The Gift


Freedom exists for the sake of love” -St. John Paul II

If you go to an ice cream shop you will soon find yourself struggling to decide between the 40 different flavors in front of you, the server will eventually ask “what will it be?” He is not asking “what do you think?” He is not asking you to explain the options you are considering. He wants to know what you have decided so that he could serve you a scope. . . or two 🙂 If there is no choice, there is no ice cream.

God’s purpose in creating us with a will to choose was solely for the purpose of giving us the capacity to freely choose perfect love. And we come to recognize that as our ultimate Good. We do this through reason enlightened by the Spirit. Thus, we become better disposed to choose the Good.

If it were not for the sake of love, for instance, who would freely choose to sacrifice their own life for the life of their neighbor? An act of love such as this is independent of any human capacity to give oneself entirely for another. And one of the primary fruits of this response to love is Joy. And supernatural joy is not an emotion; it does not lend itself to any given personality type, this I would categorize as natural joy. Supernatural joy is a grace that remains always within us regardless of emotional responses, we just have to choose to enter into it.

For instance, I can choose not to give a smile to a friend if I decide at the moment that I am not in the mood to try. My feelings, emotions, and attitude can very easily dominate the gift that I am capable of imparting to another because I can reason that happiness does not come easily that day.

The desire to give of oneself and the willingness to do it freely should be rooted in love. It should be a genuine outpouring of love that is not necessarily rooted in the other person but a love that is rooted in Jesus who dwells deep within yourself AND within the other person. That is why natural love and natural joy do not thrive in the deepest of capacities, they are tied down to broken humanity who will never be able to fully give of itself outside of communion with the supernatural gift of grace. And Grace, simply put, is a life in Christ.

Jesus cannot be absent as much as we try to run away from Him. He will always be there, ever present with his Spirit. But like the server in the ice cream shop, he will wait patiently until we have made our choice. He will not choose to be in a loving relationship with us apart from our free response.

We were made to reflect God, and as we were made in his image so too were we made in his likeness and our participation in this divine mystery is the reason we could never be incapable of happiness. But we CAN be unwilling to enter into it.

That is why our will carries so much influence and has become the ultimate crown of glory in becoming a self gift. If we can united our will to his, we have conquered perfect love because with our will we can surrender or rebel, we can praise or we can curse. With our will we are able to love and we are able to hate.

As we bask in the light of the Resurrection this Easter Season, we continue to ponder that perfect gift of Jesus on the cross. Being born into humanity he took on our human flesh and became one with us by embracing our human faculties. Who else could we look too for guidance in human flourishing if not him who laid down his life for us. Jesus’ single sacrificial act required Him to conquer and control every human act of free will, every desire for self preservation, and every feeling and emotion he felt during the sacred moment of suffering he experienced at Gethsemane. He gave it all to the Father, “not my will but yours be done. . .”

How do we determine if we have truly become a self-gift ?

If our will is able to conform to the Will of its creator. If we are WILLING to sacrifice our passions, desires, and understanding to the mystery of God’s design then we have adorned and prepared our life for the work of perfect love. We have become wholly disposed heart, soul, and body to the freedom of love which transforms our life into a perfect gift of self.

The delightful shop of this world displays many flavors by which we can enjoy the sweetness of life, and Jesus stands before us waiting to serve the sweetest of them all, his only question? “what will it be?”

Loosen Your Grip!

If something is presented to the senses, which is not solely for the honor and glory of God, give it up, and deprive yourself of it, for the love of Jesus Christ, who, while on earth, had and desired nothing but to do the will of his Father.” -St. John of the Cross

We have wildflowers that grow on our campus. They adorn the patch of land beside the Medical Office building, here at Santa Teresita. And they have become a beautiful display of color and life for every visitor who stops to admire them. You would never imagine that the bare strip of evening land with its hundreds of fruitless stems could transform into newness of life every morning as the buds begin to open and announce the dawning of a new day.

I made the mistake of plucking one of these beautiful flowers to transplant it into a mini vase. I brought it home to place it next to a statue we have of the Child Jesus. It is worth keeping on display, or so I thought. What I did not know is that this type of flower cannot sustain its blossom if it is not directly exposed to the sunlight! without sun, this beautiful flower closes entirely. And sure enough, within minutes of being transplanted, the flower said goodnight and went to rest inside itself.

