He’s Not Finished with You Yet

Image: Hattiesburg Community Church

When do the Lord’s plans for us run out?

Does He stop doing ‘new things’ after our eightieth birthday? Surely ninety is too old for His mercies to still be new every morning? Clearly, though, this is not the Biblical witness. Think of Abraham and Sarah. Think of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Still, to many elderly men and women, entering a “senior living” facility symbolizes the end of life’s exciting adventures. At least, that’s what Sherry* thought when she moved into Belmont Village. After selling her home and handing over her bank accounts to her adult children, Sherry transitioned into what she assumed would be a quiet life of cribbage and quilting until her time in this world was up. Having been widowed for sixteen years, she believed that the best of her life was behind her. To her great surprise, however, some of her best days were yet to come.

Sherry has been a fervent and faithful Catholic her whole life-long. It was a deep sadness for her that her husband of so many years did not share her love and enthusiasm for the faith. He was fine with the kids being raised Catholic, but he was no praying man himself. Sherry dreamed of being able to go to Mass with her other-half, of sharing times of prayer and reflection together. But it was not to be so with her husband… at least, not with the first one.

Sherry never imagined, in her wildest dreams, that she would marry again at the age of ninety-one. But her friendship with her hallmate at Belmont, Charlie, was making her feel things she hadn’t felt since she was a teenager. When he walked into the room, she got butterflies in her stomach. Time in his presence passed without her notice. They seemed to just fit together, effortlessly, like hand in glove. After just a few months of knowing each other, Charlie asked Sherry to marry him.

There was no question in Sherry’s mind. This was meant to be. Far above and beyond the ease in their relating with one another was the spiritual life they were able to share together. Like Sherry, Charlie was a long-time devout Catholic. He attended daily Mass, and he made frequent visits to the chapel for times of prayer. Here, finally, was a man with whom Sherry could share not only her heart, mind, and body, but her soul as well. The local parish priest was, expectedly, surprised by the news of their engagement, but he was, nonetheless, supportive and encouraging of their new sacramental life together.

When I first met Sherry, only four months into her new marriage, she was aglow with the joy and love of her second union. It was such a wonderful blessing to meet with her and to hear her love story with Charlie. In addition to attending daily Mass and praying a daily rosary, Charlie and Sherry spent time together in the chapel each and every day, resting silently in the presence of the Lord and of one another. At ninety-two years old, Sherry said that she had never been happier.

My video calls with Sherry were incredibly reinvigorating for me. Her joy and her gratitude were both inspiring and challenging. At precisely the moment in her life when she surrendered most to the Lord—giving up her home and her familiar life—in order to follow where she felt He was leading her, Sherry received something she had longed for her entire life.

The Lord’s plans are always so much bigger and so much better than our own. I recognize many ways in which I limit the Lord’s action in my life by my attempts to manage my own happiness and my own ministerial success. Sherry has taught me the importance of surrendering my plans and my desires to the Lord, trusting in His providence and care. Although I may see an end in some personal or pastoral situation, it very well could be just the beginning.

Rightly does the author of Lamentations exclaim: “The Lord’s acts of mercy are not exhausted; his compassion is not spent. They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness! The Lord is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:22-24).

* All names of people and places have been changed to preserve privacy.

What is Wisdom?

St. Thomas Aquinas

“Wisdom from above is first of all innocent. It is also peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits, impartial and sincere. The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”
-James 3:17-18

What is wisdom? It seems to be one of those elusive concepts that cannot be defined in just a few words.

There also seem to be different types of wisdom. In this passage from the Letter of James, we hear about a “wisdom from above.” James describes this kind of wisdom as innocent, peaceable, docile, etc. But what exactly is this kind of wisdom, and how do we attain it?

A good man to turn to with such questions is always St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor.” In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas distinguishes between wisdom as an acquired intellectual virtue and “wisdom from above,” which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom as an intellectual virtue is right judgment about things attained by human effort through experience and reason. This type of acquired knowledge or virtue usually applies to particular areas. For example, someone can be a wise fisherman, a wise farmer, or a wise architect. Each of these would have many years of experience and acquired knowledge in their respective field.

