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Imaginary Squirrels

“It’s a little harder for me to hike down because I am carrying a squirrel.” When my sister explained the trouble my daughter was having with this “squirrel” she was carrying,  my husband helpfully recommended the squirrel sit on her shoulder so she’d have both hands free. Unfortunately, the “squirrel” kept slipping off her shoulders when she tried to have it perch there. There is no solution other than for my husband to wear her bumblebee backpack and her grandfather to carry her the final leg of the hike. My 4-year-old daughter is constantly offering us situations to respond to that we could never have anticipated, with a menagerie of woodland friends that we can’t see, but are very real to her.

Last week she subjected the Sister who runs her preschool to a lengthy debate about whether she should leave her imaginary hamster in the car or bring him to school (“invisible”, not imaginary, she insists). Since the invisible water bowl couldn’t come too, it was decided that all invisible pets should stay with the water source. “Just get out of the car!” I want to scream.  Near daily I find myself exasperated, frustrated, and upset. Why can’t anything be simple? Why is getting from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time nearly impossible?  As a mom of three young children during a pandemic, I have had countless opportunities to exercise patience. Many of these opportunities, I have risen to the occasion; others…less so.

Sometimes it is easy to laugh at the ridiculousness of these conversations, or to approach them like a real-life improv workshop. I live with a daily struggle to respond more lovingly to everyone in our household. Oftentimes I find them coming up in prayer later. My daughter is just a more gregarious, non-conformist version of me. The imaginary squirrel is so real for her that she cannot walk straight. How often do I allow myself to be unnecessarily crippled by concerns, past hurts, and anxieties? I wonder how God looks at me with compassion in my struggles, both as they are, and as I build them up.

It is easy to get caught up in our own ways of seeing and interpreting the world, and God. In imaginative prayer, St. Ignatius instructs us to enter wholly into the Scriptures, allowing all of our senses to take over. We do not just imagine the way the scene might look, but also how the desert sand feels beneath our feet, the heat of the massive crowds of people pushing towards Jesus, the sounds of people crying out to be noticed. The person of Jesus comes alive as we place ourselves in these stories. As the narrative unfolds, I am often surprised at what Jesus asks of me. I see the people involved in a new light, I sense their hidden motivations, pains, or hopes. I see my own role more honestly. My daughter has an incredible ability to use her imagination in vivid ways to engage with and interpret her world. Being both so like me and so distinctly herself, she gives me a new lens through which to see St. Ignatius’ instructions on prayer.

What if I approached each day as a part of Salvation History? What if the words of my own family were treated with the same reverence as the people I have met in the Scriptures? What if I could be as forgiving of their flaws as I am of the Saints? As I continue to grow in the Spirit, I take the Ignatian practice of praying with my senses as I walk through my own day. 

In the fall, my six-year-old son told me that his eyes were blurring. I blamed it on being on Zoom for school, homework, and all kinds of other activities. The headaches and blurriness continued.  At his insistence I made an appointment with an eye doctor. When the tests revealed he needed glasses, I realized how grateful I was at his articulation of what he was experiencing. I should have trusted him sooner.  In Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man in two stages. When my son put on his glasses, the world did not suddenly look brighter or clearer. The blurring had been so subtle, and yet I am sure it affected everything he did. As I pray with this Scripture, I imagine the gentle healing happening in my son’s eyes as he adjusts to his new glasses. I imagine Jesus healing my false perspectives as well.

After the baby has fallen asleep in my arms, I know I should move him to the crib but I just want to hold him for a few more minutes. I breathe in his scent, feel the dampness of his sweaty head resting on my arm, and watch his little face contort as he dreams (probably of all his favorite things: dogs, bubbles, and trash trucks). As I drift off at night, I can imagine God the parent holding me and savoring all the things that make me who I am. 

When I imagine God accompanying me throughout my day, it changes how I see people.  When I intentionally look, listen, and sense with God, I am making the conscious effort to expand my own perception. I take the inconveniences in stride. I respond more patiently.  I see creativity in a positive light, rather than something to be dealt with and overcome. Growing in patience has been linked for me to growing in trust of God’s timing, appreciation of each person’s uniqueness, and gentleness with myself. When all else fails, I can just imagine my struggles like an invisible squirrel perched on my shoulder. God and I may be the only ones that can see it, touch it, and feel its weight, but that does not make it any less real.

Going Deeper: 

Explore how the physical senses affect prayer here

Use the Awareness Examen as a tool to reflect on your day.

Imagine how Jesus might be healing me in Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel.

This post originally appeared on Becky eldredge’s into the deep blog in a series called “Growth in the spirit”. Read more here.
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Chapel of No

This post appeared as part of a series on Belonging featured on the Into the Deep Blog.

It was “No.” As clear as day.  I had prayed for an answer, and I heard the “No”.  I wanted it to be yes… so, so, so badly. I was devastated. I remember the place, the people, the moment in that chapel. Even more so, I can recall the feeling that God had led me to a dead-end in the road. God had put desires in my heart, a longing to serve, and then constructed a solid wall around that call. There was no viable outlet to live out my calling. I felt angry, let down, and very alone.  If this is “no”… what could “yes” possibly be? 

My image of discernment at this mid-twenties stage of my life was Ignatius at the fork in the road “Show me the path, Lord.” I tell God what my two (or maybe three) ideas are and then God will tell me which of my brilliant ideas is the greater good. I moved through the steps of prayerful decision making, completed all the homework, and waited for my divinely inspired answer. But the answers were no, no, and more no. Why would God lead me down a road to nowhere? What could that mean? 

God, did you forget me? Did you mess up and put someone else’s calling inside of me? I can’t hear one more “no.” Dead ends… brick walls…locked doors. 

But I was not at a fork in the road, a brick wall, or a locked door at all. I was still on a journey forward. I slowly began to accept that God did not make a mistake with me.  Although the “no” responses were screaming in my ears, they were also nudging me forward towards a whispering “yes,” one that I could barely make out. 

I wanted my calling to be a perfectly formed puzzle, one where all the pieces fit together nicely and make the beautiful picture that was on the box. But what happens when I start to put together the pieces and what takes shape is something totally new and unexpected? How do I handle these extra pieces that don’t seem to fit anywhere, and frankly don’t really go with the overall scene I am trying to make? 

I began to see that God’s dream for me is only partially lived out at any moment in time. The pieces of the puzzle taking form right now may still shift. It isn’t just that I am growing, but that the ways I am living out my calling in life (or vocation) change over time as new realities present themselves and new gifts are allowed to emerge. My identity still includes the desires that were not meant to be (a teacher, a ballerina, a doctoral student). Who I am also includes the dreams that have yet to come to fruition, even those that may never happen in my lifetime. Those extra pieces of myself that don’t seem to fit anywhere also have value, and are holy and true as well.

When I experience this restlessness, this sense that I don’t really belong in my own life, it is often because God has slowly been handing me extra pieces of my life puzzle.  Sometimes these clues don’t make sense yet, or can feel like a distraction. They can raise doubts or heighten existing insecurities. My instinct is to cram them into position, or throw them away as being useless. 

