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“I will be with you”

In yesterday’s liturgy (EX 3:1-6, 9-12), we read of Moses who stood in the presence of God, before the burning bush . Moses was afraid and didn’t understand what God was asking of him. Sometimes we don’t know to what God is calling us, but he simply wants our availability, “Here I am, Lord.”

I suppose its like being “Open 24 hours” – being ready to do the will of God always, trusting that even though we may not “know the way” (JN 14:4-5) or think we can accomplish what God is asking, he will help us do his will. The Lord won’t abandon us to fulfill his will, for “I will be with you (EX 3:12),” says the Lord.

Always near

I had a very strange set of circumstances happen last week: I got stuck in the Resurrection. Not a bad place to be, but I bet you’re wondering what exactly I mean. It goes like this. Last week, I found myself in St. Louis, an archdiocese that celebrates the Ascension on Sunday rather than Thursday. I returned on Saturday to my home diocese of Hartford, an archdiocese that celebrates the Ascension on Thursday rather than Sunday. So technically, I never had the chance to celebrate liturgically the feast of the Ascension—getting me “stuck” in the Resurrection, or more technically, getting the Resurrected Christ of my spiritual life “stuck” on earth without ascending to Heaven!

I spent quite a bit of time in those “interim days” pondering the Ascension readings and considering what would happen if Jesus had never “returned” to Heaven, but rather remained with us here “even until the end of time.” Part of me thinks that would be a pretty incredible reality—that every living human person from the moment of the Incarnation would have an opportunity to meet, touch, hear, see, and experience the risen Jesus “in the flesh.” Certainly the entire population of the world would believe in the Christ if we had the opportunity to experience him with our own eyes and ears. Right? Well…let’s think about that.

We do have that opportunity. He didn’t ascend and abandon us. He ascended and remained with us. The risen Body of Christ remains in our midst, both sacramentally in the Eucharist and incarnationally in us, the people of God who are His Body. Right there in the Ascension Gospel we read: “While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’ ” Why are you looking for Jesus up there? Instead, look inside. Look around. You can’t miss him if you know what you’re looking for.

A friend of mine recently made an inadvertently comical statement as she tried to explain why she is sometimes difficult to reach. She said something like, “If I’m not here, I’m somewhere else. But no matter where I am, I’m always somewhere.” Funny, right? Maybe…but not if we consider it from the point of view of the risen, ascended, always-present Christ. He’s always somewhere nearby—nearer to us than we are to our very selves. Happy Ascension.

On the Road

Have you ever wondered if you would have recognized Jesus if you had been one of the Emmaus disciples? When I truly pay attention to St. Luke’s Resurrection account, I notice that the two men who meet Jesus on the way to Emmaus are good disciples. They are heart-broken at his death in Jerusalem, they are familiar with his teachings, and they are desirous of sharing his story with this total “stranger” who joins them for the long journey out of town. We aren’t told why they’re leaving Jerusalem or where they’re really headed. We aren’t told whether they planned on telling the story of Jesus Christ all along their way or if they just so happened upon someone who was interested in chatting about it. We aren’t told what their ultimate destination is, nor how they intend to spend the remainder of their lives.

What we are told is that they found their hearts burning within them as they shared time and memory with Jesus. They desired his company, and they invited him in to continue to be in relationship with them. They shared bread with him, they received blessing, and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. And then he was gone. Then did the fire of his love catch flame in them, and compelled them to get up from that very table and run all the way back from where they’d come…just to tell the story!

Maybe this week we can take a moment to reflect on our own discipleship of Jesus. Even when we don’t recognize him, he walks with us, telling us the story of his life, sharing with us the story of ours, and inviting us to see where the two intersect. Even when we’ve journeyed a long way, perceiving him to be absent, somehow in those moments when we listen to the story of his life, we can also sense his presence right there with us. Even when we don’t realize it is Christ we have invited to “remain with us,” he comes and reveals himself in ways quite unexpected. And even when he disappears from view, he sets our hearts on fire, sending us urgently out to those we love most, sharing the good news: we have seen him—he is alive!

Lent 2011 and Vocations

Dear Friends,

During this liturgical season of Lent our Blog will be reflecting on our Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for Lent 2011 in relationship to the vocations of priesthood and consecrated life, discernment, etc. We would like to invite you to join us on our Blog and/or For Your Vocation Facebook page to take advantage of these reflections during your Lenten pilgrimage. One of the predominant themes in the Holy Father’s message is the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism and how it immerses us into relationship with Jesus Christ. Baptism is where the call of Father is received, and this call is nourished by frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. We hope you will find encouragement during Lent to pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, and if you think the Lord is calling you to either of these vocations, to take generous steps in responding to God’s call.

See the Holy Father’s message given at his Wednesday audience earlier today too!

Joy in the Journey

This week Sr. Cecilia celebrates her 103rd birthday. She is anything but what you might expect of a person who has lived more than a century—she still works in ministry every day (from 8:30 until 1:00 at an adult day care center, keeping the “old folks” company!) and she keeps herself in shape by dancing with them in the morning and walking silently down the halls in the afternoon as she prays her rosary. If you ask her what the “secret” is to her long life, she will reply quite simply: joy. And, to be honest, when you talk with Sr. Cecilia or spend any amount of time with her, you will see that indeed joy is exactly what exudes from her.

