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In this time of advent, we prepare as Mary did, to welcome Jesus. Through the Annunciation, Mary was accepting all that would take place in the life of her Son. His birth, childhood, mission on earth, miracles, persecutions, crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven and sending of the Holy Spirit. Mary always endured these moments with perfect faith, hope and peace. I share this poem as a prayer of thanksgiving to Mary for her YES. By her openness to the Holy Spirit, she contributed to the redemption of mankind by giving life to Emmanuel; God with us.
Will we come to the humble cross,
And kneel at Mary’s side?
To contemplate this gruesome loss,
Our Savior who has died.
In silence do we bear the pain?
Submit to greater love.
To know this Lamb who has been slain,
Was sent from up above.
With eyes of Mary, let us see,
That light and hope remain.
His body hung upon the tree,
Will come to life again.
Oh Perfect Hope and Loving Heart,
Come to our aid we pray.
To never leave nor to depart,
But guide us on our way.
To you our Mother, Queen and Guide,
We give you all we are.
Into your heart, let us abide,
Most Holy Perfect Star.
What is love? This is perhaps the greatest question man can ask. It requires the honest pursuit of purpose and meaning for our lives and our relationships. Unfortunately in English, love is a noun which expresses affection for a pair of shoes, the man/woman we love and even God. We are unable to differentiate between the categories of love that exist. It’s obvious that we “love” our shoes in a different way than we love our husband/wife. This construct of the English language is extremely limiting, unlike Greek which uses four separate nouns to express different categories of love.
Love is often associated with a feeling or an emotion. It is often understood as a purely romantic or sexual desire. When I speak to high schools students about love and sex, there is some serious confusion. Most young people associate sex as the greatest expression of love. For years they were told that dating and sex go together, pleasure is the ultimate purpose of sex, and that something is wrong with them if they aren’t sexually active. This often results in men and women who live marriage-like relationships exempt from any longterm commitment or vows that support and anchor their decision to remain together. This leads to a lot of problems for our hearts and our bodies. Couples endure while the love is strong. As the feelings fade, so does the relationship.
So we’re left with a lot of ideas about love. For some love can be; sex, pleasure, chemistry, feelings, happiness, exciting or destiny. I even find myself caught up with the fairytale version of love and romance. Perhaps this is the result of the many cheezy chick flicks I watched during high school, or disney movies as a child! Though incredibly entertaining, I picked up on some false ideas of love… these ideas still have a way of getting into my head.
As I get older, and grow in my faith, the desire to understand love grows within me. Especially in the relationship with my boyfriend. Saying “I love you” requires an understanding of all that love entails. It is one thing to say those three words to him, but the actions need to follow. I want to show this love with a genuine heart and pure intentions. Love is a big deal. It does not come from hollywood movies, feelings or emotions, nice looking princes… it comes from the Cross. We’ve maybe heard this before, but it is so true. The Cross of Jesus Christ is the symbol of love. Love is not selfish. Love is sacrificial. Love endures. Love is patient. Love does not boast. Love is not rude. Love never ends ( shout out to St. Paul for helping me articulate the depths of love through the Letter to Corinthians).
The greatest love stories are found in the bible. Jesus life, death, and resurrection is the ultimate example. Healing the sick, preaching to the poor, dining with sinners and outcasts. Sinless and innocent, Jesus who is love, freely accepts death to free mankind from sin and death. It’s a love that gives. A love that is free. A love that endures. A love that is constant. A love that forgives. A love that gives life.
The life of Mary is another love story. She accepts the message from the angel which announces that she will be the mother of God. Alongside Joseph, she raises and teaches Jesus in the Jewish faith. She remains at the foot of the Cross during the crucifixion and death of her Son. In all of these instances, Mary’s love is pure. It’s a love in times of confusion. A love that provides. A love in the darkness. A love in times of injustice. A love that hopes. A love that is faithful. A love that perseveres.
Only through these stories, lives and examples of faith, do we come closer to understanding love. As I strive to grow as a Catholic woman, girlfriend, daughter, sister, auntie and friend, I hope to keep this in my mind and heart. Our love is not dependent upon our feelings. It’s not motivated by sexual desires. It’s not about self-gratification. Our love should be radical like Jesus and Mary. They loved in the moments which were incredibly dark, painful and complicated. They model what we are called to do. To actualize this love, we need the heart of Jesus himself. We definitely can’t do that on our own. Goodness me, I have trouble loving the person who cuts me off in traffic. It’s only by his grace that we can come nearer to this kind of love.
