of Lent, the faithful will strengthen their bond with Christ. Lent is about more than giving up something, it is about spending 40 days in spiritual renewal.
It is no mistake to find the common thread of "40" throughout the Bible. For instance, Exodus 34:28 tells us that Moses spent 40 days with our Lord on Mount Sinai. With his time spent in fasting and prayer, Moses was preparing himself to receive the Ten Commandments. Another example, of course, is Matthew 4:2 that tells us about Jesus spending "40 days and 40 nights" in the desert where He spent His time in fasting and prayer before beginning his public ministry. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said that during Jesus' 40 days in the desert, "he nourished himself with the Word of God, which he used as a weapon to conquer the devil." Notice that both the Old Testament (Moses) and the New Testament (Jesus) are parallel figures. Both Moses and Jesus spent 40 days in prayer and fasting before their pivotal moments in history. The pivotal moment for Moses was bringing down the tablet from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments emblazoned upon it. Jesus' pivotal moment in this case was (is there only one?!) His public ministry.
Moses and Jesus spent 40 days in fasting and prayer, strengthened by the Word of God- whether it be the burning bush or the Jewish scrolls known to us as the Old Testament. The Word of God can and will nourish us, too. God is drawn to our suffering, especially when we offer our suffering up out of love for Him.
During Noah's time, it rained for 40 days so that God could renew the Earth. Scripture couldn't be more obvious that 40 days is needed to renew and strengthen the faithful- every year.
Whether we abstain from social media, read a chapter of the Bible every day, donate money in a "rice bowl," God will see us. He knows our hearts. God will know if we are prepared to enter into the 50 day Liturgical season of Easter with purified hearts and a renewed spirit.
Galatians 5:16-26 tells us to "walk by the spirit... for the flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit... The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition; drunkenness and the like. those who live by acts of the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God."
Step it up. Step up your usual Lenten practices. Renew your Lenten season! In order to correct an immoral sin, choose to do its opposite. Instead of gossiping about someone, pray for them. To avoid immorality, spend time in adoration/spiritual meditation- see the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.
In my family, we ask for a Lenten Family Chore from our parish priest. My husband and I will participate in spiritually renewing exercises. We will also teach our children about almsgiving. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are central to the Lenten season, however, they are the cornerstones of the Catholic Church.
During this Shrovetide period, I challenge you to go to confession and to spend time in Eucharistic Adoration. I challenge you to seriously discern what you need to do in your life so that you are renewed and "nourished with the Word of God" that you can "use as a weapon to conquer the devil."
Don't just make a change for 40 days, instead, make a permanent change so that you may always walk in the Light of Christ.
This morning as I was preparing to take my son to Tae Kwon Do, I wondered where my husband and daughter were. I glanced outside the front window and found my husband standing in the middle of the cul-de-sac wearing his flannel pj pants and cowboy boots. Why? Because our 3 year old daughter really, really, really wanted to ride her bike. She, too was in her pjs with princess slippers and a winter coat. It was 48 degrees outside (which is nothing for my Montana born and raised husband!) The view of my husband with our little girl was priceless. He was sacrificing his Saturday morning relaxation to spend this bonding time with our daughter. However, he doesn't view it as a sacrifice. He views it as his honor and his privilege to play with his baby girl- even if he is standing in the middle of the street with his pj pants and cowboy boots on! It is moments like these that make me fall more in love with my husband. We will celebrate our 9 year anniversary in May. While we love celebrating our anniversary, we find that it's crucial to honor and celebrate our marriage every day. Our marriage is a gift from God. Therefore, in honoring our marriage, we honor God. After all, it takes THREE to get married!
Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote a phenomenal book, titled "Three to Get Married." Those three, of course, are husband, wife and God. One of my favorite quotes from his book is, "it loves the other, not because of attractiveness, or talents, or sympathy, but because of God. To the Christian, a person is someone for whom I must sacrifice myself, not one who must exist for my sake." This quote perfectly summarizes the way to have a happy marriage. Marriage is a sacrifice. That being said, any sacrifice that is absent of God, is a burden. A sacrifice that is centric around the love of God, becomes a joy. To be married is to sacrifice yourself for the love of your spouse and for the love of God.
One of the main, driving reasons why marriage ends is because of the absence of God. Without God, the marriage becomes void of the joy of sacrifice and is left with the burden of sacrifice. The absence of God in marriage results in selfishness. However, when a marriage exists with God at the center, it will endure. In fact, it will endure through all of the bumps, hills and valleys that is indicative of life.
