Called by God

As we begin ordinary time, we hear  the Gospel reading of Jesus calling the apostles. We may wonder at their response of leaving their work as fishermen, as well as leaving their families to follow Jesus. Do we think that being called by God was just something that happened a long time ago as recorded in the Bible, or do we realize that it continued to happen throughout salvation history and even happens today?

God calls us by name, each and every one of us. He has a mission for us, which could be one special purpose or many different tasks. When He calls us, He speaks His Word to us, and so it is through Jesus via the Holy Spirit that we hear His call. God knows us because He created us; He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows how we can be instruments of His will and grace. He allows each of us to choose how to respond to Him. He calls us, but do we answer?

In reflecting upon the call of God, I think of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Participation in these are responses to God’s call to become part of His divine family. In Baptism we are named and anointed, marked with an indelible seal of God’s grace. Confirmation completes the sacrament of Baptism with yet another anointing, an additional name, and receipt of the  gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each of us receives our own special recipe of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that make us unique individuals and enables each of us to do God’s will. When we respond to God in an open and positive attitude, He blesses us with what we need. Just as God created each person, He calls out to everyone, regardless of whether they’ve received the sacraments of initiation or not. 

Baptism and Confirmation are one-time events where we respond to God’s call, but His calling does not stop with those two sacraments; He calls us each and every day, and even multiple times throughout the day! How can we respond to Him? Prayer and witness. Through prayer, we develop our relationship with God. We learn how He speaks to us and we come to understand His will. Prayer helps us discern how we will answer God’s call.  We may be His disciple by becoming a witness to Him through our words of praise, our loving actions toward our neighbors, and/or by being an intercessor for others in need of support.

One example of God’s call can be our vocation: single, married, or religious life. When we hear God calling us to a particular vocation; we can respond by accepting it with humility and trust, or we can choose to do what we think is best. Regardless of our choice, God will continue to bless us with His grace and love us through both good times and difficult times. He will continue to call us to do His will in the daily events and circumstances of our lives. May each of us listen carefully for the sound of His voice. Can you hear Him now?

Beginning again

Merry Christmas! Yes, we are still in the Christmas season, even though liturgically the feast of Epiphany was celebrated on January 2nd this year. The birth of Christ so close to the calendar change gives us time to celebrate the awe and wonder of God becoming man and heralds to us start anew. 

The Son of God born of a woman gives His message a personal invitation. God isn’t shaking His finger from afar in judgment. He didn’t just show up as a fully grown man to tell us what to do. He came to live with us, starting the way we all start out: as a wee babe. It’s hard not to feel compassion for an infant. We hear the story of His nativity and rejoice with His parents, the shepherds, and the Magi. He gathers us into the story of His life — His mission, and we follow Him throughout His ministry. He changed the world with His life, death, and resurrection, but it all starts with Jesus being born in Bethlehem. He was at the beginning of creation, and becomes the beginning again with His nativity. 

The Catholic Church celebrates the Nativity of Jesus as an octave, that is eight days celebrating the feast as if each day is the feast itself. The eighth day of that feast just so happens to be January 1st, the first day of the new calendar year. How perfectly providential that we begin a new year — we begin again, as we are still celebrating the feast of Christmas! While any day and time is acceptable to change and start something new, to begin a change in January adds a sense of order to whatever change we are focusing on. It’s almost as if there is an energy that we can tap into to help us as we begin again. While some may call it a resolution, to “resolve” to change errant behaviors, I think if we embrace words like begin and start, the hopefulness those words bring can help support us in our changed ways. We also need to be cautious not to try to change too many things at once, as that can be overwhelming and hamper any progress. If we pick one thing to start, to begin again, and let that change lead us to other changes, we may find ourselves much more successful than we ever thought possible when we first started out. 

