The Name of God

I’m confounded by something that’s been happening to me since my twenties.  Though my given name is “Judith” I’ve always been known to family and friends as “Judy,” which has been just right as far as I’m concerned.  “Judith” sounds far too grown-up for the person I imagine that I am.  But something odd began to happen once I was out of graduate school and working as a psychotherapist.  People began to call me “Miss Judy.”  It started out slowly enough.  The occasional bank teller.  The seldom-seen convenience store clerk.  Then I noticed even some of my friends and family were doing it, too.  Where had this odd title come from?  And who had given it to me?  It sounded strangely antebellum to me.  Out of a different age.  And I didn’t much like it.  I never said that I didn’t like it, though.  People seemed to just naturally want to call me “Miss Judy.”  Last week I was introduced to the mother of an acquaintance at a luncheon.  This woman, who is about my own age, had adopted me as—-that name.  In a matter of minutes!  I don’t understand it. And it’s gotten me thinking about names and titles and things.  Why do we call people what we call them?  And, of course, all the names of God.  Does He like them all?  Is there one He prefers above the rest?  And what do all His names tell us about Him?

Our God is one God in three distinct Persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each of these Persons has their own Name.  In the Old Testament, by far the most common name of God is “Jehovah” which is used more than 6000 times.  Others, like Yahweh, Adonai, Eolohim and El-Shaddai are also used.  Jehovah comes from the Hebrew meaning “to be” or “He Who is.”  It reminds me of the passage in Exodus where God reveals Who He is to Moses by instructing him to tell the Israelites that “I am that I am”(3:14).  To me, this is God’s profound “unmoved mover” philosophical name.  All existence flows from and rests in Him.  In God, creation both comes into being and is sustained in being.  God wills the universe and everything and everyone that is in it. I like knowing that God thinks of me at every moment—and has since the beginning of time.  We can all rest in that knowing.  Our Lord loves to think on us and from that, we draw our very lives.

The Second Person of the Holy Trinity is the Word of God, Jesus (John, Chapter One).  Jesus means “God saves” and is the name the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary (Luke 1:31).  Jesus is both Who God is and what God does.  He saves.  Whom does He save?  “…all who call on the name of Jesus (Romans 10:13).  The name of Jesus is the name of salvation.  St. Paul holds the Holy Name of Jesus to be above all other names as he writes in Philippians (2:10) “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow…”  We Catholics have a beautiful prayer called the “Litany of the Holy Name” which meditates on all the beautiful names and titles given to Christ (“the anointed One”).  Glorious and tender names like “brightness of eternal light,” “meek and humble of heart,” “good Shepherd” and “King of Glory” among many more.  It’s no wonder meditating on the Holy Name of Jesus has been a centuries-old prayer tradition in the Church.  In that Name is our life and our hope.  Our redemption.

The name of Jesus that is dearest to my own heart is “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.”  A prophetic title first used by Isaiah (7:1-8; 15) it is the name St. Matthew references in his infancy narrative (1:22-23).  God with us.  Jesus is God with us, in us, living through us.  In the Temple, there was a beautiful seamless curtain which enclosed the Holy of Holies which was, for the Jews, the very presence of God Himself in the Ark of the Covenant.  At the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross “the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Matthew 27:51).  Everything that had separated us from God under the law was made accessible to us through grace, through Jesus.  He opened the way to heaven for us by opening His arms on the Cross.  God with us.  Emmanuel.  Every Advent season begins with us singing my favorite Advent hymn:  O Come O Come Emmanuel.  Whenever we sing those words it reminds me that He, my Lord and Savior, is with me.  He left heaven to save me and you–to ransom captive Israel, as the hymn says.  To love us and to take us home to heaven. These days, we can forget just how very much God loves us and that, no matter the chaos that is around us, God is always in control. He has a plan for us. He has a plan for our world. Emmanuel is always with us and for us.

“…for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.”

—Luke 1:49

Making Disciples

He sat reading the letter over and over, with unbelief and a little dread.  After all, this was a letter from the Pope himself, and he’d rarely been the subject of a papal communication.  The Holy Father was ordering him to go to France and preach the Gospel there.  Leaving his Italian home would be hard, but he was a priest of God and would go wherever he was needed.  He’d take a friend and fellow-priest with him as well as a treasured deacon.  Folding the letter, he put it away and set about getting ready for his mission….and praying.