What if God is asking me to hold these pieces of myself in reverence? The “chapel full of no” is not just a place where every discernment feels like a wall closing in on me, blocking off an option forward. That chapel of no is actually a safe place to imagine all the possibilities God has placed within my heart. What if God is waiting there for me, ready to transform all the “no” responses into a deeper “yes” that had been brewing all along? 

Going deeper

  • Check out more from the “When the Road Forks” Series to see how many of the Into the Deep writers have prayed through these types of moments. 
  • Read more on finding this sense of belonging in Becky Eldredge’s The Inner Chapel.
  • Consider Gretchen Crowder’s Three Steps Forward Approach to handling a difficult discernment. 
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Searching for Our Umbrella

My Ignatian Moment: Ignatius and the Donkey. This post was written as a part of Becky Eldredge’s series on Ignatian Spirituality. See more at https://beckyeldredge.com/intothedeep/.

While the baby and I play in the sand, the older kids ride wave after wave into the shore on their boogie boards. My husband stands guard in the shallow water. He shows them and my niece how to watch the waves approach, let the small ones pass, and then ride into shore on the stronger currents. Over and over again, all afternoon. They swim out, wait, and “catch” the waves. 

Every so often, they stand on the sand, their eyes dart around, scanning over the various multicolored umbrellas and E-Z ups. They take in the man pulling a wheeled ice cream cart; pass over the family fully dressed and opening sand toys from a package; ignore the teenagers who brought their puppy to see the ocean for the first time. They are seeking out our “set-up” in the collage of umbrellas and towels dotting the beach. Sometimes they need a drink of water, or just to wipe the sand out of their eyes. They race over to this temporary home just long enough to satisfy their immediate needs. And then the ocean calls them back. 

How could this beach umbrella really be an Ignatian moment? 

Although St. Ignatius of Loyola became a masterful expert in discernment, he did not start out that way. His youth was filled with self-serving choices and his “home base” was not God. As he went out into the world, fought in battles, and cavorted with other soldiers and courtiers, the truth he returned to was the honor and glory of his family and his country. The truth he continued to seek was his OWN comfort, pride, and success. 

After his conversion experience while convalescing in the castle at Loyola, he was energized and ready to give his life over to God. On the road to Jerusalem, he had a disagreement with a Moor over key matters of theology regarding the Virgin Mary. Filled with righteous indignation, Ignatius’s first instinct is to defend Mary’s honor at all cost. Our newly converted Ignatius was considering murdering the Moor over this disagreement. Unsure whether this was TRULY what God was calling him to do, Igntatius let the donkey walking ahead of him make the decision for him. If the donkey took the same route as the Moor, then Ignatius would follow and kill the man. Thankfully, the donkey took the path towards Jerusalem and Ignatius continued on his way.

Instead of relying on the insights in prayerful decision making that God had already begun to reveal to him, Ignatius demanded that God “send a sign” that he was doing the right thing. How often have I done the same thing? When I demand that God send a quick answer, I ignore the voice of God that has already been murmuring in my ear. I block out the invitation to trust, and allow fear to be amplified. I allow the doubt to become a cycle that feeds itself.

My donkey is fear and indecision.  I allow the fear to drive me where it wants to take me. I become caught up in its energy. Once exhausted, I abdicate control. The donkey tramples over grace, barreling through the path God had already prepared for me. The past 18 months of global pandemic has only increased the cycle of doubts. I revisit decisions already made. What instincts can I trust? Did I make the right decision? Hindsight is not 20/20 right now. In hindsight, I find more reasons to doubt myself. 


I am like my children, standing on the sand looking for the right umbrella.  In discernment, I stop and look around me. I take in the cacophony of distractions.  I remind myself of where I have been and where I am trying to go. I retrace my own steps.  God has also come down to the beach. God has set up God’s umbrella, and brought cool water and snacks.

Will I sit down and enjoy this time with God?

Go Deeper

Consider praying with John 21:1-14 //Jesus appears to the disciples on the beach

Get in touch with how God speaks to you.  
Listen for how God might be inviting you to take a step towards greater love.

Photo Credit: Herson Rodriguez on Unsplash
https://unsplash.com/photos/-a0v4owqUUM

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Easter Sunday: Empty Clothes

Empty Clothes 

He went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, 

and the cloth that had covered his head, 

not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.

Then the other disciple also went in, 

the one who had arrived at the tomb first, 

and he saw and believed.

For they did not yet understand the Scripture 

that he had to rise from the dead. – John 20:5-9

“Your memories are like sadness and that keeps you cold. These memories will make you happy and that can make you feel warm.” My seven year old, Paul, lovingly ran his hands along the quilt. Our neighbor had it made out of her late husband’s favorite shirts. It has been just over a year since he died from cancer and my kids are still grieving the loss of this larger than life grandpa figure to them. These empty clothes told a story of adventure, generosity, and family. They told the story that his suffering has ended and that he is at peace now. 

In today’s Easter Gospel, the disciples arrived at the tomb to empty clothes that told a different story. Like my son gently stroking the flannel and cotton, I imagine the disciples touching the empty clothes in front of them. “We just wrapped him in these two days ago… we saw him, we touched him, we felt him in these clothes?” Painful memories of Jesus’ beating and death on the cross would have flooded back, “the memories that make you feel cold inside” as my son Paul said. They “saw and believed” that something good was still coming from this experience. They did not understand fully, but the empty clothes told them that death was not the end of the story. The warmth of hope can begin to replace the cold of our sadness.

In the past year, our relationship with the liturgy became even more detached. We learned about spiritual communion as we participated from afar, via livestream or recordings. Even once Churches reopened a bit more, many of us still found it difficult or perhaps unsafe to return. We continued to watch on a screen, to receive Communion in drive-thru lines or not at all. I had to ask myself the difficult question: does anyone care if I am here or not? Does it matter to anyone if I ever attend Mass? We have proven that we, the Body of Christ, are dispensable when it comes to the celebration of the liturgy. These thoughts can fill me with sadness and regret. 

The empty clothes tell another story, though. Jesus is not bound by time or space. I can be on the altar, in the pew, in my car, or at home on the couch. While I may not be able to physically receive Communion in each of these physical places, I am struck that Jesus has promised his Body and Blood to me in all of them. Death is not the end. Loneliness is not the finale. I have learned in new ways that the physical spaces we create or enter into for prayer are aids to clear our minds and hearts. The community gathered, the collective experiences of grace, are tangible and real ways that the Sacraments come alive. Despite MY struggles to fully enter into these strange spaces for prayer, Christ has no similar difficulty.  

Today I feel like an empty tomb. I am awaiting my own encounter with the Resurrected Lord. I trust that the emptiness within me is a reminder that new life is stirring.  

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Rewind, Fast Forward, Pause

“Tell God to rewind the day. I want to try again.” My four-year-old daughter sobbed uncontrollably in the parking lot of her preschool. After a mishap in the lining up for COVID-safe dismissal, she could not calm down enough to walk out with everyone else. After 20-minutes, one of the Sisters carried her to my car as she continued to cry. We talked about the pajama day and hot cocoa party they had, the special treats for the last day, and finally the incident that had upset her so much. The whole time we were sitting in the now-emptied parking lot, she kept saying she wanted God to rewind her day so she could start over. She wanted her friends (who are now long gone) to come back to school; she wanted to rewind and change the course of the day.

