Archive for the ‘obedience’ Category

Duty is not a dirty word

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Today is Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.

For the last ten days, my parish (St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA) has been praying the nine-day novena to the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this novena, a 40-hour devotion was held in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

I tried to live up to my duty and participate fully in this prayerful time but fell flat after the fifth day of the novena. Still, I was looking forward to mass this Sunday in my church.

However, duty called.

King George VI understood about duty, despite his stuttering which made speech making nearly impossible.

Attending to my duty

As some of you already know, my husband Rich is a deacon in the Melkite Church which is Eastern Catholic. The liturgy is celebrated in the Byzantine tradition. It is a beautiful celebration that touches greatly upon the mystery that is our faith.

My feet of clay

I am not always up to the lofty state of mind that one needs to be in to attend these liturgies. It requires that you stand for pretty much the whole hour. This is a challenge for my bad feet and sore back.

The liturgy is entirely sung. Everyone sings which is commendable but the singing isn’t always good. Unless I am caught up in the Spirit of God, the singing can prove to be quite distracting.

I am not proud of the fact that these minor matters get in the way of worshipping God during these liturgies. But they do.

I really wanted to worship at my parish where the music can soar. But duty came first.

Saying goodbye

Rich had told me earlier in the week that a longtime and key member of his church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), Corinne, was leaving the state to be near her children. This woman had served Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 30 years and would be sorely missed.

Corinne had been one of many at Our Lady of Perpetual Help who had welcomed me as one of their own.  I wanted to say goodbye and wish her well.

Duty called, and I chose to attend liturgy at my husband’s church rather than our own.

Where duty led me

Each morning I dedicate my day to God with a prayer that Henri Nouwen prayed. In part it says, “I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me …”

I attended the liturgy. As a result, I experienced a gentle outpouring of the Spirit which I know I would have missed had I not done my duty.

The Spirit brings life

It began during the homily as Fr. Paul spoke of different times in the Scriptures when the Spirit was mentioned. He recalled Ezekiel 37 when the prophet Ezekiel saw the valley of dry bones come alive again into living, breathing people because he did his duty by obeying God and prophesying over them. A valley of bones rose to new life as a result.

The Spirit promises

Fr. Paul also mentioned Joel 2:28 and the promise of the Spirit:

It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.

What had the Spirit done for me?

It was then that I began to reflect upon the remarkable yet quiet transformation that had been going on in my life since I lost my mother two years ago.

In thinking about those readings, I realized that I was like those dry bones in the valley, brought back to life. I was dreaming dreams again. All of this because of the outpouring of the Spirit into my life.

Personal Pentecost

I began to experience a personal moment of Pentecost, becoming suddenly very aware of God’s presence pressing in on me from all sides. Rather than feeling oppressed, I felt liberated, deeply loved, and grateful for the wondrous gift God had bestowed on me in the wake of my grief.

And all this I was privy to because I had opted to do my duty.

Duty can be beautiful

Doing one’s duty is the most basic reason for doing anything. But as frail humans, sometimes it’s all we’re capable of at that moment.

How wonderful God is that He will bless my performance of duty! Because I had demonstrated to Him an openness to whatever He had in mind for me, I was able to receive His blessing.

Duty had opened the door.

I had prayed it that morning and performed it through my duty: “”I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me …”

Lay down your burden

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I just loved the homily given on Sunday by our pastor, Monsignor Mike Foley. He shared a true and compelling story of how he applied the above verses from the gospel reading to his own life.

Several years ago, Monsignor Mike was pastor to the largest parish in our diocese, St. Ann’s in Milford, MA. With approximately 3500+ families in the parish, St. Ann’s at one time had 5 priests to serve. Back in the early 2000′s, the death of a pastor caused the bishop to effectively “shuffle the deck”, redistributing pastors and promoting an associate to pastor to fill the various needs of the diocese. Monsignor was at the bottom of the deck. In the end, he was left alone at St. Ann’s without even the help of a deacon because the deacon was sick. He would not be able to get extra help for at least 3 months. On top of everything else, it was during the height of the sexual abuse scandal which rocked Boston and surrounding communities.

Monsignor knew he was in trouble. He described the various ways he could have reacted:

  • Get angry with the bishop
  • Work himself to death
  • Or turn to the Lord in prayer

He decided to turn the Lord in prayer. At at time when one would think more hours would need to be devoted to work, Monsignor Mike took 2 extra hours (together) out of his day to spend time with the Lord in prayer. He confessed his need and allowed the Lord to give him rest. He took the will of God (His yoke) on his shoulders, surrendering his own will for what he thought ought to be done, and surrendering the will and expectations of others.

In the end,  God showed him how to prioritize his work, helping Monsignor in his decision making, and ultimately, remaking the vision of the parish.

Monsignor Mike really shared from his heart. At one point, standing in front of the altar, he pointed back to the gospel book stating, ” I know that it works to allow God to carry your burden. I’ve lived it!”

All the while I’m marveling at the fact that this holy priest would spend 2 solid hours in prayer. As always, he, in essence, fertilized the desire already in me to deepen my prayer. It’s so helpful when God sets before you such wonderful examples like Monsignor Mike. We at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA are so fortunate!

