CatholicSoup is a religious-run blog designed to provide Catholic insight through personal experience.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Let God Enter, Let Him Love.

A reflection for World Day of Consecrated Religious:

Today, Jesus is presented to the altar of God in the Temple. This comes at one of the weakest times of Jesus' entire life. He’s not able to speak for himself, he can’t walk. He’s a baby, young, physically weak, and completely vulnerable. I think the state that Jesus is in can help us to understand what it really means to be presented to the Lord, to be consecrated to the Lord even in the frailest, weakest, most vulnerable times of our imperfect lives. 
It's clear that God seems to be very particular with who he calls and who he anoints. As you know, there’s a common theme with the Lord calling the weak and the vulnerable. You might say that God has a knack for picking the ones who seem to be less capable. But he chooses them precisely so his Glory can be revealed, making the words of Isaiah ring true -- "He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak." (Isaiah 41:29) He chooses the poor, the broken, the hurting, he chooses the lesser - those who cannot love themselves.


"He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak."   
-Isaiah 41:29

The fact is that we are all imperfect people. We are all weak in some way, vulnerable, hurting and broken. Like many biblical figures, we doubt the person that God can help us become. We are afraid to love God and afraid to love ourselves. We are in fact, afraid of our own tendency to love imperfectly. But there’s hope because as a people of faith, we are called to re-enter into a relationship with God, to be re-consecrated, and re-presented to Him. That means accepting the love of a God who perfectly loves our imperfections. This does not mean that God is okay with our sins, and shortcomings; rather, that He loves us despite of them.

"We are in fact, afraid of our own tendency to love imperfectly."

As I was reflecting on my life as a consecrated religious, I began to think of my journey as lived inside of a large church. At the front of the Church, there is the sanctuary and Jesus awaiting in the tabernacle. Throughout the course of our lives, we position ourselves at different parts and places of this massive church. Some days we might be at the very front, in the sanctuary. We are praying every day, going to mass, doing all the right things and we feel God present in our lives. Other days we might be in the very back of the church, in the very corner, far away - maybe even outside! Sometimes we are hiding on the sides, ashamed and afraid to be seen. We are not concerned with what is happening in front of us. Or, we are in the middle, in the safe-ground. Not too far upfront and not too far in the back. We're comfortable with where we want to be and that's that. We are satisfied with being in the middle ground. "This is my spot, this is where I sit, I'm good, I don't need to do anything else, I am here."...Perhaps this is your life, moving from pew to pew. Regardless, wherever you sit, God is asking of one thing; he's asking for your heart. For your presence. And one thing is certain, we have to approach the altar in order for us to give it freely. Come up and re-present yourself to the Lord with open hearts! Lift up your hearts! Lift up your doors. Just like the psalmist says:

"Lift up! O gates, your lintels; 
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the King of Glory may enter!”

I have found that the greatest freedom in consecrated life comes from opening up the gates of everything that I am and letting God in on it. As the prophet Malachi puts it, there will come a day when the Lord will come and sit in this temple and refine and purify his servants. Jesus would like to purify and refine you. You are that temple, and Jesus wants to transform everything that you don't like about yourself, those imperfections, all the sins, the flaws, the fears, and insecurities - Jesus wants to purify it. For the consecrated religious, we are presented to the Lord in freedom, resting in the sure hope that He will make himself known in the midst of every imperfection and weakness that we know we have. Out of love, we surrender ourselves, we cease any resistance and simply let God love.


"...in order to profess a life consecrated to God, I have to first profess that I am human."

I’m very blessed to be able to look back on the life that I’ve lived as a consecrated religious and see all of the incredible ways that God has been present to me. The people, the places, the ministry opportunities, everything has been an adventure of faith and it would have never happened if I had not given God permission to love what I could not. It has occurred to me that in order to profess a life consecrated to God, I have to first profess that I am human. That means admitting to myself that I don't have all the answers, I don't do everything right, I'm not a perfect human being and because of that, I need God. We need God.

It doesn’t matter who are you, what you’re doing, or what you have done. I can promise you that the Lord today is asking for your heart. He wants to replace all of those imperfections with love. Today we're called to receive God, to be re-consecrated to God, to be re-presented to God. Let Him Enter, the King of Glory.

+ Br Vince Mary

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Christian Championship

Not too long ago we celebrated the life of St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr who was put to death because of his faith. He was tied to a post, shot with arrows, and left to die. However, he was healed with the help of the later Saint Irene, who took him into her home and bandaged his wounds. Once at full health, Sebastian courageously met the Emperor in a small passageway. He had overcome his own pain, his own weakness and was condemned to death a second time. He was beaten to death with cudgels and thrown into the town's sewer. 

(1480) tempera, oil on canvas;
"Saint Sebastian" by Andrea Mantegna
Reflecting on the life of Sebastian and the words of the Psalms, I began to think about our lives as champion Christians, a people of faith who persevere and run with joy, the course that has been set for us. We're called to be champions. One might say that to be a Champion means to conquer. It means to defy the odds, to surpass all other rivals and be in the end, victorious; the last one standing. Champions are those who have lived courageously, fought with strength and persevered in times of difficulty, they overcame. The champion is moved to be victorious, he’s moved to defeat everything that stands in his way, in order to obtain a prize worth cherishing forever. The champion is an athlete and not only an athlete but a person who sees with clear vision his purpose, he understands he has been made to accomplish, to achieve and to succeed. Above everything, a champion is a person who longs for victory using every ounce of energy that has been built up inside. 