“May the Heart of Jesus Christ be our School! Let us make our abode there. Let us study its movements and attempt to conform ours to them. Yes, O Divine Jesus, I want to live there” – St. Claude de Colombiere
With a title like that, I feel it would now be appropriate to :
a. Share some crazy rap lyrics that I’ve written
b. Post a photo wearing a gold dollar sign necklace
c. Insert a few 2Pac references/quotes
Hopefully it’s not too disappointing for you, but I will have to leave the gangster rap to Drake and his boys… perhaps one day the Holy Spirit will inspire me to rap.. oh man, that would be something else!
Actually, Tiny D and Biggie G have to do with a classic and famous story. One which might take you back to your own childhood. It is one of the most exciting bible narratives I heard when I was little; David and Goliath. It was always so impressive to imagine this young, tiny David facing the big and well known warrior Goliath. David, lacking weapons and experience was simply armed with courage in the Lord. When all things were going against him, David clung to his trust in God. He even has the guts to say the following, ” You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down…” 1 Samuel 17:45-46
Only a few verses later, David slingshots a stone into the forehead of his opponent, ultimately defeating the infamous Goliath and saving the people of Israel from destruction. It’s an epic story of how an unshakable faith, trust and confidence in God can bring about miracles.
This song below is actually what motivated me to write on this theme. In particular, I was touched by the following lines,
” So no more listing the reasons why I am unqualified. For you to use me. So come and use me”
“I will go where you lead. I will not be afraid. You are all that I need. You have called me by name”
We are the Tiny D! We are often up against so many giants; believing lies about ourselves and our worth, facing addictions, injustice, corruption, relativism, individualism, scandals, sinfulness. We may be tempted to believe that we are inadequate, incapable or unprepared for battle. Perhaps we are struggling to believe in the plan God has for us.
Despite these feelings, the Lord calls us to action: to stand up for our faith, advocate for truth, be the light, speak life. It takes courage, guts, faith and trust. We can’t do this alone. I know I have a few big giants in my midst. I don’t want them to rule my life. Instead, I want to pray for a faith like David. A crazy faith in the God of the universe who is always victorious, even against all odds. We might be the youngest, the most unexperienced, only armed with a few stones. But this is enough. He has given us everything we need in his Son. Let’s start praying for each other and keep this melody in our hearts and on our lips:
“I will go where you lead. I will not be afraid. You are all that I need. You have called me by name”
Whilst reflecting upon my blog (which I have severely neglected these past few months), it dawned on me that I avoid writing on any topics which are uncomfortable, challenging, dark, painful or difficult. This is not because my life is exempt from these circumstances, but rather because I choose to focus more on the positive. I make a conscious effort to dwell on truths which are uplifting, life-giving, joyful and beautiful (there might be a theme to that one…!). On a whole, I would say that this motivation for writing is great. While these blog posts leave me feeling happy and my readers happy, I feel the need to acknowledge more of our human experience; the suffering, the searching, the persevering, the stretching/growing, the questioning, the adapting, the hoping. I think it’s about searching for beauty in the darkness, despair and deep waters.
The death of my Grandma this summer has played a huge part in how I look at loss, sadness and darkness. A few weeks before she died, my parents brought her to live with us at home. Home care nurses would visit each day, administer her medications and support our family with medical care. In these days, my vivid, intelligent, sassy, lovable Grandma faded into a woman who was frail, weak and vulnerable. To watch this unfold was extremely painful for our family and for my Grandma herself. So many people choose to put the elderly away in a care home or consider euthanasia, because it’s easier. Death is painful. Death hurts. Often our first reaction is to avoid these emotions and run in the opposite direction. I am guilty of this too; not wanting to feel anything that isn’t pleasant, that hurts, that pushes us out of our comfort zone, that causes us to truly feel something.
Although this experience of death was painful, it brought my family together. Strained relationships were healed, we were united in prayer, we came together to assist our Grandma with acts of love and service. I could honestly feel a deeper unity among my immediate and extended family (mini miracle). If we would have run away from the suffering, we would never had this opportunity to grow closer, grow in love and grow in respect of one another.