Six months later, he and his two companions were standing on the banks of the Seine, looking down at an island in the middle of the river.  That was the spot they’d chosen to plant their church.  The village of Paris spread out before the three men. Some barracks for the Roman troops who were there.  A scattering of support buildings like stables and kitchens.  Lean-to rooms of wattle and daub in small groupings on the low hills with communal cooking fires outside, where the villagers lived.  Animals and mud everywhere.  And the smell.  The churchmen knew they had their work cut out for them.  This was a place where native religion mixed with Roman idolatry.  The soldiers occupying this area were hostile to Christianity.  The pagan Celtic people, the Parisii, were a violent tribe who fought the Roman occupation at any opportunity and had made it clear they didn’t need a new God.  Paris was a violent, hostile community.  It was perfect ground for sowing the seeds of the Gospel of Christ.

The priest and his two assistants spent much of their time each day trying to get to know the villagers.  The men of the Parisii were often away, hunting for deer and boar in the forests.  The women had small vegetable gardens which supplemented any meat the men might bring home.  Wheat and barley were grown to make beer with a little of the harvest used for making a coarse bread.  It was a community perpetually on the edge of starvation.  Working so hard just to stay alive, the Parisii had little time or interest in listening to the priests talk to them about Jesus.  They had their own gods of earth and sky and their own holy men to lead them.  So Bishop Denis and his companions, Fr. Rusticus and Deacon Eleutherius set about using charity as their example of Christian faith.  But both the Roman soldiers and the villagers remained suspicious and hostile to the newcomers.

For nine years, St. Denis and his companions endured many hardships on their mission of bringing Christ and His Church to Paris.  They were often imprisoned by the Romans under the Emperor Decius since Christianity was illegal and seen as a threat to the Empire.  They were also beaten and imprisoned by the local pagan priests as well, who were angered by the converts St. Denis made among the village people.  As the number in his flock grew, St. Denis and his helpers became the victims of more severe beatings and longer imprisonments.  They were scourged, racked, thrown to wolves and starved.  Finally, in or around the year 275 A.D. the local Roman governor Sissinius ordered the three men to be killed.  They were taken outside the city to Mars Hill, now called Montmartre, and were beheaded.  The story of St. Denis, Bishop and Martyr, should have ended there.  But it didn’t.

As the soldiers and witnesses watched, the headless body of St. Denis stood up.  He reached down, picked up his head, and carrying it under one arm, began walking.  Renowned for his powerful preaching, St. Denis continued his sermon as he walked, stopping at a fountain to rinse the dust off of his disconnected head.  After walking and preaching for about two miles, he stopped at a widow’s house and collapsed, finally dead.  He received his burial at the widow’s hands and later, a church was erected on the spot to house his holy relics.  The Cathedral St. Denis is a beautiful example of early Gothic architecture and is a favorite pilgrimage site for those visiting Paris.  It is the traditional burial place of French royalty.  St. Denis’ faith took him from his Italian home to a hostile pagan land.  He lived a life of charity and sacrifice as an example to the unbelievers around him.  He brought souls to Christ and for that, he met a martyr’s death.  Like all the Saints who have gone before us, we can look to his holy life as a model of courageous faith in the midst of a violent and hurting world.  St. Denis, pray for us.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

A Daily Conversation

“Ten minutes a day.”  No, it isn’t a sure-fire fitness regimen for your resolution to lose weight.  And it’s not a reminder to limit your time on Facebook.  And you’ll never become a piano virtuoso if you just practice ten minutes a day.  But there is something you can do that will change your life in a much deeper and more profound way if you begin with just ten minutes a day:  Spend ten minutes each day in prayer.

You say you don’t have ten minutes a day to spare?  Find it!  You say you don’t know how to pray?  Learn how!  You say you’ve tried to pray before but you’ve given up on it?  Try again!  Maybe you’re thinking to yourself that praying isn’t something you need to do.  You’re happy and content, fulfilled and confident in every decision you make.  You know your life’s purpose and mission and you have no doubt that you’re exactly the person you were meant to be.  But…if you’re like the rest of us…you need to pray.  Do it.  There’s no great secret to prayer.  You just begin.  And this is what you do.