Now you might notice that there are striking similarities between this champion athlete, and the champion Christian because to be a Christian is to be an athlete, and to be a champion Christian is to accept the invitation into the true championship with Jesus Christ, the true Victor!
You might be surprised to know that you are an athlete, you are a runner of the race and you have been endowed with a special gift of strength and courage. We are athletes for Christ, as St. Paul puts it, striving to obtain the eternal prize of salvation. We are a Christian people who have been gifted with a purpose in life, a meaning, and an objective to reach that everlasting prize. It’s the imperishable crown that St. Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians. The strength of the Christian champion has its roots in God almighty. Since he gives us all that we need to move forward, he strengthens us when we are weak, he trains us, and he pushes us to pursue everything that he has in store for us. 

“Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” -1 Corinthians 9:25

Photo by Holger Link via Unsplash
Since we are sharers in the championship that Christ has already won, we are also gifted with immeasurable strength and courage that is necessary to overcome any blockade. Those moments in our lives that instill doubt or spiritual soreness, slothfulness or acedia. These are things that keep us from moving forward with the hope that we will soon wear the winner’s crown, the imperishable one. We doubt ourselves and we give in to the voice that tells us we will never reach the end. Slowly we slip into modes of hopelessness and mediocrity; we lose sight of the goal! However, we are built to be champion Christians, champion athletes. We are called to overcome, called to push through our doubts, to persevere with strength and hope in moments of uncertainty.  We have been given a spirit of courage and endurance, a spirit that aids us in our weakness. 

“Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” -Romans 12:12

Remember that you've been called into a true championship with Jesus. You have been invited to complete the task and he has given all that you need to do it. The psalms tell us that the Champion is one who "joyfully runs its course." (Psalm 19:5) and St. Paul adds that as runners, we should run to win. Not aimlessly, or carelessly, but with conviction, confidence, and courage. 

"...Run as to win." -1 Cor 9: 24

In those moments when our zeal seems to be gone, hope shattered or our strength seems to be getting slim, we should turn to the words that have been written down for us. He reminds us to be strong and courageous! (Joshua 1:9) To fight the good fight of the faith! (1 Tim 9:11) To rejoice with hope, endure affliction and persevere in prayer! (Rom 12:12) This is the heart of a Champion, to look beyond our struggle and pain, see our own destiny of Glory and be moved to obtain it. This is the heart of a champion, and it’s the heart of a Christian, to persevere with courage in order to hold the eternal prize of glory.

+Br. Vince Mary

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Unchangeable God in the Changeable World

Some months back a few of us were loading up a giant U-haul trailer preparing to make the move to San Antonio to begin yet another journey. A new journey of faith, formation, studies and fraternity that is. I guess in the midst of all of the moving, the transitioning, re-settling and adapting, it was easy to forget of the graces that can come from one thing: change.

Since July, I've been experiencing a crazy, weird and amazing excursion of change, both externally and internally. You come to a new place, move to a new city, begin adapting to the weather, the traffic, the streets, new people, new school, a new schedule of prayer and ministry, etc. Internally, there's emotional change, intellectual change (I hope) and even spiritual changes of learning new ways that God presents himself. Nonetheless, I've enjoyed the change and I think it's brought me to understand another very beautiful attribute of God: That in all of what has been happening, God is the one thing that does not change.

If there's one thing that I've been reminded of in these last few months its that God is the one and only constant. Through all the change that happens in life, in the day, in circumstance and situation, there is one thing that is certain and it can be said in three simple words: God is constant. That means God has no end, he is steady, true and forever. He remains the same in all the change. He is the steady in all the chaos, the sturdy hope in all of our full-of-doubt shakiness. He is the unchanging faithful, the one dependent friend that will always be there for us.

There are times when I might be going through every type of emotion, feelings of loss, feelings of despair even feelings of joy and amazing energy. To be able to sit with that and contemplate on God being a God who sees that, or witnesses that within me is amazing. A good reflection question might be what am I doing at the end of every day that allows God to enter into all of that change? I'm often fascinated at how God can be the one who enters into our world of change, my life of change. In all of that, whatever life brings me there is one incredible thing and that is God is there, as the one who never ever changes. He loves always, he guides always, he listens always, forever. To me that's amazing to think about.

In scripture, we learn of God's faithfulness and his continuous, steady presence within the lives of the Israelites. God remains faithful to his promise, to his people and he gives us a sign of his everlasting love by making a covenant with his people. In the book of Isaiah, the voice that we hear during every Advent season reminds us that God is everlasting.

