In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
At Mass today, we heard this Gospel passage of the “widow’s mite.” The mite was the smallest of Roman coins. This widow had just two of these small coins, today worth less than a penny, and she gave them to God. Jesus says of her contribution, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
This Gospel passage is not about currency or donations – it’s about trust. This woman trusted God with everything she had. To be a widow during that time period, was to be in a very vulnerable position, especially economically. At that time, women were generally financially cared for by men. Usually, to become a widow and remain unmarried meant a lifetime sentence of destitution. She would have had very little opportunity to make her own money, and if she did have some skill or handiwork, she would still be able to earn only very small amounts of money without a man to represent her in business interactions. It took a lot of courage to donate all of her money. Her donation belied her deep trust in God. This was a woman who was completely confident that God would provide.
Every time I hear this passage, it reminds me of the first time I completely trusted God myself. One day, when I was in grad school, I did what she did. I wasn’t thinking of the “widow’s mite” passage. It wasn’t even in the corner of my mind. I just needed a miracle.
I had five dollars. It was July. I had just paid my very first rental payment on my off-campus housing and I didn’t have a job yet. I had no financial resources. My car had broken down. I had no money to fix it.
So, I had five dollars to buy food for the whole week. I knew I could buy a pack of frozen bagels, a dozen eggs, and some cheese with this five dollars. I knew this because I had been surviving on this budget and this food for over a month.
I needed a job. I had applied to various positions that would fit my graduate student schedule but hadn’t heard back from any yet. So, I went to Mass to ask God for help.
As I went to put my money into the collection basket, I looked at my $5 dollars, surrounded by $20’s and hesitated a brief moment.
I thought to myself, “Look at all of those $20’s. What difference will my measly $5 make anyway?”
I dropped the $5 bill into the basket.
I prayed, “Lord, I’m taking a leap of faith here. I’m trusting you to provide. If you don’t, I won’t have any food at all. I’m hungry now but, without this five dollars, I will starve. You know I love you, Lord, and you know I trust you. Please help me.”
At that moment, I literally “didn’t have a dime” to my name.
I walked out of Mass and waited for the phone to ring.
It did. In fact, it rang three times that afternoon. Three interviews. I remember being downright giddy – not because I had interviews, that was definitely nice – but even moreso because I knew God had actually heard my prayer!
By the end of that week, I had a job that paid well, offered a flexible schedule, and I had great new co-workers! I would stay at that job throughout my two coursework years.
My prayer was answered on that day – when I trusted God with everything I had.
That was nearly twenty years ago. Every time I’m up against the wall, I still have to remind myself that He will provide – but I have to let go of what I’m holding onto first. I have to make the jump. I have to really, really trust God. I’ve learned that as long as I’m “playing it safe” and still holding onto something it just doesn’t work. I can’t hold anything back – it’s gotta be an “all in” gesture. Every single time I do this, every time I trust God completely, He provides.
And, every time, He provides more than I could hope for – way more.
The widow knew this secret. The power is not in grasping on, clutching tightly to that which we have, but in letting go of everything and handing it over to God.
Trusting God – it’s terrifying and it’s thrilling – and you can’t get a better deal.
I was chuckling at this meme today and it got me to thinking about time and prayer.
It reminded me of something Padre Pio once said that really challenged my concept of time.
One day, Padre Pio told his doctor, “I’m praying for the good death of my great-great grandfather.”
The doctor said, “but he died more than one hundred years ago!”
Padre Pio replied, “Remember that, for God, there is no past and no future and everything ispresent. So God made use, at that time, of the prayers I’m saying now.”
It is especially helpful to remember God’s omnipresence when we are suffering. One of the beautiful aspects of the Catholic faith is “redemptive suffering.” The notion that we can combine our suffering with Christ’s passion and offer it up for our own (or another’s) needs is a hopeful concept. When all seems bleak, when we are undergoing profound suffering, this concept gives added meaning and value to suffering. Suffering is painful but it’s not useless. How beautiful is it that we can even apply our suffering to prayerful intentions for the past or the future?
It also brought to mind a recent comment by a priest that struck me by surprise, “If you find yourself with a cross, you find yourself with Jesus.” When I think of “my crosses” or “bringing it to the cross,” I often think of the wood of the cross. However, reframing one’s own crosses in light of Christ’s presence there with us at the cross, brings awareness of the privilege of enjoying His presence during our suffering. Suffering together with Christ seems more of an honor and privilege than the prospect of carrying ones’ cross alone.