She has spent more than seventy years as a “spouse of Christ,” having given her heart, soul, and life to Him on the day of her first profession of vows. She knows the joy that comes from that kind of a life, from that kind of a relationship, and she not only experiences it—she transmits it! Thank you, Sr. Cecilia, for your vocation, for your example, and most importantly for the joy that you share with all of us. May we all not simply receive it, but continue to channel it through our very lives, that all those we encounter might know the joy of serving God and being loved by Him.

St. Teresa of Avila: Transverberation

In chapter 29, inThe Life of St. Teresa of Avila, we read the following description of St. Teresa’s mystical ecstasy, also known as “transverberation”. In this description we hear St. Teresa narrate her mystical experience, in which she was spiritually consumed by God’s love:

“In his hands I saw a long golden spear
and at the end of the iron tip
I seemed to see a point of fire.
With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times
so that it penetrated to my entrails.
When he drew it out,
I thought he was drawing them out with it
and he left me completely afire with a great love for God.
The pain was so sharp
that it made me utter several moans;
and so excessive was the sweetness
caused me by this intense pain
that one can never wish to lose it,
nor will one’s soul be content
with anything less than God.
It is not bodily pain, but spiritual,
though the body has a share in it–indeed, a great share.
So sweet are the colloquies of love
which pass between the soul and God
that if anyone thinks I am lying I beseech God,
in His goodness, to give him the same experience.”

Returning the Gift

Just about every week in the Prayers of the Faithful, we hear intercessions praying for an increase in priestly and religious vocations. How wonderful that as a body of Christ’s faithful people, we are invoking the Spirit to inspire, enliven, and sustain vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Every vocation is holy, every vocation is grace-filled. So why single out religious vocations at Mass? Perhaps the reason is because vocations to the priesthood and religious life are, statistically, less common than vocations to the married life or single life.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message in preparation for the 2nd Latin American Continental Congress on Vocations. He wrote: “A vocation is not the fruit of any human project or of a clever organizational strategy. In its deepest reality, it is a gift of God, a mysterious and ineffable initiative of the Lord, who enters the life of a person cultivating it with the beauty of his love, and arousing, consequently, a total and definitive self-giving to that divine love (cf. John 15:9.16)”. Let us continue to pray for each of our vocations, that we might have the courage, strength, and joy to offer that total and definitive self-gift in return for God’s love!

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In the past three to four hundred years, many Spiritual Directors have entrusted those discerning a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This devotion, which is composed of eucharistic adoration, reparation and consecration, has led many closer to the Lord (regardless of where their discernment has led them).

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has always been a foundational part of Catholic spirituality and devotion, as far as this particular devotion is understood to be based on Divine Revelation’s message that God is love and in the mystery of the incarnation God has loved us with a human heart (Gaudium et Spes #22). As Pope Benedict XVI stated, concerning the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Moreover, not only does this mystery of God’s love for us constitute the content of the worship of and devotion to the Heart of Jesus, but in the same way it is likewise the content of all true spirituality and Christian devotion. It is consequently important to stress that the basis of the devotion is as old as Christianity itself.” (Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Haurietis Aquas)

To adore the Lord through this venerable image of his wounded and fiery heart calling us to communion with Him is a gateway to discern how exactly the Lord wants us to serve Him. Discernment requires a true “trust” in the one we are discerning with, namely the Lord. He must have free reign in our hearts and lives in order to lead us, without bypassing our freedom. Discernment is an act of freedom to transcend one’s circumstances, limitations and inadequacies to follow the Lord wherever He may lead us. Let us commend ourselves to the Heart of Jesus, whose wounded heart calls us to trust in the abundance of His sacrificial love. “It was only the experience that God first gave us his love that has enabled us to respond to his commandment of love” (cf. Deus Caritas Est, # 17).

We’ll close with the words of Pope Pius XII:

“Consequently, it is clear that the revelations made to St. Margaret Mary brought nothing new into Catholic doctrine. Their importance lay in this that Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.”
(Encyclical Haurietis Aquas by Pope Pius XII, #97)

Pope Benedict XVI prays for Consecrated

We join our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in praying today, World Day for Consecrated Life, for all consecrated persons: “To your prayers I entrust those who, having made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, strive after sanctity in the service of children, young people, the sick, the elderly and the lonely. We are grateful to them for their prayers and for the work they do in parishes, hospitals, care homes and schools. Their service represents a particularly precious gift for the Church. My heartfelt blessings go to all those who live in accordance with the evangelical counsels (General Audience 2 February 2011)”.

Football and a win in the “End Zone”

When playing football, the object of the game is to win points by running, throwing or kicking the football into the end zone. The end zone, your team’s distance from it, your team’s strategies, and the players’ skills and sportsmanship all affect the decisions that the coach, captain and teammates make in order to win the game.

So what does this have to do with discerning your vocation? By analogy. Discerning your vocation is not a game, but it has some similarities. The Catholic Church teaches us that we are all created for – that is, our “end zone” – is eternal life with Our Lord…and everyone is intended to win! Winning, however, depends on how we are living our faith (where we are at right now on the field in relation to the end zone), who we are (each team player’s strengths and weaknesses), our strategy for living our faith, attending the Sacraments, etc. (how we plan to reach the end zone), and hearing what is God’s will for my life (listening to and carrying out the coach and/or captain’s direction).

Discerning your vocation is an act of prayer and a response of faith, and you’re never alone. One blessing of a team is that you’re all working together to reach the same goal. One blessing of the Church is that we’re all working together to reach the same “end zone” – eternal life with Our Lord! Give your team mates encouragement and we’ll see you in the end zone!

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