How often have we also wanted to rewind our day? I wish it were that easy. I judged a situation without having all the facts. I reacted angrily instead of listening longer to better understand.  I snapped at my husband and kids because I am tired and stressed. I wish I had been more productive over the weekend. I regret the things I put off in January and February of 2020 that were no longer possible come March. Rewind, start over, try again. 

At other times I just want to fast-forward to when things will be possible again. I want to fast-forward to the end of this never-ending pandemic, the drudgery of working from home with three energetic kids. I look at the mountain of laundry to fold and put away. The same sippy cup seems to be on the counter no matter how many times I wash it. The two hours of remote learning for first grade seems to take five. I can’t tackle this same ToDo list one more time. I want to fast-forward through the constant interruptions, fear, discomfort, and anxiety that made up 2020. Fast-forward to when I can volunteer at the Valentine’s Day parties in my kids’ classrooms, to the long-delayed celebration of my sister’s marriage, to waiting in a long line at Disneyland for my son to see the new Star Wars land (which we were supposed to do for his March 2020 birthday).

This week, the Catholic liturgical calendar moved out of the Christmas season and officially into “Ordinary Time.” We resume the rhythm of our pandemic survival: school, work, virtual Cub Scouts, Zoom ballet classes. From Sunday to Sunday, we put one foot in front of the other. I wake up hopeful and often find myself discouraged throughout the day: one more dish, one more load of laundry, one more email, one more Zoom. I wish I could rewind and do better, fast-forward to the quiet (maybe?) waiting at the end of the day. Both instincts come from the same root: the desire to escape. I want to flee the uncomfortable feelings and the disappointment, in myself and others. Maybe you are feeling this way, too?

Christmas has reminded us that God was born into messiness, fear, and discomfort. God lives not just in the Church buildings and pilgrimage sites, but also in the school parking lot and my laundry room. God joins me as I do the dishes, practice counting to 100, and reminds me that I can’t rewind or fast-forward. When I discover my daughter coloring all over her shoes, I can try to imagine the child Jesus playing alongside her. I am trying to live that call to discipleship, to be guided by Christ, in my own house and in my daily life. 

Discipleship is not just about tending to my own interior world (no matter how important that personal work is). I seek peace and centeredness so I can see beyond my own four walls. God’s people are crying out for hope and healing. Trusting in God’s goodness and provident care does not mean I turn a blind eye to that reality. Rather, it compels me to look more deeply into it and see this moment as an integral chapter in the paschal mystery. 

God is inviting me to do something as a disciple. At the very least, God is softening my heart and purifying my own self-preoccupation. I find myself angry at how willing some are to separate our communities into those deserving and those undeserving of compassion and care. When I see the long lines of cars awaiting meal distribution at our local Churches, I imagine the Holy Family, tired and worn out from their own journey. When I read about massive COVID outbreaks in California jails, I imagine Christ imprisoned alongside these men and women. I am challenged to greater solidarity. To be a disciple of Christ is to allow myself to be shaped by Christ’s dying and rising in my daily life and in the lives of those around me.

Go Deeper:

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Puzzling: Baptism of the Lord

In this way we know that we love the children of God

when we love God and obey his commandments.

For the love of God is this,

that we keep his commandments.

And his commandments are not burdensome,

for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.  – 1Jn 5:2-4

When I dump out the 500 pieces of a new puzzle, the colors and shapes all jumbled together. Gradually, as I work, the nuances of color, perspective, and texture become more distinct. I enjoy the thrill of seeing chaos take shape. Once I start a puzzle, I cannot rest until I finish it. Unfortunately I don’t get much time to puzzle these days; inevitably pieces get lost or chewed up (by the dog or baby). 

On our Baptism, God does not just give us the first piece of sacramental grace. In Baptism, we receive the entire gift of salvation. Our original sin is cleansed and we are united completely with the community of faith. All the pieces are given to us, but the picture those pieces will form is still fragmented. Whether we are baptized as children or through the RCIA process, God comes more than halfway to meet us and journey with us through the rest of our lives. Baptism is not the first marker in a game of BINGO; we don’t need to move across the board collecting the markers in a row. 

God has already gifted us everything we need. Yet, I exert unnecessary energy trying to make all the pieces of my life’s puzzle fit together perfectly. I cram a piece that is too big in where it does not belong (and then later find myself undoing that whole section in order to start over). I despair as I look at the large gaps. I focus on that one weird misshapen piece that does not seem to fit anywhere. 

I forget that salvation has already been offered fully and completely. So many of us are filled with anxiety about our shortcomings and failures. We grow frustrated at the “Groundhog Day” feel to our confessions, as we struggle with the same vices over and over again.  I know I spend a lot of time questioning how God plans to fit all these pieces of my life and who I am together into anything meaningful.

In the wisdom of the Church, we have a practice of renewing our baptismal promises at various points throughout the liturgical year. (In normal times) we bless ourselves with the water of our Baptism as we enter and leave Church buildings. Like my love of puzzles was passed on to me and my siblings by our mom and aunt, the Church passes these rituals on to us because we realize that we need these reinforcements. The false spirit that pursued Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism tempts us that our pieces can’t be found, or that the baby-chewed piece has ruined it, rather than made it more human and lovely.

Each morning when we wake up, God offers the chance to live into the promises of our baptism in completely new ways: in our work, in our family life, and in the community around us.  The pieces shift, the colors become more distinct, the image reveals itself. 

Can I trust that whatever God is building in me, will be beautiful?

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Rationing Love

Tuesday After Epiphany, January 5, 2021

I think the stuffed animals are reproducing; every time I turn around, there are more of them. They stare at me from under the couch. They hide under the blankets on the beds. They lurk inside every backpack and tote bag. Even before I get out of bed in the morning, they are waiting for me. I am being haunted, not by ghosts but by “stuffies.” 

Unfortunately my loathing of the stuffies is inversely proportional to my children’s love of them. Each stuffy has an elaborate origin story: “Cottonball” the penguin that lives inside a plastic snowball, “Alora” who migrated here from outer space; or the magical Easter bunny that has made it past Christmas and into January. A short drive to Grandma’s involves a backpack and a doll stroller stuffed with “pets”. I once asked, “Do you think we need all this for such a short drive?” To which I got the response: “Grandma would miss them if they did not come.” Fair point. 

Writing this post, I have been interrupted with urgent requests to wrap a baby leopard in a swaddle blanket and tie it up with a pink ribbon. I don’t comply out of concern that the baby leopard is catching a chill, but because caring for this “pet” is a way that my daughter practices giving and receiving love. She thinks about its comfort and imagines its life. I would like her to have one special stuffed animal that she keeps on her bed and then get rid of all the rest. So far she has vehemently rejected my idea. 

At 4-years-old, I already know her mind does not work like mine. What energizes her and gives her life is unique. She is not my “mini me,” but her own person. She comes up a lot in my prayer (and these reflections) because she challenges me to love better. She comes up with responses, suggestions, and ideas that I never could have imagined. She rattles whatever small sense of control I feel over my life. Objectively speaking, I don’t want dozens of stuffed animals crammed in every nook and cranny of my house. They have not been evicted because I see how much joy caring for them brings her. (Down the road, I will probably regret allowing her to hoard them for this long.) The stuffies are one visible reminder of the expansive nature of love. Her loving expands my loving. 

