There is an ancient story that is our common heartbeat. It speaks to us, deeply, quietly and simply; its whispers are heard in the rhythms of our ordinary lives, in between the rushing activity of our regular days. As we move together and alone, the power of this ancient story is known and felt in the cracks and creases of our common heart.
We’ve been waiting for this feast for four weeks. We’ve been waiting for this for thousands of years. We’ve been waiting in the dark, lighting candles, and turning calendar pages to count down the days. We are Advent people; we were made to be people of joyful anticipation. We are communities who persist in…
I love this day so much because this is a day when we can celebrate and praise God for the gift of the strongest force in the universe: love!
Love is the foundation of Christian living. Love is what drives us disciples to do what the world may not ever understand. Love is wonderfully inconvenient. We forgive. We embrace every new person in our life. We abandon our schedules and travel across miles to be present to the hurting; to tell people we love them. We hope for the best for our enemies and pray that they may be well. We run into battle zones, toward the sounds of bombs, if we know a child is in danger. We lay down our lives for our friends, our neighbors, for strangers we meet along the roadside who are in desperate need of help. We protect and welcome the strangers who are crossing borders, who are fleeing oppression and poverty. We rally in the streets and carry banners that announce love even while folks scowl. We visit the smelly and imprisoned. We give away our food and open up our homes; we share with all our might. We fast and pray for the sake of strangers, for peace in general, for liberation from any power that doesn’t help others feel love. Love is bold and wild and a verb.
Over the years many people have turned to me and said that they have never felt God’s presence, that they don’t know God. To this very real heartache I often respond with a question: “Have you ever felt love for another person?” To that, the response is usually “Yes, of course.” “Then,” I respond “you have experienced the presence of God without knowing it.”
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. ~ 1 John 4:7-8
I believe one of the biggest problems with our faith lives is that we tend to put God in boxes; we expect God to be as small and containable as we are. The truth, though, is that God is beyond measure; God is abundantly good and infinite mystery. We must allow this mystery to surprise us, to move through us, to be revealed in ways we would never imagine.
Once we allow God to be in charge of who we are, we will find that love has us doing all sorts of things that don’t make sense, that will be contradiction to the ways of the world. I love the way Courtney E. Martin describes this:
Just as our lives — especially white, economically privileged lives — have suffered from over-privatization, our notion of love has suffered from an over-interpersonalization. We hear love and we think marriage. Worse yet, in the age of dating apps, we hear love and we think swipe. The commodification and Tinder-ization of love isn’t just bad for our romantic relationships; it’s bad for our nation. We think of love as solely intimate, as tumultuous, as something we choose to bestow or withhold based on someone’s capacity to earn it and keep earning it.
But real love is radical because it cannot be earned or unearned. It is tied to inherent dignity. It is unconquerable because it is dumb in its own way — determined to keep loving no matter what the counter forces, no matter what scarcity small men try to message, no matter what fear they try to sow. It’s blindly trusting, also positioned as stupid in our overly strategic society. It’s inefficient, a sin in our efficiency-obsessed time.
It is perhaps most clearly understood as maternal. Just as mothers have, from time immemorial, loved without condition, we must now love this nation like mothers. We must parent it into a new maturity. We must not give up on it, no matter what. We must be prepared to be surprised at how beautiful it will be. We must do all this without knowing what form it will take, but knowing that whatever it becomes will be rewarding if it is shaped by fierce, unending, active love.
On this day, may we embrace the wild power of active love. May we allow love of God and neighbor to take complete hold of us and move us into zones—uncomfortable and cracked—where we never thought we would tread. May we learn what it means to really lay down our lives and experience love’s rising power and imitate Jesus Christ.
I love you all and I thank you for joining me in this wild activity!
We pray in the dark during these Advent days while we wait for the coming of the Light, of love enfleshed.