The gift of wisdom, however, which “descends from above,” is right judgment about all things which is an effect of a person’s loving familiarity with God and His ways. A person who has the spiritual gift of wisdom is inclined toward right judgment in all matters because of his knowledge of and love for God. St. Thomas says that these judgments are based not “on the perfect use of reason,” but rather on an inclination or an affinity of myself to God.[1] An analogy for this kind of wisdom could be the inclination toward right judgment that a husband has in all things concerning his wife of many years. Because of his deep and profound relationship of love that the man has with his wife, he knows what decisions to make and what actions to take in their life together.

Wisdom from above is a mode of knowing which involves desire as well as intellect.

St. Thomas states that wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit is “more excellent than wisdom as an intellectual virtue, since it attains to God more intimately by a kind of union of the soul with Him,” and “it is able to direct us not only in contemplation but also in action.”[2] One’s knowledge of God and one’s love for Him lead to judgments and to actions which rightly order all things both within oneself and around oneself. Someone who knows and loves God as the highest cause is said to be wise “because he is able to judge and set in order all things according to Divine rules.”[3] This is why St. Thomas says that the ultimate effect of wisdom is being peaceable. “Wisdom is connected with peace since wisdom is the ability to put things in [right] order, and order results in peace.”[4]

Put very simply, wisdom from above is what St. Augustine had in mind when he wrote: “Love, and do what you will.” Growing in this kind of wisdom requires not mere academic study, but rather leaning against Jesus’ chest in intimate communion, like St. John the Beloved, getting to know His heart, His priorities, His vision. The Holy Spirit imparts “wisdom from above” that can direct both our thoughts and our actions as our love of God grows.

In the words of Thomas A. Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, “I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone. This is the greatest wisdom.”[5]

[1] Cf. ST 1a, 1.6 ad 3; 1a2ae, 68.1 ad 4; 2a2ae, 45.2–3. See also the entry for “knowledge, connatural” in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

[2] ST II, II, 45.3

[3] ST II, II, 45.1

[4] Edmond Eh, “Wisdom in Aristotle and Aquinas: From Metaphysics to Mysticism,” in Existenz, vol. 12, no. 2. Fall 2017.

[5] Thomas A. Kempis. The Imitation of Christ, book 1, chapter 1.

The Spirit that is Within You

Image: ©Kevin Carden/Goodsalt.com

We have a very wow-worthy faith. There are so many truths of our faith that move our hearts and minds with endless awe and wonder. One of these awe-some truths that the Church presents us with during the Easter Season is given in Romans 8:11- “The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” This is amazing!! “The baptized Christian is not only ‘in the Spirit,’ but the Spirit is now said to dwell in him or her” (Brown, 835). Through our Baptism and our Confirmation, THE VERY SAME Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me, dwells in you!

If this is the case, and we know that it is, what does it mean for our lives?

One thing it means is that we don’t have to stay locked in the tomb of hopeless, despair, insecurity, or fear. St. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:17 that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, then we are free to live a resurrected life, a life in the Spirit and by the Spirit. We are no longer slaves to fear. We are free to be fools for Christ, to follow the promptings of this Spirit within us in every moment and in every situation. Our self-confidence is not based on our own strength or ability, but on the power of the Risen Christ and of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

I had a wonderful experience of this new life in the Spirit as I was traveling back from the John Paul II Healing Center in Tallahassee two years ago. The Healing Center staff gave us what they called the “airport challenge.” They challenged us to be prayerfully resting in the Lord, secure in our identity as beloved sons of God, and to ask the Holy Spirit for opportunities to pray with people in the airport or on the plane. This is such an awesome way to live into this freedom of the Spirit because this kind of thing runs completely against the typical airport and airplane culture of keeping your head down, not making eye contact, and not intruding on anyone’s space.