For ten minutes each day, enter into the presence of God by being silent.  For most of us, this is difficult.  In a quiet place, quieten your heart.  Quieten your mind.  You can’t hear God speaking to you if your mind and heart are full of the noise of everyday life.  This is very often the hardest part of prayer.  Ask God to help you hear Him:  “Dear Lord, teach me how to pray.”  He will lead you by the hand and draw you close to His heart.  Let Him.  Be with Him for ten minutes.  If your mind wanders, bring it back to Him.  This inattention is part of our human nature, so ask Him to help you remain in His presence.  As the days go by, you’ll enter prayerful silence more easily and remain with Him more comfortably and attentively. 

The actual “doing” of prayer is getting to know Christ by allowing Him into the details of your life.  The good stuff you’re thankful for, the bad stuff you need help with and the ugly stuff you’re afraid to tell anyone else.  Here’s the thing about God:  He already knows all your stuff anyway, but He LOVES that you want to tell Him about it.  He wants to be included in your life.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  Sometimes it’s just thinking about Him.  Sometimes it’s talking to Him.  Sometimes it’s listening to Him.  Prayer isn’t magic:  it’s a relationship.  And like any of our relationships, we have to give it time, give it our honesty and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Getting started is the hardest part.  And God knows that, too.  He’ll help.

And here’s something else you can do:  pray in church.  Spend your prayer time in a church.  What?  Why would I want to do that?  Can’t I pray at home just like I would pray in church?  Well, sure you can.  But if you’re new to prayer or if you want to deepen your prayer life, spend ten minutes a day praying in church.  It can be hard to find a quiet place, but church is a quiet place.  It can be hard to find a sacred space, but church is a sacred space.  What better place to feel the closeness of God than in His house?  If you have this intimate and quiet place available for you, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?  Here’s an even more outrageous suggestion:  pray in a Catholic church, even if you’re not Catholic.  We believe that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist so praying in a Catholic church is praying in the real presence of God.  Even if you don’t have this faith in the Eucharist, just try it.  Most Catholic churches are open for prayer every day and anyone is welcome to come in and pray.  I would invite you to explore this experience for yourself.  Sit quietly and allow Jesus to be with you.  Allow Him to surround you with His presence.  Open your heart to Him.  And listen.  Listen with your heart.  Let it be filled with Him.  Let Him fill it with Himself.  One of my favorite prayers is:  “Lord, take away everything in me that isn’t You.”  This is our hope as Christians, to become more like our Savior.  Our journey is a daily walk with Him.  Ten minutes a day is a good place to start.

“You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.” 

—St. Josemaria Escriva

Beauty

Several years ago, I visited Iceland for the first time. The landscape is rugged and rocky, but there are lots of trees too, which surprised me. Out of the city, you can drive for miles and only occasionally see a house, but you’ll see lots of sheep and ponies. It is exquisitely clean and the air smells fresh and scrubbed with pine. We went on several evening excursions into the countryside with the hopes of seeing the aurora borealis, the “northern lights.” Truth is we could have stayed in town because that year was an exceptional one for viewing the lights even through the blur of city light pollution. The lights appear when charged particles from the solar winds interact with the earth’s atmosphere. That’s the science of it. But nothing prepared me for the awe of it.  

It would begin with a flicker of neon green near the horizon. Our little group stood watching, cameras ready. Then a huge curtain of yellow flowing light seemed to spill downwards to the horizon. The trees around a nearby lake were silhouetted with the background of glowing sky. It was breathtaking. Swirling colors of orange and yellow-green with a burst of red or even bright blue kept us turning and pointing to one another. It lasted for hours. Over the next few nights, as our guides took us to several viewing spots, our little group got to know one another. We were from Italy, Australia, Germany, and the United States. On Sunday, two of us went to Mass at the Cathedral in Reykjavik, while the rest shared brunch. That evening, out in the country, we were quietly watching the light show. It was our last night. One of our group was sharing some of the technical aspects of the aurora. He obviously knew quite a bit about it. For me, though the science of it was interesting, it was the sheer overwhelming beauty that transfixed me. This huge celestial light show was like a peek into heaven.  

