Journeying home

Easter day marked one year since I made settlement on my home in Virginia. In a way, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year, but then again, the effects of the current pandemic have illustrated how much has changed. Now that we have spent far too much time in our own homes, are we better able to define what home means?

From a dictionary perspective, the definition is: “a place of residence; domicile” or “a place of origin.” While that seems rather straight-forward, I would like to argue, that sometimes we live in houses and sometimes we live in homes. The difference being that a house is a place that we stay although we do not have an emotional connection or feel our most comfortable there. The latter would be a place where we can relax, enjoy, and be our truest selves. However, the difference is not as simple as liking or not liking the space. I do like my current residence now and consider it a home. Is it perfect? Nope. But as I tackle one project at a time, it will gently evolve into a place that is even more comfortable than it is today. To make a house a home, requires thought and action.

During our lifetime, we may have many places we can refer to as our home. Abraham followed God’s call and journeyed to a new land. The Israelites journeyed for 40 years in the desert until they reached the Promised Land. Even Jesus moved from His birthplace in Bethlehem, to Egypt, and then to Nazareth before becoming an itinerant preacher. In looking at the etymology for the word home, it may derive from Sanskrit of a compounded word for “dwell” and “calm, quiet, safety.” We too are on a life journey, not of a physical location, but of our eternal dwelling. When we encounter the Bible journeys during the Mass readings or in our private scripture reading, we can use the opportunity to draw parallels to our spiritual journey and see how we are faring. 

The Easter season celebrates that our lives do not end in death, but rather can be transformed.  We will either complete our preparation for heaven in purgatory, enter heaven, or if we choose not to have a relationship with God — end up in hell. Jesus does want us to choose a life with God. He wants us to dwell with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. And at the end of the world, we’ll get to experience it not just spiritually, but physically too, when our bodies are resurrected from the dead. Only then will we truly be home, in every sense and definition of the word. 

Peace be with you

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. We hear it in the gospel every year in the Easter season. “On the evening of that first day of the week, even though the disciples had locked the doors of the place where they were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood before them.” (John 20:19, emphasis added) This year, however, the words seemed to dance in front of me, as I read along with the proclamation of the gospel. 

In this time of shelter in place, the reference to locked doors drew a parallel between the Apostles and today. In both circumstances, the confinement is used for safety: from the Jews for the Apostles and from the coronavirus for us. Modern living has changed  daily life so much, that when one can see a correlation between activities 2,000 years ago and today, we need to  sit up and take notice. The physical barrier was up, but Jesus was able to appear, bodily, in their midst. And His greeting was one of peace. 

After many weeks of being in the same four walls, small nuisances start to add up and tempers may be getting a bit frayed.. The talk of relaxing restrictions  may almost be more of a way to give us all something to look forward to rather than being realistic to implement in the near future. Our challenge is to be at peace by leaning on Jesus and then to bring that peace to others. We don’t need to go outside our four walls to find the peace of Jesus, He will bring it to us. We only need to receive it, to be open to His grace.

Faith is not just something we have during the hour of Mass and that’s it. It’s expressed every moment of every day, in our responses — in the ways we think, act, and in what we say. We may not be able to go out and help others, but we can help those that are in our own homes and within our circle of contacts. And we can bring the peace of Jesus to them. It can be as quick as a text message, as long as a chat on the phone or even a video call. 

There will be a time when the doors are thrown open and we can go out, just like when the Holy Spirit came and the Apostles went out to fearlessly evangelize. But now is the time for shelter and safety, for prayer and for peace. 

Resurrection witness

Happy Easter! We made it through a very different Easter Mass experience, live streaming into our homes. The message, however, remains just as vibrant as ever: He is RISEN!

The Gospels continue to remind us of those first witnesses. Over the next few weeks we will delve into the various appearances of the risen Jesus in numerous scenarios. In our unique circumstances, we have the opportunity to contemplate this core tenet of our faith. To aid us in this mental and spiritual activity, we only have to reach out to our Blessed Mother Mary. After all, not only was she close to Jesus, but she also pondered these things in her heart.