The darkness is everywhere and impacts each of us. We encounter pain and violent words, messages and behavior when we pay attention to the news, when we share in our neighbor’s pain, when we tune into the tension and the fear that is intensely plaguing humanity. Even the earth itself seems to be mourning our destructiveness and greed. Our hearts ache with sadness and anger as shootings, terrorism, and hate-mongering become more frequent.
In the darkness of discouragement, temptation comes quick. Maybe I shouldn’t bother or What difference does it make if I am charitable? or Why should I help them if I can’t even get my own life together? or How can we trust anyone!? Ugly attitudes of apathy and doubt can creep in and corrode at our faith and hope. Just like everyone else, we are capable of turning away from love and succumbing to fear and hate.
It is messy and challenging, but by the grace of God, we will not give into temptation. We will resist all darkness by offering compassionate alternatives in the face of fear and pain. The words of Ephesians 5 shall be our marching song as we rise up and rally as children of light:
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light,for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them,for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret;but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” –Ephesians 5:8-14
Yes, there are many ways that we can resist this darkness and unite as children of the light. Especially now that the Jubilee Year of Mercy has begun, we will act as instruments of forgiveness and mercy.
Pope Francis has invited us all to imitate God, as mercy is an action, an attitude that the world desperately needs from us all now. “Mercy-ing calls us to forgive the unforgivable, to look tenderly upon the unappealing and the troublesome, to be compassionate to the ungrateful. It demands that we give a full measure, packed down and flowing over, and to empty our granaries again and again for those who cannot hope to repay us. It asks us to open our hands and hearts, not because we expect mercy in return, but because who we yearn to become could not—did not—do anything less for us.” Although the word mercy-ing is made up by Pope Francis, this aspect of our faith goes all the way back to the days of Christ.
There are many ways that we can resist the darkness and get active mercy-ing during this Advent time.
Here are just a few examples of what others are doing. No one of us can do it all, so when one of us is mercy-ing then we all are:
Today, on Human Rights Day, and on other days we rally throughout the world. (Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the international adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
We recommit ourselves to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We prayerfully say “yes” to the Gospel mission of loving our neighbors and enemies.
Photo credit: Southern Rosary Works
We resist racism and xenophobia by opening our hearts, our Churches, our homes to refugees and immigrants.
We pray for an end of all forms of torture and violence and speak out on behalf of the victims.
Being Christian is not for sissies, I have heard some say. We must be bold, courageous and purposely enter into experiences of encounter that might make the average person squirm.
For starters, this is a life of serious love. And for us Christians, love is a verb, not a feeling. We have to love our enemies, not just our friends, even when it might not feel good or make sense. This love is done through countercultural actions: we have to forgive, stand up for justice, help the poor and marginalized.
All this love-in-action activity totally changes us for the better. Conversion gets the best of us. Our minds, hearts and behaviors change. For doing this love-work means we must hang out with prisoners, the people who scare us, the smelly— and we might become poor, scary, imprisoned and smelly ourselves in the process.
This being a Christian-thing: it’s messy, it’s complicated and totally challenging.
God really is demanding; God does ask a lot. We must give over our whole life and become totally transformed, and unite with God in our hearts, minds and spirits. For sure, this discipleship is an all-or-nothing thing. No pretending, going through motions, or half-assing any sort of faith-life; at least not if we want to really please God and build God’s reign of peace and justice.
Yes, like the verse in Revelation says, we must not be lukewarm with our faith.
I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
When we’re real with ourselves, though, we might be able to admit that we don’t always feel on fire for the Gospel and the love of Jesus. Sometimes we are just not in the mood to go to great lengths to care for others. And, other times we are full of doubts, confusion. We are hurting, exhausted and just plain weary.
So, if we’re feeling lukewarm and we don’t want God to spit us out, then what are we to do?
It’s important to understand the original context of the passage; it was written to encourage persecuted Christians to remain faithful and hopeful during the Roman Empire. Many Christians were hiding their faith or trying to participate in both the state religion as well as their Christian communities, in the same way that today some of us still participate in the sins of the common culture while still going to Church saying we’re a Christian. This is the type of lukewarm faith that doesn’t care, that is comfortable and not interested in growth or feeling passion for God and others.