It is evident that we are drawn to all things beautiful. And that is not a bad thing in itself. God created all that exists and because of that all things should have the capacity to direct us toward beauty and goodness.

But when our motto becomes “I see, I desire, I possess.” The purity of Gods design becomes stained with the disposition of our heart. We can love what we see, and desire what we love but as soon as we grasp to possess, the love we had is no longer free, it becomes enslaved to our desires and inordinate attachments.

The freedom to love comes from God’s desire to see our joy fulfilled. But our tendency to possess is rooted in a fear of loosing that which makes us happy. Similarly, we can at times fear love because we believe it to be transient, only passing.

Do we live every encounter, every moment with a heart totally secure in our union with Christ?

Relationships and friendships that allow your desire for love or happiness to be met are healthy and we are right in accepting the joy that comes from them. . . But what if we entered into every encounter without first being anchored in the truth of Christ’s love for us? Without a pure disposition our receptivity becomes a destructive engagement of selfish desires.

No wonder we feel a constant restlessness, our human desires will always beckon for more, and they continually reach out to grasp all potential fillers. They beckon with a flooding thirst and we have yet to find a quenching flood in this world. In our weakness we cling to trickling streams of pleasure. We fear the loss of a trickling delight because gaining the flood seems out of reach.

We were not created for this world, thus our soul will always demand for more, for perfect joy, perfect love, perfect bliss. And to our disappointment the more we seek, and grasp for what we see and desire, the more we mistakenly settle for less than our soul was created to receive.

Patience rewards, and Jesus Christ invites us to enter into that which we so desire. All we have to do is enter into a life with Him.

Allow Jesus to love you. Allow Him to desire you. Allow him to hold you. Allow him to enter into every single one of your longings of the heart. Only after this encounter with the maker of all things, will you be able to encounter all things beautiful and good with a love freely given, non-possessing, and pure. Beauty, Truth, Goodness, are truly secure in Christ, who sustains all things. We simply have to let go of the trickling stream and with a leap of faith grasp the running floods of his quenching love.

Joy

“Joy isn’t found in the material objects surrounding us, but in the inner recesses of the soul. One can possess joy in a prison cell as well as in a palace.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

It is a gift that most everyone cherishes. When it is genuine it carries with it a happiness that is capable of transforming hearts of stone into life giving waters. It is not contingent on laughter or noisy clatter, neither is it reliant on outward expressions of enjoyment. Although these are manifestations of joy, they are not in themselves a source of happiness.

What is the root of lasting joy?

Love is a universal experience. We have all experienced it to some degree, whether it be philios, eros, or simply affectionate love which carries with it the gift of compassion. We can agree that the one undeniable gift it brings with it is happiness. We find joy in knowing that we are loved and have loved. And yet we understand that the fulfillment of love can be disturbed by human limitations. We are vulnerable without boundaries one day, and the next we are shutting every door that leads to the intimate depths of our heart.

Experience tells us that we are not free to love without pain. So why is love so closely tied to the joys we experience in life? If we look beyond human affections we discover that deep in the recesses of the soul, there is agape, a love that is hidden and pure; a quiet yet enduring love that seeps into every part of our life and accepts it as it is; an everlasting love that cannot be disturbed by the world. “Give praise to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.(Psalm 106)

We are at the advent of a renewed encounter with the author of all that is love and as we prepare our hearts to receive him we are also preparing our hearts to give him to others. This reciprocity maintains the joy of loving that cannot be found apart from Him! God sustains the joy of loving because he is Love Himself.

Love is not something to be feared. It simply requires confidence in knowing that we were first loved by God. Any other love only serves to adorn and compliment our joy in Him. This allows us to step forward joyfully anchored in the security of knowing we are wanted and pursued by love.

What happens when your heart struggles to be receptive to this kind of love? We all have days of dryness, sadness, dim rays of light that simply flicker with fainted smiles; those days when all we want to do is run away from all that pains us. It is during these moments of hurt, at the height of our vulnerability that the Holy Spirit invites us into a sacrifice of praise where we are embraced by Jesus on the cross. Our struggle does not vanish into thin air and the scars of our brokeness do not seize to exist when we come face to face with the Divine Healer. But, just as he was glorified on the Cross, so too does he glorify the wounds we hold out to him and make them new . At the cross we look into the eyes of everlasting love and our joy is renewed in a beautiful paradox of sorrow and bliss.