"The grass withers, the flower wilts when the breath of the Lord blows upon it." Yes, the people is grass! The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever."  -Isaiah 40: 7-8

With all the changes that occur in our lives, everything can seem to happen so fast. We are moving, life is changing, people are changing, we ourselves undergo change! However, God is not and he reminds us of that. "For I, the LORD, do not change." (Malachi 3:6) He reminds us to turn to him, to seek Him who has been our foundation for all these years. We know this to be true from the Gospels. During the strength of the storm, Jesus presented himself as one who calmed the sea when fierce waves and strong winds threatened the lives of the disciples. He made himself known during the tumult and shaking sea!

"...He got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm." -Matthew 8:26

It was Christ himself who was Transfigured before the disciples, reminding them that the Glory of God, the Glorified Christ, will be in their midst even when frightening changes take place! Let's not forget the Eucharistic feast, when ordinary bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of Christ through transubstantiation. God makes himself known in these special changes. So too within our lives and the things that we experience, the changes that we are afraid of, the changes that we have trouble accepting. If we give God our time and give him the opportunity, He will present himself to us. With every change comes a chance to see God active in our lives. Not only is He inviting us to hold fast to Him every moment, but most especially when we experience change. By turning to God in prayer, and giving him of ourselves in silent meditation we are clinging to God, we are holding to his truths and we are allowing him to be our surety and our stability.

+Br Vince Mary

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Mountain Journey of Prayer

The following is from a recent presentation given to a local youth group on Prayer & Friendship with God.

Mt Princeton, Elv. 14,197
It’s evident within the life of the Church that prayer has been around for quite some time now. It’s not a new thing, nor is it perfected in any particular way. Since the beginning, it has involved connection, intimacy and unity with God. Take a look at some of the prayers from Old Testament figures like Moses, who cried out to God on behalf of the people he was leading out of slavery. Or David, who desperately asked God for help in the Psalms. In these prayers, emotion and affectivity is portrayed. Sorrow, intimacy and longing is what many of these figures went through and for them, that was a prayer. Now the Church has many different types and expressions of prayer that can help one grow in grace and relationship with God and every one of them is a great thing! Prayers of Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving or Service (ACTS). There’s blessing prayers, petition prayers, intercessory prayers, the list goes on and on…Religious orders have different expressions of prayer that fall under their charisms. Vocal, meditative and contemplative are the most common. What I’m getting at is that prayer is not a walk in the park. It involves work and it involves presence. It doesn’t matter which type or expression fits you best, if its done without any intention or whole-heartedness then we are preventing our prayer from being the fullest expression that it was meant to be. 


So what should happen in prayer? What’s necessary?

I remember one Monday morning one of the brothers came up to me. He was tired, looked exhausted, and as he was looking around for something to eat for breakfast, he turns to me in his thick Ethiopian accent and says, “You know, Monday is like climbing mountain” There’s truth to that, and I think the same can be said about the prayer life. Similar to climbing a mountain, It involves work and sweat. We have baggage, things that should be thrown out along the way. We experience doubts and fears, even temptations to turn around. But in the midst of it all we are being led to a peaceful, serene and breathtaking place where we are able experience the sublime presence of God: the Summit

What I’ve noticed throughout my personal experience of prayer is that it really involves four components. Without these four things, my prayer life is nothing. Think of climbing that Monday-mountain.

Window Rock, AZ
Longing
Our prayer life should involve a type of longing. We should desire a unity with God with all our hearts. We should long to see God face to face on this mountain journey (Deut 5:4). The psalms use the word ‘longing’ as something necessary or vital for us, like a thirst that needs to be quenched; the deer that longs for running water in Psalm 42. By longing to experience God we also make it clear that we want to experience what will give our souls true fulfillment and completion. This is only found in God and the longing for that encounter is the start of every prayer. If we aren’t longing for God in prayer, it can be very easy to dismiss ourselves. At that point prayer becomes a ritual where we get in, do what’s necessary and get out. We go through the motions, say what needs to be said and leave. It’s true that God can also work through that, but part of longing for God in prayer is also recognizing that God longs to be with us.

Ascent
Br Joe and I hiking through Kenosa Pass, Co in the Fall of 2017
By ascent, I mean a movement of the heart and mind. There’s an emotional investment involved and it’s more than words. In fact, St. Therese of Lisieux writes that for her, prayer is a “surge of the heart”. The Catechism says that prayer should be a “rising of one’s mind and heart to God” (2559). Even our very own Capuchin Constitutions describes prayer as the “breathing of love stirred into life by the Holy Spirit through whom the inner man begins to listen to the voice of God speaking to his heart.” (Capuchin Constitutions 45.1) Our prayer life needs to be an ascent toward Christ. This part of the mountain journey involves time and perseverance through pain, struggle, weakness and doubt. In order for us to make that ascent in prayer, it requires constant care, effort, faithfulness, dedication and strength. Remember, you’re climbing a mountain! it’s not going to be easy. It involves the work that St. Paul describes as praying unceasingly (1 Thes 5:16). During this ascent, we begin to realize our flaws, our imperfections, distractions become apparent, we struggle, and because of our fears and doubts we are tempted to turn around and head back. We want to check out of prayer completely. The crisis is that in the suffering and pain that we experience, God appears not in anyway present to us, we lose sight of his love, his faithfulness and we stop praying. The solution is perseverance, constant use of the sacraments, patience in prayer, time in prayer and again, remembering our longing to experience God. This leads to the third.


