Mercy, Even in My Doubt

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday! For those who don’t know about this great day of devotion, let me try to give you a reason to celebrate today.

The Catholic Church has this great devotion called the Divine Mercy. It all started with a young Polish nun named Sr. Faustina, who loved Jesus deeply. She began having visions of Jesus and, obedient to her superiors, wrote down her encounters with Him. The image of the Divine Mercy, which comes straight from Sr. Faustina’s visions of Jesus, depicts two rays shooting out from the heart of Jesus.skemp_1024

When Sr. Faustina asked Jesus what these rays meant, He responded, “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him. (paragraph 299 of “Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska”)

As I’ve journeyed through the Easter season this past week, this scene of the Crucifixion that Jesus mentioned to Sr. Faustina keeps finding its way to the forefront of my heart. After Jesus has died, before His body has been taken down from the Cross, the soldiers are breaking the legs of the others being crucified to ensure a timely death. When they come to Jesus, they see that He’s already dead.

“One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” – John 19:34

Jesus’ body is dead. His apostles (those left at the scene that is) must be heartbroken. This man that they’ve given up everything to follow – He is dead. And they don’t fully understand the words He spoke that would give them hope in this moment – the words that prophesied His rising, that He would “rebuild this temple in three days.”

In the midst of this darkness, when all hope seemed lost, this is when Jesus deemed to show this image of His mercy. Gruesome as it may be to really think about it, the blood and water that came out of the wound in His side poured down to the ground where the apostles were mourning. What was it to be beneath the mercy pouring from His heart?

Let’s move forward a couple verses in John’s Gospel. The apostles (except poor, poor Thomas) are locked in the upper room, full of paralyzing fear. Jesus appears before them, with a message of peace and mission and He breathes the Holy Spirit over them.

When the apostles later tell Thomas about their post-Resurrection encounter with the Lord, he is ever the cynic. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) (*Side note: how many times in my life do I speak these words? If I don’t have all the signs and stars aligned, if all the evidence isn’t in plain sight, I can be so slow to believe.)

But a week later, Jesus comes again and Thomas is there to see it with his own eyes. I imagine being Thomas here. Elated that the news I was skeptical of is actually true, but also ashamed that I didn’t pass some kind of test of faith. In that moment, I would’ve preferred to stay in the background. Just give us your message, Lord, and don’t single me out. But Jesus, after just one statement addressed to the group, comes to Thomas. In the past, I’ve imagined these words that Jesus speaks were filled with sarcasm, a real “they-told-you-so” manner. But that is not the nature of God. It’s the result of my own woundedness.

Instead, these words of Jesus – they come from a place of love for Thomas. The Lord gives Thomas an opportunity to do exactly as he desired. The Lord’s voice doesn’t place shame on Thomas’ doubt; it carries a calm, a peace. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.” (John 20:27).

That wound in the Lord’s side. Where blood and water poured out. Where his Mercy poured out. That’s where He wants Thomas to be. He wants Thomas to place his unbelieving there in the place where Mercy can pour over it. Where Mercy can heal it.

My brothers and sisters, that’s where the Lord wants me and you. Even in our doubt, He invites us into that wound in His side. He invites us – and all the baggage and wounds we carry – into His Mercy. Jesus isn’t deterred by our weakness or our doubt; His Mercy is attracted to it.

So on this Divine Mercy Sunday, wherever you’re at this Easter season – be it a season of joy in every instance or a time of wandering or difficulty – bring it all to His pierced side, where His Mercy is waiting to pour out over it and bring it to new life.

~Rita

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I Have Seen the Lord…

Tonight as the sisters of the Magdalene House gathered to worship, Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the Resurrected Jesus in the Gospel of John became our own. After Jesus spoke her name, she recognized Him and then went out proclaiming to the other apostles, “I have seen the Lord!” I wanted to share a song that we prayed with tonight, titled after this great proclamation, written by my good friend John Finch. If you haven’t heard of The Vigil Project, you’re missing out on amazing songs of prayer and worship for the Lent and Easter seasons. Check out the video for this song below and visit http://www.thevigilproject.com to hear more!