And, any time things get rough, I always fall back on St. Ignatius’ hope-filled explanation of suffering: “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.”
So, when hard times come, as they inevitably will, do not despair. Make use of that suffering and “offer it up” in prayerful intentions for the past, future, or present and remember that you are not alone – Jesus is always right there with you.
“Christ’s cross, embraced with love, never leads to sadness, but to joy!” -Pope Francis
Matt Maher reminds us of God’s omnipresence in his song “You Were on the Cross”
Every year, as the days grow shorter and the skies grayer, I feel immense gratitude. The crisp autumn air, brilliant leaves rustling on the trees, and gusty winds bringing them swirling down to crunch underfoot – it all makes me immensely happy.
It makes me so happy that, during this season, a certain angle of the sun on the pane can literally send my heart into a gratitude attack. My heart overflows with joyful prayers of thanks for the blessings of family and friends, food, clean water, power, transportation, and shelter.
And, every year, this season draws me into a deeper love for the Creator of all of this beauty too. I see the delicate leaves, loved into existence for one short season, at their full glory, swirling down. I think of my soul, my life, all of us, just a “breath” in the span of history, so small, yet so significant because He loves each of us into existence too. As I gaze at the intricate patterns the leaves draw upon the air in their final abandon, the words of St. Ignatius come to mind, “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”
And so I pray:
Creator of the autumn winds,
You cool the summer sun
And paint the autumn hues.
Like the beautiful swirling leaf,
to abandon myself ever more unreservedly to you.
Give me the grace
To allow the breath of your Spirit
To direct my path.
That my swirling journey would intersect at your will
And my landing be at your will.
And that, at every moment,
my journey might bring
greater glory to you, My God.
In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks. – St. Teresa of Avila
I was talking with a friend the other day and he was reciting an endless litany of all of the bad things going on in the world right now: terrorism, horrible refugee situations, the plunging stock market, eroding race relations, the selling of baby body parts, unstable international affairs, etc. He concluded, “Things just aren’t looking good.”
I had to disagree. Yes, there absolutely are a lot of horrible situations in the world right now – situations that we cannot ignore and that we are called to address. We must respect the dignity of human life in every way we possible and this includes helping those experiencing poverty and those without home or nation. We must be living witnesses of respect for people everywhere of all races, nationalities, and creeds, young and old, born and unborn. We must see the reflection of the God who made us in the face of each of our brothers and sisters. We must recognize that we are all one human family and do all we can to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters.
Sometimes, however, we are far away and we don’t feel we have the power to change such situations. We can fall into hopelessness. We can despair that “the world is falling apart.”
The problem is that hopelessness and despair deny the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Jesus said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33
Jesus offers Hope when everything around us seems to be falling apart. Jesus offers the warmth of his Love when the world seems barren and destitute.
In his August 16, 1967 speech, “Where Do We Go From Here,” the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of Love in elegant words of timeless import:
“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces …to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.”
Love is the way.
An ocean away, at nearly the same time in history, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina said, “Don’t spend your energies on things that generate worry, anxiety and anguish. Only one thing is necessary: Lift up your spirit and love God.” Likewise, St. Mary McKillop said, “Do what you can with the means at your disposal and leave all the rest calmly to God.”
Suffering in life is inevitable. There have always been and will always be atrocities and strife. How we react to these difficulties is our choice. We can turn away from our suffering brothers and sisters or we can live in love, encountering, respecting, and serving others compassionately. We can be crippled by fear and worry or we can lift up our hearts in prayer and trust that the God of Love hears us.
Pope Francis posed the following questions in his Angelus address on Sunday afternoon:
“Each one of us can ask himself, right now, “Who is Jesus for me? Is He a name? An idea? Is He simply a person from history? Or is He really the person who loves me, who gave His life for me and walks with me?” Who is Jesus for you? Do you remain with Jesus? Do you seek to know Him in His word? Do you read the Gospel every day, a passage from the Gospel in order to know Jesus? Do you carry the little Gospel in your pocket, in your bag, in order to read it everywhere? Because the more we are with Him the more the desire to remain with Him grows.
Now I kindly ask you, let us take a moment of silence, and each one of us, in silence, in his or her heart, ask yourself the question: “Who is Jesus for me?” In silence, everyone answer in his or her heart. “Who is Jesus for me?”
At Mass, after Communion, I reflected upon this question, “Who is Jesus for me?”
In my mind’s eye, I was walking toward Jesus. His face was illuminated with the most joyous smile – he seemed exultant, so excited to see me, with eyes completely full of unreserved love. The impression was so poignant that my heart seemed to overflow with this love and joy – which almost made me laugh out loud.