That’s the thing about beauty—it calls to mind the Creator. There’s a wonderful C.S. Lewis quote about it: “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty comes from…” To me, that’s what happens when I experience beauty. It engenders in me a desire to know and to experience the source of that beauty. It’s like seeing a beautiful painting and wanting to meet the painter. Only I know that the creator of the aurora is also my Creator. I can’t imagine experiencing the splendor of these northern lights, or an ocean sunset, or a snow-covered woodland and not being in awe of the One Who created it. And with that awe comes reverence, the deepest respect and honor imaginable for our Lord, Who in His goodness made everything for us, out of love.

We don’t hear much about “reverence” anymore. Maybe that’s because no one models reverence for us. When our worship is little more than a rock concert led by a motivational speaker in blue jeans, there’s little sense of awe. And we’ve become poorer for it, in my opinion. We’ve become dulled to the transcendent and we reduce miracles to biology or coincidence. We value noise over silence, and appearance over substance. Tomorrow, we’ll chase the next big thing. What we can’t see, what many refuse to see, is the beauty of a universe created for us, begging us to be still, to look around us, and to be embraced by our Creator. We spend our short time on earth gazing down at a screen when all of heaven is falling down in sheets of light around us. Lord, have mercy.  

“Beauty will save the world.”

—-Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Easter Message

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? “(John 20:15). Mary Magdalene has gone to Jesus’ tomb and found Him gone. Her friend was dead and she felt lost and alone. They had killed Him and now they’d even taken His body away. There was nothing she could do now but weep for her lost Savior and her lost hope.

 When was the last time you felt like everything you loved was lost? All of us have been where Mary was that morning. We’ve all been so devastated by a loss that we didn’t anticipate and couldn’t see our way through. Maybe we lost someone to death. Or divorce. Or abandonment. Our dream job was “downsized.” Our usually-healthy body was laid low by an accident or a serious illness. We’ve been betrayed by someone we trusted with our whole heart. Mary Magdalene had put her faith in Jesus and His promise of new life. She had hoped in Christ. Now, in His tomb, she wept because it was all gone. In that moment for her, hope was nowhere to be found. And that’s when Christ asks her: “Whom are you looking for?” You see, Christ was there with her all the time. He was there in the midst of Mary’s despair and hopelessness. He saw every tear and heard every sob. No one knows abandonment like Jesus. His friends fell asleep in the Garden and ran away into the night when the soldiers came for Him. He knows what it feels like for friends to leave you alone.  He knows what it feels like to be betrayed by a friend and sold out. He’s been there. His closest friend denied even knowing him and not once, but three times.

 When we’re in a tomb of loneliness and we feel betrayed and abandoned, the question Jesus asked of Mary is the one we need to ask ourselves: “Whom are you looking for?” We want acceptance and affirmation. We want to be valued. We want to feel needed and cherished. We want the wounds of our childhood and past relationships to be bound up and healed. We want to feel good enough. We want to be loved for the person that we are. We want to be needed because we’re valuable and unique. We want to be treated with dignity and respect. We need to feel like we matter to another person. We need to be affirmed and supported in our decisions and choices. And yet most of us are disappointed. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have the experience of Mary Magdalene. In those moments before she recognized the risen Christ speaking to her, Mary was at the lowest point of her life. We’ve all been there. Lost, alone, disappointed and hopeless. It’s the moment Easter was made for.

Easter says to us: “You are loved just the way you are, with all your sins and wounds and shortcomings. You are My unique and priceless child, formed by My own hands. I made the universe for you. I put the sun and moon and stars in place, just for you. You’re the reason I left heaven, to be born as one of you, to live and die on a Cross so that we can be together forever. You are the reason for Good Friday. You’re the reason for Easter morning.” When Mary Magdalene heard Jesus call her by name, she recognized Him at last. Jesus knows you by name, down to the number of hairs on your head and the DNA of your cells. He knows your joys and your fears, all your hopes and every one of your sins. And He came  that “you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This is the promise of Easter, fulfilled by the empty tomb Mary found that morning. So…..Whom are you looking for?

“Now let the heavens be joyful, Let earth her song begin: Let the round world keep triumph, And all that is therein; Invisible and visible, Their notes let all things blend, For Christ the Lord is risen. Our joy that hath no end.”

—-Saint John of Damascus

The Humility of Christ

Like many middle-aged folks, I have a chronic illness. The medications I take to treat it have some really delightful side effects. Between the disease, the doctors and the medicines, some days are a struggle for me. Lots of you reading this know just how I feel. We all suffer. Some of us have physical illnesses, other folks battle emotional wounds, or addiction or any of a hundred other issues. In this world we live in, broken by the sin of our first parents, we struggle and work, we suffer and stumble through this “valley of tears” (Psalm 84).