Br. Alex and I at the Gore Range Overlook just outside
of Estes Park, Co
Honesty
It’s important to pray with honesty. Be honest with God in your prayer and be honest with yourself. Take a look at your fears, the things that bring you shame or doubt and present that to God in your prayer. Take it to Jesus. Take it to the Cross. Honesty in prayer is about recognizing your own brokenness, admitting to it and allowing God the time to transform it. The beauty is that God knows everything that is on our hearts, He knows us through and through. But just like a father’s love, He gives us the opportunity to come to him on our own. An honest prayer, is being able to own up to our imperfections with humility. Sometimes that means admitting to ourselves that we need the help of God each and everyday. God wants us to be able to turn to him in our every need. He wants to enter into those voids and heal everything that keeps us from a prayerful relationship with him. At this point in the journey, it would be easy to give in to the voices that remind us of our brokenness. Those voices tell us that because of our imperfections and flaws, we will never be accepted nor can we ever be loved. We become dissatisfied with ourselves and we let that determine our worth. But that’s not true! God is a God of mercy who seeks to transform every one of those imperfections that we see in ourselves. All we need is to be honest, be humble and let God in on those sufferings in prayer. Honesty in prayer is where we find our identity in Christ. That discovery comes by allowing God to shed light on our lives, and admitting to the pain in our lives.

Presence
Presence in prayer is about allow God the chance to reveal himself. It is being completely immersed in the workings of God in the now. I like to compare this part of the journey with the experience of finally reaching the summit of the mountain. In that moment, you feel victorious, confident, a sense of freedom and invigorating peace. God asks us to remain there and completely surrender our distractions. It’s there that we unpack, we encounter, and experience God by simply recognizing God in our stillness (Ps 46:10). God asks that we be present to him in prayer, that we recognize his presence in our lives and whole-heartedly allow him to reveal himself to us. During the transfiguration, after Peter, James and John had experienced the glory and dazzling brightness of God, they were completely moved by the experience that they didn’t want to leave (Lk 9:28-34). In our prayer life, we should have the heart of Peter; totally moved by the presence of God that we desperately want to prepare a tent for Him within our hearts, begging him to spend the night. Recognize God’s presence in your life, and prepare a place for him to remain. God wants to reveal himself to you, he wants to speak to you. By being present in prayer, we are surrendering to the workings of the spirit and the life of grace. This takes patience, endurance, and total trust in God’s divine plan. Essentially, remaining in the presence of God in prayer is about awareness, recognition and seeing. It is recognizing with the heart, that the spirit of God is alive and active in this moment, and in this place.


Basically, what I’ve come to understand about my own prayer life is that it requires a certain type of longing; a longing for peace, maybe answers, a longing to be always united with God. It also involves an ascent of the heart, mind and soul; like incense rising up, it needs to be a movement that perseveres through any doubts or discouragements, it needs persistence. Thirdly, prayer should be about honesty with myself, coming to terms with any imperfections; an element of affective prayer that can help unveil our identity in Christ. Lastly, prayer demands a whole-hearted presence, one that involves surrender and seeks an encounter with God by reflecting on the ways he is present in the now. Try these out next time you're in prayer. 


+Br. Vince Mary

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Emmanuel: the Entrance into Inadequacy

We are now a little over a week into the new year. What comes with that are new goals, new strivings and resolutions. Perhaps new jobs, new territories in our lives and careers, even new relationships. Energy levels are high, we might feel motivated to begin the trek toward those goals or excitement to start the new year, excitement to start the day. However, we all know that at some point, the honeymoon ends. Hopefully it’s not on January 1st, but there does come a time when those feelings of excitement, motivation and confidence diminish and we’re left with sadness, discouragement, lack of initiative, depression, Inadequacy and self-doubt. What these negative feelings do is prevent us from true encounter with the living God, who has come as a baby, to save the world. 

 I recently wrote a reflection during the Christmas season that I believe can give us hope and help even in the Ordinary Time that follows after Christmas. 

During the Christmas season especially, if your a student your getting ready for finals week, mothers are doing shopping and preparing for guests, cleaning the house. Fathers are working, trying to make just a few extra bucks. All of this can be very exhausting and in a sense, it can allow us to discover our own limits very quickly. All of a sudden we realize that there are some things we just can’t do on our own. What do we do at this point?

 As a student in formation and full-time studies, it didn’t take long before I realized my own limitations. I reached a stand-still moment where I felt like I had done everything I could do, I had used up all of my energy, all my strength and still, it was not enough.  Tired and burned from all the work I had done, it was still not enough. My prayer was not good, and my academics weren’t either. I was missing the mark, despite all the work I was putting in, I felt like everything about myself was a fraud. What I felt were feelings of inadequacy, I felt insufficient, weak and disappointed in myself. 