As I took a seat in the terminal—again, resting securely in the Lord, calmly asking the Holy Spirit to guide me—I noticed that the woman sitting next to me looked sad. So, I struck up a conversation with her, and after a while I simply asked her if there was anything that I could pray for, for her. She looked me in the eyes, and just started crying. She told me that her husband of many years had died just a few months ago, and that she had just recently sold the house in which they had raised all of their kids. She was now traveling around to the various states where her adult children lived, trying to figure out what she should do next with her life. I asked her if I could place my hand on her shoulder, and I prayed for her out loud. After the prayer, she mentioned that a song that had been bringing her much consolation and peace during this time of grief was the song “Amazing Grace.” So, I sang the whole song for her, right there in front of everyone in the airport. She closed her eyes, and she allowed the Lord to touch and soothe her pain through my singing. Before we parted ways, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and simply said, “Jesus sent you to me.”

That woman didn’t know that I was a seminarian; she didn’t even know that I was Catholic. She just knew that a companion of Christ was with her, that Christ Himself saw her and sent one of His friends to visit her in her pain. This is what life in the Spirit of the Risen Christ looks like. This is the kind of life that I want to live as a baptized and Confirmed Catholic, and as a future deacon and priest. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us. If we live by that Spirit, we can move about freely in this world, free of all insecurity and fear, and we can allow the Lord to work through us to bring Him to His people.

Whenever anything gets in the way of the wow-worthy reality of your Christian life, renounce the lies and barriers in Jesus’ name, and announce the truth of who God is and who you are in Him. Step out in faith like I did in the airport and live in the awe-some truth that the Spirit dwells in you.

Come, Holy Spirit. Stir into flame your Spirit that is within us! Amen.

The Cry of an Anguished Lover

The Cry of an Anguished Lover:
A reflection on Genesis chapter 3

“Where are you?”

The great tragedy of the human race… Man turning away from his Divine Lover in pursuit of lesser loves. Bishop Robert Barron once reflected on this Fall, calling the question of God in the Garden the “cry of an anguished lover.” For that is who God is to man: his Creator, yes, but only because of His passionate love for man. Since the beginning of time, God has been a passionate Lover seeking the hearts of men, not a tyrannical dictator angry at His disobedient subjects.

“Where are you?”

The tragedy of man’s Fall is not that we broke a rule, or failed to meet an expectation, or even that we ate a forbidden fruit. The tragedy of our Fall is that we forgot our Lover: the One who crafted us out of the clay with His own hands; the One who breathed His own Divine life into our nostrils, giving us our life; the One who prepared everything for us, and desired only that we would love Him in return.

“Where are you?”

What great sorrow that moment must have brought to the Divine Heart! The moment when His beloved took their gaze off of Him and looked to another, desiring lesser goods that would never satisfy them. To think of all the moments when you and I do this in our lives… The one and only thing that we have that God does not, but that He so desires, is our love for Him.

“Where are you?”

How easily man used to walk in friendship with God. After their Fall, the Lord came “walking in the cool of the day,” seeking the presence of His beloveds. This is the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God… He certainly knew what had just transpired in the Garden and where Adam and Eve were hidden. And yet, still He asks…

“Where are you?”

We could hear this question as, “Where are you in relation to me? What has become of your love for me? Where are you?”

The cry of the anguished Lover. Not entirely unlike the anguished cry of the wife whose husband has been unfaithful. Except it’s even more tragic here. Man chooses to sever ties with his Maker, rejecting His love.

“Where are you?”

And instead of seeking reconciliation with their Lord once they had recognized how terribly they’d fallen, they pointed fingers and allowed something new, something foreign to now course through their veins: pride. Oh, wretched pride! The true source of all human sin.

“Where are you?”

Such unfaithful beloveds. If it had been any kind of human love that God had for His people, this would have been the end of it all. Betrayed and heartbroken, God could have given us what we truly deserved: a final death.

But no! So far above human ways are God’s, and so immense His love for His creation that this is not how the story ended. He sent us out of the Garden because of our choice, but with an angel to guard it for our eventual return. He promised a New Eve and a New Adam, one who would defeat Satan and reconcile man to Himself. What He gave in return for our unfaithfulness was not condemnation, but hope. For so great is God’s love for us.

“Because you are precious in my eyes, honored, and I love you.”
-Isaiah 43:4-

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
-Romans 5:8-

Arise, My Child

My child,

You’ve fallen once more on your journey. You were quite pleased and thankful for the progress, by the grace of God, you were making before that moment came. Always be wary that your thankfulness does not turn into pride, for it is at that moment when you forget your dependence on God and you open yourself up for attack by the enemy of your soul.