One of the great joys of the Christian life is that, in Christ, our suffering has meaning. It’s not just worthless pain. On the Cross, Jesus turned the world’s truth upside down and transformed suffering into the ultimate power. In His Passion, we see The Lord humiliated, tortured, abandoned and killed. And yet His death is our great hope, opening the gates of heaven. His love overcomes the grave, once and for all. Jesus made suffering into the source of life and therefore He imbues suffering with value and purpose and meaning. And yet in the middle of our sufferings or illnesses or struggles, the search for purpose and meaning sometimes seems fruitless. How can we watch a loved one suffer and die and say that there is meaning and purpose in their pain? How can the agony of terminal cancer ever be redemptive?

The only way we can do this is by entering into Christ’s Passion. From the earliest years of the Church, the saints have proclaimed this truth. The suffering Creator giving His life for His children is the only way to make sense of our own pain, and the only way that our pain can redeem. “Rejoice that you are partakers in the sufferings of Christ”(St. Clement of Alexandria, 150-215AD). “…as God suffered for our sakes, so should we suffer…”(St. John Chrysostom, 347-407AD). Without redemptive suffering, by which we are united to Jesus’ suffering, all our pains and struggles make no sense. This kind of suffering is self-centered and pointless. Uniting our pain with Christ and His Cross is the only way out of self-pitying agony. The Cross is always our only hope.

We know that God could have saved us from sin in any way that He willed. He could have just waved a hand and it would have been done. Yet the way that He chose was the Crucifixion of His only Son on a Cross. In this way, our Lord revealed something very important: suffering and death have meaning. They are connected to our salvation. And if they have meaning for God, they have meaning for you and me, too. Pain and illness are not just random and horrible effects of original sin. Not since the Cross of Christ. That ultimate act of selfless suffering and death not only conquered the grave for our eternal souls, but it transformed suffering and pain for our physical bodies. Through Jesus, through His suffering, we can understand and value our own pain. The most important lesson that our pain can impart to us is the lesson of humility. Suffering is never an end in itself or a goal in itself. Suffering points the way to the Cross and to the total self-giving love that kept Christ nailed there. When we suffer in union with Him, in humility, when we offer our weaknesses to Him, in thanksgiving, we say, “Lord, I’m not doing this very well. I’m impatient and self-centered. But please use this pain in whatever way You will to increase my faith and trust in You.” Our broken hearts and broken bodies are a way to holiness, if we offer them up to our Savior. When I accept that I can’t fix my own pain, I can let The Lord heal my self-importance.

Understanding suffering from the foot of the Cross is the only way I can get through the bad days of my illness and treatments. Hurting makes me call on my Savior. It takes me out of my own self-centeredness and allows me to give it all, again, to Him. It reminds me that, although He didn’t have to suffer and die, He did. For me and for you. My small sufferings are the tiniest echo of that great act of love and sacrifice. And for this, for Him, I give thanks to God.

“He gave our pain and struggles a holy significance, a redemptive power, which makes it a privilege to suffer with Christ.”
—-Dr. Scott Hahn

Supper With Friends

They were Jesus’ closest friends.  Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazarus lived in the village of Bethany, not far from Jerusalem.  They’re mentioned several times in the Gospels and Jesus loved the time He spent in their home.  Bethany was a refuge for Him that allowed Him some time away from the crowds where He could quietly enjoy His dearest friends and closest disciples.  So it wasn’t surprising that He would want to be with them on that particular Saturday evening just before the Passover feast.  He knew that it would be the last Sabbath of His human life and He wanted to spend it with His friends.  As the day ends, they’re enjoying the intimacy of a family meal, reclining together as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus serve as their hosts for the evening.