Mary was there for Jesus’ death on the cross. Of course, she wept for her Son being executed in such a humiliating way. But did she wonder why this was happening? Did she know there was more to come and that the world had not seen the last of Jesus? Perhaps. Scripture only tells us that Jesus commanded His apostle John to care for His mother and that she was present with the Apostles when they were praying after Jesus’ ascension when they were waiting for the Holy Spirit. But it is hard to imagine that Jesus would not have appeared to her. We have to be careful to remember that while the Gospels do provide historic details, they are not a record of every event.

I wonder what Mary’s reaction was when the Apostles told her of their encounter with the risen Jesus? Or when she heard about Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Did she recognize the implications of all these amazing events?

Two thousand years later, many of us have heard of Jesus’ resurrection from the time we were children. It can be very difficult to imagine what our reactions would’ve been back then at something  so shocking and novel. Over the past months, we have been facing our own novel event, taking us out of our ordinary way of life. Let us take the time and ask Mary to help us see the resurrected Jesus as if it were the first time. Let us listen to the witness testimonies and practice being a witness with those in our circle of communication.

Jesus is truly risen! We may not be eyewitnesses, but we are His witnesses into today’s world. Like the Apostles, we join in prayer with Mary to help support us as we spread the Good News of His resurrection.

Missing the human touch

Lent is almost over and in a few days we will be celebrating Easter. However, with the lockdown still in place, it may seem like Lent will continue onwards.

While the Easter Vigil Mass celebration will still take place, there will be no public reception of the sacraments. That means no new members will be received into the Church. There will be a noticeable void of the outward or tactile components of the sacraments. Even when no one is being baptized at Easter, the Church takes the opportunity at this sacred time to remind and renew our baptismal promises, both in word and with the sprinkling of holy water. We will be able to renew our promises as we participate in the Mass streamed into our homes, but we will miss the holy water. I do feel sympathy for those who are waiting to be confirmed. While they can participate in the praying the Mass, there is no substitute for the oil and the imposition of hands confirming them into the Church.

Perhaps the most missed of all the sacraments is the Eucharist. It’s one thing to abstain on Sunday Mass, but between Holy Thursday and Easter, the ache for the Eucharist will be like physical hunger pains. From posts on the Catholic Twitter thread, many are feeling the absence keenly already. Many online Mass options include the prayer for a spiritual communion, yet that seems like a weak imitation of the real thing. 

We are composed of body and soul; we are spiritual beings living in a physical world. Jesus knew we needed a material way to understand communion with Him, and so He blessed us by turning bread and wine into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. However, in this time, He is asking us to go deeper; to open our hearts to exclusively receive Him spiritually. How can we let our current situation deprive us of receiving Him, by focusing on the fact that we can’t do so physically? Do we really believe that Jesus will not shower his blessings and grace on us because His Body and Blood have not past our lips? Do we think that God, who created the universe out of nothing, and Jesus, who turned water into wine, healed the sick, and raised the dead, is incapable of communing with those who desire it? Will we mourn our loss instead of rejoicing in His resurrection? 

This year, I will miss the Eucharist and the human touch that makes the sacraments real on a physical level, but I will not let that stop me from glorifying God and praising Jesus during this most sacred time of the calendar year. And in a few months when we are allowed to gather again as a community in worship, the Eucharist will taste sweeter than ever before, and will be just as effective as our spiritual communion in desire.

Well done good servant

It’s been a tough week. For two years we knew this was coming, yet it still seems surreal. It’s not really discussed because it’s such an unpleasant topic, but death comes to all of us.

My 88-year-old Dad started to decline rapidly last week. While he could no longer stand up or walk and had trouble feeding himself, he still was a participating member of the family. Then he had trouble sitting up, his kidneys had started to fail and he started getting confused and agitated. I was blessed to visit him and tell that I loved him before he was bedridden, slipping in and out of consciousness. And then we waited for the end… and waited… and waited. It took almost four days before he finally breathed his last. I prayed to St. Joseph, the patron for a happy death. I prayed to Pope Saint John Paul II, who also suffered from Parkinsons’ just like my Dad. I also prayed to Fr. Hamilton, a fabulous priest that I miss. I prayed for them to help my Dad make the transition. Every morning and every evening and at times throughout the day, why was he lingering so long? It was like he was the Energizer Bunny, just going and going.