In these first days of January, while we finish celebrating the 12 days of Christmas (which started on December 25th), and end liturgically with the baptism of Jesus, let us pray for guidance as to what areas need a new beginning in our own lives. As we consider aspects of our spirit, mind and body, we can rest assured that no matter where we start, the other areas of our lives will be affected by beginning again. 

Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me to begin again, and with the support of Blessed Mother Mary, please help me make the necessary changes in order to become the best version of myself. 

Gifting to God

God is lavish with His gifts to us. He didn’t have to create us, but He did — and He hasn’t stopped there. Moment by moment, He showers blessings down upon us. He has even given His most precious gift to us, His Beloved Son, Jesus. Is there any gift we can give to Him?

It’s very overwhelming when we try to consider how much God has blessed us in our lives. We think about the gifts of friendships, or even those who have crossed our paths for a short time and left a warm fondness in our memories. We think of all the happy occasions we have celebrated and even some regular ordinary days that were just delightful. I don’t think it’s possible to be able to inventory all the blessings just from our own lifetime! God is a role model of generosity; we really can’t give more than He gives to any one of us. Is it possible to give God a gift at Christmas? After all, it is His birthday, shouldn’t He receive a gift from us?

Looking to the Gospels for inspiration, I found where Jesus once remarked, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) Since God created everything, that seems like a tall order, not to mention a totally new dimension to re-gifting. Yet a recent Advent reflection I read used the analogy of a coin from this Gospel reading. It talked about how a coin minted in a kingdom has the image of the king on it. It went on to say that God will only recognize our actions if they are in the image and likeness of Jesus. While we can’t give the blind back their sight, we can be their eyes. We may not be able to heal a sick person, but we can provide a little comfort to ease their pain and be a shoulder for them to lean on. We cannot forgive another’s sins, but we can forgive those who have wronged us and show mercy to them. 

As Catholics, we are all called to love one another. You may think you are because you’re nice to people. Being nice is but an atom in the element of love. To love someone is to sacrifice a bit of ourselves for their good. Like a parent who gives up their own time to spend time with their child, we must sacrifice our time, our talents, and our resources in loving others. When we give of ourselves out of love, especially to those less fortunate than ourselves or to strangers without reward, we are acting in the image of Christ Jesus. 

We’ve passed the halfway mark in Advent and preparations for Christmas will soon heighten to a frenzy of activity. Let us make the time and effort to be a gift to another. Maybe it’s a phone call to someone who may be lonely. Perhaps it’s participating in supporting a food pantry. In whatever way we can, let us  give God a gift of ourselves by mirroring the love and generosity He has shown us in His Son Jesus.  

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.

Catholic Girl Journey

Now what?

In praying the Surrender to the Will of God novena, one of the daily prayers got me thinking: 

“And when I must lead you on a path different from the one you see, I will prepare you; I will carry you in my arms; I will let you find yourself, like children who have fallen asleep in their mother’s arms, on the other bank of the river”.

With the move down to Virginia slowly settling down to the last few walls to be painted and a few more boxes to be put away, I feel like I’m on the other side of the river. In so many ways and experiences in the whole moving process, from the decision to the execution, I felt that God was with me and leading me. I know God has not left me, but there is a bit of “what happens now, God? I don’t know this side of the river, which way do I go?” It’s like in Psalm 30 “Once, in my security, I said, ‘I shall never be disturbed’… but when you hid your face I was terrified.” (Ps 30-7-8) I think God has a lot more confidence in me, than I have in myself!

Perhaps it was because I was seeing His guidance through the process, I came to expect that it would always be there and always manifest itself. But just as a child’s ability to apply what is learned is hindered if the teacher is always there assisting him, we are given the time and opportunity to practice lessons we have learned. There are some days when I can look around my new home, smile and thank God for His generosity. There are others when I look around and think “it’s too much for me, or dear Lord, why did I get this one?” It’s not like there was another that I wanted more. In fact, the kitchen is so fabulous that I thought it would be snapped up before I would be able to put in an offer!  Now, as described in the novena, I need to trust God and His will for me in my new home. He will provide for me while I’m providing for the needs of others, using my kitchen to prepare meals for various parish events. 