Our eyes follow Mary as she offers food and drink to Jesus and His Apostles.  She knows them all well by now, giving each one their favorite morsels and making sure everyone has all that they need.  Mary’s presence in the Gospels is central on only three occasions and in each one she’s seen sitting at the Lord’s feet.  We remember when her sister Martha becomes angry because Mary doesn’t help serve Christ and His friends on an earlier visit.  While Martha cooks, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to Him speak (Luke 10:38-42).  Next, Mary is crying in sorrow before Christ at the death of her brother, Lazarus (John 11:32), and tonight, as she brings a special offering to Christ (John 12:1-8).  Tomorrow, Jesus will leave them to ride into Jerusalem as the crowds wave their palm fronds shouting, “Hosanna!”  But tonight, they are at home, enjoying each other’s company.  As dinner ends and everyone talks and relaxes together, Mary slips out of the room.  When she returns, she’s carrying a small pint jar of a costly perfume.  Worth a year’s wages, the perfume called “nard” was used in Jewish homes in times of celebration, marriage, and to anoint the dead.  Tonight Mary would unknowingly use it for all three of these purposes.

As she kneels before her Savior, Mary lets loose her long hair and anoints Jesus’ head and feet with the costly mixture.  It’s an intimate and tender moment of extravagant love.  Imagine it unfolding between them.  Smell the rich, delicious fragrance of the perfume running down over His shining hair.  It envelopes His Body with its delightful aroma.  His flowing tunic is soon drenched with its pungency.  Wherever Jesus goes over the next week, the perfume will go with Him.  The fragrance of that love will cling to Him into the Passover; into the Garden of Gethsemane; into Herod’s hall; into Pilate’s courtyard; even into the cruel hands of the men who cast lots for His robes.  Just as Jesus had foretold that evening, Mary’s gift of love would be remembered throughout time.  With every lash of the scourge on His back, Mary’s gift was remembered.  With each nail driven in His flesh, her love was felt.  The sweet fragrance of her extravagant gift stayed with Christ as He hung on the Cross and poured out His own gift of life for our salvation. One gift of extravagant love followed by the ultimate extravagance of Love Himself, dying for you and for me. Mary teaches us the disciple’s way; how to serve others, love others and adore Jesus. Don’t hold back, don’t count the cost.  Be with Him.  Do for Him and for all those He loves.  Don’t just give a little of yourself—give everything.  Give your most precious gifts.  The Lord sees them and loves you for them.  Pour out your love for Him wherever and whenever you can.  Let your very life be that precious fragrance our Lord breathed in that night at Mary’s house in Bethany.  And pray that you’ll hear the same incredible words she heard Him say about her:  “She has done a beautiful thing to Me.” (Mark 14:6)

“For we are the aroma of Christ….”

–II Corinthians 2:15

A Joyful Saint

His father didn’t think much of him. He was always being overlooked and forgotten especially when his older brothers were around. His dad had an important job and was anxious that his boys follow in his footsteps. All but the youngest. His dad didn’t even like to let him eat his meals with the family. Pretty soon, the young boy stayed away from the house most of the time. That’s why he wasn’t at home when the great man came.

Samuel was a prophet of God and it was God Who had sent him to Jesse’s house. Samuel was sent looking for the next king of Israel and God had told him to look for him among Jesse’s sons. But after he’d seen all of the them, the prophet was still seeking the one God wanted as king. The older sons that Jesse was so proud of, just hadn’t measured up. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but The Lord looks at the heart”(I Samuel 16:7). Jesse finally admitted that he had one more son—the youngest, who was out in the fields tending sheep. When the boy came into the room, The Lord told Samuel, “Rise up, anoint him, for this is the one!”(I Samuel 16:6-12). When St. Luke tells us the story, he says the Lord’s thoughts were these: “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will”(Acts 13:22). David’s own mother said something remarkable at the moment of his anointing: “The stone that was reviled by the builders has now become the cornerstone”(Psalms 118:22). Later, Jesus will use these very words to describe His own life (Matthew 21:42).

God says David is a man after His own heart and calls them each “the cornerstone.” Surely David is someone very beloved by God. And yet we know the flaws in David’s heart, don’t we? He looked with lust on another man’s wife and arranged for him to be killed so that David could have her for himself. This adultery and murder haunted him for the rest of his life. David loved God and God’s law and he knew the depths of his sins. His sorrow and repentance were genuine. David always looked to God for strength and for mercy. He was thankful for God’s abundant blessings. David wrote many of the Psalms, which reveal all the emotions of his life. For me, the Psalms are a great lesson in learning how to pray. David hid nothing from God and the Psalms are full of sorrow and of joy, of gratitude and of repentance. They’re also replete with frustration and anger, regret and vengeance. Whatever David was feeling, he shared with The Lord.