At one point during the vigil at his deathbed, I took a few steps back and just pondered the situation. As one in the physical realm, I see that he is physically lingering, his breathing gurgling yet in some way still strong. But we are not just in the physical world. We have a soul, what’s going on with his soul? Only God knows that, and God knows what He’s doing. Perhaps what appears to us as lingering is really the opportunity for the soul to prepare itself. Who am I to wish that Dad’s life be cut short because I feel uncomfortable watching and listening to him breathe? What mattered most was that he was well cared for, not in pain, and never alone.

Taking in Dad laying in the bed and space around it, I began to pray. How many times I have prayed the Hail Mary, yet now when I got to the end of the prayer, it was hard to say, “…now, and at the hour of our death.” Yet in that moment, I had a sense that he was surrounded by angels and saints and they were joyful and excited. Here I am with tears down my cheeks while they were happy. And why wouldn’t they be? They were getting ready to welcome him to his final home. 

Death may be an unpleasant topic because we are so fully immersed in a physical world. Would it be easier if we knew just what awaited us on the other side? Maybe. Perhaps in a physical realm, we would not be able to grasp just what the spiritual realm has to offer. Or just knowing would not be satisfactory to us and life in the physical realm would lose its meaning. 

I know Dad’s soul is in the hands of Jesus. I hope He has said to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:21).

Just like Noah

One of the few and regular times I step out of the house is when I shake out the mat that sits under Vera’s litter box. The other day in doing so, the deck was still wet with the rain that had fallen earlier in the day. I thought of an odd parallel to Noah, who braved 40 days of rain, months of waiting for the waters to recede, and having numerous animals to care for and clean up after during that time. 

In pondering deeper, I imagine Noah as a role model for us in this time of sheltering in place. While many can still go outside for walks or some exercise, keeping the required distance from others, the majority of the time is spent sequestered within our homes. We may complain about it, but Noah had it worse: 40 days of heavy rain to the point where everything flooded. Perhaps I should thank God for every sunny day during this trying time. 

Noah had to care for, not only his immediate family, but also wild and tame animals and birds. While our pets provide us with much affection and causes for laughter, some behaviors may irritate us more quickly than usual because of the monotony of our circumstances. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to make sure, on a full ark, each animal and bird, and each having its own personality, was fed and its area clean. I am very glad Vera is in my life and keeping me company, but then again, I’m very glad it’s just her. And every time she starts meowing constantly because she deems it feeding time, I need to remember that she’s just a cat and has no idea why I’m home all the time. 

I think the biggest parallel with Noah is trust in God. “Noah did just as the LORD had commanded him.” (Gn 7:5) While Noah knew there was going to be a flood, he did not know how long he was going to be on that ark. After 40 days of rain, the waters took months to recede enough to leave the ark. Noah had to trust God throughout that time. I’m sure he had good days along with days that he had some doubts. In our time of instant gratification and thinking we have control over our lives, our current circumstances can be downright frightening, frustrating, or a combination of both. After a week or two, we just want everything to go back to normal. But events like these unfold slowly. Perhaps that’s to give us ample opportunity to learn that God is in control and to practice trusting Him.  

In the days, weeks, and months to come, let’s remember to be thankful for the sunshine and the ability to go outside, even just to stand outside our door. Let’s practice patience with those around us, and with those we keep in contact. And just like Noah, let us trust that God will not only see us through this time, but to help us become better persons as we navigate through it. 

The desert of Lent

Last week there was no holy water at the entrance to the church. While I expect that on Good Friday, we’re only about half way through the Lenten season. It’s just one more reminder of how different things now are.