This is the kind of joy that “bears all things, believes all things, Hope’s all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:7) It can genuinely be seen in the stillness of a single gaze, in the simplicity of a sincere embrace or the silence of soulful weeping. No one can take away the joy that comes from this intimate encounter.

Broken humanity will always be a broken humanity. It will never be able to satisfy our thirst for love. But as we make up part of its brokenness, we too play a significant role in its healing. We can begin to cultivate a life of sacrificial praise in the midst of pain and sorrow which in turn bears fruit to the healing power of love made manifest in and through Jesus Christ. This is such a powerful antidote to the human condition of sin and suffering. And in it we discover the joy of living.

“Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, “an upright heart”, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.” CCC 30

Creative Encounters with God

Photo by Brittany Kahl

The spirit of Carmel is a spirit of childhood, of original life, of newness, of immediate proximity. . . it drinks of the torrent. . . it passes into human beings, renewing and in truth creating them.” Paul-Marie of the Cross, OCD

Creativity always achieves a higher level of originality when God is involved. The best way to hear God’s voice is simply by being attentive in prayer and daily ordinary encounters. I care for a group of lively elderly residents where I work and each has their own fun personality which makes for a fun and surprising encounter. One resident in particular has a way of prompting you in conversation by asking thought provoking questions about meaningful topics, such as “what purpose are you living for?”

One day after having joined the Carmelite sisters for prayers and Mass I promptly made my way to work. I greeted the residents and helped them to breakfast. After breakfast I helped this particular resident to his room and as we were walking he asked, “did you pray this morning?” to which I answered, “yes”. His follow-up question was, “what did you pray about?”

Providentially, I had not prepared my points for meditation the night before according to the readings for Mass, as is my custom. Instead I had been thinking about a phrase that we pray in community every morning: “I implore your grace to enable me to perform all my duties in the Spirit of Carmel.” This prayer is prayed every morning and I hardly ever stopped to examen whether I was making a sincere effort to embrace it. So I told him, “I prayed about this specific phrase and its significance in my life.”

His immediate response was “so, what is the Spirit of Carmel? If you don’t know it, how can you perform your duties according to it?” I wasn’t surprised at his question although I wasn’t expecting it. We talked for a little while about living in the presence of God, offering little sacrifices out of love like St. Therese did, and we talked about my favorite practice, offering up the work I do for priests. I mentioned I was still growing in my knowledge of Carmelite Spirituality. And to that he said, “don’t rush it. Don’t try to understand it all at once. Live in the present moment and take it in as it comes, but do not loose your joy doing it. There will be moments when you don’t like what you see, but that is when you have to choose to surrender. You either accept it or reject it but you cant do both.” And with that, we said goodbye and I left his room.

I was speechless after that encounter, which was not uncommon. I went through the rest of the day thinking about our conversation and thanking God for enriching my morning reflection using the words of a humble elderly man who simply enjoyed meaningful conversations.

God uses everything and everyone to reach the hearts of those He loves. There is no obstacle between His love and your soul, unless you create it. The disposition we have to daily encounters, no matter how mundane, can transform the channels of ordinary grace into flowing waters of dialogue, where God reveals himself in love.

“The spirit of Carmel is none other than this power and life that spring from the divine word and seeks to enter the soul; none other than this divine presence that is waiting to be received and communicated in a reciprocal gift.” – Paul-Marie of the Cross, OCD

RESPOND

The ever ancient ever new call to respond to God’s will is an invitation that keeps on giving. Thus, the Lord continues to direct us and guide us toward a more perfect response. A response that can eventually be made with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. There is a purpose and a role we each play according to our capacity and grace. All God wants to do is reveal it so that it can be freely accepted. Our attentiveness to this ongoing call allows us to respond willingly with authentic joy.

An acronym occurred to me which helped me have a bit of a grasp on remembering my response to God’s will as it is being revealed. R-E-S-P-O-N-D

  • Receive
  • Express
  • Surrender
  • Pray
  • Obey
  • Notice
  • Do it!