And so you fell, and your spirit wept bitterly. You fell, not from the secure embrace of your Father, but from the high-backed horse upon which you allowed yourself to climb. Even now, you hang your head in shame, but I say to you, get up! Do not let your gaze linger any longer on the dirt beneath you. Get up! Do not give the devil a chance to work on you. You do not belong down there, in that place of oppression and groaning, but the devil so enjoys having you there.

My child, don’t you realize how quickly a father reacts when his son falls and gets injured? He rushes immediately to his aid, embracing him and lifting him up, covering all his wounds. No earthly father leaves his precious child there alone to soak in his misery before coming to save him. Not for any time at all! It is even more so with your Heavenly Father. How quickly He is there, all around you and within you, the second after you’ve suffered your fall! He really never left you; it was you who allowed your sight to be clouded.

So rise, now, the instant after you realize where you are! Never delay, letting yourself be consumed by your anguish and sorrow. Do not forget that your freedom was purchased at a very great price. Claim it, my son! Claim your freedom in Christ Jesus, even after you have momentarily strayed from Him. Do not hesitate. Let your dust fall to the wind as you take the merciful hand outstretched to you.

When you allow Him to lift you up into His merciful love, you give Him the joy of being your Savior. Oh how he cherishes that role He has in your life! Come to Him in the Confessional to be healed and released from your transgression, like a patient comes to his doctor for restoration, but do not wait until that visit to rejoice and give thanks! Turn your heart from sadness to joy and thanksgiving even now, the instant after you have fallen; not because of what you have done—you will always be frail and prone to falling on your own—but because of the great mercy and love you know the Father has for you in all of your wanderings.

I think that you will find that the greatest source of your sorrow and shame comes not from despairing of God’s mercy—you know and trust in that already—but rather it comes from the damage your fall causes to your spiritual reputation, to your pride. Why are you surprised that you fell again and so soon after the last? My son, you yourself are capable of nothing else. It is God alone who does good things in and through you, even in your innermost spiritual life, by His grace. Rather than despairing over this reality in the midst of your guilt after your fall, keep your dependence on God always before your eyes. Never credit your own ability, strength, or ingenuity for any success or goodness you have in your life. Always remind yourself that the credit belongs to the Giver alone.

In this way, you will come to see your sin as nothing more than it really is: a distractedness, a split second of taking your eyes off of His loving gaze. Don’t give it any higher standing in your life than this. Do not give Satan the honor of keeping you disconnected from the peace of your Divine Lover for any length of time. Simply smile at your littleness, and lift your arms for your Father to pick you up—back into His care, His peace, and His joy.

He delights in you, little one. Always.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-Romans 8:38-39-

Jesus! You Are, I Am



You are.

You are mine.

You are my heart’s desire,
my question’s answer,
my reason for being,
for moving,
for speaking,
for singing.

You are.

You are my rock and my redeemer,
my light to pierce my darkness,
my shield from all that hurts me.

You are.

You are my joy and my salvation,
my hope and inspiration.

You are.

You are my friend and my consoler,
my brother,
my counselor,
my leader,
my Lord.

You are.

You are loving and forgiving,
understanding and all-knowing.

You are.

You are present here before me,
living here within me,
breathing in and through me.

You are.

You are always trying to show me,
trying to love me,
to lead me.

You are.

You are heartbroken by my sadness,
by my blindness,
by my deafness.

You are.

You are longing to come heal me,
to console and carry me.

You are.

You are smiling down upon me,
but wanting much more for me.

And I…

I am.

I am blind,
and deaf,
and mute.

I am.

I am, to me:

I am.

I am, to You:
and beautiful;
loved and loveable,

I am.

I am precious.

I am worth dying for.

I am.

I am, in You, FREE.

Responding to God’s Call: Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Today we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who is a remarkable example to us of what it looks like to lay down one’s life out of love for God and one another. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan missionary priest who founded the Militia Immaculata, a movement that encourages total consecration to the Blessed Mother, and he died in the Nazi concentration camp in Auchwitz, where he offered up his life in place of another prisoner.