~Rita

Pens and Palms

So confession… I requested to write the blog post for this week. I wanted this week because yesterday (March 19) was the five year anniversary of when I allowed God to enter my mess and brokenness following years of closing myself off due to depression. It’s a big deal for me because that began the journey into who I am today.

For a really long time I was fixated on that moment. It was MY story. It was the story I would share at retreats or when I found myself in a vulnerable situation with someone. But after my story/moment didn’t feel the same after telling it at a young women’s retreat I worked once, I was puzzled. I honestly didn’t think it had the same effect on people, because sharing it didn’t have the same effect on me. Then I realized: maybe that’s not my story anymore. It was a defining moment in my life; there’s no denying that. But it wasn’t the end all, be all on my journey to and with Christ.

Instead, it was the beginning of my story, because, well, all stories need a beginning. Mine just happened to feature an ugly cry during two hours of silence on one of the first retreats I ever went on (way to break me in, guys). So when I found myself sobbing in a courtyard on March 19, 2011, I like to think that that is the moment I turned over the pen of my story to a God Who has not ceased in His faithfulness.

I’m a writer.

I’m a writer because I’ve always been obsessed with storytelling. I truly see it as an art form. I guess that’s why I can appreciate a good movie (and, yes, eight times out of ten it’s probably a Disney movie) or book. If they know how to tell a story in a way that is visually appealing, in a way where the words flow in the only way they seem to know how to, AND it pulls at your heartstrings in some way, it’s guaranteed that I’m going to be obsessed with it soon.

I think that’s how God works in our own stories. But whereas any movie has its end credits and any book its “About the Author,” our stories are never-ending, and they’re constantly changing. Nothing is clean cut and finalized because mercy is always coming for us in whatever capacity we find ourselves needing it.

THANK GOD.

Just think: if I was still getting only the mercies and graces that I received at an earlier time in my life, say freshman year of college, I wouldn’t have continued to grow as a person, as a Christian, and I probably wouldn’t be able to handle the things life is presently throwing my way.

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I know, Jimmy.

So today we celebrate Palm Sunday. Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem like the King that He is. He humbly rides into the city on the back of a donkey, and the crowd lays down their cloaks and palms along the road in welcome. It’s a beautiful story, but it’s just the next step on Jesus’s journey to fulfilling His earthly mission. If we don’t have Palm Sunday, then we don’t have the Crucifixion or, more importantly, the Resurrection.

If we think the story stops when we accept and acknowledge God as King… There’s no Crucifixion, no suffering that has any worth in our lives, and there’s also no Resurrection in the areas of our lives where we desperately need it but feel we least deserve it.

The weight of the cross is a story. His cross, our partaking in His cross, they’re both two beautifully interwoven stories that bring real change into our world.

Our stories don’t happen without His, and our stories ARE His. He guides us through our stories by directing us back to His own. There is not one heartache that Jesus does not understand. There is not one wound that He cannot heal. He has not faltered, and I don’t think He’s going to. He’s been pretty consistent.

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-Megan

To Be Chosen

We want to be chosen.

Whether we’re 7 years old and want to be chosen for the better kickball team at recess, 16 years old and want to be chosen as that special someone’s date to the prom, 30 years old and want to be chosen for that promotion at work that would secure our future.

We want to be chosen.

We want someone to see us, our effort, our talent, and make an intentional decision about who we are as an individual, that will tell us that we’re desirable.

And we let this drive our lives. How many times do I hit the gym this week? How much overtime do I put in at work? How long do I spend picking out my outfit? The list of areas that this desire to be chosen affects is endless. Sometimes we can let this desire run us into the ground. We want to be chosen and we’ll do whatever it takes, even at the risk of burning ourselves out. And if this desire is not met, if I’m not chosen, disappointment and despair can take over so easily.

Before we go any further, let me say that this desire to be chosen is SO GOOD. It’s not a curse that we have to put up with. It’s not a longing that we have to shove way down deep. It’s not a sign of being needy or desperate.

