Preparing to receive

The herald for the second week of Advent is the greatest herald in the Bible: John the Baptist. His message is to prepare oneself for the Lord’s coming. As his cry travels down through the centuries, it’s deeper than just preparing for a visit from Jesus, it’s preparing to receive Him deeper than we ever have.

Advent is a time to prepare, yet many times we think we need to do all the preparations ourselves. Decorating, cooking, baking, and visiting — it’s all up to us to do. But is it really? Some people can receive a material gift with genuine appreciation, even if it’s not something they want, however, when someone offers to lend a helping hand, they are waved away. The volunteer is offering their gift of friendship, of time spent together, and of lightening the workload, even if it is an activity that is enjoyed. So why is the offer to assist rejected? For many it is a matter of control, if I want something done a certain way then I need to do it myself. I think this is a reflection of our culture where the focus is on what I want and how I feel. If we open ourselves up to receive the gift of aid, then we may also receive the gift of a different perspective. It may lead us to a deeper appreciation of Jesus, the Christmas season, and our relationship with the volunteer.

For some people who are capable of the activities we do to prepare for Christmas, having help may feel like we are taking it from someone who truly needs it. Christmas is a great time to volunteer to help those less fortunate than us. But people who offer their assistance know that we have the means (the time, talent, and resources) to accomplish our tasks. They are asking to be part of our lives, to share themselves with us. In accepting their gift of time and companionship, we are learning how to extend our focus beyond ourselves and to experience the world through another’s eyes. When we understand how to receive the gift of another’s time, we are better able to be compassionate and reach out to others who are in need. And that gift of friendship is the opportunity God provides to us so that we can practice having a relationship with Him. Jesus is continually calling out to us to be our Friend, to receive Him in the Eucharist, and to accept the salvation and redemption He won for us through His death and resurrection.

If John the Baptist didn’t think he was worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals, how can we think we can receive Jesus if we haven’t practiced being a friend to others? We are called to practice imitating Jesus by having relationships with those who come into our lives — both in our families as well as the friends we encounter across the various aspects of our lives. Friendship works both ways: by being a giver of what we have, and a receiver of what is offered to us. Let us use this Advent to prepare to receive Jesus by receiving those who offer the gift of time and self to us.

Beginning with the ending

Happy Advent! Did you miss that it started on Sunday? If you only paid attention to the readings, especially the Gospel, you may have thought you were still at the end of the liturgical year. In fact, why in the world would the Church choose such a Gospel for the beginning of Advent? Perhaps a better question to ask is: what is Advent? Yes, it is the preparation time before Christmas, but it is more than that. Advent is preparing for all the comings of Christ, only in reverse order: tomorrow, today, and yesterday. 

First the Church, through the Gospel readings, asks us if we are ready for Jesus to return; not someday in the future, but right now. Secondly, in having four weeks to prepare, the Church gives us the opportunity to “scrub our souls,” to utilize this new (liturgical) year as the time to get our spiritual lives back on track with a deeper relationship with God. Lastly, by celebrating His Incarnation, we remember when, “in the fullness of time” Jesus walked on the earth like you and I. Matthew’s Gospel passage (24:37-44) has Jesus asking His disciples of His day (and all who will follow Him through the centuries) if they will be prepared when He comes again. Jesus is heralding the end of time here at the beginning of the Church’s year. But even the “end of time” is a beginning as well — it’s the beginning of eternity with both body and soul as we anticipate the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment.

Who wants to think of the end of the world as we know it? Isn’t it nicer to think about Jesus coming as a wee babe over 2,000 years ago? The nativity story brings both joy and peace, wouldn’t it be better to just focus on that? Or maybe it’s focusing on the gifts we’ll get, I mean give, at Christmas; that’s a better line of thinking, right? How about instead of thinking of giving  gifts, we think of the holiday’s receiving aspect? We enjoy it when our friends and family delight in receiving our gifts, but how joyful are we to receive what is given to us? From the ugly sweater to the tool we will never use, it’s the thought that counts, right?  But do we receive those gifts well? Do we appreciate the thought, time, effort, energy, and cost the givers spend in preparing our Christmas gifts? Perhaps this year we can challenge ourselves to be content with whatever we receive, and to receive it well. That means with all the love and appreciation that  we have in the relationships we have with the gifters. 