If David was a man after God’s own heart, it was this openness and sharing that God truly loves. David sinned but he asked for mercy. He repented. He praised. He doubted. He gave thanks. His heart and soul were always open to God. Though he was a flawed man, like each one of us, David never allowed his faults and sins to turn him away from God. He kept praying. He kept praising. He kept asking God what He wanted of him. This is David’s great lesson for each one of us. No matter what, keep talking to God. Don’t hold anything back. Don’t censor your prayers, but let The Lord into every moment of your life. There’s no sin that’s beyond His mercy. There’s nothing you’ve done that could make Him love you less. David reminds us that God can do amazing things even with those of us who feel forgotten or overlooked, too sinful or unworthy, or just nothing special. The Lord can make His home in our heart, if we allow Him. A shepherd boy can become a giant-killer and a great king. His family can produce the Savior of us all. And David danced before The Lord because he couldn’t contain his joyful love of God. May we look to the New Year through David’s eyes, placing all our trust in Him.

“My arms wave like banners of praise to You.”
——Psalm 63

Saints Alive

We’ve all seen those reality shows that follow the celebrity-of-the-minute in their daily lives. Most of them have one or more personal assistants. These are the people that do all the real work around the place. They organize and schedule, they burp the babies and clean the house, thus allowing the celebrity to get their hair and makeup done (also by someone else), have an overly-dramatic love life and generally lounge about eating organic, free-range, calorie-free bon-bons.

But I’ve got those reality stars beat. And by a long shot. You see I have an entire group of people working for me. All of them pull 24-hour shifts with no vacations or sick leave. They never complain, never dawdle, and each one of them is faithful, funny, filled with joy and completely unique. They’re my “heavenly committee” of the saints that I love. Just as we ask our friends and family to pray for you, I ask my committee to take my prayers with them to Jesus. After all, these are the folks who love Jesus with their whole hearts and whose earthly lives showed us how to walk with Christ each and every day, through every trial and sorrow and every grace and blessing. Each one of them reveals His mercy and love in different ways to me and they teach me humility and patience and surrender. I can’t imagine my life without their friendship and assistance.

God created us for relationships. He never meant for us to go it alone. God IS relationship, after all, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs. He founded a Church made up of believers coming together for prayer and worship. We’re bound to one another in the love of the Holy Spirit, both in this life and our lives-to-come with Him in heaven. Since about the year 100 A.D., the practice of asking those in heaven to pray for us had become a common one. St. John wrote about it in Revelation 5:8 when he says that the saints in heaven offer our prayer to God “as golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Since saints in glory are in complete communion with theLord, those prayers have to be for us. When we ask them to pray for our needs, God hears them and it pleases Him. Just like He hears the prayers of our family and friends on earth. Do you have prayer partners or prayer chains or teams in your church? They are doing exactly what the saints are doing—offering prayers for you to God. Jesus told us to pray for one another (Matthew 5:44) as did St. Paul (I Timothy 2:1-4). It’s good for us to do this. It’s an act of love.

Catholics don’t worship the saints. Asking them to pray for us is as “natural” as asking a friend to pray for us. The statues and paintings and stained glass images of the saints you see in our churches are reminders to us of their lives and examples. It’s like the photos you carry in your wallet to remind you of your family and friends. You don’t worship the photos, you just like being reminded of your love for the people in them. Saints aren’t divine. They’re not angels. They’re people like you and me who are alive in heaven—just like we hope to be someday. After all, each of us is called to sainthood.

Even if you don’t come from a Christian tradition like Catholicism or the Eastern Orthodox Church, why wouldn’t you want the saints in heaven to be praying for you and your family? These are the members of our faith who got it right, who ran the good race and who live now in the very presence of God for all eternity. I’d like to invite everyone reading these words to learn about a saint whose life interests them. Allow Jesus to introduce you to His closest family. You can start with “my committee” if you’d like.

There’s St. Therese of Lisieux who teaches me how to love Jesus as a little child loves her Daddy. St. Catherine of Siena helps me to have courage and to find answers to my questions about my faith. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a priest who gave his own life for a fellow prisoner while they were in the death camp in Auschwitz. He teaches me charity and sacrifice. St. Pio of Pietrelcino (Padre Pio) teaches me to let God be in charge and to ask for miracles every day. There are lots of other saints that I love as well, but googling these names should get you started. They’re waiting to take your prayers, like a golden bowl of incense, and present your praise and your needs to our Lord. Just ask them. 