While I was fighting the urge to laugh out loud at this most inappropriate time, it also occurred to me that Jesus offers this irresistible love and joy to all who approach Him. It’s not just for me, He offers it equally to everyone, everywhere. Which is why, as Pope Francis remarks, “the more we are with Him, the more the desire to remain with Him grows.”
Encountering Jesus is completely life-changing. It’s exciting. It’s freeing. And to meet Him, all we need to do is walk toward Him in prayer, in trust, through the Gospel, through the sacraments – with open arms, he meets us there.
The journey starts with one simple question, “Who is Jesus for me?”
Missing the days of my youth, I recently decided to have my tonsils removed.
OK. Maybe it wasn’t exactly like that, but I did have them out recently.
Besides the pain, the most difficult part of the process was not having a voice. Knowing that I have young children, the doctor warned me that this surgery was going to be a challenge because I wouldn’t have a voice for some time after. So, I armed myself with a notepad, a pen, and a bell. It was a cute, little souvenir Liberty Bell from Philadelphia – about 2 inches in size.
As it turns out, that was not the right size bell. With kids at home on summer vacation, a more appropriately sized bell would have been the actual Liberty Bell. Let me tell you, it is completely impossible to break up sibling squabbles with a little “ting-a-ling-a-ling” while waving a scrawled “Stop fighting!” sign. The kids would pause for a split-second, look at me, laugh, and go on fighting. In retrospect, I concede, it must have been a rather hilarious scene.
The problem though, was that not being able to communicate is incredibly frustrating. As I lay there, my mind kept returning to the phrase the Jesuits had drilled into our heads in school about how we are called to be the “voice for the voiceless.”
I silently pondered what would cause one to be “voiceless.” Besides illness, being “voiceless” can be the result of unjust societal constructs, racism and other prejudices, lack of financial means, lack of education, being a minority, being unborn or being of advanced age, being a gender that is not allowed to speak in one’s own culture, following a religion that is not allowed to practice freely in one’s own country, not being in favor with the ruling party, and being displaced by war, famine, extreme poverty, or natural disasters. All of these things can render one “voiceless.”
The consequences of being voiceless are serious and complex:
Not having a voice is frustrating.
I was surrounded by people who loved me and wanted to help me, yet I found it difficult to get anyone to stay still long enough to read the whole message I was frantically scrawling on my notepad. Halfway through the sentence I was writing, they would try to fill in the rest and start walking away to get what they thought I needed. I was so grateful to be surrounded by family that wanted to help, but almost all of the time, what they thought I was trying to say was not that which they had imagined it to be.
My mind would turn to those who are actually voiceless.
How often do we assume we know what they need but not really take the time to hear what they are saying? How often do we take the time to see the whole situation? When we see the frustration and desperate attempts of those who do not have a voice, do we turn away or do we take the time to stop, listen, and then act?
Not having a voice restricts freedom and opportunity.
I was restricted in my ability to communicate. I could not get the things I needed because people were not able to hear my needs. When one does not have a voice, they do not have the freedom to make decisions that others take for granted.
When we are seeking to address the needs of the voiceless, do we take the time to listen to them? How often do we give those we are trying to help the opportunity to make choices for themselves? When we are seeking to address their needs, do we take the extra time it requires to allow them the freedom to make their own decisions?
Being voiceless leads to dependency.
Being voiceless is completely disempowering. I had no choice but to be dependent on those around me.
When we see those who are voiceless, do we foster dependency or do we work to empower them? Do we work to build systems that honor the human dignity of each individual?
Being “voiceless” involves a very real suffering that is most aptly addressed, as Pope Francis puts it, by building a “culture of encounter.”
“We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions.” (Message of Pope Francis for the 48th World Communications Day, 24 January 2014)
“May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbors” to those wounded and left on the side of the road.” (Ibid)
While I wouldn’t recommend a tonsillectomy just to understand the lesson of being “voiceless,” the takeaway is worth remembering. Each day, we are given the opportunity to give voice to the voiceless. Each day, we are given the opportunity to build a “culture of encounter.” Let us rise to the challenge!
After I read it though, I was left with some questions. “So what if my parents were completely unattached and I grew up to be ‘fearful and avoidant?’ What then? What if it I just can’t trust God because of this?”
If you look at the figure of Job in light of this article, it would appear that he had perfect parents. He totally trusts God. He never utters a word against him. Yes, he curses the day he was born and he wishes he had never come into being, but he never says a single word against God.