World Marriage Day is celebrated every second Sunday of February. This year it falls on February 12- tomorrow! The World Marriage Day is sponsored by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter. In 1983, the "World Marriage Day was designated as a day to honor the husband and wife as the head of the family, the basic unit of society." (wmd.wwme.org) It is no mistake that this day always falls around St. Valentine's Day-- the day that our culture celebrates love. If you are married, take the time to do something special celebrate your spouse tomorrow. If you are not married, then pray for your future spouse.
When growing up, my mom used to tell me that the greatest gift that you can give your children is to love your spouse. These words ring very true. I used to never want to get married because I didn't think that I could possibly have a marriage that was as full of love as my parents marriage was. However, I have never been more happy to have been proven wrong. My marriage is full of the same love that my parents marriage was built upon - the love of Christ.
^^My Dad and I in Illinois at the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Museum in 2016 #SelfieWithABishop
"The most powerful name. The most loving name. The most joyful name. The name that brings the most peace. This name is Jesus. In Hebrew, Jesus means "God saves." He is known as the Messiah, as Emmanuel, as The Almighty. He is the son of God. The Holy name of Jesus demands reverence.
When praying the Hail Mary, all too often people rush through the name of Jesus. The Hail Mary needs a pause. My dad taught me a trick that I would like to share with you.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, ((pause)) JESUS. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The Hail Mary is prayed 53 times in the Holy Rosary. When you pause for Jesus during each of these Hail Mary's, you bring reverence and respect to the name of Jesus. When you meditate on the name of Jesus, what do you discover? Do you discover forgiveness and compassion? Does the name bring you a sense of overwhelming peace? Do you find yourself in awe at the glory of Christ? Can you find His radiant love?
It never ceases to amaze me that God would send His only Son to save us from our sins and then allow that Son to die on the Cross and open the gates of Heaven. Jesus has two natures: a human nature and a divine nature. When Mary said, "yes" and consented to be Jesus' mother, she was instrumental in bringing about Jesus' human nature. I will go into more detail about the impact of Mary's "yes" in another post. The Divine nature of Jesus came to be because He is the Son of God. I am only touching on Jesus' two natures right now. This topic begs for a much deeper conversation.
Pause. Reflect. Meditate on the love of Jesus!
"Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?" - Saint Gerard Majella
The longing. The waiting. The ardent desire for something to fulfill a void. Perk.a.tory is a play on the word, "purgatory." Purgatory is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as being "purification." (CCC 1030)Purgatory is a purification process that a soul goes through if they are imperfect or unclean, because nothing unclean and imperfect can enter through the gates of Heaven. It is during this purification process that a soul is purified- which will create a longing to be united with Christ in Heaven. Only Christ can fulfill the voids left within our soul.
Perk.a.tory is a little less severe, but it is still involves a longing and waiting for something to fill a void- that something is that early morning, fresh pot of brewed coffee that will add a pep to your step and fill you with warmth. It is during the groggy moments of my day that my best theological contemplations occur. However, does coffee replace Jesus Christ? No. No, it does not.
In today's world, people have ardently searched for "things" to fill the void in their life. These many "things" have started to distract us from a contemplative prayer life with Christ. These "things" are devices, television, movies, toys, etc. The "things" cannot replace Christ. Set down the devices and turn off the t.v. What are you left with? Time. Time that is best used in prayer. Contemplative and meditative prayer is best, but sometimes life demands us to multi-task. So, while you are folding clothes or stuck in your car during rush hour, pray. Our Lady of Fatima teaches us to "pray without ceasing." When you are blessed to discover a few minutes of quiet time in your day, grab your rosary. Start with praying one decade, then add another and another. Before you know it, you will have prayed the entire rosary- in less than 15 minutes.
As an exceptionally busy woman, I find time to pray the Rosary at the beginning of a school day. Thankfully, I am blessed to work at a Catholic elementary school and my students think it's fantastic that I walk through the hallways holding and praying a rosary for our school. Think of the example that this sets?! We have the power to teach our children to carry a rosary and to PRAY the Rosary - in public! Imagine the power of prayer if we could get more and more people to do this! I also find time to pray the rosary during lunch. I get a 30 minute lunch break- and I only need 15 minutes to eat. Basic math teaches us that 30-15= 15. That's exactly how much time it takes to pray a rosary! I've also been known to pray a rosary before bed at night; but truthfully, I am usually asleep by the end of the first decade.
Yes, there are many "things" that will distract us from our prayer relationship with Jesus. But if we can weed out the "things" and set aside some "Jesus Time," then we will receive many graces and a heart on fire for the love of Christ. The prayer relationship with Jesus is just that- a relationship. Relationships take work. They take steadfast commitment. Let us focus on nurturing our relationship with Christ. For it is only the love and joy of the Light of Christ that can truly fill the voids in our life.
"Prayer is the oxygen of the soul." - Saint Padre Pio