In today’s Gospel, the Apostles look around and see the people hungry and tired. They cannot imagine being able to feed and care for these masses. They feel powerless to solve this problem. Jesus challenges them to look beyond the obvious solutions, to make space for love to enter in and multiply what is already there. Whether it was a miracle of matter or a miracle of heart, somehow there was enough food for all. God’s love is like this: abundant, overflowing, and gratuitous. 

Like the Apostles, I lose my way, wandering around in my overly analytical brain. I question my own decisions. I doubt that the voice I hear comes from God. I struggle to take a step forward in forgiveness. I allow love to be small, to be rationed, so that there is enough leftover for me. 

Sometimes my daughter piles all these dozens of stuffed animals on her bed at once and snuggles into them. Bunnies, dogs, pandas, cats: all of God’s creatures jumbled together. They cover her limbs and she pokes her face out just enough. What if I just dove into God’s love with such reckless abandon? 

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Where Does God Live?

“My God! What a wonderful title and what a beautiful description… Servants of the Poor! It is the same as saying Servants of Jesus Christ, for He regards as done to Himself what is done to them. What did he do on earth but serve the poor?”

–St. Vincent de Paul

Does God live in _____? Our three year old has become fascinated with all the places that God lives. Each day we go through a litany of places where God might live. God lives in our hearts? Yes. Does God live in our mouths? Yes. Does God live in the big trees? Yes. Does God live in the little trees? Also, yes. Does God in the mountains? Yes. Does God live on the streets? Yes. In today’s Gospel, upon recognizing Jesus, the disciples ask him where he is staying so that they might go there and meet him there. Each time my daughter asks if Jesus lives somewhere, my answer is always yes. She takes delight in asking me ridiculous places that God might live– in the street, inside her mouth– she laughs and then tries to think of even more places. 

Today we commemorate St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a woman religious who founded the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and provided the framework for Catholic education in the United States. In a particular way, she and the Vincentian fathers  recognized Jesus in the poor. To care for and educate the poor (through schools, parishes, Meals on Wheels, social services, etc) is to care for Jesus in the poor, the migrant, the homeless. Does Jesus live on the street? Yes, Jesus lives on the street. 

My cousin (who is a Daughter of Charity) recently shared with me that one of their parishes in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district welcomes the homeless to sleep in the Church during the day. Oftentimes when the school Masses are happening, the homeless are asleep in the pews. “The Eucharist is present on the altar and in the pews,” she says.Just as John the Baptist proclaimed “Behold, the Lamb of God” in the person of Jesus, the Daughters of Charity proclaim “Behold, the Lamb of God” in the lives of the poor they serve. 

When we ask Jesus, “Where are you staying? Where do you live?” what response do we hear? Do I hear Jesus saying to me personally, “I want to live with you”? Do I hear Jesus saying, “Come and meet me in the streets, among the poor, with the forgotten”? 

Where is Jesus inviting me to meet him today?

For a great laugh and a fantastic image of joyful presence among the poor, watch local Daughters of Charity perform “Happy”. 

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Unexpected Epiphany

“Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.  But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
1 JN 2:15, 17

My house is filled with the things of this world… overflowing in fact.  Our kids especially were recipients of the generosity of aunts, uncles, godparents, grandparents and friends. Due to the massively delayed mail, it seems like each day of the Christmas season has brought even more surprises. Since December 24 we have been putting LEGO sets together, riding scooters, and cuddling the multitude of new stuffed animals. 

But today the kids went to tend the grave of a dear family friend who died in February. We had promised the family we would remove a little Christmas tree before the groundskeepers would come to clear the flowers and decorations this week. Our six year old, Paul, had been asking to visit the grave and took his job today very seriously. The sight when we got out of the car was almost overwhelming. Nearly every grave was covered in Christmas decorations: tinsel trees, nativities, poinsettias. One arrangement even included the Grinch.   

Our four-year-old daughter Clare remarked, “it’s like a giant birthday party for all these people in heaven.”

After clearing the grave and replacing the tree with fresh flowers, we prepared to leave. But Paul wanted to stay longer “visiting” our beloved neighbor. Meanwhile, Clare noticed that the recent rain and wind had blown over a lot of the decorations on other graves. Ornaments had scattered into the grass and some had been crushed. She gently straightened and redecorated the trees. The kids imagined the people: who were they, how did they die? Did they have the coronavirus? 

These other families will never know a small child visited their loved one’s grave. Just being there drew out their own sense of compassion and kindness. I’ve already promised them a visit to the Sisters’ plot at another Catholic cemetery. They can’t wait to visit the graves of the Sisters they knew, but also the Sisters they never knew.  I didn’t set out to include a cemetery tour in the Octave of Christmas, but it turned out to be a wonderful gift. 

The wise men brought symbols of both life and death: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We watched other families bury their loved ones today. We looked around at the unique decorations and offerings on the tombs: tangible outpourings of love, grief, and healing. Our offering is small compared to the gifts the wise men carried to present to the newborn king. 

As I journey with the wise men towards the manger, what gift might I already be carrying with me? With whom might God be inviting me to share that gift? 

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Is It You Who Will Build a House for Me?

Fourth Sunday of Advent
“Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”  – 2 Samuel 7

The jangle of keys, the click of the lock on the front door, the rustle of the laundry basket. Small sounds like these have trained our one-year-old Matthew, “something is happening.” He comes running down the hall, slipping and sliding in his hurry to be involved. “Mama? Maaamaaa?!” Most of his life has been in quarantine. Outings are to the garage to load the washing machine, to the car to do a drive-up order at Target, and sometimes to grandma’s to be babysat while I work. There have been no baby music or tumbling classes. Unlike his older siblings, who had taken flights, gone to Disneyland, visited extended family on the opposite end of the state, Matthew’s life has been moving between the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, and the most exciting part of the house: the garage. 

In March, I never could have imagined how small our world would shrink and for how long. My little shadow could barely roll over when this started, and now his footsteps thunder around the hallways. Our house doesn’t feel big enough for school, work, Zoom ballet class, and active kids.  The walls begin to feel like they are closing in on us. My world feels small, my house feels small, I feel small. I lament all the things that feel wrong with my house, beyond the endless ToDo lists and constant cleaning. 

In the first reading today, King David is horrified that the ark of the covenant is residing in a tent, while he lives in luxury. Through the Prophet Nathan, God tells David, “Is it you who will build a house for me?” I hear that query and wonder how I could answer.  All I have to offer Jesus is a couch with a sagging cushion and slightly chipped frame, a floor covered in Barbies, and bookshelves filled edge to edge with LEGOs.

What I have to offer Jesus seems so small: kitchen, family room, garage. The sacred space I have is the world that Matthew sees through his little eyes. This year, these four walls (and the people who dwell in them) are the only manger I have for the Holy Family.  It may be crowded, chaotic, and slightly sticky, but I trust it is a place that Jesus will want to come, to visit, to make a home. 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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“Yes, and” or “Yes, but”

“She hears no voice, accepts no correction; In the LORD she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near… You need not be ashamed  of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me.” ZEP 3:2,11

In Improv training, actors are taught the “yes, and” principle: to accept what is happening as reality and build off of that new information. This creativity and receptiveness is part of what makes improv spontaneous and fun. My daughter, on the other hand, takes the “yes, but” approach to any direction, correction, or vain pleading.