When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, there were very few who were happy to receive Him: His parents, a few shepherds and three foreigners. Is the world any more welcoming to Jesus now? For us Catholic Christians, do we celebrate His birthday or do we use the day to celebrate our material and consumer-driven world? Jesus comes to us every day that Mass is said; do we joyously greet Him as we receive His Precious Body in the Eurcharist? And if Jesus came at the end of the world today, how would you receive Him? Would you be ecstatic to see Jesus or would you feel not truly ready to meet Him? This is what Advent is all about: preparing to receive Jesus in every way He comes to us: yesterday, today, and always until the end of time. 

St. Paul cautioned the Romans in his letter to stay awake and that salvation is closer today than when they first believed. Time is marching ever nearly to its end, which is the beginning of life eternal with God. Now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to turn to God and seek a relationship with Him, to seek to do His will, and to be open to receive all the gifts He wants to give us. 

King or president?

We are in the last days of the liturgical year, heralded by celebrating the feast of Christ, the King of the Universe, last Sunday. In our modern era, do we really understand — and accept — Christ as our King?

Earthly kings, just like other parallels to the sacred, are imperfect reflections of a relationship with the divine. Ever since God led the Israelites out of Egypt, God intended to be King of the people, sending judges and prophets only when the people went astray. However, by the time of Samuel, the people were so consumed with mirroring their surrounding countries, that they asked Samuel for God to designate a king to lead them. While Samuel was quite unhappy about this, God allowed it, but not without first clarifying the consequences of this request. (Spelled out in 1 Samuel 8:10-18.) A king would  take the best of everything and require the people to do his bidding. The king makes all the decisions and the people of the realm are but mere servants,  carrying out whatever tasks his majesty declares. 

Today in many countries, the ruler is not a single person, but rather a government of elected officials who collectively make laws.  In these countries it is necessary to have a single person represent them and that office is held by either a president or a prime minister. Here in the United States, it has been almost 250 years since we rebelled against a monarchy, so how can we claim Christ as our “king”? Or is it easier to correlate Him as our spiritual president? Do we “elect” Him to the office because we agree with His teachings? Or do we feel we can pick and choose what we like and don’t like, because that’s the perspective we have for our government? Do we complain about what God has — or has not — done in our lives, as if He answered to us and our rights and wants are the only things that matter? Do we view God in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality? 

For a freedom-loving country, it can be hard to recognize God as the supreme ruler of our lives. Letting go and letting God lead us, even when we do want to choose it on an intellectual level, can still result in a struggle against one’s will. It can seem like we say, “Yes, God, but…” rather than submitting to His will instead of ours. SImilar to rights of the king as identified in 1 Samuel, God does require the best of us; He wants our first fruits. Yet unlike an earthly king, God does not hoard what we give Him, nor use it trivally. Rather He receives it, multiplies it, and shares it not just with ourselves, but with others as well. We don’t receive back what we give, but we receive it transformed and elevated in a way only the Divine can do. Even knowing all this, and that what we can receive will be better than what we give, we still struggle with God as our only  King. 

We are blessed that Christ is a merciful King, understanding our human nature and quick to forgive us when we seek reconciliation with Him. It may be a struggle of our wills, but through prayer, petition, and the grace of God, Christ can be King of our lives.

Sitting and waiting

For the first time, since I learned to drive at 16, I am without a car. Nothing bad has happened, it’s just that my lease on my current car ended and the one I am purchasing won’t be in until the end of the week. This has  given me time to reflect on waiting and preparation, and aptly so since the Church’s theme of the final weeks of the liturgical year is preparing for the end. 

Since it’s just me, I have no other choice but to drive anywhere I need, or want, to go. (Until now, of course.) Now I have to rely on the goodness of others to get me where I need to be. I’m very grateful that I am a full-time remote employee, working from home, so I don’t have to worry about a daily commute. However, any church functions that I participate in, as well as Sunday Mass, I’ve asked others to be my “wheels.” My friends are wonderfully supportive; and we’ve used the opportunity to attend craft fairs and go out to dinner, since they needed to drive me around.  This has really been a blessing which I truly appreciate. 