A great priest friend of mine once told me that our ache carries a message. In every corner of my ache lies the voice of the One who can ease it. I won’t hear that voice unless I venture into the ache, but when I do – when I find the courage to inquire about this desire to be chosen, He speaks directly into that deep ache and says, I have chosen you and I am proud to call you my own.

Brothers and sisters, you and I have already been chosen. And we’ve been chosen for something that is greater than any date, any promotion, any world-class kickball team.

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you. – John 15:16

We make our choice to follow or not follow God. To love Him or not love Him. And sometimes in the midst of our decision, we forget that God has chosen us first. He chose us long before we had ever heard His name. He chose us, knowing full well that we may choose to never choose Him. He chose us, knowing that we would choose Him, but still hurt Him everyday by our action and inaction.

But even in this – He doesn’t regret His choice for us. I regret choices that I make all the time, like St. Paul who does the thing he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do the thing he wants to do (Romans 7:15).

The Father’s choice for you and me led Him to much pain and heartbreak, but He doesn’t regret it. It isn’t in His nature to abandon his faithfulness.

Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands. – Isaiah 49:16

I once heard about this ancient wedding tradition, where the groom would tattoo the name of his beloved bride on his hands as a sign of his devotion and faithfulness to her.

This is OUR story. When Christ the Bridegroom came to lay down His life for His bride, they pierced His hands with nails. The scars on His hands bear our names. They’re a sign of the lengths that Love will go to show His beloved that He’s chosen her. He’s not leaving. He’s not giving up on us. He’s chosen us and He doesn’t regret it.

Brothers and sisters, our desire to be chosen is satisfied in this. The Father has chosen us. But not just “us” – You and Me. By name. He’s not calling us by the name the world calls us, by what we believe we are sometimes. He doesn’t call us by our sin. He doesn’t call us by our broken circumstance. He doesn’t call us by our disappointments. He doesn’t even call us by our accomplishments.

You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will give you. No more shall you be called forsaken or your land desolate; you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land married; for the Lord delights in you. You shall be called Sought out, a city not forsaken. – Isaiah 62:2, 4, 12.

He calls us His. This is what He’s chosen us for –relationship with Him. An intimate relationship, where we find rest in the security of knowing that we have indeed been chosen. And when we’re not chosen for things in this life, we have the blessed assurance of knowing that we’ve been chosen by a good Father, a good Savior. It was a choice that cost Him everything, but there’s no regret in His voice as He calls us by the name He’s given us: Chosen.

~Rita

Let’s talk about the D-word!

Ha. No—not that ‘D’ word. The other one.

Discernment.

If you’re Catholic/Christian and in your early to mid 20’s you have probably heard that term ad nauseam. I feel like I hear it on a daily basis but I feel that a lot of us use the term too flippantly.

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What I mean by that is, a lot of the time I hear the word used as an excuse to avoid making a decision.

“I can’t really do that right now… eh heh hem… I’m … Discerning…”

Or a lot of times I hear the word only reserved for the use of describing someone’s never ending battle with God  about whether they are going to join the convent, go to seminary, or hold out to see if Mr. or Mrs. Right is ever going to come along.

“Well.. I’m kind of discerning my next step in life righ…”

“WAIT–  You’re going to be a priest?!”

But, I’m here to tell you friends, discernment is not just for those big ticket items on the list of our lives. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophesying, but test everything. Hold fast to what is good and abstain from what is evil.”

Test EVERYTHING. Everything in our lives needs discernment. Paul told us not to quench the Spirit who thirsts to be a part of our lives. God wants to be a part of ALL of our decisions. He wants to permeate our lives. I am not saying take an hour to pray about what you’re going to eat for lunch, but we are, on some level, supposed to take our decisions to God and ask him to conform them to HIS will—not the other way around.

But the big question is—how do we discern? There have been tons of books written and many talks given, but I will spell out a few pieces of discernment advice I have found helpful  for all aspects of life.