Despite his insistence of innocence, His friends cannot believe that he could possibly be “blameless” in God’s sight. They sit there for days lecturing him on how he must have done something wrong. Nice friends.
Still, he maintains his innocence. He begs God to tell him what he did. He asks why it is that he is undergoing such profound suffering.
God is silent and does not answer.
What a story. It’s a real page-turner. There’s some real suspense as we wait for God to show up and “set things straight.”
And, there are so many things to be learned from Job. Amidst the most profound suffering, he trusts God completely, he waits patiently, he endures the endless, berating lectures of his friends who clearly believe themselves to be better than him, and still he does not say a word against his creator. What faith.
What is it that Job possesses? What allows him such tenacity through trials?
He has an authentic relationship with God. He doesn’t hide his feelings. He’s quite vocal in fact. Yet, he’s respectful at all times. Even when God is silent, he holds on and trusts that God hears him. When God finally answers with a long and intimidating response (Job 38-41), Job replies. I am always floored by that line, “Job replied to Yahweh,” (Job 40:3). By that point, I would likely be cowering in a corner, but Job, always humble and respectful, answers God. He doesn’t run away from the relationship. Even after God has taken everything away from him, he’s still willing to talk it out with God and hear what He has to say.
He trusts God implicitly. Although he wonders why all of this hardship is befalling him, at no point does he lose his trust in God. Maintains his innocence, yes. Loses trust, no.
So what are we to do if we didn’t have perfect parents and, as a result, grow up unable to trust God? What if we just can’t get real with God because we are afraid He’s going to drop us like a hot potato? What if we just don’t have the faith of Job?
The obvious answer is counselling. Counselling can be tremendously helpful in helping us to grow and heal those areas of pain and lack that hold us back.
There are two other things that can also be incredibly helpful though too:
Spending time with the Word of God. Sit with the Word of God. In Scripture, we can find the words that we may not have heard growing up. Hearing “I love you,” “you are my beloved son (or daughter),” “I have chosen you,” “I knew you from before you were born,” “I know your thoughts from afar (and I still love you),” can be incredibly comforting. The more time you spend with Scriptures, the more comfort you will get. The more you will understand that you are His beloved son or daughter. When you know this deep in your bones, you will be able to trust Him.
Ask the Holy Spirit for help. As my wise spiritual director says, “ask the Spirit to pray through you…let the Spirit pray through you.” This is some of the most profound and fruitful spiritual advice I have ever received. When the Holy Spirit comes, great things happen – things that we could not orchestrate or plan, happen with great ease. The Holy Spirit can heal those areas of lack or hurt, those wounds that make it hard for us to trust and be real with God and with others. The Holy Spirit accomplishes within us that which we just cannot accomplish on our own without divine assistance.
So, if you find yourself struggling in your relationship with God, ask for God’s help. Approach in humility. Be patient. Ask God to help you have a more authentic relationship with Him. Immerse yourself in His Word and ask the Holy Spirit in. You will not be disappointed.
“Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history” (Lumen Gentium, 12).
Listen: Francesca Battistelli, “Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here”
I’ve been trying to live my vocation as a mother more purposefully. This morning I was praying, “Lord, show me how to be a better mother to my children. Help me to listen to you when you present us with opportunities for growth. Help me to be present with them in the way they need me to be. Let me be like a reed in the wind, moving the way in which you want me to move, bowing to your touch.”
As I drank my coffee, I thought about my day and the things I needed to accomplish. I had it all planned out. My list was long but I thought I might be able to get through most of the items on my list if I really managed my time well.
Because as I was reviewing the things that I needed to get done, my son, who is really pumped up about the fact that I told him he’s now old enough to cook whatever he wants, decided he was going to make cupcakes.
Everyone knows what delightful little bites cupcakes are, but boy, are they a mess to make…and, it takes time to make them…time that I hadn’t factored into the schedule for the day.
My mind returned to my morning prayer, “Let me be like a reed in the wind…” Flexibility is not always my strong suit. I have to constantly wrap my head around things that don’t fit my plan and remind myself that it’s God’s plan – not mine. So, I wrangled with the fact that cupcake making was not on my list and helping him make them would mean that I certainly would not finish my list today.
We had a great time making the cupcakes and whipping up the frosting.
Then, without a moment’s notice, the blissful cooking bubble popped. My son disappeared for a moment and started yelling that his brother ate all of the candy from his bag. They had divided up a bag of candy yesterday and his brother had eaten both bags. He stomped back into the kitchen yelling that his brother would not be getting any cupcakes because he had already had enough sugar.