Even with these wonderful encounters, I don’t want to be rude to my friends by making them wait for me if I’m not ready at our rendezvous time. My goal has been to be ready 5 or 10 minutes early, just in case they arrive earlier. In reality, I have been ready much earlier than that, and thus I’ve had to wait. I didn’t want to start anything that I couldn’t quickly put away. I didn’t want to be in another area of the house, in case I didn’t hear them when they arrived. I was concerned about picking up any one of my hobbies as I can get so lost in them that I might lose track of time. The sensible thing was to sit and wait, looking out the window. I was ready. I was prepared. And then my mind began to ponder.

When one is prepared and waiting, especially for something that is imminent, one is on hyper alert, looking at every flash of movement and ready to spring into action. Is this what God expects of us in terms of readiness when our final moment on earth happens? Does our human nature allow us to be that hyper vigilant for extended periods of time? If we’re going to live another 10, 20, 50 or more years, how can we be prepared for our final hour? Unlike waiting for a ride, our final moment will not wait until we are prepared, we won’t miss it, nor inconvenience someone if we’re not ready. Perhaps to be ready for the end is not so much about being hyper vigilant, but rather to be vigilant in our day-to-day, recognizing the opportunities God gives us to be His hands, His feet, His ears, and His smile to those we meet. When we seek to do His will, we’re not waiting for Him to come to us, we’re actively seeking Him out, spiritually walking towards Him. 

Perhaps that’s what it means to be prepared for the end: to walk the journey towards God, looking for Him in every person we encounter and letting His love flow through us to others. If we always see life as a path that leads to God, then there is no sitting and no waiting for the end, there’s just the action of living and witnessing to all we meet along the way. 

The logic of God

Whether one is reading scripture passages or hearing the Word proclaimed at Mass, sometimes human logic and God logic seem to be polar opposites. Is there really a difference? And if there is, how can mere mortals come to know and understand the logic of God?

In this past Sunday’s Gospel, (Lk 20:27-38) the Sadducees pose a perfect (albeit exaggerated) logical question to Jesus. This group of high priests and religious leaders are explained in Luke’s account as not believing in the resurrection, but they also did not believe in any sort of life after death. I can imagine them having theological discussions with the Pharisees, who did believe in some sort of afterlife. How many what-if examples did they debate? I find it interesting they used the number seven as the total number of brothers. Perhaps they were using it as a comparison of the number of days in a week, and they were expecting that the seventh brother would be blessed, since that number is a holy number. Jesus’ response is not a parable to reflect on, but rather the straight Truth which can be summed up as: you don’t understand since you are using the logic of the material world. Ironically the passage just before this reading in Luke’s Gospel is the question of paying taxes to Caesar (Lk 20:20-26). This, too, was a perfectly logical question to ask. Jesus’ response to this question shows a bit more of the God logic: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This answer, especially for those of us who have heard it over the course of many years, seems so obvious we wonder why there is any question at all! 

There is definitely God logic that we can understand. We can understand gravity, two hydrogen atoms joining with an oxygen atom forming a drop of water, and the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. All these parts of creation are able to be studied. They do not change and flex, so there is order to God’s logic. But all of creation makes up the material world, and so we try to apply the same material logic to God and His divinity, which uses spiritual logic instead. God did create the material world for good, however it is still an incomplete reflection of the divine life. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and God the Holy Spirit live in the unity of love. It is this spiritual logic that we need to use to understand and apply it to the questions we have. The tax is a material requirement and to pay it such requires a material object, in this case a coin. But in the love of God, we need to repay God by loving not just Him, but all that reflect Him: all of creation, all creatures, and all peoples. Marriage is the incomplete example of what it is to live in divine love. It is the full emptying of self, willing the good of the other as other. It is a life of communication between spouses and God. Here in the material realm we practice it on a limited scale, since our human nature is not yet equipped to live such a life as to be in communion with creation past, present, and future. 

However, for the parable of the lost sheep (Mat 18:12-14) we can only understand it if we view it with spiritual logic. From a material and economic perspective, no shepherd would leave 99 sheep to look for one lost sheep; it would be chalked up the same way retail stores do for merchandise that is broken or goes missing. But in spiritual logic, when one is giving their whole self, it is of great importance to not just find the missing sheep but to bring it home and celebrate. Love craves unity where the material world likes categorization and organizing through separation.

The logic God uses may seem odd and incomprehensible to us, but Jesus teaches both in parables as well as straight answers the spiritual nature of logic. Through scripture study and prayer we too can begin to know and apply spiritual logic to our lives, preparing us to live in the Divine Love that is God for all eternity.