Receive

One of the human luxuries we have been given is human freedom. We can simply choose not to receive gifts, even if we are grateful for them, we can still say no. The freedom to choose is the doorway to genuine love. Without it we are merely slaves putting on a show upon request. We do that which we know we ought to simply because it behooves us. It is a one-sided relationship where God plays the puppeteer while we dance around on strings. This is not why he created us. I mean, he did create us to love but not forcefully. He desires our love freely given and when he presents us with a plan for our lives, he does so knowing that we can turn away from it. The greatest charity we can give ourselves is to simply receive everything the Lord has to give even if we are not initially thrilled to have it. Some of it might challenge us, or scare us, intimidate us, or call us on to change. Regardless of what He is holding out before us, we can have faith that all good things come from a Father who loves us. We can accept it or reject it, but for the sake of our souls salvation the least we can do is initially receive it, no questions asked.

Express

Saint Teresa of Avila talks a lot about her relationship with Jesus Christ as enriching whenever she contemplates his humanity. Dwelling on his wounded sacrifice allowed her to grow in intimacy with him and approach him as she would a friend. But this closeness in consequence left her wounded in love as well. And one of her little-known quotes reads: “If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!” Saint Teresa was not afraid to be real with God. She expressed herself as she truly felt and she presented herself to Him in the Blessed Sacrament, as she was. Whether she came in tears, or anger, joy, or sorrow, she gave him everything and in this way her humanity in all its weakness was left exposed before Him. Our response to Jesus’ call to do the Father’s will does not have to be perfect, it can be what it is, and it can be offered to him as it is in all its brokenness and imperfection. He loves us anyway and forever!

Surrender

I know that He-brews is in the Old Testament and all, but emotions are not included in the brewing. We cannot get stuck on dwelling in our own tantrum of emotional responses. Yes, it is good to express how we really feel when experiencing the Holy Spirit tugging our heart in a direction we struggle to accept. Be angry, be sorrowful, be afraid but if those emotions do not reach a point of self-surrender how will God ever work wonders in us. How will he work wonders through us? Stretching our comfort zone is what the Spirit does best because in it he is able to reveal to the world the power of transforming grace. And our surrender is a participation in this glory.

Pray

It is scary to think of the possibility of actively saying yes to God. Every act of Praise we give comes from God, and every one of these acts are first and foremost an invitation. Every small sacrifice we make comes from God. And giving a neighbor a helping hand, even if it is small and seemingly insignificant, is a grace that first became an invitation and which we learn to recognize in and through the depths of prayer. But when we face a moment that is truly life changing and God is asking us to trust him in it, that is when our knees hit the ground and our hearts are truly bowed low in adoration and petition. It can be as sweet as a vocational call which can definitely be frightening and overwhelming to look at and is why we run to the foot of the cross in search of reassuring peace on the journey. But for those who have experienced a more bitter call, such as a cancer diagnosis or a death of a loved one, they know what it is like to do the will of God with a thorn in their heart. Prayer becomes a lifeline for those moments when human strength does not suffice and the one who calls is the one who in faith will provide the grace for a total surrender. Our relationship with Jesus in the sacred space of our heart becomes a strong hold when responding to His invitation to give our whole selves more perfectly.

Obey

The undivided heart never seeks anything other than what the Father desires to give it. There is a holy confidence in the surrender that results from a heart of prayer and sacrifice. The practice of obedience opens up a new realm of possibilities when exposing ourselves to the service of God. And while exterior practice of obedience is good, it does not replace an obedient heart. After all, slaves practice outer obedience too but their enslavement leaves little room for an obedient heart to flourish. Our response has to be free, our Yes has to be free. If it is forced or dragged along it cannot flourish in perfect charity. The heart has to be free of any other enslavements it carries with it. There are a thousand and one things that take us away from union with God, each of them carving out a home in a heart that seeks to grow in undivided love. And the grace of obedience freely given deepens the sweetness of a free surrender.

Notice

Recognizing, expressing, surrendering, praying, and obeying, the will of God cannot happen if we never notice God’s presence in our life. How can you admire a rose if you run past it? How can you recognize a lost child if you pass around him? How can you receive a sunset if you look away from it? There are millions of little gifts of grace and beauty that we encounter every day, but the busyness of life does not allow us to see them.