Me: “It’s time to clean up the toys.”
Her: “Oh, but the [imaginary] cat is still eating those legos for a snack.” 

Also me: “It’s time for a bath.”

Also her: “Yes, but, I’m Clare the Cat. Clare the kid is on vacation.”

Still me: “Okay, there is no more dessert today. I keep catching you eating chocolate chips out of the baking supplies.”
Still her: “Oh, that was Clare the Cat. I am Clare the Kid again and I have not had any dessert today.”

From an Improv sketch, this might be hilarious. In real life, the whole ordeal is infuriating, pull your hair out, crazy-making, frustration. She is relentless. When St. Ignatius talks about the false spirit wearing you down like a petulant child, this is the scenario he is referring to. It is not overtly evil, blatantly disregarding authority. She looks at me so sweetly, with a hopeful look in her eye, as if to say, “I bet you never thought of that?!” I resign myself to the fact that a four-year-old has already outsmarted me. I give in to her far more than I should because I am just so tired. Her “Yes, but…” closing off listening, cooperation, and co-creation. 

“Yes, and…” she is four. “Yes, and…” she is not an Improv actor. She is learning her ability to imagine, to impact the world around her. It is all necessary and – ultimately – good; but it is hard for the parent calling a daughter to listening, cooperation, and co-creation.

And then in all humility, I realize that I am no better in my conversations with God.  He just doesn’t give in to me the way I relent and give in to her. God is not wearied in the same way I am.

God: “You’ve been coasting along and not really allowing yourself to grow.”

Me: “Yes, but next year.”

Also God: “I know you are frustrated and discouraged right now. What is it that you are needing right now?”

Also me: “Yes but, let me moan and lament all the hard things a little longer. I am not really willing to fix them.”

Still God: “I love you just as you are. There is no need to change. I just want you to enjoy deeper peace, greater life, and gentle hope.”

Still me: “Yes but, that is scary and hard.”

The further we push God away, the more adrift we feel, and the harder it can be to realign ourselves. In the season of Advent, the readings invite us to make greater room to listen and hear God’s voice. When I read the line “She hears no voice, accepts no correction; In the LORD she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near…” I felt like I was hearing myself complain about my daughter. But more importantly, a few verses later, the prophet Zephaniah reminds us,  “You need not be ashamed  of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me.” 

God takes all of Clare’s (and my) excuses, faults, and shortcomings and continues to reply, “Yes, and I still love you.” 

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Beautiful Things

Friday of the First Week of Advent

“One thing I ask of the LORD… That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple.” – Psalm 27

“I am looking for things that are beautiful.” The eye rolls, the snarky replies, the know-it-all smirks. I get this kind of teenager attitude a lot from my four-year-old daughter. So many of the outfits I suggest for school or pajamas I offer that are seasonally appropriate are considered “not beautiful enough” for her. She even makes up words to reject my suggestions. “That is too harbor-saucy.” I still do not know what that means.  Recently, I discovered her painstakingly coloring her school shoes in with Crayola crayons. “They were too beige.” After a moment of frustration, I found myself gazing on loveliness. I took pictures of the formerly beige shoes to remember this moment in time.  Each day she has proudly worn them, I have smiled at her whimsy and appreciated her unique personality. 

Like her school shoes, I have felt beige, tired, and shabby. I am constantly lacking: at spending quality time with my husband and kids, at keeping the housework under control, at getting Christmas gifts purchased and mailed, and staying on top of important deadlines. Each day is filled with distractions and reminders of my own failures. As 2020 reaches a crescendo, I am tired and worn. I feel just a little too beige.


When I am discouraged by the current state of affairs or tempted to judge other people’s actions, the words of today’s Psalm shift my perspective. “That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple.” This world around us, even right now, is the place where God is in-dwelling in humankind. It is the world the Christ-child enters into.

I imagine God is looking into humanity: with all its fighting, suffering, illness, and loneliness. I imagine God seeing beyond those challenges to the dignity within each person, to the care between neighbors, to the willingness to go (far) beyond our individual and collective comfort zones for the sake of one another. 

Like my artist of a daughter, God sees the potential waiting to be unleashed- even within me. God looks into my beige heart and sees a myriad of color. “I am looking for something beautiful.” 

What if that something beautiful God is seeking, is me?

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A Stolen Advent

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,

and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar

and the elements will be dissolved by fire,

and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. – Peter 3:10

The tracking numbers, the phone calls with the post office, emails with the seller. It did not seem possible, but it is official now. Someone has stolen our Advent. 

More precisely, someone stole the awesome, now sold-out Advent kit I ordered.  This kit was going to make our Advent…. So we could really immerse ourselves in the activities, prepare our children for the season when little else they expect is happening.  But instead, Advent was stolen.

Our long standing traditions are cancelled. My preparation for Christmas won’t involve gatherings with my closest friends and family members. There will be no lengthy meals or cross-country flights; no sitting on Santa’s lap or Nutcracker Ballet. I have not even entered a mall to purchase Christmas gifts. Instead I have bought most things online and ended up with fraud on my credit card too… My craft kit, my credit card, and many things I hold dear…. All of them stolen. 

I feel uneasy. If these things can so easily be stolen, if I can be taken advantage of like this, where else is my safety in jeopardy? In today’s  second reading, the false prophets instill doubt in the people. Maybe God isn’t even in control anymore? This is all no longer a part of salvation history.

But like a thief, God has snuck in where I least expected Him.  God has been stealing moments, forcing my eyes to see and my ears to hear. My eyes cannot ignore the long lines of cars backed up on city streets, awaiting the contactless distribution from the food pantry. My ears cannot forget the little boy on my son’s Zoom who casually mentions not having enough to eat. My heart aches for dear friends whose lives are crumbling like a house of cards right now. I feel the loneliness in being helpless. 

Like John the Baptist prepares the way for the Lord, the people around me are directing my attention towards what is still to come. A vaccine, a cure, peace. When tempted to despair, I am reminded  there is hope. 

My Advent was stolen, but not by porch pirates or cyber criminals. What I thought I needed for Advent was taken from me, and I’ve been invited by Jesus to something new. I was captured by the One who opens locked doors and barricaded hearts. 

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What I’ve Been Looking For

And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.  – Luke 2:38

For the past several years we have visited the San Jose “Christmas in the Park” with a close friend (our younger son’s godfather) on the day after Christmas. The 2-acre park in downtown San Jose is covered in animated figures and displays along with hundreds of trees decorated by community or school groups. The trees include handmade ornaments from Girl Scout Troops, tributes to recently deceased people, high school physics projects… you name it, someone has put it on a tree. We are always on the lookout for something truly unique, truly weird, and truly outrageous. This year, the winner was a dinosaur skeleton eating a donut with a nest full of Easter eggs. When I spotted it, I cried out “Dan! We have found the winner!” Each year we don’t know what we are looking for, but we know we will find it. 