Preparing for the end

November is the time in the calendar year that is the end and the beginning for the Church. It’s the end of one liturgical year cycle and oftentimes is the beginning of the new liturgical year. There’s much that the Church feeds us during this month.

The month starts out, November 1st, with the most appropriate feast there is when considering the end: the Solemnity of All Saints. The goal for all Christians is to become a saint, that is to be face-to-face with God for all eternity. This celebration is for all those in heaven — both known and unknown. Some may be our ancestors! In 20 generations, which would be about 400 years, we each have approximately one million ancestors. Have you ever considered seeking intercessory prayer from one of your great grandparents or another ancestor? If you’re not comfortable reaching out to unknown family members, there are plenty of saints from which we can ask assistance. This month is a great time to pray a novena to our patron saint or a saint that we admire and would like to emulate. Even if there is no official novena prayer, praying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be asking for their intercession over the course of 9 days during the month is a wonderful way to focus precious prayer time.

Hot on the heels of the saints, the Church celebrates All Souls day on November 2nd. This day is for all those in purgatory who are being cleansed of the stain of sin. This is our opportunity to pray for the ones who have come before us, both family and friends, and to offer charitable deeds on their behalf. While not obligatory on this day, Mass is the most perfect prayer we can offer and participate in, and a wonderful way to remember those we love. This opportunity is a reflection in two aspects: those that have gone before us, and ourselves who may one day also require the same purification process. If we take the time in prayer to focus on how we can improve our relationship with God, we can begin to make the necessary changes now. Even St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians urged, “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2) 

Preparation for the end continues in the daily Mass readings and especially on Sundays. The Gospel themes include a discussion of the resurrection and the destruction of the Temple before the final feast of Christ the King, which is celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The readings remind us that although we are living in a tangible world, our destiny is beyond what we can experience with our senses. They are not meant to scare us, but to prompt us to actively prepare ourselves for what’s next to come, no matter what stage of life we’re in, as we do not know the hour or the day when we will be called by Jesus to eternity. So how can we prepare for the unknown? The mystery of eternity seems daunting and it’s understandable if we want to ignore it and not dwell on it. Yet the best preparation is a relationship with God, and continuing to practice trusting in Him and His will for us. This is done many times a day in the choices we make. The celebrations of these feasts along with the scripture readings for these last weeks of the liturgical year give us the opportunity to reflect and focus on our relationship with God with a special emphasis on our eternal salvation rather than our day-to-day needs. 

The Church gives us the time to prepare ourselves for eternity, to take inventory and resolve to make necessary changes in our lives. The result will be a stronger relationship with God and allows us to “ring in” the new liturgical year with open hearts and minds.

Finding in need

God gives us what we need, when we need it. I truly believe that. However sometimes the patience needed for God’s timing can be a challenge.

There are a number of things, both professionally and personally, that are causing me to wait. I have continually prayed to Him that these circumstances were fully in His command. The prayer is part reminder to me that I have no control over the situations and partly to God to remind Him that I’m still waiting. Perhaps God is being His overgenerous self in giving me the opportunity to practice two virtues at once: trust in Him and patience. I have received little glimmers that give me hope, but sometimes the day-to-day can overwhelm the little blessings along the way. In His infinite wisdom, God had a way to illustrate to me, once again, that He will provide when I need it.

A few months ago I was about to place an order from a catalog using a gift card I had received, only the card was not where I thought I had placed it. I had looked in many alternative places that it may have been, but my searches were fruitless. I then started to wonder if I had accidentally thrown out the card with a previous catalog when I was tidying up. Disappointment churned inside me and I chose not to order. It wasn’t anything that I absolutely needed at the moment and tried to face the consequences of my rushed cleaning efforts by shrugging off the unnecessary. Recently, I realized that I was starting to run low on some items and knew I needed to place an order soon. I dreaded ordering and was trying to delay since I thought I had lost the gift card and with the cost of everything rising, it would have really come in handy. However, as I was rearranging my decor to bring in some autumn themed items, I was astonished to find the gift card! I laughed loudly and looked up at the sky and said a hardy, “Thank YOU God!” Then I promptly sat down and cried, overwhelmed that God truly does take care of us. It wasn’t the lottery, it didn’t solve all my issues and worries, but to me it is a shining example of how God can help us even in the most ordinary ways. 