“Be still and know that I am God” -Psalm 46

For those of us who drive routinely and are rarely, if ever, in the passenger’s seat, it is a wonder of an experience when we are suddenly in the passenger’s seat driving down familiar roads. The detail in the scenery come alive and all of the small details that had always been there before are, for the first time, truly appreciated and noticed. God’s will is always present in our life. It is beckoning us on to greater heights of perfection in charity. As long as we continue to take front seat, we will not allow ourselves the delight of recognizing Him on the journey. One of the reasons for our desire to be in the front seat is fear; fear of seeing ourselves as we really are, in our brokenness. Another reason could be control; control over the unfolding of every chapter of our life. Whatever the reason, as long as we lead, we will never be able to truly follow Him with an undivided heart.

Do it!

Nike said it best- “Just Do It!” in the end when all is said and done our actions become the mirror by which the glory of a holy soul is revealed. Perfect charity consists in acts of love freely given. Holiness cannot be obtained through piety and devotion alone; it requires a response that is complete. And a complete response can never do without a life of action. The “Yes” that Mary gave at the annunciation was perfected in her undivided heart both in word and deed. Not only did she receive the words that the Angel Gabriel spoke to her, and expressed her confusion at the mystery of what was being asked of her, she surrendered to God’s will at that very moment, and humbly prayed in thanksgiving, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”, recognizing the grace that was given in order for her to remain faithful to the call, with complete faith she obeyed God offering her pure heart, “be it done unto me according to your word”, and not only was she aware of God’s presence in her life but in this holy awareness she was able to notice the gift, recognizing the one who called her, and respond to it in haste as she ran to help Elizabeth. Like Mary, we too can respond with zeal and resignation, in the end we just have to do it!

Preserve Me From Grace

“Holiness begins from Christ; and Christ is its cause. For no act conducive to salvation can be performed unless it proceeds from Him as from its supernatural source.” Jesus says: “Without me, you can do nothing.” -Pope Pius XII

I was watching a short film the other day called The Butterfly Circus, it was a part of my orientation for work. We were learning about the mission of Santa Teresita Medical Center in Duarte and the intention that Mother Luisita had when founding the Healthcare center that has evolved into a, present day, neighborhood of care. The film was about a traveling circus with a circus master who took broken people and transformed them into a gift of inspiration for others.

Oddly enough, a story about a circus is what finally took me out of my writers block, in regards to reflection and writing about the experience we have when attempting to take on the challenge of discovering the beautiful gift that we are. God, as the Master of our life takes us as we are, broken people, and transforms us into a gift of love for others. One of the main purposes for understanding our unique identity in Christ is to know how we can best serve Him and give Him glory.

There is NOT a lot of time in the day to sincerely look at oneself in the mirror and ask in truth, what is it that God wants to do with me? Who does he want me to become? What is ironic though, is that we find plenty of time to look at our neighbor and assess how God is “apparently” working in his or her life. We compare the graces that flourish around us, in our neighbor, in our brothers and sisters, and even the vices that are bearing fruit and we waste time trying to figure out their purpose in the bigger picture. We toy with the gifts of others and try to fit them into the puzzle of our lives. We twist them and turn them in an attempt to insert their design into our indentation of a broken image. No matter how hard we try, we waste time trying to put together a false puzzle with forced pieces of grace that never belonged in the completion of our image. All the meanwhile Jesus is standing there waiting patiently as he looks on us with longing and a thirsting desire to take our broken and scattered life and transform it into a gift that will bear fruit. He waits for the perfect moment to divinely intervene and redirect our hearts back to Himself.

If someone is basking in joy simply because life is going marvelously for them, we want that. Or if we see someone suffering a difficulty with virtuous stride, we want that too. We seem to constantly desire someone else’s grace, asking Jesus to give us what we think will make us whole. The more we do this the more our heart is divided, reaching for everything other than what He holds out in front of us. We simply need to LET GO!