In today’s readings, the prophetess Anna has spent years awaiting the Messiah. When Mary and Joseph arrive with the newborn child at the temple, she recognizes the truth before her. The redemption of Israel has come in ways that were unexpected, shocking, and even seemingly ridiculous.  From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, there were people who recognized Jesus for who He was… the salvation of Israel. We can assume that the prophetess was long deceased by the time of Jesus’ public ministry, and yet in her faith she glimpsed what was to come.

The gift of the Christ child makes for a charming Christmas pageant (that my own and so many other children participated in last week). Yet the readings today remind us that he has come to undertake a mission far more difficult, scandalous, and radical than being born to an unwed mother in unsavory conditions. I am tempted to try to understand the meaning of God’s plans, to rationalize the difficult things that have happened or to hold too fast to the gifts I have received out of fear of losing them.  Sometimes wrapping my mind and heart around God’s dreams (for me and others) feels like looking at a Christmas-Easter dinosaur skeleton eating sugary carbs. It makes no sense, it is ridiculous, but I know I can delight in it.

Do I sense God revealing himself to me in unexpected or surprising ways today?

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Unashamed

“He was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame…” -Matthew 1:19

My sister recently received a Christmas card from a friend that included the line, “Most days I’m okay,” admitting how difficult the previous year had been for her. Moments of total honesty like this are rare amidst the typical glitter-covered, premium cardstock Christmas greetings filling the mailbox. There is a temptation to only report on the highlights of the previous year (and not the low points). In our annual family photos, we want our children perfectly posed and smiling sweetly. But the daily reality of our lives is messy, boogery, rambunctious chaos. Why sit demurely amidst the Christmas decorations when you could swim through the oversized ornaments with reckless abandon?  Around the family Christmas table (or the office holiday party punch bowl) we can feel pressured to put on a perfect face. To minimize the struggles we face. The fear of shame is greater than the desire for meaningful encounters. 

In today’s Gospel, Joseph tries to do the “right” thing that will save face and avoid scandal, while protecting Mary’s life and dignity. When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and confirms the deeper truths around Mary’s circumstances, the Lord is also calling Joseph to drag a scandalous situation into the light and claim it. To air the dirty laundry and take whatever grief may come in doing so.

The gift God has prepared for Joseph is beyond anything he could possibly imagine. Sometimes the righteous response means looking beyond the written law to the spirit, recognizing the deeper truth. Our Catholic tradition is filled with examples of saints, and other holy men and women, who protest unjust laws or practices. Those who face ridicule, arrest, and even martyrdom for standing with the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. It’s earnestly attempting to connect with the family members with whom we normally have conflict. 

Sometimes wrestling fear is as futile as wrangling a toddler into fancy clothes for a picture. What if we stopped allowing that fear to control us? 

Are there aspects of myself (or my beliefs) that I’m fearful of allowing others to see? What might it look like to live from a place of greater freedom, and less shame? 

Donuts for Dinner (and other ways the False Spirit Works)

The clock hands keep moving later and later. I step on a monster truck and trip into the couch. Six times before dinner, two times after dinner, and another three times before bedtime. That is how many times I asked for help cleaning up the toys. I want to throw up my hands and exclaim “Fine! I will do it myself!” I want to scoop up the toys, reorganize the bins, and get the job done correctly. In the battle of wills, I have been defeated by a monster truck and a 6-year-old.

The false spirit (or enemy, Satan, evil) often appears like a Lego hidden in the carpet, or a monster truck peeking out from under the edge of the couch. This false spirit lurks in the shadows, waiting for opportunities to exploit our weaknesses. It gnaws at our willpower and forces us to a breaking point. St. Ignatius gave us three images to help us spot this trickster as well as strategies to bolster our spiritual defenses. They are also referred to as Rules 12-14 in the principles of discernment.

My own self-talk manifests itself in unique ways depending on how the false spirit is most active, however the first is the most vividly depicted in my life right now.

#1. “I’m just so tired” The persistent child.

Tonight, my toddler ate a donut for dinner while we walked through the grocery store. I did not wake up this morning intent on winning the Lackluster Mom of the Year award. I had been in three meetings at work, then picked up the toddler at preschool, met my sister and my two older kids for some activities with an out-of-town guest. As the adults conversed, my 8-year-old son and my 10-year-old nephew each managed to lose a shoe in the creek that runs through the park. After an exhausting search in the sun, we still came up one shoe short. They shared a shoe as we traversed the wooden bridge and made our way back to our cars.

On the drive home, my “low fuel” light popped on and I also realized I desperately needed groceries. I left the older two kids with my husband, but the 2-year-old was insistent that he needed to go to the store with me. Because he is still transitioning to his new preschool, I begrudgingly took him, just to get out of the house and get the shopping done… BIG MISTAKE. I dragged him crying through every aisle as I frantically threw taco fixings and fruit in the cart. And then, right next to the sliced bread and tortillas was a box of heavily processed, highly sugared donuts.

So that’s how I became that mom who let their kid eat his way through the store so I could finish my shopping in peace. Most days I have my life more together than this. When I read Ignatius’s description of the false spirit as a petulant child, I feel the utter exhaustion of an end of the day grocery run. The donut came when I had no more fight left in me.

Likewise, the false spirit erodes our willpower to fight racism, injustice, and the oppression of the most vulnerable. These problems are bigger than me, and my small acts seem meaningless and insignificant. I am too tired to fight the big fight. Speaking with integrity at our workplaces, in our civic government, and in our communities, it all becomes too much. I want to give in, to buy the donuts, to silence the conflict at any cost.

#2. “I’m so embarrassed.” The secret.

One of the most telling ways that the enemy works on me is to constantly remind me that my weaknesses and failings must be hidden. I want to maintain my reputation as being strong and capable. If I ask for help, will that change how other people see me? What if I let people down? I’m sharing my donut and wayward toy stories because these are the ways that God is working on me. I’m still learning the delicate balance of setting clear boundaries, while being more patient with my kids. I want them to explore, to come up with new creative ideas. But I also need them to come when I call them, put away the toys at bedtime, and not throw their shoes into running water. Whatever our struggle is, God never asks us to hide it from those most close to us (our spouse, spiritual advisor, and most trusted friends). If you feel that sense of shame that makes you hide the action, thought, or temptation from these key groups, then it’s probably an indication that the false spirit is at work and these people might have a difficult truth to reflect back.

#3. “I never learn.” The weak spot.

Do you ever beat yourself over having the same tensions within your family, the same sins to confess, the same bad habits that you can’t seem to kick? Our commitment to following Christ is tested over and over, oftentimes in similar ways. Through this purification, God continues to heal us. I get discouraged and berate myself for “never learning” and falling into the same traps. This self-talk around failure is one way the false spirit exploits me: telling me I’m not capable of change, that I’m stupid and weak and will never be enough.

St. Ignatius lived into these three workings of the false spirit. He struggled to name them so that all of those who would use his Spiritual Exercises in the future would also grow in the ability to call out the enemy in our midst.

The donut, the shame, the guilt. None of these are the real enemy. The real enemy wins when we allow these tensions and fears to overshadow God. We have convinced ourselves that we must be the makers of our own destiny (at all costs), and we choose our own fleeting happiness over all else.