This past Sunday’s first reading featured Naaman’s cure from leprosy by simply plunging into the Jordan river seven times. Recognizing the power of God, he vowed to worship the Lord as the one, true God. The Gospel told a similar story of Jesus healing 10 lepers and only one returned to thank Him. While leprosy may be the most obvious similarity, the real message is that by turning to God in our affliction, we find our relationship with Him. We continue the conversation with God when we allow His blessing to fill us and respond with humble and thankful hearts. 

We find when we are in need, not in want. We thank God for His blessings yesterday, today, and tomorrow, since He will provide and answer us when it is in our best interest; we just need to be open and aware of the possibilities.

Marriage of three

Recently, I was privileged to attend a Buddhist wedding. Before the exchanging of rings, we were informed that they represented “love, understanding, and patience; and the three are never divided.” It seems that even in other religions a bit of God shows through. 

Taken at a surface level, those three characteristics are perfect symbols of what marriage entails. To love another is to will the good of the other as other, as Bishop Barron has often remarked. It’s not a feeling, but rather an act of the will; a choice to take action to support another with all that one has to give. While understanding could be considered a part of love, calling it out as a separate charism of marriage between two people highlights the need to put a person’s wants, needs, and ego aside in order to live in harmony with another. To understand another, one needs to get to know all aspects of the other and to proverbially try walking in the other’s shoes. Understanding is to be able to be compassionate towards one’s spouse in every situation. When patience was mentioned, there was a bit of a chuckle from the wedding attendees, and that one is probably the most challenging of the three. Practicing patience with a spouse is loving and understanding the other in the most challenging circumstances. Like the continuous band of a ring, these three attributes of marriage cannot be divided since each encompasses the others. Some days may require more effort in understanding, other days require more patience, but no matter what, love — that act of choice — is made over and over again, moment after moment.

There may not be a deity in Buddhism, but those three attributes made me immediately think of the Trinity, and not just because of the count. Can there be any better representation of love than God? Catholics often use love as a definition for God, so that Love (with a capital L) is synonymous as the name of God. Can anyone understand us better than Jesus Christ, who put aside His divinity to live and die as a human? Jesus is the epitome of understanding, since He knows what it’s like to feel temptation, hunger, thirst, tiredness, sadness, as well as joy, mirth, and merriment. We should never fear that Jesus would not understand our trials or our successes because He has lived a full life on earth. While the Holy Spirit is often referred to as the Advocate or Sanctifier, patience is one of the fruits when we strive to live a life centered in God. As a tree is known for its fruits, so too is the spousal relationship when it seeks to reflect Love and Understanding.

No matter what religious practices a couple may have, God is a part of every marriage. He brings together two people, binding them into one union. He may choose to bless the union with the gift of children, which reflects the love between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in a more concrete way. Let us take time to pray for all marriages: those newly formed to those spanning a lifetime, for those whose spouses have passed onto eternity, and for those considering a marriage commitment. May God guide them, grant them the grace to live out their vows and comfort them in the difficult times. 

Beyond words

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times I’ve heard a particular Bible passage, if I spend quality time reflecting on it, a new perspective or dimension emerges. This past Sunday’s Gospel reading about the rich man and Lazarus (LK 16:19-31) is only the most recent example.

The rich man, suffering torment after death, asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers to forewarn them about their potential fate. At first my thoughts were curious as to why the man does not ask that he be sent back, but rather Lazarus, a poor beggar, that the man never acknowledged during his lifetime. Who is Lazarus that the man’s brothers would believe him? Perhaps the man realized that his lack of compassion towards Lazarus played a role in his eternal circumstances, and understood that his brothers would be headed for the same torment since they, too, behaved similarly toward Lazarus. What does the man expect that Lazarus can convey by appearing to his brothers that he cannot himself do? The only explanation I can come up with is that it would be beyond the ordinary or explainable and thus would make a deep impression on the brothers that could prompt a change in their behavior.

Basically, the man is asking that his brothers have an experience of faith. Abraham refers to the many encounters with God in the Old Testament and states that if the brothers were not moved by all of these, then they will not be moved by a dead person (who they ignored his whole life) coming to visit them. This way of thinking is not limited to the Jews, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that even the Greeks have trouble believing. “For the Jews demand signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:22-24) Faith can be a challenge to  the logic of the intellect. We ask for signs and symbols and yet explain away wondrous gifts from God, perhaps because we want them to be ordinary and explainable. We want them to be in our realm so that we can understand them, perhaps even feel a sense of control over them.

