“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.
“…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.
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?
“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.”
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.
How are you inviting me to a deepened life in You, God?
“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?
nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them” Is 49:10
If you can’t take the heat, get out of the fire! I come from a long line of women who can’t handle the heat. I have inherited a legacy of headaches, fainting and nausea when I spend too much time in the sun. These symptoms are my body’s way of telling me that I need to stop, hydrate, rest, and take things a little easier.
Prayer can also feel difficult, tiring and dry, especially in Lent. We might begin to focus on our shortcomings in an overly scrupulous way. Our attention is on our failed Lenten resolutions or a desolation that God has not answered our prayers. Our world is still war-torn, refugees adrift, children are hungry, families are hurting. The landscape is desolate, our soul feels parched.
The readings from Isaiah offer several reassuring images. The one I need most is the reminder that “the scorching wind or the sun” cannot harm me. No matter how dry my prayer feels, God continues to offer the water of everlasting life.
Jesus, grant me patience when the heat is too intense, and hope when I cannot sense You. How are you shedding Your light on my path today?
“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.
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?
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.
As we emphasize our human failings and sinfulness during Lent, we can be tempted to turn inward and focus inordinately on ourselves. We expend energy on what we have given up or attempted to improve in ourselves during the Lenten season. While we cannot know exactly what went through Mary’s mind as she received the invitation to bear Jesus, today’s readings return our focus to the hope that God offers and encourage us to be less consumed by our own concerns.
Depending on how each of us feels drawn, we can choose to enter into today’s Gospel through imaginative prayer, the numerous artistic depictions of this scene, or the countless Bible commentaries analyzing the nuances of the story. We can attempt to empathize with our hearts, understand with our minds, and relate with our lives. For me, the invitation was to pray with her faith. The Old Testament readings from Isaiah and Psalm 40 would have been well known to Mary as a devout Jew and perhaps even went through her mind during her encounter with the angel. Instead of placing Mary on a pedestal and seeing her as so beyond us in holiness, I can try to emulate the way she might have prayed with her doubts and hopes.
The words of Psalm 40 depict the qualities of a person moving beyond the rituals and “going through the motions” of sacrifice to truly lay oneself down before God as Mary does. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola describes three types of persons and their varied response to receiving a huge sum of money. The first person delays doing the right thing, the second person will do almost everything (but constantly holds back something as a security measure), and the third person is completely free of attachments to the gifts she/he has received.
Like the speaker in Psalm 40, Mary is not trapped in the cycle of doing everything except the one thing that God asks. She readily abandons whatever plans she had to serve God (as a wife, a mother, a model Jewish woman) and accepts whatever challenges may come from following God so completely. She risks breaking societal, religious, and familial rules for the sake of a completely radical response to God’s law.
I imagine God (or His messenger) kneeling before me and asking me what I think God wants from me… what I think will lead to a happy, successful, fulfilled life… what I desire for my own children and for my family… Now with this image in mind, I slowly pray the words of Psalm 40 again.
From this place of honesty with myself, and nearness to God, I now allow myself to enter into the Gospel scene again. I imagine being asked if I am willing to risk all these hopes and desires for the sake of following God.
Is there anything I feel tempted to keep holding back for myself… that I shield from offering to God? If so, can I simply name that area for healing without pressuring myself to change?
No Fair! How many of us have heard this righteous proclamation from someone in our lives? Kids are notorious for pointing out the unfairness of being asked to pick up their toys, brush their teeth, and wait their turn in line. Someone got a bigger piece of cake, a new phone, a scholarship to an elite school, a lucky break. For kids there is an endless stream of “not fairs.”
Adults are also prone to the “not fairs”, just perhaps with a little less whine in their voices… We start to build a nest egg only to be saddled with an unexpected medical bill. The official at city hall denies our permit request because “it’s always been done this way” and not because our plans violate any building code. A company merger changes the scope of our job in a way that we didn’t expect. Just when we think we get ahead, someone else gets further ahead. It’s just not fair.
I am also screaming, “no fair” every time I tune into the news. The pictures coming out of Ukraine are haunting: destroyed buildings, a direct hit on a maternity hospital, baby strollers abandoned on train platforms. By some estimates we are witnessing the fastest moving migration in human history as at least half a million people fled Ukraine in less than a week.
It’s not fair that my kids had mild-COVID cases and someone else in our school ended up with their baby at Children’s Hospital. It’s not fair that the jobs people need aren’t in the cities where they can afford to live. I don’t have to look very hard to keep finding things that are just not fair.
It’s also “not fair” that I have an incredible family that helps and supports us. It’s not fair that I have the chance to do meaningful work, where others will only ever know backbreaking labor. It’s not fair that I drink water from a clean source each day and our Sisters in Africa collect rainwater and purify the filth in a “protected” spring. Each opportunity we have been given is “not fair” to the people who never stood a chance
Thankfully, God is not fair either. God continues to shower me with good things, even when I lose sight of the blessings I already have. God gives me chance after chance to respond with greater love to those around me. Over and over again God opens my eyes to see more clearly, and to feel more deeply with the world.
St. Julie Billiart, who knew much suffering in her own life, once wrote, “We must have crosses, but above all let us not choose them. Let us accept them from the divine hand of the good God. He knows so well the right proportion of our strength. Before all, let us accept them with confidence in His infinite goodness.”
The way of the cross is not fair. But neither is God’s grace.
A Suggestion for Reflection
Have I experienced God’s generous love in any way this week?
What injustice in the world has been screaming out to me?
Do I sense God inviting me to help Him carry this cross in any way (however small)?