But I later found out that what those feelings brought me was a realization of how much I need help, namely, from God. By reflecting on my own need, I was able to see our human nature as a whole, always needing help from the One who has held us in His hands since the very beginning. Without that divine assistance, our lives will always remain faulty, deficient and incomplete because what we really long for is that intimate reunion with God, whose nature is to Love. As much as we want to do things on our own, we soon will realize that we can only get so far. We need God and He wants us to allow Him into our lives just like He did at Bethlehem. You and I are not perfect beings, and as much as we try to be perfect we will always miss that mark, it’s in our nature. Sin literally means to “miss the mark.” That is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for that mark, or perfection, but to desire perfection. Matthew tells us at the end of Chapter 5, “Be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) 

What that requires is a prayer that comes from each of our hearts. The one that comes to Jesus in the crib, with full admittance of our weakness and our shortcomings, ready for healing, and with enough humility say to Him, “God, I can’t but You Can.” That’s the message of the Incarnation at Christmas. That our God who knows and understands our sinful nature, has humbled Himself so that He be born into our insufficient, weak and miss-the-mark humanity in order to live with us, and breathe with us. We have a God who enters into our brokenness and walks with us. In His birth, God gives us a message that I found to be very comforting for me in my studies, and I was able understand Christmas in a completely new way. 

God speaks to us in His birth and says, “I know you are inadequate, I know you are weak and hurting, but so am I, and I am with you now.”

I think at the heart of this is recognizing that we each need a Savior, one who leads us, redeems us and points us to every good thing that our souls can ever want. That means Himself in which we are perfected, His presence and His love in which we are fulfilled. What we need in this ordinary time is still the reminder of Christmas, that the Emmanuel God who comes down to be with us even at our weakest, darkest state, not only comes to be with us, but comes to live among us in the form of a man. That is a relational God, who wants nothing more than for us to be close to Him, even in those times we feel we are not enough. It’s in those times that God is able to say to us,  “You are enough, because I am enough.”

“We have a Savior and we have a compassionate God, who does not make everything perfect with some magic wand, but instead He comes to us and says I am here, and I will suffer with you, I will hurt with you, I will cry with you and endure with you.-Fr. Chris Gama OFM Cap


Friday, December 22, 2017

Stigmata of St. Francis: 3 ways toward holiness

When Saint Francis received the Stigmata or the Holy wounds of Christ, one can say that this was God’s way of answering the prayer of Francis. He asked God for two things. One, to let him experience the suffering Christ endured on the Holy Cross and two, for him to experience the love in which He did it. Receiving the Sacred Stigmata was an experience that led Francis to be totally transformed, leaving in his heart a marvelous fire in the remaining years of his life.
According to the writings of Saint Bonaventure, Saint Francis was “led by divine providence to a high place apart called Mount La Verna.” (FAED II, Ch. 12) Two years before his death, in what was his usual custom of fasting for 40 days in honor of Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Francis would “experience more abundantly than usual an overflow of the sweetness of heavenly contemplations.” (FAED II, Ch. 12)
In the days of the Exaltation of the Cross, Saint Francis was praying on the mountainside of Mt. La Verna and he saw a six-winged seraph, fiery as well as brilliant, descend from the grandeur of Heaven. Bonaventure writes, as the vision was disappearing, it left in his heart [Francis] a marvelous fire and imprinted in his flesh a likeness of signs no less marvelous. The Sacred Stigmata of the Crucified Christ were now embroidered into St. Francis and the mark of Christ’s love were now visible to him and all who were around him. Here are some lessons from Francis’ experience that can help us in our own journey towards holiness.

Be Marked 

Be Marked by the love of the Beloved. Bonaventure tells us that it was a custom of St. Francis to never rest from lifting himself up in prayer. He was always found in prayer, seeking the solitude of the quiet he would frequently go off to pray. He made himself available to God by his own desire to be transformed by God. He prayed out of perfect joy and perfect love, because of this, the very marks of Christ’s wounds were engraved in him. The beauty is that God wants to make His mark in us, He wants to trace us with His love and respond to our reaching hearts. The mark may not be a physical mark but an indelible, unfading and enduring mark of love and unity. The challenge, is allowing God to transform our lives just like He did for St. Francis. If you haven’t yet, allow God to make his Mark within you, and trust that through that mark, your life will be a fulfillment of His love, and a mark of discipleship. By this mark of love, we can enter into a relationship of prayer with Jesus Christ.



Gaze on the Crucified Christ

When Francis witnessed the six-winged seraph, he immediately recognized the likeness of a man crucified. His hands and feet both extended in the form of a cross. At this, he eventually would learn that he would be transformed into the likeness of Christ crucified not by death but by the enkindling of his soul. Francis gazed on the Crucified Christ and it allowed him to be transformed. We can look on Christ crucified and recognize a poor, humble God who is the ultimate example of humility. The gaze for us is having an openness to God through the embrace of our hearts so that we too, can be transformed by the very seraphic spirit of God. It is a call to encounter God not only in the cross, but also in the suffering of our own humanity. By this gaze, we can have a real connection with those who are poor, those who are suffering, and those who are in fact, wounded in our own societies. It can also be a connection with ourselves who are often dead and broken from the effects of sin. In either one, the gaze on the Crucified Christ can guide us into a complete transformation out of ourselves and into the realm of the other, regarding their poverty, woundedness, suffering and lowliness with love. This is what St. Francis did. And it’s what Jesus did!
“In my deepest wound, I saw your glory and it dazzled me.” -St. Augustine