The notion of abandonment includes ‘letting go’, not clinging to a way of seeing things or acting, accepting that we cant control everything in our lives” – Father Jacques Philippe

He prepared us at Baptism to become wholly receptive to the mission that is uniquely ours. We are anointed with a mission to love and there is a piece of the puzzle that only we can contribute to the perfect image of Love. The only thing we need to do is abandon our lives to Him. Our receptivity to his transforming love is the only effort needed on our part, He does the rest. But the receptive stance is what requires the most courage. Abandonment means we let go of everything we have been acquiring for our self image. Being stripped of our control over the forming of our lives so that God can begin His true formation.

The distraction of grasping false truths can go on forever and have us running in circles without ever advancing in holiness or grace. We loose, more and more, the graces that God has reserved specially for us. God knew and reserved the specific graces that would shape our own personal growth in love. How can we come to understand who we are and who we are becoming if we continue to desire something outside of what God wants to give us? There is no such thing as borrowing someone else’s grace. God has prepared for each of us the grace sufficient to become holy and His.

The Bridge of Love That You Are!

By: Christine Elizabeth

One of my favorite Bible verses has always been from 1 Corinthians 13:13-“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Why is it my favorite? Well, it highlights love as the greatest Theological virtue. Also, who doesn’t love love? Haha. Love is a beautiful thing, but I think it’s one of the most misunderstood things especially when it comes to having the grace of self-love to love God more perfectly. Is self-love necessary to love God? The answer is yes, but I know it’s not so simple. The next question to ask is what is self-love?

I am no expert, but what I can offer is my own experience. There were many years of me hating myself. I didn’t like the way I looked and often thought I wasn’t smart enough. I questioned every decision I made and was literally my own worst critic. When anything bad happened I would use it as fuel to reinforce all the negative things I kept telling myself. I tried to make myself feel better by attaining certain friends, dressing a certain way, drinking more than I should, and by making sure I weighed a set amount. All of this seemed, to me, the way to make myself better so I could be more lovable for others and for myself. God was in my life, but I felt so disconnected from him. I thought I was loving Him by showing up to every Bible study, every campus ministry event, volunteering, and making things look a certain way. I was convinced I had to earn love for myself through external things and that I had to do things to earn God’s love. I didn’t understand love at all.

I thought self-love was something that I could gain through external actions… I didn’t see that self-love came from within. I learned that it’s actually more about accepting yourself as you are. Even more, it’s about accepting your flaws. Accepting flaws doesn’t mean you can’t try to improve some parts of your life such as getting in shape or studying more for a class you struggle in. It means you have the self-awareness to know that something is hard for you, and being okay with the struggle. I found a lot of liberation when I realized that I wasn’t a terrible person for having some of the struggles I did. Better yet, I found that I was actually better able to form healthy relationships with others when I wasn’t turned so inward on what I hated about myself. Self-love leads to positive external actions that are life-giving for not only the people around me but also for me. Better yet, it leads to an openness to a real relationship with God.

God loves me. He loves you. He also loves anyone who has come into existence. His love is freely given in such a way that for each one of us it’s as if we were the only human being that existed. That’s a powerful love and a perfect love. We can’t do anything to destroy this perfect, unconditional, and eternal love. Should we act like people that are loved by God and do good thing? Of course… The best part about God’s love is that it’s so beautiful, personal, and infectious that we want to share it with others. The main point is that we can never lose God’s love and we aren’t required to do anything to have this love. He just loves us. That is it.

If we cannot accept ourselves as we are- loved and known by God, then how can we say that we love God?  We should never reject or stop loving our beautiful existence. God made us. God doesn’t ever love us any less, and I truly believe His love only multiplies when we are struggling the most. Nobody loves to struggle but if we can’t accept ourselves and love ourselves in whatever state we are in, then how can we overcome the struggle? Love is this thing that carries us through hard times and gives us hope that things will get better. You can’t defeat darkness with darkness. You can defeat darkness with the light that shines from God in His love that is free. The question is, do you want to accept this love into your life? It means acceptance of suffering and things that do not always feel good, but if you can learn to love your vulnerable self and be open to relationships with others including God, then, in the end, we are never alone. Also, we build up courage and resiliency to face hard days. Confidence to rise above things is a part of life, and can only blossom the more you accept who you are. Remember, self-love has a lot to do with embracing our weaknesses and that can even mean asking for support in our struggles.