But, what if we are lukewarm because we’re struggling? What can we do if we don’t feel hot for God like we want?
Here’s how to be hot for God:
Surround yourself with strong, faithful Christians who you can lean on for support. Recently one of my young nun friends posted a meme that totally summed this up for me. There was a picture of a bunch of ladies in wacky clothes and a statement: “surround yourself with people on the same mission as you.”
Study scripture and pray a lot. Ask God for a strong faith, for strength and keep in mind that faith is a gift, but faithfulness is required in all relationships. And, a life of faith is a life in relationship.
Do frequent acts of service because a great way to get to know God is by getting close to poverty.
Receive the sacraments and allow the graces of God to transform you from the inside out.
Listen and stay open to God’s beauty and love surrounding you all the time, whether it is nature, in art, your own acts of creativity or in the people you love.
Ask others to pray for you such as my community. By the way, we have a perpetual adoration chapel and are praying 24/7 and we love praying for all of you and all your requests! You can submit your prayer requests here.
Indeed, let us pray for each other, that all of us can burn brightly with our love for God! Amen!
Lent: we’ve been into it for over a week now. We are in this spiritual wilderness desiring to be better people, hoping to change. All sorts of actions are getting us into spiritual-shape again: fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Through each simple act, we confront our weaknesses and give up on trying to make it on our own. We recognize our need to depend on God.
Yes, here in this Lenten desert we are parched and challenged by the Truth: we must give in to God’s ways. God’s ways are communal. Living according to God’s ways will allow us to grow into the people we know God made us to be. God made us for interdependent relationships. God made us to put love into action.
In this Lenten wilderness, it shouldn’t take long for our penitential living to turn from classic navel-gazing into phenomenal social transformations. This life of faith is not about usalone. Christian living is not a me-and-God thing. Rather, we give, fast and pray to remember that this faith-life is about all of us together loving like God loves. Our sacrifices and disciplines are meant to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Jesus’ sacrifices certainly did just that.
This means I gave up sugar for Lent–not just because I want to get healthier but because I want the entire global sugar industry to become more just. Naturally then, if I am avoiding sugar during these 40 days, I must also pray and advocate for changes in the corrupt food system, for improvements in the lives of the workers on sugar plantations. This Lenten sacrifice is not just about me. It’s about loving my neighbor like Jesus taught me to.
In our culture, it can be challenging for our Lenten actions to not have self-centered motivations. When we’re comfortable and distant from the suffering of others, our focus can become too inward. When we feel the impact of sacrifice it can become difficult for us to remember the reason for the tradition of our Church: we give things up in order to help the poor. It takes a different type of intentionality to connect with the people who we love and want to help with our actions. Fortunately, there are several tools to help us connect to our global community. For the love of others, let’s utilize these resources because otherwise it can be hard to believe that our actions make a real systemic difference.
Thank God, Scripture assures us that God is with us in this relational struggle even when the doubts are intense or the sacrifice is too hard. God strengthens us and revives us while we fast for the good of others:
Some days, I feel like I just want a restart button.
At times, I even feel this way about my life.
And then, when I look at all the problems in the world, aware of how complicated and messy the issues of injustice really are, I frequently feel the same way.
I just want to press a button and let everything reboot, wake up all refreshed and renewed and ready to do things much better, to be more like we’re supposed to be.
That’s why I love this sacred season of Lent. I want to grow, I desire holiness, I pray for justice. I really do believe that things can be better and through God’s grace, we have something to do with it.
Back on Ash Wednesday there was a lot of chatter about what people were “giving up” for Lent. I didn’t chime in then, but now I’ll tell you some of what I’m up to. A full Lenten experience is not just about “giving things up” but committing to any activities of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to, in a sense, restart our relationships with God and others.