This Lent is, indeed, a desert: no water in the fonts, no Mass with the public attending, no gatherings for Lenten talks or Friday Fish Fry. But this is no time to be sad and forlorn. God knows how it will all turn out and will give us what we need, when we need it. It may be a challenge for us to participate in a Mass that is streaming from an empty church, but what a gift it is to have technology to bring it to us! We may not be able to physically receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but we can always make a spiritual act of communion. If we don’t believe Jesus comes to us through that prayer, then it is we who limit His abilities, not that He is limited to entering us through the physical realm. It is because we are in the physical realm that He gives us His Body and Blood hidden in physical form, since it’s much easier for us to understand and connect with Him. He is calling us deeper into faith in Him.

I can’t help but think about the lepers, from Jesus’ time through Saint Damien of Molokai, Hawaii and because of the contagiousness of the disease, they could not worship with the rest of the community. They had to be kept apart to keep the disease from spreading. While this bacterial illness is now curable, it can be very easy for us to shrug off the impact it had on society. With the crisis now at hand, we are getting a taste of how life can feel like it’s being turned upside down. Perhaps the next time we hear a gospel about a leper, we can realize the compassion that Jesus had for each individual. We can take the lesson and apply it to those who have been touched by this current affliction. Perhaps with every Hail Mary we say as we make sure we wash our hands for the appropriate length of time, we can offer it up to those who most need our prayers. 

Last year I was in the midst of preparing to move from Pennsylvania to Virginia, so I felt my Lenten practices were a bit weak, since I didn’t want to commit to something I couldn’t see through during the move. I was excited to see the possibilities for this Lent in my new home parish. Now, I must admit, I feel like I have been robbed a second time in preparing for Easter. But I know God can make the desert bloom. Rather than focusing on what I can’t do or what I’m missing, I need to focus on what I can do: watch Mass online or on TV, read the Bible or a spiritual book, make all activities a prayer, and leave the results to God.

Say please

Por favor is the phrase in Spanish. S’il vous plait is the French version. In English, it’s down to a single word: please.

I was recently on a cruise and was sitting at a table with a number of people from different areas of the US as well as the UK. I noticed when the woman from the UK provided her selections to the waiter, she began with, “May I please have…” “How very polite,” I thought. As we chatted through dinner, she mentioned observing that Americans are quick to say thank you, but do not say please. I thought about this, and realized that in many circumstances, I don’t!  I think the times that I do say it, is when I’m offered something, and I accept with, “Yes, please.” But if I don’t want it, then it is “No, thank you.” As children, when we ask for something, we are often prompted to say please in order to obtain it, yet as adults, we don’t seem to include it when we do ask or, in this case, place an order with the wait staff. 

We know we’re supposed to use that word, but what does it really mean? A look into the dictionary makes the intangible term seem even more vague. Even investigating the etymology of the word suggests it comes from the Greek for flat surface! Digging a bit deeper into the English roots, I found it could also derive from the Latin placare, from which we derive the word placate. This points to soothing and appeasing. Now the flat surface reference may make sense, as one is looking to be smooth when making a request. Looking at translations from other languages, the literal Spanish translation is by favor; the French, if you please. Both of these phrases indicate the request made is not a demand or requirement, but rather a humble submission that the requestor turns over to another’s power to fulfill. 

We are encouraged to pray with confidence; God hears our prayers and answers them. He wants us to come as we are: warts, wild emotions, and all. But do we say please? Do we ask God, if it pleases Him to answer our prayers in a particular way? Do we ask by His favor to bless us? God wants to give us all good things, yet sometimes what we ask for is not in our best interest or it is not the time for us to receive it. Do we respond to Him with more of the same demand, perhaps a bit louder, as if He didn’t hear us? Or do we ask God what pleases His will in the petition we offer to Him and praise Him for whatever way He answers? 

Lent is the perfect time to ponder and to pray with the word please. Rather than asking for a specific solution, let us ask the Lord for the pleasure of His assistance in our needs. We just may be amazed at His creative solutions that we would never dream to ask of Him.

Temptation comes

Temptation comes to all of us, even Jesus! Our response to temptation varies widely, based on not just the situation, but also on our mental, physical, and emotional state.