Self love isn’t just an individual thing. Essentially, it leads us to look outward towards the life around us. It isn’t selfish at all. Self-love and God’s love is reciprocal. If you love yourself you can better love God. If you love God, you can better love yourself. They can’t exist independently of one another. You need both. Sometimes God reaches down in moments of need and pours out His love in a way that we probably don’t truly deserve. He gives His love anyway. This can and should lead to a love you have for yourself, because if God is willing to become man and die on a cross for us, then you matter. He did that for you, and me, and every single person here on earth. If you deny your importance and value, you aren’t really loving others, because you can’t give what you don’t have.

Holy Indifference is the Amen to Purity of Heart.

There are many ways to say the same thing in the English language. It is a never ending vocabulary of similarities. The word good, for instance, can be expressed in various ways depending on its context, great, awesome, wonderful, excellent, etc. and indifference is no exception. The phrase holy indifference does not simply mean I don’t care. In context, it means a complete surrender to God’s plan. In other words, nothing else matters if I do not care to seek God’s will in my life.

My life is not just a clump of matter that can be tossed around by circumstantial chance. I do not engage in every sudden change around me as if I were perpetually on-call to life’s beckon. Dignity plays a large role in how we embrace the virtue of holy indifference. The more familiar term for this virtue is detachment, an attitude of indifference that strips away any reliance or unhealthy attachment toward created things.

Holy indifference is what strengthens our resolve to be pure of heart. A pure heart seeks to gaze into the eyes of God and holy indifference is the Amen to that endeavor. Apart from God nothing else makes sense, and our striving for a life in Christ is lessened whenever we compromise for less than what God had intended for us to receive. And we would be remiss if we did not desire the same life for others; if we did not call those we love on to become more than they settle for.

To aim for more than this world has to offer is to seek to acquire that which can only be found in an encounter with the living God. Our detachment of material things and of friendships and relationships requires a rightly ordered way of life. A life that enjoys all things and all people but does not seek to settle for them. God continues to be our ultimate end and if that is the case, we will never be deceived by facades of satisfaction or fulfillment which only fade away with time. Engaging in all created things and goods is necessary, we are not meant to completely isolate ourselves from what God has created but we are meant to purify our encounter with and use of them, remembering that they are steps in the right direction. God’s will is found in the present moment and often that means our interactions with others.

St. John of the Cross had a motto that helped me walk along life’s circumstances and temptations. He simply looked at everything and gave a spiritual shrug to it all saying, “Nada, Nada, Nada,” which means “Nothing, Nothing, Nothing.” All that means for every one of us is, Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our priority in this life is to Glorify God and save souls! But ultimately the goal is perfect Love! We can recognize it more and more primarily in prayer and by reading scripture. Seek Him in solitude and Jesus, who is the perfect manifestation of love, will be made manifest to you and you will know him and imitate his love more perfectly.

If we continue to keep our relationship with Jesus Christ at the forefront of all that we do and if we continue to seek his will for our life everything else will fit nicely into second place and our efforts will begin to naturally focus on perfect Charity (love). Everything else becomes, as St. John of the Cross would say, “Nada, Nada, Nada.”

Manifestation of the Heart

Manifestation of the Heart

The inevitable call to love resounds in the heart of every human person who is capable of loving. This excludes no one. It is the desire to come out of oneself in order to give of oneself. It is the desire to be filled to the brim with perfect joy. This requires a personal response to a personal prompting of the heart. And of course, this prompting is rooted first and foremost in God the Father (John 15:16).

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

We often begin by looking at what draws our heart. What is it that captures us? By exploring the inner recesses of the heart we will inevitably arrive at a more basic question: “Who am I?”

I have observed this question periodically throughout my life, usually during a milestone. But it is not so much a question of remembrance of identity, it is more a question of reevaluation of growth. We are constantly changing and becoming, and Jesus is constantly preparing our heart to respond to our growth in being.

He initially officiates the invitation of Love in a very special way at Baptism. With it comes the universal call to follow Him (John 21:9). Too, there is a personal call, “Do you love me?” (John 212:7). Then there is a call to love like he loves (John 13:34). But there remains a more practical call, one that sometimes falls by the way side. That call is to live “fully alive” (John 10:10).

