In His hands

The hand of God is often referred to, both in Scripture as well as spiritual commentary. It evokes God’s personal attention in our lives. It can also expand our horizons to the majesty and awesomeness of God.

In Daniel (5:5), God’s finger wrote on the wall of the palace. In the Sistine Chapel, the finger of God touching Adam’s finger, brings him to life. “With his mighty hand and outstretched arm, God’s love endures forever;” sings Psalm 136 (verse 12). “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” (Isaiah 64:7). There is a sense of comfort that we can get meditating on the different references to God’s hands and what they have accomplished. We know what He can do, and yet we hold tight to worries and anxieties as if we can fix them better than He can. We are called to surrender to Him and put all things into His hands. 

It’s easy enough to say, but can be hard to do. It takes both awareness of when we try to carry or solve our stressors, as well as practice. Part of my night prayer as I’m settling into bed is turning everything over to God so I can get a good night’s sleep. The other evening, I started with the usual list: myself, my household, and my family. Since friends, neighbors, and co-workers are ever changing, I try to include all by saying past, present, and future of each. I guess I must have watched a bit too much TV, as I felt the need to include the candidates running for the local elections. “But why stop there,” I thought, “the country definitely needs help from God.” So I included the US, then North America, and expanded it to the globe. But God’s creation is bigger than that, so I also included our galaxy and our universe. Whew! That’s quite a list! And it all started with little ol’ me. 

I seldom realize that I am part of something so grand and amazing. When looking up at the stars, I do thank God for His amazing work, but it took me expanding that surrender litany to realize that I am part of God’s handiwork. God created the universe. And God created me; how awesome is THAT?! 

O sweet Jesus, I surrender myself to you; take care of everything.  

Fire of love

Our relationship with God can be compared to a fire. When we meet God in His Word, our hearts, like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, burn with love for God. How would you describe the fire of your love?

Some fires may just have glowing embers, but that could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps those people are just learning about Jesus and don’t have  a personal relationship with Him, so their fire is small. On the other hand, perhaps they have allowed worldly calls to distract them from stoking the fire of their relationship with God. Some can compare their love for God as candlelight, strong enough to take steps forward, but still an external light. For those seeking a relationship with God and trying to get closer, their fire could be likened to one that is burning twigs and brush. It’s a little fire, sometimes intense, sometimes jumping, and sometimes a bit on the smoky side. Is your fire of love for God one that burns large logs and is steady and hot? Or would you compare it to a wildfire, or even a megafire, that is wholly consuming? 

We are all made to burn with love for God. The fire we should strive for is that of the burning bush that Moses saw. That bush was fully on fire, yet it was not damaged. Rather God used it to its fullest abilities, while allowing it to remain with its physical attributes untouched. God’s presence made that bush fully alive, living in union with God, and an example for Moses to see and experience. We too should be burning bushes, and in this Extraordinary Missions Month, we are called to be witnesses of Jesus to others as we live in union with Him. 

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Luke 12:49

Jesus calls us to be more than just creatures that were created, He calls us friends, wanting to spend time with us. The way we feed the fire of our love for Him is by spending time with Him and His Word, reading the Bible whether we occasionally pick it up and randomly open and begin to read, or we read the daily readings. Meditating on what we have read takes those Words and brings them into our minds, hearts, and souls as we look for Him speaking to us. If we read the Bible thinking, “what does it say?”, the message may not get through to us. Rather we need to read it as if Jesus (or whichever apostle or prophet you’re reading) is speaking directly to us. More like, “what is Jesus saying?” As we listen to Jesus on a regular basis, we stoke the fire of our love for Him.

Our love fire for God is one fire we don’t need to be afraid of since the presence of God will transform us to become the best versions of ourselves. It’s up to us to determine what degree we want it to be.

Voice of God

The world is a cacophony of noise. Phones not only ring, but play a song; even my washer completes its cycle with a tune! TVs and YouTube are ready with every type of video and program imaginable. With all this sound comes the voices conveying a plethora of messages. Even when we shut everything off, our minds are a whirl of activity with everything we’ve seen and heard. Whose voice are we listening to? 