I’ve already received what I want for Christmas

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Lately two dear friends have been on my mind. They both love God passionately and serve Him earnestly through their service of others. Yet their methods of service couldn’t be more opposite, and it shows the beauty and diversity of our God, and how His light shines brightly in so many different ways.

One friend serves the youth of our parish. She coordinates service projects, retreats, social outings . . . every week in the bulletin I see yet another opportunity for young people to engage with God in our parish. Her heart is as big as Texas, so warm and caring, and the kids see that. They also see (as I and many others do) this lady’s tireless efforts on behalf of Haiti. She has been involved with relief efforts in Haiti for years, spearheading fund raising for a new hospital, sending food and necessities to orphans, and even visiting Haiti on several occasions on mission trips. This year her entire family will join her on such a trip, on December 23. I am dumbfounded at her energy and commitment, especially as the needs in Haiti are so dire that just contemplating them for a moment totally overwhelms me. How brightly the light of Christ shines through her!

My other dear friend is home bound with a debilitating illness. Her love of God is equally strong and her light equally bright. Her service is in the form of prayer, meditating on God throughout the day and into the night, and praying for family and friends. She is a front line prayer warrior. She suffers in silence from her disease. But in the spirit of St. Therese The Little Flower and Mother Teresa, my friend works hard to put on a smile and a brave face, keeping her complaints to a minimum, and loving her friends with a sacrificial love that astounds me. Her sacrifices may seem small when in fact they are huge – going out to lunch with friends even though she feels ill enough to stay in bed all day; going on trips in the car with her companion even though riding in a car aggravates her condition; writing letters and Christmas cards even though her head is spinning. Her top priority is to treat people with kindness and focus on their needs even though she could so easily become self absorbed in her own.

The friend who serves the young people of our parish and the poor in Haiti challenged me to ask God for direction as to how I should serve. I felt like I needed to be ‘out there’ more, like my friend, putting myself out on the line. So far His answer has been to remember her, to bolster her in prayer as often as I could, and to remain alert and awake for opportunities. The home bound friend reminds me that kindness to even one person is what Jesus commanded us to do, for the image of God is in all of us. Kindness can be expressed in large ways, such as the service of my Haiti friend, or it can take a very small, humble, nearly invisible form, such as with my home bound friend.

Both forms of service are equally powerful, shining the light of Christ into our dark world, and both examples teach me so much about Christ and the spiritual life.

I don’t need any other presents this Christmas. Having these two special friends in my life gives me spiritual presents that could fill my house to overflowing. I only hope that I can begin to give to them what they have given to me.

Spiritual Prosperity – reflections on readings for December 10, 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Here are today’s readings
Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm 1:1-4,6; Matthew 11:16-19

Today’s responsorial psalm struck me today (bold italics are my emphasis):

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

He is like a tree
planted near running water,

That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.

I stopped when I read it because it rang so true. Being on the same page with Jesus guarantees prosperity. Not prosperity such as the world understands it (money, power, fame, etc.), but a different kind of prosperity – peace, joy, love:  the fruits of the Spirit, which cannot be contained within and shine out as a beacon of light, the light of Christ.

Lately I have found people asking me for prayer. And I’ve had people tell me that I have blessed them. I know it’s not anything I am deliberately doing, except perhaps the act of trying to remain in God’s presence at all times. That constant clinging to God, running to His side, keeping an ear open for His soft voice, feeling that longing in my heart for Him – these things drive me to Him and I’m guessing that because of that, the light of Christ is somehow getting past me and getting out for the world to see. It’s certainly not because of any good that I purport to do.

My thoughts again drift to Mary who because of her oneness with God, produced the greatest fruit of all – the baby Jesus. Talk about prosperity!

I saw this cool section in a book I am reading (again) called The Prayer of Mary by Keith Fournier. In the preface he writes:

” . . . He [Christ] took up residence in a womb [Mary's], making it a tabernacle of flesh. The work of redemption began in utero . . . Mary was the first evangelist, bearing witness of Christ’s incarnation to her cousin Elizabeth. She won the first convert in utero, in the person of John the Baptist . . .”

Remember the votive candle post from a few days ago and how the light of Christ was within the womb of Mary? Mary was following today’s responsorial psalm, delighting in the Lord and staying close to Him and because of that, she prospered. And because she prospered, the light of Christ within her could not be contained and the babe in Elizabeth’s womb sensed it and leapt for joy!

This kind of prosperity is the one kind we can take with us when we depart this earth. As long as we work for it and deeply desire it, we can never lose the treasure of Christ’s light within us. And because we prosper, we light the way for others to follow along with us.

And believe me when I say that the world’s prosperity (money, fame, power, etc.) cannot even begin to match the benefits of spiritual prosperity. Having experienced both to a degree, I am so glad I am here now and would never go back.