And while I am most certain I “will” to follow Jesus, and unmistakably “will” to love like he does, and undeniably know that I love him. There still remains this question: am I living fully alive?

“LORD, you have probed me, you know me. . .you understand my thoughts from afar. . .with all my ways you are familiar. . .Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts.” Psalm 139

Because the prompting to give a response can become ever present in our mind and in our heart, we begin to naturally want to respond. So, in my case, I asked myself, “what is it that makes me most fully alive?” “More fully myself?” “where is my joy fulfilled?” 1-Adoration, 2-Family, 3-Friendship, 4-Music. . . etc. I began to make a list of those pillars of life for me.

Following Jesus, loving Jesus, loving like Jesus are all universal calls but our response to each of them is uniquely animated in our person, in our unrepeatable witness of love fully alive.

As our heart continues to undergo a transformation, so too our desires become more and more rooted in specific essential longings. Longings that eventually become our personal call from God which will require a personal response.

Vocation is one among many beautiful manifestations of this call and response relationship. It is a desire given to us at Baptism and it is one that Jesus himself lovingly nurtures with time. He allows for this desire to manifest itself through communion with him and through life experience so that the more we see his call revealed, the more we come to see ourselves revealed.

And the more we observe our deepest desires, in the context of our relationship with Jesus, the more we beginning to draw toward a more perfect union of Love. I am personally understanding more and more where I am most fully alive and my life choices are influenced by this call to love. My response is constantly taking shape, and the more I understand who I am, the more confident I am in stepping forward in my yes to the desires that call me toward love fully alive.

“God does not force our will, He takes only what we give him. But he does not give himself entirely until he sees that we yield ourselves entirely to him.” -St. Teresa of Avila

Peace and Clarity Are Not Always Two Peas In a Pod

“we can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can- namely, surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.” – St. Teresa of Avila

Peace and clarity in life are not always united. But peace can often confirm a sense of clarity. Is this from God or is it from me? Life is a constant discernment. It is a roller coaster of choices that keep you on track. This way or that way?

When all you want is to know what to do in life, where do you turn? God is usually a popular choice, namely because He has the answer and is ALWAYS right.

I was in spiritual direction one day, after a month of prayer trying to figure out what God wanted of me at that particular point in my life, Father asked me, “what is next for you?” I looked at him and said, “well I’ve been thinking about going to Franciscan University.” and he asked, “why?” so I responded, “because I need a place where I can foster my spiritual growth, Franciscan has an atmosphere of faith, a strong one.”

So there, step one was taken, recognizing the direction I should be headed. But recognizing doesn’t really do much if it doesn’t have a follow up. So naturally, he asked, “have you seriously looked into it?” and I said, “no, but I’ve thought about it.” He looked at me in silence and simply said, “what good will thinking about it do?” And then came the reality check, the “I actually need to act on this”, and then the list of things I would have to do 1) leave family, AGAIN. 2) work extra hours to have enough tuition for at least a year. 3) oh yes, Apply! 4) Quit my job 5) leave my apartment 6) move to a different state and start over…I hate transitions.

“Lay all your cares about the future trustingly in God’s hands and let yourself be guided by the Lord just like a little child.” – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The more I thought about it the more I began to shy away from the whole Idea. But after looking at the process that brought me to this conclusion I began to realize that it was no mistake. An inner peace fell over me. It was clear that God wanted me to, not only get an education from one of the best Catholic schools in the nation, but he wanted me to be rooted in relationships that were centered on Him. This clarity was undeniable. But. . .

Was my inner peace aligned with my exterior reaction? No, my response contained a generous amount of chaos. I was hesitant to move. But I was not uncertain, I slowly began to take the necessary steps one at a time. I did this with confidence because although I was not entirely sure if I wanted to make the move, I knew that God did want me to move and that allowed me to put ME aside. I knew the difference between what I wanted and what God wanted and abandonment became sweet, and easier to practice. After my first semester, I was all in, I was completely on board with God’s plan and I was loving my new life. Trust! Trust! Trust! it is what will help you take initial steps in God’s plan, specially when you cannot see the outcome. Have a little faith, I hear it moves mountains ; )

But just when I was beginning to get comfortable, God came knocking. . . again.