If we want to hear God’s voice through the din of this noisy world, we need to learn how to tune into Him. First, we need to pay attention to our thoughts. What thoughts are we listening to? What thoughts are the loudest, being turned over again and again in our head? Are they honest and truthful about ourselves and our relationship with others? Or are they negative and shield-protecting ones that use the excuse of keeping our hearts safe rather than allowing us to  reach out in love? Once we recognize the pattern, we need to shut down those thought processes. It’s not something we can do overnight, but rather takes a daily effort in paying attention for when these thoughts surface. This can’t be done on our effort alone, but something we need to ask for God’s assistance. 

How many times have we, through the voices we hear, judged ourselves not good enough? At whose urging was that? At the end of the day, do we look at what we failed to accomplish and feel that we don’t measure up? This type of negative thought process is just what Satan needs to get a foot in the door of our conscience. He agitates us so that we focus on not being good enough for God. It’s in these times of negativity that we forget that God already knows we’re not good enough; that’s why He sent His Son to save us. He knows it all, and created us anyway. 

We need to keep in mind that listening to negative thoughts and indulging in them, is welcoming Satan into ourselves. How can we hear God when there is already someone else speaking to us? God will always be honest and truthful with us; we may not always like what we hear, but God only wants the best for us and wants to bless us with His love and grace. 

God knows we’re not worthy, but He calls us His Beloved. Isn’t that a sound worth listening to? 

Who needs death?

It’s that time of year again; I now have three choices if I want to watch TV: 1- develop lightning fast reflexes to mute and close my eyes, 2- watch only PBS to avoid commercials, 3- just don’t watch it. Even my favorite channel, the Food Network, gets into the blood and gore of the Halloween season, advertising the special programs that make edible treats which ooze and frighten. It seems that the majority of the nation enjoys the horror that leads to death, however when death arrives, what is their reaction?

I happened upon an article, Mortal remains, by an undertaker, Thomas Lynch. The premise is that in America the only person not welcomed at a funeral is the person who has died. He set the stage for his insights by calling to mind the funeral of Pope John Paul II in the very first line of the article. I was wondering where this would go! Apparently the status quo is not to show the body in a coffin, display grief in public, or stand at the graveside to say goodbye. Rather it is to have “celebration of life” parties, where all are welcome to enjoy the company of those who have come. The question becomes, who is the funeral for: the living or the dead?

While the author does his best to remain neutral about religion, he does make a good case for the living to have some sort of send off for those who have perished. Religions have rituals that make it easier to ease the transition for those who remain. It may not be perfect for everyone, but something is better than nothing, as then each person has to find their own way which can be a painful process. I found it a rather interesting read as we start the month of October, when local fright fests pop up all over. People seem to be comfortable with death when they can control it. They enjoy the horror fantasy. When it becomes real life, they turn to undertakers to perform the necessary arrangements, so that the only thing they need to focus on is the party afterwards.

The last funeral I attended was for a popular priest in my area who often said Mass at the church I attended. There was an open casket before the funeral Mass, and it was very helpful to pray before him and then participate in the Mass. It was yet another moment in the Catholic faith where there is a mix of heaven and earth in one location: Jesus present in the sacrifice, welcoming the body of Father Hamilton, while the living send him on his way. The hope that we have in heaven and the resurrection is truly a magnificent gift God gives us. We can appreciate and thank God for this gift by living and doing His will.

Death will come to all those we love as well as to ourselves. Rather than trying to control it, let us participate in the final send off and appreciate the faith that gives us hope in the life to come.

Leave it at the door?

I was at church for adoration recently and swirling through my head were thoughts (and complaints) about my job. I started to apologize to Jesus because I wanted to focus on Him. I thought I should leave all that at the door before I walked in…or not?

While it’s good that I want to focus on Jesus, He doesn’t need anything from me. I don’t go to adoration to add points to my life score so that I can gain entry into heaven. Rather, I go because I want a personal relationship with Him, and as with any relationship, I need to invest time to make it flourish. Adoration is just one option. Since honesty is the only way with God, limiting my prayer to only thanks and praise “limits” how He can help me. I need to bring all of it: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the “I-don’t-want-to-mention-it.” Healing and guidance can only start once we fully acknowledge everything that is going on in our lives. Jesus already knows what’s happening, but in order for Him to help us (or bless us), He wants us to place all of ourselves into His Divine Hands.