In fact, I am finding that the actions I have been taking work much more gradually than it does when I push a restart button. People and social problems aren’t machines, after all. Forty days is probably a good amount of time for a proper restart.
In my living community, the sisters and I are eating vegetarian then donating the money we would have spent on meat to the area warming center. We are holding Friday nights as a silent hermitage time for contemplation. Plus, a couple of us started volunteering at a free community dinner, which I think we’ll continue doing after Lent.
Lastly, today I’m leading a small group of youth in a CRS Food Fast retreat. Please say a prayer for the high school students who are fasting and will engage in service-learning and prayer activities after school. All of our actions should help us be in solidarity with those who are really hungry in other parts of the world.
The restart process is not pain-free, of course, but it’s so worth it. Basically, the activities of Lent are chipping away at the hardness in my heart and helping me learn some big lessons:
The acts of service and fasting have taught me that I am way too comfortable, not just materially, but also with my plans. I’ve realized that I have fallen into a bit of a rut of liking my routine to be a certain way. Even though I have good intentions, I practically walk around every day with my focus on my to-do list with a giant “do not disturb” sign hanging from my face. How can I help build up the kingdom of God if I am not open, flexible and available? Am I awake to the work of God?
Speaking to being awake to the work of God, the activities of prayer have helped me gain a deeper desire for more intimacy with God. I entered Lent looking forward to my Triduum because then I could have a little vacation. Now, I am hoping for a silent retreat over those days, almost isolated from civilization.
Lastly, I believe again that every little action has an impact. I realized that sometimes when I pray or do acts of charity I am tempted to become cynical about whether I am really making a difference. Now, because of some feedback received from others, I’m remembering that the littlest things do indeed matter; we just don’t always know how. This interdependence among us reaches across the globe to our brothers and sisters who are desperate for the pennies that we throw away, too. Our choices to be in solidarity with them this Lent really improve their livelihood, thanks be to God. This video helps me understand that:
Ultimately, the Lenten restart button that I was hoping for has had an impact on me. I have gotten disturbed. I am changed. I am getting to be a bit better, we all are.
Today, I invite you to do three simple and important things to honor St. Francis and his legacy that continues to inspire people, like me, to follow Jesus in messy, authentic ways. The three actions I propose are totally Franciscan things to do.
Join my Franciscan family and me in celebrating the goodness of God and praising him for the gift of our founder!
Help us try to build the kingdom of God through our actions, ministry, simple lifestyle and prayer.
1.) Help the Poor. There are a lot of ways you can help those less fortunate. I really, really would like you to help me with one cause that is near and dear to my heart and causing me to have a hard week. The people who I know at Tubman House in California are in desperate need for help right now. Unless they get enough donations quickly they’ll have to close this weekend or at the end of the month. If Tubman closes, some amazing parents and their children will go back to being homeless and the organization will be forced to stop doing all the amazing work they do. Read all about the details and make a donation here. Sign up to become a regular donor here.
2.) Protect the Environment. Just like helping the poor, there are many, many ways you can protect the environment. I’d love it if you checked out all the awesome work that the good people at Catholic Climate Covenant are up to. And, then, I hope you’ll sign The St. Francis Pledge!
3.) Pray and Work for Peace. I had trouble coming up with a suggestion for this one– because there are so many issue specific peace organizations- -but being a nonviolent peacemaker is totally important. Perhaps we can all pause for at least 30 quiet minutes in solitude and silence today to pray for peace in our hearts, our homes, our communities, our country and our world.
The great thing is that if we do these three simple actions we won’t just honor Francis, we’ll honor Jesus too. That’s the great thing about saints!
Thanks for your participation and Happy St. Francis Day!
Actually, it’s quite hard to live like a Christian, especially if we keep hearing that showing up for church on Sundays is good enough. Really, we’re supposed to be non-conformists of this world, conforming instead to the radical, non-violent, loving ways of Christ. Our faith life needs to be deep, prayerful and solid, and must direct all else in our life. God really is supposed to be our All in All.