While I don’t know how long I’ll be here, I don’t expect to move anytime soon. So why do I expect God to lay out the full plan for living here at this moment? I spent 22 years in my previous home. On the day I moved in I would not have been able to fathom what my life would be like in year 22. So, I must learn to trust God to nudge me if I start to wander too far off the path He’s leading me. I have to start walking, rather than looking around and wondering what to do next. Step one is to just put one foot in front of the other. 

Catholic Girl Journey

Next time is now

Our human nature causes us to fall all the time. When we choose not to do God’s will, or sin, remorse can immediately kick in or it may take awhile as we see the consequences, to feel it. When it does, we often promise to do better next time. Why do we put it off? Why do we wait? Why not make the right choice now?

Let’s take the example of judging others. There are numerous times Jesus remarked not to judge others, yet we do it all the time. I’m not sure if it’s any worse than in previous generations, but with the rise of social media, we can do it much more instantaneously and on a grander scale than before. Plus with the plethora of social media apps, temptation is never far away. 

I use Facebook to keep in touch with family and follow a few companies that I regularly patronize. Everyone has different tastes and hobbies and sometimes I’ll see a posting with which I don’t agree, and I’m quick to think that it shouldn’t have been posted. The whole point of social media is to broaden our outlook and learn from one another’s differences. But our instinct is to disagree, perhaps post a negative response, or even think poorly of the person posting it. Once we catch ourselves in this thought process, what do we do? Close the app and say next time I won’t react? Or do we try to turn the situation positive by reaching out to the person or saying a prayer for them?

As human time is linear, when we commit a fault, we are not forgiven until we confess our sins. It makes putting things off until next time much easier. But God is outside of time and space, not to mention He’s the creator and master of it as well. If we put off making the right choices or repairing a breach caused by our sin until next time or until after our next confession, we are letting precious moments of grace go unblessed. These are times when Jesus lifts us up from our fall. Do we let Him, or do we linger on the ground and insist that we can get up on our own? While we do have to take responsibility for our choices and actions, we can lean on Jesus for assistance, not only to help us up now, but also to help us identify and avoid those times that lead us into a temptation that we cannot defend ourselves against. 

Total failure is to linger in the fall from grace and refuse to accept it as a means out of our situation. When we stop and apologize to God (and any others we have hurt by our sin), we start anew in that moment. Don’t wait for tomorrow or the next time; reach out to God and begin again now. What are you waiting for?

Catholic Girl Journey

Receiving God’s gifts

How well do you receive God’s gifts? Do you accept them at once with joy? Or do you feel that you don’t deserve them?

God continues to pour out many blessings to us daily. From the basic gifts of life, health, and family, to the insignificant treats that are sprinkled throughout our day, I’m not sure it is possible to be able to thank God for all that we receive from Him. Some gifts, like family and our health, we can take for granted, complaining about them until we lose someone or have an issue. Others we may be oblivious to because they are events that didn’t happen or were able to be avoided.

There are other gifts that we may actually push away, thinking that we are being humble and trying not to take more than we need. What we need however, is very subjective. We may think we need more, and God may seem to be stingy with His blessings, when in fact He is giving us only what is truly needed to do His will. Or He may be providing more than what we think we need because He will be changing what we are called to do for Him and He is preparing us for His next calling.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says, “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:12-13) While Paul relied on God and the skills God blessed him with to be self-sufficient, he also accepted help from the churches, like the people of Philippi. He rejoiced, not in the gift itself, but that it was a self sacrifice that would strengthen their relationship with God and Jesus.

God’s gifts are not like the ugly Christmas sweater we can take back to the store. The blessings may ebb and flow and we need to learn to live within the means of His blessings, thanking Him for them all — the wonderful and the challenging, the unexpected and mundane. For them all, we ask that we use them for His glory and are grateful for what He has bestowed.