Look to the Cross

In Francis’ experience of the six-wing seraph, not only did he see a man who had been crucified, but he saw a man who has fastened to a cross. In Francis’s life, and even in today’s Franciscan spirituality, the cross is a constant source of prayer. Francis had a deep love for the Cross and for him it was a reminder of when Christ first spoke to him at Damiano. The cross for us is where we can encounter God’s love, it points us to the Resurrection and the truth that even in the most horrific and excruciating of deaths, God can still triumph. That example of the cross teaches us that despite death, chaos and violence there is in fact, glory, grace and peace. It reminds us that God is always near to us! Lastly, Bonaventure writes that the cross is a place where we can meet God and where the embrace of life with the cross can bring us to the happiness of our desires.
As we remember the Stigmata of St. Francis, may we always remember that Christ is present within us, wanting us to enter into His eternal glory. He places his mark within us and asks that we reach out to Him with a loving embrace in order that we be transformed just like St. Francis.
“Christ on the cross bows his head, waiting for you, that he may kiss you; His arms are outstretched, that he may embrace you, his hands are open, that he may enrich you; his body spread out, that he may give himself totally; his feet nailed, that he may stay there, his side open for you, that he may let you enter there.” -St. Bonaventure

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stain Glass Windows


A few months ago I was having a  conversation with one of my Capuchin Brothers. Together we were pondering how God, so abundant and giving of His love for us, has made us to be instruments of His peace. I remember us being in complete fascination at how God can make that possible. All throughout our year of formation talked about how great of an "Honor and a Privilege" it was to be apart of the Order of Capuchin Franciscans and even more so to be apart of God's family of messengers here on earth. That day among many, we were so grateful for the vocation and for the many ways God had allowed us to be the instrument of His love and brotherhood to all. Up to that point, we had run across so many people who were in dire need of some thing, some presence, or some type of healing. We would encounter people who had lost family members, lost homes, lost jobs, lost relationships and then in our encounter, they were longing for a comfort in the midst of their suffering and chaos. But it wasn't just the homeless that we encountered, often it was people living normal lives. Those working, those who have families, those we ministered with, even our own families and those we live with.

So as we sat there in front of the Starbucks talking and recounting all of our experiences up to that point, we were amazed at the fact that we we're commissioned to be Instruments and messengers of God's peace, mercy and compassion. As we were getting ready to leave, a homeless man approached us and thanked us for what we were doing. He thanked us for listening to him, he said "because we don't see this everyday" It was almost like this man was speaking on behalf of every person that had come before him and they were all thanking us. We both gave him a hug said goodbye and sat back down. That experience was so powerful that we didn't say a word because we were both in awe at what had just happened. I remember us drying our eyes before we ever said anything to each other.

Entrance at the front door of our Friary
That has been an experience that I always think back on. The overwhelming part for me is knowing that God has His hand on each of those encounters and allows us everyday to be what He needs us to be in the world. I think the natural tendency for us is to look at everything that we have done, those sins we have committed, our shortcomings and woundedness and we hold that up next to everything God has proven Himself to be in our lives and we say there's no way that God could use me because of this. Behind the scenes, these are all colors that God wants to use. We have a God who can redirect our previous way of life and use those grace-filled colors and stains of sin to create something beautiful, just like a stained-glass window. Though we are sinful in nature, our souls still have the capacity to love without any bounds when we let Christ be our light, radiating the image of his love everywhere we go. Together we are called to be instruments of His love, to be a window that allows Christ to shine through our own sinfulness in order that we be transformed. The result is a beautiful ray of light shining in our hearts, so God can use that to speak to His people.

So with Christ, let us always remember that where we've been and what we've done can never define who we are. All of those things are indeed grace-filled in some way and God wants to use everything that we are, sin and all to bring people into a relationship with Him. He wants to shine His glorious light through each of us so that he can reach those in the darkness. May we be open to God's presence in our lives, so He can shine in our hearts forever.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Gift & Grace, Spirit & Sport

It has become very clear to me through the help of my formators, spiritual directors, and brother friars that our lives are full of continuous instances of grace. Grace, in the measure that we recognize its presence, is always moving and is always active. We are moved by grace and we are born into the family of Christ's Mystical Body through the saving acts of Sanctifying Grace in our baptism. The Sanctifying Grace that we experience commonly comes from the seven sacraments offered by the church. Actual grace, seems to me to be the one that we experience at specific times. In prayer, in Eucharistic Adoration, maybe in sunsets or the outdoors, experiences of overwhelming peace and consolations that satisfy our souls I would say, are all examples of actual grace being present in our lives.

Basically, it is the invigorating presence of God allowing us to be moved into love for love of a living God. 