I wonder if the increase of secularization in our culture is responsible for the myth that faith is only appropriate when its private and doesn’t offend others. I am concerned about how our youth are learning to practice our faith from us. Is it really okay for us to live in luxury, privilege and glamor while others suffer? Why do we practice our religion? Is it because we love God and the people of God (the Church)? Are we willing to go through major conversions in order to grow in union with God? Or, are we only willing to live our faith if it doesn’t ask us to change too much or get uncomfortable?
Certainly, living a life of Christian faith is simple in principle. It is a simple way, a way of Love. In actuality, it’s pretty challenging and demanding.
I am finding that it’s not easy to teach teenagers this principle- -the idea that having faith might require you to change, be uncomfortable, stand up for the vulnerable, make hard choices and be radically different from what popular society says is cool and acceptable.
I recently showed the following video to some of my students. Afterwards, when I asked the students to silently pray and contemplate how the story related to their lives, the classroom felt pretty intense. Faith is hard.
The good news is that if we really have deep faith that causes us to grow and change we never know what we might be able to do. Our faith strengthens us and unites us with a power greater than ourselves.
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” -Matthew 17:20
Yes, as we grow in union with God, nothing is impossible. Because, for God, nothing is impossible and we are instruments of God.
Here’s another video, this time about how awesome it is to be an instrument of God:
Trying to be a faithful Christian sometimes feels like living in God’s limitless art studio.
God is the Great Artist who is always at work creating us anew. We get to co-create and this communion brings us closer to God.
Since ending my ministry at the high school my creativity has been slightly out of control. I have felt like I can’t keep up with the energy that has been trying to express itself. My room has become more of an art studio than a bedroom. It is littered with paper scraps and my fingernails continue to be caked with glue, clay and paint. God is at work and I am working to cooperate.
Apparently, being released from a stressful and demanding ministry has had an interesting impact on me. Although little of the creativity has manifested on this blog, a lot of the holy integrations of my the past few years have been breaking loose and causing some good contemplation.
As I’ve been constructing, I’ve been thinking: Art can flower and force new consciousness. And, creativity is a spiritual path: co-creating with God implies union with God. Truly, I can testify that when I create new things with God I experience God’s presence and energy in ways that truly astound me. How does one describe feeling God’s energy?
For the union to exist with God while I create, I have to be open and trust. When I am writing, sculpting and painting I have to let go and let God, as cliche as it may be. The final product is not up to me. If I want the creations to truly glorify God, I must be empty and allow God’s creative power to be in control. Really, I’ve found that at times a meditative trance can take over and the blessed buzz of blending words, images and textures can manifest meanings that are beyond me. It’s really awesome.
Plus, good creativity is very messy. Like in a healthy ecosystem, new life breaks forth out of rotting death. The holy paschal mystery is alive and well in the chaos. Seemingly bizarre artifacts can be combined to create something completely unusual, yet totally beautiful. When I stand up and look at the big picture, the creative space can appear as if a storm has swept through. Really though, there’s an order and a clarity in the mixtures. I am often surprised. I learn a lot about God’s ways when I see the chaos of creating.
The main art project that has consumed my time and energy was building mini-grottos to pray for issues of peace and justice. These diorama-type shrines will be prayed with by my community during our Education Week gathering this week. The justice and peace committee that I am a part of hopes to increase consciousness, conversation and prayer around the issues of immigration, food, economics, education, church and health care. Here’s a preview of the art for all the sisters and affiliates who read this blog:
In the building of the God’s reign, God is the Great Artist. God is in control and we get to cooperate, often times completely clueless about the finished product. Let’s trust God in our personal development and in the complicated messes of systemic injustices. Let’s also do our part to help create new works of art. When it’s up to God, new life can create new consciousness. We never really know how other creatures shall absorb a new meaning from something we had a part in.
Alive in each of us, God is constantly clipping and creating art anew. Wow, I love living in this art studio.