Think about within your own life; have you shared how you have encountered God? If you do have an opportunity to exchange a faith moment, how difficult is it to describe? Sometimes words are not available to convey the feelings, impressions, emotions, and reflections of the instance. For example, if we perceive a message or answer has been given to us by God many questions surface. How do you know it’s from Him? How did it happen? Was the voice audible? Trying to describe it even to oneself can provoke feelings of uncertainty and make us question our lucidity. And when words fail, it can even prompt the beginning of a new word. The Catholic Church created a word to describe the miracle that takes place at every consecration of the Eucharist: transubstantiation. Look that word up in the dictionary and there is only one meaning, which is the miraculous change by which according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dogma the eucharistic elements at their consecration become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine. Most words have a history or etymology and while meanings can evolve over many years, there is usually a simple root word from another language from which the word is derived. There are plenty of words to describe emotions and philosophies, but fewer to explain the spiritual realm. Thus, we can struggle to adequately depict our experience to another.  

Faith is not ordinary and it is not easily explainable. Faith goes beyond words because it goes beyond the constructs of time and space, of the world, and of what we know. Yet who has not been touched by the miracle of a newborn baby, or a rainbow after a thunderstorm? We may “know” how these come about, but the circumstances have to be just right in order to create them — it’s not a given. And just like matters of faith, we cannot force others to experience the divine if they are not open to the Lord. However, we can strive to provide signs and symbols for those currently open to encounters of faith. Let our actions reflect the compassion and the unconditional love of Jesus which transcends natural human behavior. 

Scrubbing Guilt

One thing that Catholics are known for, and teased about, is guilt. Yet this past weekend, the communion meditation song caught my attention when it mentioned “scrubbing guilt.”

The seminarian at the church I attended studied music prior to pursuing holy orders and used his God-given talent of singing to provide a backdrop for heavenly reflection. As the feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen was on Saturday, he read the English translation before singing the Latin song composed by the saint in Gregorian chant. Accompanied by the organ, his lone voice was strong, yet gentle as he sang. I could do nothing but close my eyes and let the music surround me and just be in the moment. When he finished, my thoughts went back to the translation he read… what was that about scrubbing out guilt?

There are times when the internet is a wonderful thing. After a brief search on songs by the saint, I found Spiritus sanctus vivificans and the translation according to the website is as follows:

The Holy Spirit: living and life-giving,
the life that’s all things moving,
the root in all created being:
of filth and muck it washes all things clean—
out-scrubbing guilty staining, its balm our wounds constraining—
and so its life with praise is shining,
rousing and reviving all.

St. Hildegard of Bingen

The wording of this translation differs slightly from what was said at Mass, and much more blunt, but the meaning is the same. I know the Holy Spirit is considered the sanctifier, the one who makes things holy — that is set apart for God. That’s things like church buildings, altars, and holy water, but for people? Okay, maybe deacons, priests, and bishops as they are anointed to be servants for God, but everyday people? Here is a song praising the third person in the Trinity for washing “filth and muck” and “out-scrubbing guilty staining.” We’ve been conditioned to see the Holy Spirit as a pure white dove, so how can anything so pristine deal with the refuse? And yet just as Jesus came down into the dysfunction of the world to deal with us as a human person, God does not allow our dirtiness to stop Him from getting close to us. He continually sends out His Spirit to heal our wounds and revive our spirits.

If I can get my head wrapped around the thought of the Holy Spirit cleansing me from the muck and mire, what about guilt? Isn’t having a bit of guilt a good thing, since it makes us stop and think about the consequences of our actions and help shape the choices we make? Guilt is a two-edged sword that can quickly cut us in ways that can hamper our relationship with God. We can use guilt as an identifier for when we choose against God’s will, but once we seek true contrition with God, guilt for that choice no longer has a place in us. Too often guilt harbors in our intellect and instead of turning towards God, we turn further away with feelings of unworthiness. We are all unworthy, whether we are doing God’s will or going against it. Efforts do not secure our place in heaven; it’s all on the mercy of God. Yet if we seek a relationship with Him, even when it seems to be two steps forward and a few more backwards, our contrite hearts He will not spurn. 

I’m very grateful that the seminarian shared the work of this 12th century Doctor of the Church. And I’m even more appreciative of the saint’s reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit, almost a millennium later.