Mary’s Silent Burden, and Her Solace

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Last night at Mass, Monsignor Mike preached about the true meaning of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: that this feast celebrated Mary’s conception, not our Lord’s. While preaching about Mary being born without Original Sin, he made an important point: Mary was the first creature to be born since the creation of man without the veil that separates man from God. He went on to say that our true selves are meant to be in total union with God, to be one with Him, and the veil of Original Sin acts as a wall, impeding that relationship. Jesus came to lift that veil so that we could be one with God again, but His coming did not eradicate sin from our world. He opened the door to heaven for us so that one day, the veil could be completely lifted and sin could be wiped out of our lives.

Mary was one with our Lord, right from the first moments of her creation. She was born to be her true self, without any veil. She was singled out to be completely pure. Isn’t it ironic then that Mary, who was chosen to bear the unknowable, unfathomable God incarnate in her womb, had to bear the ‘sin’ of being pregnant without being ‘married’?

I realized that this ‘sin’ would not only cause her grief at the beginning (in trying to explain the situation to her betrothed, Joseph, and to her family), but it probably followed her for the rest of her life. She was able to tell Joseph and Elizabeth, her cousin, the truth and they either believed right away or came to believe through the help of God’s grace (Elizabeth by her pregnancy, Joseph by an angel in a dream). But what of her immediate and extended family? What of her neighbors? What must it have been like to tell them? Did she tell them the truth as well? Did the ‘stain’ of this ‘sin’ follow Mary for the rest of her life? I had never thought before of the silent burden she would have to bear as the people she knew and loved perhaps wanted to cause her shame. They would never understand the glorious union she had with God, not only as His pure vessel, but as His only spouse, and the mother of His Son. Surely that knowledge and the memory of Christ in her womb (as well as Him being in the world) was her solace. But her silent burden was a foretaste of what Jesus would know in His life on earth – knowing who He was but being so misunderstood by His own people, especially His own kin and neighbors!

Yet despite this burden, Mary, in a sense, had Jesus all to herself during those 9 months of pregnancy. Anytime the sting of her ‘shame’ would hit, she could meditate on the Son of God, warm and safe in her own womb. Containing the uncontainable – what solace that must have been!

While we may not have the privilege of housing the incarnate God in our bodies, we do house the Holy Spirit. And we too can share the intimacy that Mary shared with Jesus, especially by partaking the Eucharist. As her blood flowed to her baby, nourishing Him and helping Him to grow, so now we can have His precious body and blood flow throughout our blood, to every cell in our bodies. While it would have been extraordinary to meet Jesus in person as a man, we can meet Him at any time, in any place simply by calling out for Him. We can even receive the Eucharist virtually by meditating upon it. We indeed have an extraordinary opportunity!

Thanks be to God that Mary said yes and willingly went through her silent burden, and the other sufferings to come as the “sword pierced her heart” to work with God to bring Jesus to the world!

Submit, obey, surrender – are these really bad words?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Here are the readings for today.
Ephesians 5:21-33; Psalm 128:1-5; Luke 13:18-21

Here is the Divine Office – click on Office of Readings.

Submit. Obey. Surrender. These words appeared again and again in both the daily readings and the Divine Office, Office of Readings. Here are some examples:

Antiphons from the Divine Office (from Psalm 37):

  • Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
  • Turn away from evil, learn to do God’s will; the Lord will strengthen you if you obey him.
  • Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way.

And today’s first reading from Ephesians is the famous (or infamous) passage about submission and specifically, wives submitting to their husbands:

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the Church,
he himself the savior of the Body.
As the Church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Words like submit, obey and surrender are considered dirty words, especially in American society where rugged individualism, acquiring wealth and power, and making it to the top no matter what are of primary importance to so many. For women especially, these are fighting words (understandable since women have known oppression all over the world for so long, and so many still do).

What’s often missed, however,  is verse 21 which comes just before that section:

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This here is the key. Submit, obey and surrender don’t have the same meanings when applied to God. As is so common in the Christian life, things are not as they appear. In the world these words bring to mind slavery, captivity, restraint, limitation, imprisonment or subjection. In the eyes of God, submit, obey and surrender actually mean true freedom.

If I am to be subordinate to the Lord, I must learn to trust Him. Trust is not learned overnight, especially if your trust has been betrayed by those you love. I need to be intimate relationship with God and pursue Him constantly. As that relationship grows, I find that my desire to be subordinate grows too because I learn to trust Him.

A few years ago, anxiety over our finances ruled my life. I would wake up at 4am and worry myself sick until it was time to get up. I would make myself physically sick because of worry. I also disrupted the lives of my family members because of that worry.

I pursued a relationship with God but did not understand at the time about subordinating myself to Him. He in his graciousness showed me how even when I didn’t directly ask for it. Slowly He transformed me and in time, I learned to let go of my worries; I stopped trying to control every aspect of my life. In return, I found a deep and lasting peace – freedom from my worry -  which I wouldn’t trade for the world.

When I had my worry replaced by His peace, my relationships with family members improved, especially with my husband. I began to learn what sacrificial love was and desired to practice it. We became subordinate to each other our of our love for Christ.

Submit, obey and surrender are no longer dirty words to me. God has transformed their meaning for me into something beautiful and very desirable.