With grace, it's fascinating because we can't see it or touch it. We can, however, feel it emotionally, we can experience it and sense when the presence of God is near us and moving within us. The beauty of it all is that grace is always active in our lives, giving life to every living thing, guiding us in every circumstance and present in everything that we do. Throughout my years of formation I have learned much about the presence of grace and the spirit and my own need to respond to the actions of the spirit in my life.

That grace, is a gift, it is freely given because we are sons and daughters of God. Grace gives us life, the Spirit of God gives us life, and through it we can recognize God coming into our lives, born in our hearts to shatter our darkness and to bring life to a soul that might be dead.

I was reflecting the other day and thinking about the presence of grace, it's gift and how often I forget about it's very presence. How often do I forget about the presence of God and the real necessity to cultivate and train my soul and body to the ways of the spirit? There are many times in our days, in my days, when I might be so caught up with the things that I "need" to get done that I literally make no time to respond to the actions of the spirit. To use an analogy, it would be like somebody knocking at our door at different times of the day, without any answer and that person is virtually left outside, separated from our lives.

"To the Heights" on three!
All this week I was asked by Fr. Chris to help out at a Basketball Camp run by a Catholic based group called Frassati Sports & Adventure. We were invited to lead the group in prayer, help run drills and maybe ref some games. Fr. Chris was available for confessions and we celebrated daily mass throughout the week. It was great seeing these kids play the game and show tremendous improvement from the first day. Some of the drills included fundamentals like dribbling, passing, defensive slides, pick and rolls, communication, shooting forms and then competitions. Throughout the week, we talked about how the game of basketball can be very similar to the spiritual life. How we should be training to improve our game, our skill and our talents, understanding the game can similar to recognizing grace and the beautiful gift that has been given to us.

Whatever sport it may be, the reason that we train is to be the best, to train our muscles by memory, to form a habit and ultimately to conquer. It is the same with heroic virtue, the goal is to develop good habits that create a conviction to do good. "We are training for heaven. Forever!" The beauty is that the gift that we've been given can be formed and cultivated.

Alright so why all of a sudden am I talking about sports and training?

Fr Chris Gama & myself
Well the point is, if we can train our bodies and muscles to perform in our activity through sports, we can also learn to train our hearts, minds and souls to see and receive, the gift of grace and the spirit constantly at work in our lives. See the gift of grace, recognize the gift you've been given, practice it, and never forget that within both, the spirit and the sport, that God can always be glorified to a much greater degree when we are made aware of them. The grace and the spirit of God throughout history has been the help for all of mankind. In the spiritual life, we are slowly chipping away at ourselves with the help of God's grace and love, so that we can come to know ourselves and all that we were made for and from that, we see and recognize a God who points us to Himself. This is the gift of the sport [and the spirit], that by practicing it we see ourselves dimly in a mirror and slowly we begin to uncover the fruit that is being made by the work that has been done. God's working through you in Grace and in Sport. Practice it.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Saint Clare of Assisi: A Woman of Light.

These past few days I have been really fascinated by the life of St. Clare of Assisi. There are so many moments in her life that tell us how courageous she was, often trusting in God through providence, faith in his plan and portraying His light through her life of virtue. She was a model of virtue indeed, showing the people of her time true humility, obedience, firmness, gentleness, and compassion.

[a Light born for Light]

                Born a noble woman in a family of knights and wealthy relatives, her family was one of the largest in Assisi and they lived in the upper part of the city. At the time, only the wealthiest lived at the high ends of the city, while the poor lived in the lower city slums and the middle class lived somewhere in between. Born in 1194, she was given the name Clare from a vision that her mother had during pregnancy. As she was praying before the crucified Jesus for a healthy deliver, she heard a voice:

                “Do not be afraid woman, for you will give birth in safety to a light which will give light more clearly than light itself.”

Amazed at these words, her mother asked that her daughter be named Clare, which means, light or clarity. At a young age, Clare was taught the basics of faith by her mother, whose name is Ortulana, which means, gardener. A fitting name for a mother who cultivated a beautiful garden that would soon give many fruits for the whole Church in the years to follow.


[Splendor of an Early Saint]

In her early years, Clare was known to have a sincere heart molded by the Spirit interiorly, always giving to the poor and the needy out of the goodness of her soul. She prayed frequently, keeping prayer on her lips always. She began fasting and acts of penance as a means of mortifying the flesh and the “mirrors” of the world. She wore hair-shirts, slept on hard beds, and ate close to nothing during meal times with her family. Many times, she would gather leftovers to give to the poor and pray especially for those living in the slumps at the bottom of her city. When her family asked her to be married, she refused. When Lord Ranieri di Bernando of Assisi proposed to take her hand in marriage, she refused and vowed from then on to entrust her vocation and virginity to God himself.

             
   In her late teenage years, around seventeen, she heard of St. Francis and his zeal for Christ and He also heard of her, mostly because of her care for the sick and giving of alms that she did throughout her life. The two soon-to-be saints would meet with each other secretly for the next year, confiding in each other, encouraging each other, supporting each other, and building that community of faith that was first founded by Jesus in the first Apostles with Mary. Clare would share with Francis her desire to serve Christ by living out the gospel, seeking advice on how to do so. 