Life is hard. Sometimes you are handed a set of cards you didn’t bargain for. Lots of times, your put in positions that aren’t ideal, or leave you feeling completely unqualified. You might feel like your swimming upstream, treading water in a tsunami, walking in the night…
We are not alone. We are children of a Father who loves us unconditionally. Jesus Christ came on the earth to be our Light. The picture below is the Divine Mercy Image- Jesus is surrounded by darkness (sin, despair, sadness, grief, death), but His merciful and loving heart is what radiates. On the cross, Jesus was killed for sins he did not commit. He died for the entire world, so that we might be redeemed in Him. The story does not end here. He did not leave humanity in the darkness. He was raised from the dead on the third day. He defeated death and conquered sin! This gives us every reason to rejoice. This is why we can find beauty in the sadness. This is why it’s okay to be not okay. Even if everything around us is failing, we have trust in He who is constant, merciful, loving, and lighting the path for our feet.
You are who I need.
Loving is not possible,
Less you take the lead.
All you are, you give to us,
Love and life and peace.
Teach us what it means to trust,
Faith to never cease.
Dwell in me, and I in you,
Sacred Heart Divine.
So that when I leave this place,
Only you may shine.
The expression “pinky promise”(linking pinkies together and shaking them in order to enforce a promise) is one that brings back childhood memories for me. I remember taking the oath of a pinky promise with my sister in matters of particular importance: letting me play with her and her friends, keeping a secret of mine, lending me something important. Basically, I wanted to be certain that this promise would go through, so we resorted to the pinky promise. Let me tell you- we didn’t use this lightly. If you pinky promised, it meant business!
Although my sister and I deemed these promises as extremely “important”, I now see how little and simple they truly were! Despite the simplicity of our childhood negotiation skills, this experience can also show something about a promise, and what constitutes a promise. For my sister and I, it wasn’t enough to just say we promised, we had to show it. This is really the expression of our human desires; that words become action. For example, if people just spoke about love, but didn’t show it through acts of service, quality time, physical touch and gifts (totally using the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman right there), we wouldn’t actually believe that this person loved us. Similarly, if my sister and I didn’t phsically form a pinky bond, we felt that the promise was invalid.
So, it’s definitely no coincidence that God gives us promises that extend beyond words. In Luke 1: 30-31 we come to understand the fullness of one of the greatest promises of God, ” And the Angel said to her…and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus”. These weren’t just nice sounding words from the lips of a heavenly angel to Mary. This was a promises which was realized through action. God showed his love for humanity in the actual pregnancy, birth and life of the child Jesus through Mary. Again, in Luke 18:32 Jesus says, ” For he will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise”. This was to foretell the kind of death He would endure for all mankind. Jesus didn’t just speak, preach, and talk about his mission- he showed it. His promises were made valid in the actions of his life, death and resurrection.
I understand this as a call to be active in the promises of Christ. To model what Jesus has shown through his earthly life. He never made a promise without following through. His words would always anticipate works of mercy and love. This is definitely a good and difficult challenge: to make the words, promises and intentions of my heart more fruitful through action. Just like the pinky promises of my childhood, I must remember to not only speak, but show the love, mercy, joy, goodness and peace of Christ with others.
Did you ever hear the expression ” it was bittersweet” or “you have to be cruel to be kind” or “jumbo shrimp”? (next time you walk down the frozen fish section and glance at the package of jumbo shrimp, I bet you will chuckle to yourself in the aisle!) Isn’t it interesting that we accept these paradoxes as relatively comomon place. In reality, the phrases completely contradict themselves and produce a seemingly nonsensical conclusion. In fact, they are quite amusing and allow us to play around with words, expressions and language.
Although some concepts may appear contradictory, further reflection may result in a clear and reasonable understanding of their claims. We see this from the earlier examples. Most would agree that cruelty opposes the virtue of kindness, while understanding that man may use cruel means to accomplish a kind end. This is the irony of the paradox. A sort of unintentional mind game with words.
Let’s shift now to look at the paradoxical realities within Sacred Scripture. I once heard someone speak of the paradox of faith and was immediately intrigued. I was determined to search for some of the paradoxes in which our Catholic faith is founded upon. What our faith proclaims and upholds is definitely counter-cultural, radical and intense. This is very challenging, for it goes against a lot of the norms of our society. Yet, when you ponder and contemplate each of these paradoxes, there is something so strikingly true and profound; something which tugs on our hearts.
In weakness we are made strong: ” For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:10
In death we have life: ” …For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live”- Romans 8:13
When you give, you receive: ” The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” -2 Corinthians 9:6
We believe, in what is unseen: “…because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18
In suffering we find glory: ” Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead”- Philippians 3:8-11
These are but a few of the countless paradoxes of faith. On the surface, they may appear impossible or seemingly nonsensical. With eyes of faith and trust in the Lord, we come to understand that these claims are reasonable, good, just and true. What an incredible call to trust in God’s great plan and design for humanity.