This amazing act of self-sacrifice is a reminder to all of us that there is a higher purpose to our lives than simply seeking to fulfill our own desires and securing a comfortable future. In the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours today, Saint Maximilian Kolbe writes about God’s plan to use us as His instruments, and the freedom that comes from obedience to His will. He says, “It is he who, declaring his adorable will to us through his representatives on earth, draws us to himself and whose plan is to draw others to himself through us and to join us all to himself in an ever deepening love. […] Obedience raises us beyond the limits of our littleness and puts us in harmony with God’s will.”

Our society today balks at this kind of obedience, this surrender to God. Our society preaches that freedom comes from following our own desires and placing ourselves at the center of our own worlds. We know, however, that true freedom comes not in doing what we want, but in doing what we ought out of love. I think one of the most difficult things for us is surrendering not to God’s will in the general, abstract form, but surrendering to God’s imagination of how He desires to use us as His instruments in this world. One of the deepest desires of the human heart is to be useful, to have purpose, to be used by God in a meaningful way. Our place of surrender, of obedience, is in allowing God to work in our lives and to use us in ways that we don’t always expect or want at first. I’m sure that being a prisoner in Auchswitz and giving up his life in the way he did was not what Saint Maximilian Kolbe had planned for his vocation. I doubt he realized at the time how great of an impact that act of love, that act of active acceptance of God’s invitation, would have on the world for generations to come.

So too does God desire to use you and me in ways only His imagination knows. In today’s First Reading from the Book of Joshua, God reminds the Israelites of how He has faithfully taken care of all their needs as they follow after Him, just as He takes care of ours when we follow Him in our own lives. Where will our eyes be set when He invites us, each day, to lay down our lives out of love, so that He can work through us to touch the lives of others? Will we be focused on ourselves and securing our own daily comfort, or will we be ready and open to respond to His call? Pope Emeritus Benedict said that, “The world will offer you comfort. But you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness!” Let’s follow after Christ, follow after Saint Maximilian Kolbe, in living lives of greatness through surrender to the unconventional and even surprising ways, big and small, that Our Lord will invite us to love. Only in this way can we experience true freedom, peace, and joy. In the words of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, “Let us love our loving Father with all our hearts. Let our obedience increase that love, above all when it requires us to surrender our own will. Jesus Christ crucified is our sublime guide toward growth in God’s love.”

In being crucified to our own will with Christ, we too will rise with Him in the joy of the Resurrection.

True Freedom in Christ

This reflection was given at an adoration and benediction service on August 12, 2015.

Brothers and sisters: That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” –2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Click here to listen: True Freedom in Christ

What’s Your Golden Calf?

“When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.'” -Ex. 32:1

When God seemed far away from the Israelites in the desert, they grew impatient and rebellious. Instead of waiting with faith on their one true God, they turned to a man-made god that they could see and control on their own–a golden calf. They worshipped this idol instead of the God who gave them life and led them out of slavery, but who they couldn’t control. It’s easy for us today to scoff at the kind of idolatry the Israelites took part in. But don’t we do this in our own lives? We all have things we turn to instead of God when it feels that He is distant or not active enough. What is the “golden calf” that we trust and worship more than Our Lord? Is it our own ability and self-determination? Is it money, other material things, or other people? Let’s be courageous in giving God permission to crush all the golden calves in our lives, and humbly ask that He never cease drawing our hearts back to Himself–the only One worthy of our worship. +

Are We Listening?

“The disciples approached him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?'” -Mt. 13:10

Jesus speaks to us in many different, often unexpected ways. During His time on earth, one way He did so was through parables–stories about everyday things which the people were familiar with. We often think that God will speak to us in grandiose, powerful ways that will be loud and obvious. (At least, we wish He would.) But He speaks to us through the situations, people, and experiences of our everyday lives. Are we attentive to Him in these things? Do we recognize His still, small voice as we go through our days? Let’s always be open to however God wants to teach us, speak to us, and direct our paths. Lord, give us eyes of faith, attentive ears, and open hearts to recognize and respond to Your presence every day. +