Go Deeper:

This post appeared on Becky Eldredge’s Into the Deep blog as part of a series on Ignatian Discernment.

Sustaining Hope in the Midst of Anxiety

Afflicted

“There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly.”

Mark 5:25-26

My anxiety is hemorrhaging out of me. Over time I have learned to deal with my triggers in more effective ways. But some days, like today, it hemorrhages. It bleeds into my prayer, it floods my mind, it drowns my judgment. I am trying to put a bandaid over it, but it is too late, and nothing can stop this hemorrhage. 

In many situations, I can roll with the punches and cope with whatever challenges come my way. But not when it comes to vomit… As luck would have it, the very week I signed up to write on the topic of anxiety, a nasty bug has knocked us down. I am an armchair epidemiologist, tracking case numbers and incubation periods of a stomach virus I cannot defeat. The data analysis gives me something to fixate on. There have been moments of fear, helplessness, and self-doubt. I have had flashbacks to the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, and yet this time I am alone, hemorrhaging anxiety. 

The afflicted woman had spent all her money on doctors that could not cure her. For 12  years she sought answers. Yet somehow she did not lose hope. I will admit, I have felt very hopeless these past two weeks… so what hope have I clung to? 

“She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak.

She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”

Mark 5:27-28

The recent Disney movie Encanto features a Colombian family with gifts that help their community. The main character, Mirabel’s mom, has the ability to heal injuries and illnesses with her homemade cakes and breads. “The truth is she can heal you with a meal, her recipes are remedies for real.” As the children have cycled through days on the couch in the past two weeks, I have watched this movie and listened to the accompanying soundtrack more times than I can count. How many times I have wished for a magical bread that cured all of our illnesses! 

I wished for that magical cure while my 5-year-old received IV fluids in the waiting room of the emergency room. I wished for it again when I picked up the third prescription for my two year old within a week when he developed two secondary infections after the initial illness.  I wished for it again when the one child that seemed to have escaped the illness came down with it a full week after the other two. 

Somewhere about the 1000th time I heard the catchy phrase “my mom Julieta can make you feel better with just one arepa” (a bread made with cornmeal) in Encanto, I realized that Jesus does continue to offer me a special nourishment along the way. While the Bread of Life that Jesus offers may not instantaneously heal a broken bone or sick tummy, it does offer me hope that no matter what happens I will be okay. 

All week I have remained with the woman afflicted by hemorrhages. I am with her as she reaches out to touch the cloak of Jesus. I summon her courage, her unfailing faith that to touch even the fringes of Jesus’ person has the power to bring healing. 

In the face of a bout of anxiety, my prayer is not a steady, clear profession of faith. Hope is a lingering glance, the flutter of my fingertips on His cloak, the smallest kernel of trust that no matter what, Jesus will still be with me. 

Go Deeper


The post appeared on Becky Eldredge’s Into the Deep blog in a series on Sustaining Hope.

Scattered

Wednesday in the Easter Season

I was involved with training other students to serve small, Ignatian faith communities on my Jesuit university campus. After graduation, that evolved into leading a summer program for campus ministers and peer leaders who would come together to pray, learn, and envision how they might serve the spiritual needs of their own campuses. Much of this collaboration happened pre-social media, resulting in few opportunities to connect afterwards. We “scattered” after the program and each spread the Gospel in diverse and assorted ways. I had no control over how each of these individuals would share what they received. 

In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the disciples “scatter” throughout the region, bringing the Good News of Jesus to those who never witnessed the miracles of Jesus themselves. Faith is deeply personal, often nurtured in one-on-one conversation, in a small group, and in our unique journey towards God. And yet, that personal conversion happens in the context of a local community and a wider Church. Like the early disciples, each one of us is sent forth to proclaim with our lives the ways that Christ has been present. Each day we scatter seeds of hope and faith, yet we may never see them come to fruition. 

The post originally appeared in the Jesuit Prayer App on May 4, 2022.

Jesus, Lord and brother,

in my Easter joy,

I want more than to just be aware of you in my life.

I want to believe in your presence at my side.

I feel blessed with an abundance of your gifts

and your promise of being raised on the last day.

Help me to be like the your early followers

and, even when I am scattered,

to have my life be an example

of your word at work in today’s world.

Thank you for the great mercy you show us.


Creighton University Online Ministries Praying Easter 

Broken Locks

Wednesday in the Easter Season

But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison,
led them out, and said,
“Go and take your place in the temple area,
and tell the people everything about this life.”
– Acts 5:19-20

Our daughter has no doorknob. We went through a phase where she locked herself in her room over and over again. Then she locked herself in a room at a friend’s house and someone was preparing to climb through a second floor window to get to her when she finally figured out how to unlock the door. The result: no more doorknobs. 

In today’s reading, the disciples are imprisoned and their ministry seems to come to a standstill. Then the angel of the Lord breaks through locked doors, freeing the disciples and sending them back to the work they are called to do. Sometimes we make prisons for ourselves. We cannot see a way forward, to follow the call of Christ. We see locked doors, bound hands, empty dreams. 

We are trapped by fear, grief, a desire for security. Is God trying to break me out of my self-imposed prison? Has God removed the locks, opened the doors and challenged me to follow him anew this Easter? 

Prayer

Anima Christi 
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever. Amen.

This post originally appeared on The Jesuit Prayer app.

Real or Fake?

“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them.” Lk 24:14-15

“Zombies aren’t real. Neither are aliens.”
“Well if that’s true then neither are leprechauns, the Easter Bunny, or Santa!”
“What about the tooth fairy?!”
“What is real?!?!”

This heated exchange over what’s real and what’s “fake” continued for much of the twenty minute car ride home from school. As I listened to my children “conversing and debating” over what makes something real, I imagined the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They journeyed along, recounting the facts they knew and all the things that challenged those truths. “But we were hoping that…” I hear the voices raising louder and louder, the futile attempts to make sense of conflicting realities. Can I hang onto the truth of Santa and the Easter bunny if zombies and leprechauns are not real? 

Finally my five-year-old proclaimed “God is not fake and I am not fake.”  These simple facts re-grounded her in a core truth. The disciples on the road gradually came to recognize Jesus as He shared the Gospel message and broke bread with them. Once they knew who Jesus was, everything fell into place and they recognized their own truth as disciples and believers in the Resurrected Christ. 

On the road home, my children together uncovered the greatest Easter truth. They are real, God is real. When it comes to the Easter Bunny, I plead the Fifth… 

Prayer

O God, who gladden us year by year
with the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection,
graciously grant
that, by celebrating these present festivities,
we may merit through them to reach eternal joys.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

 
– Collect for Daily Mass
New English translation according to the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal. 2010, Copyright International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

The Clothes Make the Man

“He went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,

the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.”  John 20:6-9

When I was expecting my first child, Paul, my 2-year-old nephew Jeremy often accompanied me to my prenatal appointments. Each time we saw “Jen’s tiny baby” on the ultrasound, he was annoyed that the baby “had no shirt on.” Shortly after Paul was born, he was cleaned up and wrapped in a plain white hospital-issued undershirt. Since Jeremy was too young to come into the maternity ward, my husband wheeled the little bassinet over to a place where he would be able to see the baby. 