  1. God is most likely not going to call you up on your cell phone to tell you what college you should go to, who to date, what to give up for lent (Netflix. It’s a struggle, y’all.), how to find a new job, where to live, or how to remove or change a negative relationship in your life. I do not doubt God’s power—He can do whatever He wants, but His preferred mode of communication from the beginning has typically been in ‘the whisper’ and not in ‘the earthquake’ and delaying decisions for long amounts of time while waiting for Him to come down in a big booming voice and hand you the answer is probably not the most practical thing to do.Don’t get me wrong–we can’t discern impulsively either (Applying for a missionary year a few days after your boyfriend breaks up with you—probably not a prudent decision. Lucky for me, God works all things for the good those who love him, am I right?)
  2.  Adopt a spirit of detachment. 

    Imma let my girl St. Teresa of Avila spit some truths on this one–“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can—namely surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.”

    We have to know ourselves as children of God and we have to surrender our will to the father who loves us.I heard from someone once about a father who wanted to give his 3 year old son a cookie, and how instead of having his hands open to receive what the father was going to give– he jumped up and down and grasped at the cookie jar.

    When it comes to our plans, why are we so hell bent on grabbing the cookie jar for ourselves? God wants to give us every gift possible in this life and for eternity but how can we receive that if we are trying to grasp at the things we only think will make us happy? — because let’s be honest, we never really know for sure. We have to detach from what we want and trust that our Father in heaven will give us what we need.

    In discernment, we have to take to prayer the intention of conforming our will to God’s and also for the grace that we need to detach from what we may think is right and stop grasping at it. If you’re still holding on to something tightly in your life, you are not ready to discern what God wants for you because you have already made your decision.

    Detachment takes trust. We have to trust that God isn’t going to force us into something that we absolutely do not want to do. He doesn’t want to fill his seminaries and convents with people who hate the idea of that vocation just for the sake of filling them. He’s not trying to trick you into doing his bidding at the expense of your happiness. We just need to take our blinders off to allow God to bring clarity into our lives. His clarity won’t affect us if we’re not going to see past our own plans. We have to detach first to be able to discern anything.

  3. Once we detach, we have to move.God can’t guide someone who is standing still.
    For those of us who are in/have gone to college – you know that you have to walk through the door to figure out if you’re in the right class or not on the first day. Sometimes, you have to sit through the whole thing before you realize…). I can’t give you an exact blow by blow of discernment because it is different for everyone—but I can say that once you move, God is better able to open doors for you or shut them. You will begin to either have a sense of peace or a sense of discontentment or anxiety. You may see where God is leading you after a few hypothetical steps forward, or you may need to go even farther than that before you realize, but be assured that God has you where you are for a purpose, even if He doesn’t allow you to see it all the way through.

    At the end of my junior year of college, I began to work on getting into Grad school for counseling. That was always the plan. I registered for the GRE, bought the practice book, and then a few months later realized I had absolutely no desire to do it and it wasn’t just senioritis kicking in. I took it to prayer and realized I was filled with this huge anxiety—I was trying to shove my life into this little tiny box labeled “My plan” and I didn’t want to let any of it go, but it was exhausting to hold on to it all. It took me a while but I eventually realized that God’s plan for me was a lot more freeing than my tiny little box. I could look back on it from where I am now, and say that I wasted my time getting a bachelors in Psych only to become a youth minister with no plans of pursuing counseling, but I know that God brought me through that stage of my life for a purpose. It was necessary.

  4.  Take a step back and analyze what is happening. Do you have peace, or not? Is what you are doing bringing you closer to God, or not? If it doesn’t feel right, chances are you need to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments. But eventually, as you detach from your will, and move, and pray, and reflect – God will get you where you need to be. In His time. Not yours.
  5. Whatever you are discerning, big things or little things, do not fear making the wrong decision. Fear is not of God. 

    “The goal of all of our undertakings should be not so much a task perfectly completed as the accomplishment of the will of God.” – St. Therese of the child Jesus and the Holy Face 

    If we place Christ at the center of our lives, we no longer have to rely on our imperfect nature but Christ’s perfection, and His perfect love casts out all fear and doubt.If we bring Christ into the center of our decisions and act WITH him rather than without him, we don’t need to worry— He WILL make straight our paths.

 

Happy Discerning!

— Hailey