I received a “thank you but you will not be considered for this job” email, and while I was disappointed, my initial reaction was appreciation for knowing the status. It was in the afternoon when I received the email and I continued working at my current job. Later that day, I realized that I felt like I had been punched in the gut; it was then I realized just how disappointed I was and how much I wanted that position. I tried not to wonder what it was that put me in their ‘no’ pile. By the end of the evening, I had tears streaming down my face, feeling like I had been rejected by everyone, and that no one wanted me. I tried thinking that God has better plans for me. Since I’ve been praying for quite some time about a new job, my perseverance is being sorely tested. It’s in this type of circumstance that the “enemy” can maximize the anxiety and distress. 

It can be easy to shrug off Jesus’ temptations saying that because He is God, He could respond and wouldn’t give in. However, Jesus was also fully human, and after spending 40 days and nights fasting, even Matthew’s gospel indicates He was hungry (Matt 4:2). I can’t imagine how hard it was for Jesus not to turn the stones into bread. We will never know the strength of Jesus to deny the tempter in that moment. Yet when we are in a moment of temptation, Jesus can completely understand how we’re feeling, and what we’re thinking; He walks by our side when we face these challenges, not once, not twice, but three times in succession.

When I realized all the negative thoughts swirling through my brain, I knew they had to be stopped, but I knew I was too weary from a full day of work to battle it myself. I had to seek help from Jesus, to give Him all the questions I have for my life, and to ask Him to lead me in doing the Father’s will, both in my work life and my home life. If I am meant to be in the job I’m in now, then help me to do it to the best of my abilities. If He wants to bless me with a position that I can be happier in, that’s fine too. But I will not dwell in a negative mindset, believing the worst of myself because that would be a win for the tempter. I’m sure it won’t be the last time this will occur, but I hope in future times I can realize what is happening so that I can reach out to Jesus for help.

Training season

Happy first day of training season! While that may sound rather odd, the season of Lent can be compared to athletes in training. Discipline, practice, and focus are very similar to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer —  the three things the Church calls us to participate in as we prepare for Easter. 

Lent begins and ends with a day of fasting. This discipline requires us to be mindful, first of what day it is, and secondly how much we are eating and when. For the minimum fasting requirement, one full meal is allowed with two minor snack opportunities to maintain strength. Both fasting days also require abstaining from meat, as do all Fridays in Lent, although fasting is not required except for Good Friday. In addition to mindful eating, Lent is also an opportunity to practice self-control. Why does it seem that when we can’t have a particular food, that’s when we crave it even more? Some may complain about it and non-Catholics may scoff and tease us for our efforts, yet are these restrictions any different from those an athlete willingly assumes in training? Do they not need to be mindful of what they are eating so that their bodies can perform to their highest abilities? While our eating may not be fueling us for a marathon, it’s the combination of training body and mind together, reminding us that we are more than just spirit and intellect, and that our physical nature does play a role in our spiritual life.

Almsgiving is older than the Church itself. While it should not be limited to just a Lenten  activity, it is in this season that we are called to especially live out the charity we profess. While typically  we think of money or food being donated to the poor when we consider almsgiving, opening up the definition to include offering our time and talent to help those less fortunate is definitely putting love into practice. One definition of practice is “ to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient.” Athletes don’t become professionals just because they say they are. They need to practice their sport until they become proficient, and even then, they continue to practice and hone their skills to become the best they can be in their sport. Lent is a time for us to practice being Catholic at an even deeper level. It’s not just about the basics anymore, it is doing works of charity.

Prayer should be something we do as easily as breathing. However, when was the last time you paid attention to how you were breathing? Maybe if you had a cold or allergies, you become all too aware how much your body needs the oxygen that you breathe in. Just like an athlete picks a particular skill to focus to improve, we are called to focus on our prayer life during Lent also. There is no shortage of chaplets, novenas, and specific prayers in Catholicism that we can include in our daily prayer time. Perhaps given the amount, it can be too intimidating to choose! If pre-written prayers are not your cup of tea, perhaps the focus could be on perfecting your own method of prayer, maybe investigating a new one like the ACTS method (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). 

Instead of looking at Lent like something to endure, or live through to get to Easter, let’s take the opportunity this year to treat it as though we are athletes for Jesus Christ and this is our season to train. GO TEAM!