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.