After seeing Paul for the first time, Jeremy excitedly told everyone in the hospital waiting room, “Tiny baby here! Him have shirt on! Him have shirt on!” That image on the ultrasound screen was incomplete. The new baby FINALLY being clothed, was an indicator that he had really arrived. A simple white shirt was a symbol of his humanness. 

The disciples arrive at the tomb on Easter morning. They see the empty burial clothes lying on the ground and something about the placement clicks.  These ceremonial wrappings, which they carefully completed in order to provide a proper Jewish burial, could not contain life. The massive rock covering the tomb could not contain life. The disciples’ eyes are opened and they begin to see that Jesus had triumphed over death. 

At our Baptism, we are clothed in a white garment, a symbol of this new life in Christ. This white garment could be an ornate gold and lace- trimmed creation, a simple onesie, or an abandoned burial cloth. These clothes are reminders that God’s love for us is bigger than death. 

Today, we taste, touch, and see the tangible signs of Easter. May each meal we share with loved ones also fill us with God’s love. May the Eucharist we celebrate nourish us for the week to come. May the Easter egg hunts and festivities show us the unbridled joy of discovery and wonder. 

God, I offer my emptiness to you today. Fill it with your love, joy, and wonder. 

Looking for a Reason: Irritating Sin

Wednesday of Holy Week

“…and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Matthew 26:16

My 8-year-old woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. I caught him “flicking” his little sister twice before even finishing his breakfast. I didn’t pack the right snack for school. His temper was short. A storm cloud surrounded him. No matter what solutions I offered, he had decided that today was going to be a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. 

How many of us have fallen into that same trap of deciding that something challenging will be “too much” for us to handle? A Lenten sacrifice, a meatless Monday commitment, recycling, making time for Mass on a hectic weekend. It is all too hard, too costly, too time-sensitive. I have tuned out any mentor’s helpful suggestions to cope with my struggles as well as any guilt nudging my conscience. I am looking for a way out of the hard work of following Jesus. 

Although today’s Gospel recounts the moment where Judas Iscariot makes the arrangement to hand over Jesus, he had probably been mulling over the betrayal for quite some time. Perhaps he was worn down by the pressures of following Jesus or couldn’t face whatever changes he was being challenged to make in his own life. Just as with Judas, oftentimes many moments of doubt or fear led up to the moment of betrayal between each of us and Jesus. 

Whether I intend to or not, I am on the lookout for reasons to betray Jesus. The false spirit has been flicking my arm, pulling at my hair, crowding my side of the backseat in the car. 

Jesus,
I place myself at this table with you, the last supper before the Last Supper. What am I holding back, and hiding from you? 

Tomorrow, help me offer my whole self at your table. Transform my brokenness into something new. 

Palm Sunday: A Current Event

 He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:7-8

A few years ago, my son became fascinated with the violin. We listen to the violin music and watch YouTube videos, and for a while he took lessons. His enthusiasm for the violin prompted a longtime family friend to share the story of how her father’s violin skill saved his life during the Holocaust. His autobiography and oral history recordings in the United States Holocaust Museum recount the horrific things he witnessed. Yet, his entire story was interwoven with his testimony of God’s love and care for him and others. 

At 14-years-old, his father was beaten to death before his eyes in a concentration camp. He begged the guards to spare his father and take him instead but to no avail. Then this young man began quietly chanting Psalm 22, “Eli, Eli, lomo azavtoni— My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken us?” As Jesus takes our place, He prays these same words on the cross. Survivors, scholars, and theologians all ask “where was God” in these atrocities.  In this one personal narrative of the Holocaust, it felt like God walked into the labor camps, the mines, the barracks, and the crematoria with this boy and his family. Jesus’ Passion was being played out in Dachau and Auschwitz. The crucifixion of Jesus was happening in that moment. 

The Passion is not a historical account of something that happened 2,000 years ago. The Passion of Jesus is happening today. It is happening on our borders. It is happening in Ukraine. It is happening in the gang violence that captivates our cities and the opioid epidemic that has rocked so many families. The Passion is in the terrible abuse of people and power by Church leadership. The Passion is in loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Each of us is sharing in the suffering of Christ, and each of us is witnessing that suffering in those around us.  Do I choose to stand and bear witness, to accompany Jesus in each of these moments?

What if I entered Holy Week with this living, breathing Jesus in mind? What if I were less detached from those around me? Can I imagine their hopes and suffering on the cross with Jesus, alongside my own? 

Photo by Jussara Romão on Unsplash 

Enslaved

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, April 6 2022

“Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.”

Jn 8:31-42 

Until I was 16, it consumed my days, my evenings, my weekends. It made me feel good about myself, connected me with others, and caused me a great deal of enjoyment. This activity was a fundamental part of me and defined so much of my (and my family’s) life.

When I got sick during my junior year of high school, I realized I had become a slave to dancing. Any enjoyment had become overshadowed by the all-consuming commitment and the shame at never being good enough. Something life-giving had become a source of pain. Instead of drawing me closer to my true self, dance began to pull me deeper into despair. 

This is how the false spirit often works. We are lured into complacency, and these gifts that God has given us become the very center of our lives. Today’s readings remind us that we are enslaved by our own sinfulness. We become inordinately attached to things that have the potential for good: activities, social media, gossip, and perhaps even a beloved ministry. The good becomes the goal, and there is no room for God. 

As we draw nearer to Holy Week, what might Jesus be trying to set free within me? I find St. Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation prayer to be a helpful meditation on this detachment. 

The First Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius

The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life.

Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons.

But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal. In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation.

We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me. 

Translation by David Fleming, SJ

How are you inviting me to a deepened life in You, God? 

This post originally appeared in the Jesuit Prayer App.
https://jesuitprayer.org/2022/04/06/

An April Fool

“Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me.”  – Jer. 11:19

I always pick the wrong line at Target.  I looked at the data and assessed my options: Lane 7 has a person with two shopping carts full of items and a bulging envelope of coupons. Lane 6 has one person holding a sweater. It is impossible for me to know that “sweater lady” has been seething for a week about being overcharged by $3 and needs to speak to a manager.

My kids throw up and soil every pillow, blanket, sheet, and stuffed toy on the bed just as the last load of laundry comes out of the dryer.

After much debate I take the side-streets over the freeway, only to discover the road is closed for the 10-foot tall Oscar statues to cross Hollywood Blvd at a roaring 0.5 MPH. 

In France, a popular April Fool’s prank involves pinning a paper fish to people’s backs and yelling “poisson d’Avril” when they discover it. A fish (real or fake) hanging off your back is a sign to everyone that you are a fool and have been tricked by the world.  These moments and countless others feel like a stinky fish following me around, reminding me of my shortcomings.

Perhaps the wrong line at Target, the traffic delays and the foiled plans to start my week “ahead of the game” are subtle reminders that ultimately God is the one in control no matter how much I try to control my environment.

If I am constantly focused on making the choice that avoids conflict, risk, or pain, then I am likely ignoring the deeper truth that whatever decision I make, God is already there with me.

When I feel cloaked in the stench of “Poisson d’Avril”, what reminds me of God’s steadfast friendship?

“A shield before me is God” – Ps. 7:1