[the King's Marriage Proposal]

  In a planned event advised by St. Francis, Clare attended the Palm Sunday mass along with all the woman in the city being “beautifully adorned with flowers, in brilliance and with all their finery.” The custom then was to dress for the King’s entrance into the city, they would have done the same with their noble knights during the years of war. As the people began processing through the Church to receive their palms, Clare stood still shy and nervous. When all of a sudden, the Bishop of Assisi makes his way down to her after seeing her face and places in her hands a palm branch. Clare immediately, consoled by the Bishop’s gesture affirmed in her heart by way of peace the desire to serve God with all her mind and heart. This event indicates a few things: The bishop’s permission to flee her home and follow Christ, it affirms that Clare is participating in a spousal relationship with Jesus and recognizing her Honor as a true Bride. The marriage has been set!

 [a Happy Marriage]

That night Clare sneaks out of the back door of her family’s home, breaking through a door of wooden beams and an iron rod. She ran two or three miles through the city gates, down the hill of Assisi, and past the lower city slums to the small church, Saint Mary of the Portiuncula. There the brothers along with St. Francis would greet her and after putting aside everything she left in the city of Assisi she is sheared of her golden hair, and left with a tonsured head, a penitential act that is symbolic of entering into the religious life.


“A happy marriage and a happy profession, a chaste embrace, a joyful love, a sweet union, a restless desire, a fervent love! Great is the piety, wonderful is God’s honor through which the devoted soul is wedded to God, the fragile flesh to the Word, the lowly to the Most High, and the trifling to the dear!
  

[a Model of Love]

Soon after her family found out where she was and rushed down to the church of the Portiuncula with the intention of bringing her back home. Clare immediately grabbed the altar cloths and as her family began pulling her away, she revealed her tonsured head and her family left. She stayed in her place without the slightest thought of being separated from the love and service of God that she had already committed to.  Clare loved Jesus Christ so much that it bore fruit and caused many more woman to follow in her steps. She loved the Eucharist with great fervor and her love for Christ began to show in her prayers and love. Then encouraged by St. Francis, Clare would write the new and holy observance of the Poor Ladies, also known today as the Poor Clares.

"O how great is the vibrancy of this light and how intense is the brilliance of its illumination! While this light remained certainly in a hidden enclosure, it emitted sparkling rays outside...Yes, Clare hit, yet her life was come to light. Clare was silent, yet her fame was proclaimed. She was hidden in a cell, but was known in cities."


On August 9, 1253, two days before her death, she would receive the approved Form of Life issued and signed by Pope Innocent IV


Today, St. Clare is a model of faith, of light in the darkness of night. She’s a model of trust when there is no surety and courage when there is fear! St. Clare, pray for us! 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Jesus the Good Shepherd

“I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep and mine know me.”

In the Gospel of John we are given beautiful insight into the life and role of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Not only does Jesus lead us but he walks with us, guides us, anoints us and never abandons us. This image of the Good Shepherd is a reminder for us to experience the living, relational God, the Emmanuel God who is always with us.  The challenge is that we have a tendency to forget that what God has told us from the beginning as true. Jesus depicts us as the sheep of His flock for a reason. We are so easily led astray and it isn’t soon after that we feel God is the one who left us. Today in the Gospel reading of the Good Shepherd, Jesus reminds us that no matter what He will always be there for us and a part of our lives as much as we allow Him.

Many times in my encounter with the poor, the homeless or the distressed, there comes a cry that begs for the care that only the Good shepherd can give. One recent experience I had with a man named Tee in the nearby park was a very life giving moment. After seeing him a few times in the year, we always talked for long periods of time and almost always he expressed to me that he needed help, spiritual help. He said he felt alone and abandoned by his friends, his family and in many cases felt abandoned by God. I remember telling him that God never leaves us; He is always with us even when it feels like He’s not. He began to cry as he reached out for a hug; it was a beautiful moment because it was so simple. All this man needed was somebody to tell him that He was loved, that God was with him and it shattered his own thoughts of abandonment and cleared his day.

The unfortunate thing is that so often we are confound to believe that we aren’t worthy, that we are alone, that we should be ashamed, and afraid so why bother? There might be so much going on in our lives that in the mix of all the chaos and feelings of rejection we begin to think that we have no help, and that God is not even around to listen so why even bother to pray? These are the thoughts that are alive in our society and sadly it is part of the division that is present in our world. It’s what the evil one wants: to separate us from perfect union with God.

Today the Good Shepherd reminds each of us, that He is there at the moment of our suffering, in our darkest night. This union is a time to hear his voice, the voice of the Shepherd that accompanies us out of love. Jesus the Shepherd calls us to move out of those thoughts that tell us we are alone and move into the comfort of his guidance. It is a reminder to move into a life of sacramental grace by returning to His care and renewing our baptismal promise. Jesus knows us by name; He cares for us and loves us. He will always find us if we have strayed and even then will He hoist us up on his shoulders. Not only are we called to be the sheep of the Shepherd’s flock but we are also called to be Shepherds of Love, leading all to know the true Shepherd. May we come to know Christ the Good Shepherd, the God who walks among us, and never abandons us. Amen!

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