As I thought more about this, I realized that it works both ways. If I want His healing and assistance, I can’t leave Him in the church or chapel; I need to bring Him with me, all day, every day. If I leave Him there, then I also leave the peace that comes from being in His Presence. Limiting my time with God to just a sacred time or place also limits my relationship with Him. I won’t be able to see and recognize those moments when He is working in my life because I’m not open to Him in my daily life. The more I look for Him, thank, praise, and ask for His help, the more I will be able to see and appreciate His handiwork.

I think for me the hard part is not laying my troubles at the feet of Jesus, it’s leaving them there. If I want Him to help, I need to let go and let Him take care of it. I need to believe He will. I must not worry or be anxious, which is something that must be practiced to be achieved. Life gives us ample opportunities to practice, let’s make the most of them.

About a pilgrimage

I happened across Pilgrimage, The Road to Santiago by the BBC on the local PBS channel one evening. I was fascinated to find there was a mix of Christians and non-believers taking that journey.

From what I understand, El Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, is a difficult trek over mountainous terrain in Spain. It’s not a journey one takes lightly, although if someone is interested in hiking, that may be a motive. While I didn’t catch the whole program, I was intrigued to watch from the point I found it. When I realized there were non-believers on the journey, I must admit that I was a bit horrified. I think my initial reaction was fear that the Christians would be mocked, looked down upon, or otherwise shown disdain for their beliefs. If I were on that trip, I know I would initially be rather uncomfortable about their lack of faith. After all, for a pilgrimage of that physical magnitude, having a common bond, like faith, is a huge aid when the going gets tough. However, all the participants seemed to show respect for each other and as opportunities arose, they did talk about their beliefs. 

There was one scene where two of the non-Christians spoke with a friar from the town they were lodging for the night. One of the men said that he believed in himself and his abilities and didn’t need to believe in God. I got the sense he was not raised in any religion at all. He also asked the friar, if he hadn’t been “brainwashed” in his youth, would he think he would still be a friar. It was an interesting question, but I rather bristled at the word brainwashed. I find that faith is a journey, and there are numerous times along the way that we will need to stop and think about what we believe and make sure we believe it. Faith is not a once and done thing, it is like a flower that needs to grow, that needs feeding, care, and attention. We need to put the effort into prayer, the sacraments, and weekly (or more) attendance at Mass. Faith is not something that is done to us, but something we choose to pursue.

During the course of the chat the friar indicated it wasn’t rare to find some travelers on El Camino that are not believers. He talks to them regardless, saying it’s okay and the important thing is that they are on this journey. He summed it up, saying that it didn’t matter if they believed in God, because God believes in them; and that’s what really counts. I cheered when he said that!

While there are pilgrimages I would like to take, I don’t think I could handle El Camino, at least at this point in my life. However, this episode did give me food for thought, especially the variety of beliefs within the group. It made me wonder, would I have the courage to share my faith with them, even if I was mocked or belittled? Would I label them as non-believers and mentally put them in a separate category than those who share my faith? Or would I see them, as fellow pilgrims and children of God, whose path in their faith journey has happened to cross mine?

Catholic Girl Journey

Thanks: thought or prayer?

During a recent homily a missionary priest indicated that when he says “thank you,” he says a prayer for the people he is thanking.  

I’ve often felt the phrase thank you was too small to express what I felt when I said it. It’s so simple and easy, but what does it mean? Looking up thanks in the dictionary for a more precise meaning resulted in a language journey. First stop is gratitude, but that only explained it as being grateful. At the second stop, there were several explanations:

  1. Appreciative of benefits received.
  2. Affording pleasure or contentment; pleasing.
  3. Pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated.

While this definition covered much more depth for the expression, the true discovery is in the etymology that grateful comes from the Latin, gratus, or grace.

Coming to the last stop of the language journey, the etymology for grace is from Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin gratia, from gratus; akin to Sanskrit gṛṇāti meaning he praises. So it seems that this Sanskrit word, which is one of the oldest languages around, has made its way into English with praise at its root. As Catholics, our praise  should always start and end with God. Logic would then reason out that every time I used the word thanks, I was really praising God for the actions of the people I am thanking. Wow, thanks goes much further than I thought it did!

Now that I know the history of the word thanks, I can be more confident in what it expresses. However, for those truly amazing circumstances, I think saying a prayer along with the word will convey appreciation to God for His blessings received through the hands of those around me. One thing I am certain of: we can never give too much thanks and praise to God. And thanks be to God!