“When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from heaven. I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”
—St. Therese of Lisieux
(1873 – 1897)

Your Online Faith

Do you have a Facebook page?  You probably do.  If you’re “of a certain age” you probably signed up for it so you could keep up with your kids and grandkids.  If you’re like me, maybe you were also able to reconnect with some of your high school and college friends that you’d lost touch with over the years.  You check in every few days and see the latest photos and status updates and maybe you play a game or two.  But you really don’t take Facebook too seriously. How about Twitter?  Have you signed on to follow your favorite celebrities or sports stars?  In the world the “Twitterverse” is an active, ever-changing landscape of political news, reduced to 140 characters.  It’s a fun and mostly-harmless way to catch the latest news an occasionally put in your two-cents worth.  You don’t take Twitter too seriously.

But if you aren’t valuing social media you might be missing out.  Like it or not, social media is where much of our common societal discourse occurs.  In many ways, social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and blogs have taken the place of the op-ed page of the newspaper.  It’s where we gather together in the digital age. Immediate and worldwide, it’s where people connect, discuss, form opinions, challenge thoughts and pass on what’s important to them.  Like anything else, social media is a tool and how you use it and what you use it for determines its value.  It’s like learning to speak a new language.  It takes practice, including knowing when to talk and when to listen.  And social media can’t be a substitute for personal, face-to-face relationships.  But if you’;re a Christian, I think you need to include social media in your evangelization.

I’m a Catholic writer and blogger with both Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Most everything I post is about faith.  But most of you reading this probably use social media for staying in touch with friends and family.  What better place to share your faith than with the people in your life?  Now before you say, “But I’m not a writer,” or “I wouldn’t know where to begin” —-let me offer you a starting place.  This is an idea that’s been around the net for a while, but I think it’s a good starting point.          

Tithe your posts and tweets.  That’s right, I said “tithe.”  As Christians, we already know the Biblical history of tithing our treasure to God.  A tithe was a tenth of the animals and produce which the Israelites gave to the Lord’s Temple.  We’re called to share a tenth of our gross income with the Church.  Why not also dedicate a tenth of your postings and tweets to the Lord’s work?  Being a Christian means living and sharing our faith with others.  What better place to share the Good News than where everyone is already gathering?  You don’t have to be a theologian or priest or Biblical scholar.  Start out small.  Share your favorite faith author or book.  Post a link to the author or the book, but make sure it’s a working link.  Learn how to copy and paste URL addresses if you don’t already know.  Share a link to your favorite ministry or charity.  You’ll educate others about their work and the charity might benefit from a visitor’s donation, too.  Share Scripture quotes that are meaningful to you, but don’t just post a verse.  Tell your readers why this verse is important to you and how it’s helped enrich your faith life.  If you post verses without connecting them to your relationship with Christ, you’ll miss out on making that person-to-person connection that’s at the heart of ministry.

Wow.  Did I just say “ministry”?  Yep.  Using social media to share the Gospel can be a ministry just like leading a prayer group or making sandwiches for a soup kitchen.  Post a prayer need you might have.  It can be something you want to share with others, or it can remain a private prayer intention.  Be a witness to what Christ is doing in your life or in the greater life of your family or your parish.  Don’t be shy about sharing both the hills and the valleys of your faith journey.  You’re already sharing your vacations, family weddings, graduations and celebrations online—share your faith in Christ as well.  And remember I suggested this was a tithing experience.  Begin by sharing a tenth of your online presence to God.  You’ll be transformed when you invite Christ into your online life.  You’ll be a witness to the Gospel.  You’ll be enriched by the feedback you’ll get from others.  But be wary, too.  Sharing your faith means you’ll be challenged at times.  You might even be ridiculed and mocked.  Social media has a strong anti-faith presence.  So be wary, but be fearless.  Be like the Apostles and boldly share your love for Christ.  Sow the seeds of the Good News in your corner of the internet and pray that the Holy Spirit will allow them to take root and bear good fruit.  Working together for Him, we can help use the internet for His great purpose.

“In the world, you will have trouble.  But have courage; I have conquered the world.”

—The Gospel of St. John 16:33

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