“OK. Calm down,” I said. The word “mercy” popped into my head.
“I know your brother doesn’t deserve cupcakes because what he did was wrong. He knew he shouldn’t have eaten your candy but he did anyway. But, you love him right? Have you learned about mercy in school?” I said.
“Yes,” he grumbled, under his breath.
“Giving him a cupcake even when he doesn’t deserve it is actually showing him mercy,” I said. “It’s kind of like when we sin. We know we shouldn’t do it and we do it anyway. Then we feel really bad. Then we go to confession and feel better because God forgives us – even though we don’t really deserve it. He forgives us because he really loves us, right?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. Still not totally convinced.
“If you share a cupcake with him, you get to show mercy,” I said. “You are showing him that you love him and forgive him even though he did something wrong.”
He perked up and started frosting the cupcakes. He started by putting one aside for his brother and then another and another. When his brother came in, he pointed to the plate full of cupcakes and said, “look at all of the cupcakes I made for you!”
His brother was both humbled and grateful.
It was a “teachable moment” that I could not have planned. The kids learned about God’s mercy, and had the opportunity to demonstrate and receive mercy.
I also learned, yet again, that God is ready and willing to answer our prayers, but that we’ve got to give Him room to move – we’ve gotta wrangle the will (lists included!) and hand it all over to Him. I’m reminded, time and time again, that it’s in those moments when we give it to Him, that we are given more than we could ever plan. As Blessed Mother Teresa used to put it, “He will fulfill it if I don’t put any obstacles in His way!”
“The school of Christ is the school of love. In the last day, when the general examination takes place…Love will be the whole syllabus.” – St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ
The conversation is almost formulaic and it goes like this: “I am caring for my (insert name of child, parent, loved one here). I feel so bad. I have no time to pray. I only get to Mass once a week. I’m such a bad (mother, father, son, daughter, loved one). I’m such a bad Catholic.”
Every time I hear this formula, I want to launch into a tirade about why this logic is completely, and utterly faulty. But, the grocery store and sidewalk are rarely ever good times to launch into such tirades.
So, here goes. Here is what I want to say to every person who thinks they are a bad person, a bad Catholic because they are busy caring for others.
To the parents – the stay-at-home parents, the working parents, all the parents who devote countless hours to keeping children safe, fed, clean and raise them to make a better world and build the Kingdom:
You are priceless. Your work may be unremunerated but it is no less important than someone who brings home a six-figure salary. In fact, many times it is more important. You are forming future generations. You are building the Kingdom each time you rise to feed your child in the night, with each cup of juice you wipe up and each cheerio you sweep up. You are building the Kingdom with each fight you break up, each time-out that teaches peace. You are building the Kingdom every time you listen patiently to your teen’s tirade and offer love when it’s the least thing you feel like doing. You are living the Works of Mercy.
To all those who care for parents and aging or ill loved ones:
You are priceless. God sees you every time you listen compassionately to the same story for the hundredth time. God sees you when you clean up the messes that happen. God sees you when your eyes cloud with tears because your parent doesn’t know your name. God sees you when you get up bleary-eyed to investigate that thump in the night. You are living the Works of Mercy.
To all those who listen compassionately to those who are caring for loved ones of all ages:
You are priceless. You hold up those who are wading through the muck. You are building the Kingdom here and now. You are the torchbearers to those whose lights are flickering. You are living the Works of Mercy.
And one last note – that thing about if “I could only get to Mass more than once a week…or pray more, I wouldn’t be a bad Catholic.” Your every effort can be a prayer if you offer it all to God. Your every breath, your entire life is your prayer, your song. Offer it to Him.
And, about Mass – the Church says we must go to Mass once a week, not to be a burden, but because it is refreshment for the weary. At each Mass, we are called to the table. It is there that we are offered peace, fellowship, and the sustenance to go on. It is there that we drink from the living waters that sustain us. It is a place to lay all of our burdens down, a place where we can dwell – if only for an hour a week – in peace. The Mass is a gift, not a measure by which to judge our achievement of faithfulness.
When I sit there at Mass, in that sacred hour, remembering all of my friends who give so much, who work so hard to build up the Body of Christ by offering themselves in service to loved ones every single day, who are living the Works of Mercy, I can only imagine what the Jesus I know might say to them:
“You are precious to me.
Every effort you make is a prayer.
I see all of your sacrifices, your tears, your lost sleep.