Monday, February 9, 2015

"See how they love one another."

Around 200AD, Tertullian wrote the following quote as an expression of the astonishment the pagans of the day had when they witnessed the love and caring among the Christians: "See how they love one another." The early Christians' love for each other went far beyond pious sentimentality. Their love was tangible and practical: they took care of the sick, the widows, the orphans and the strangers both materially and spiritually. Those who witnessed their love could not help but be moved by what they saw. The good news is that this type of Christian love has not been relegated to the history books, but exists today and its ability to profoundly influence everyone who sees it is just as powerful as ever.

This past month I have been deeply touched by the story of  Paul and Ann Coakley.  Their witness of faith and trust in the Lord despite the nearly unbearable circumstances of Paul's diagnosis and rapid death from cancer at the young age of 34, leaving behind his pregnant wife and three small children, is extraordinary.  I do not know this couple, but came across their story through others associated with Franciscan University of Steubenville. I can honestly say that I have rarely, if ever, witnessed such steadfast faith in the goodness of God or such an inspiring demonstration of Christian love.

Coakley Family: Photo from Team Paul and Ann Coakley FB page

One Facebook entry struck me in particular - just a few days before Paul's passing, his wife wrote: "Paul here is a victory. Paul in heaven is a victory. In Christ we can't lose." Her words have echoed in my mind - "In Christ we can't lose." Those words are not easy to say. They are even more difficult to live out in times of intense suffering and pain. Yet, the witness of this family and the brothers and sisters in Christ who have rallied around them with spiritual, emotional and material support  demonstrate the truth in Ann's statement - "In Christ we can't lose." The circumstances of Good Friday indeed looked dire and insurmountable - but Easter came 2000+ years ago and the power of the Resurrection is available to us today.  The Coakley Family's story is evidence of this power.

Thank you Paul and Ann Coakley for your witness to the grace available in the Sacrament of Marriage, for your faith in the Lord, and for your humility in allowing complete strangers like me to witness your story - all for God's glory. 

Thank you to all the brothers and sisters in Christ who have worked tirelessly to support this family and literally build their house from the ground up. May your witness of self-sacrificing Christian love shine forth like a beacon of light, encouraging those who dwell in darkness and hopelessness that God's love is alive and well in his Church! 

If you are struggling with faith and trust in God, or seeing more sin and division in your Christian community than love, I encourage you to visit Team Paul and Ann Coakley's Facebook page and the website #LiveLikePaul "see how those Christians love one another."

There is a fund available to help support the Coakley family financially.  Click here for more information or to make a donation. God will never be outdone in generosity!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Catholic Journal Prompts: Love Edition

Keeping a Spiritual Journal has been one of the most fruitful practices I have ever undertaken. The ability to articulate my prayers, struggles and victories on paper has added a depth and honesty to my prayer life. An added benefit is in looking back on my past journals and seeing the ways God has worked in my life through answered prayers and unexpected blessings.

However, it is not always easy to journal.  Having some journal starters is an enormous help to overcome the menace of  "blankpaperitis". This is the first of a series of journal prompts that I would like to share.  Each set of prompts will focus on a particular theme. The prompts will be drawn from the scriptures, the lives of the saints and some other personal reflections. Please feel free to share these and add your own ideas in the comments below!

This edition's theme will be on the virtue of love....

Click here for other editions of Catholic Journal Prompts

Journal Prompts from the Scriptures

In John's Gospel 15:12-13, Jesus says: "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Not all of us are called to physically die for another person, but we are all called to die to ourselves each day as an act of love for those around us. Journal about opportunities you have each day to die to yourself.

Meditate on 1 Cor 13:4-7. Substitute your own name for the word love. Ask yourself the questions: where am I doing well and where do I need to grow? Ask the Lord for the grace to work on your weaknesses and fortify your strong points.

1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear." Journal about the things that cause you fear. After you have made your list, ask the Lord to bathe each of these areas in His perfect love.

In Psalm 63:3, the psalmist praises God in response to his love saying: "Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you." Journal a litany of praise to the Lord for his steadfast love in your own words.

In John 14:21, Jesus provides the litmus test of loving God: "Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me." Do an examination of conscience asking the Lord to help you see the areas in your life where you may not be fully observing God's commandments. Ask the Lord for forgiveness for those ways you have not loved him.

Journal Prompts from the Saints

"We have loved them during life, let us not abandon them until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of the Lord." St. Ambrose's quote reminds us that our love for our deceased friends and families continues into eternity. Journal your prayers for the souls of your loved ones, asking the Lord to release them and the souls who have no one to pray for them from the purifications of purgatory into the glory of Heaven.

St. Catherine of Siena reminds us of the power of God's love saying: "I (God) can love you more than you can love yourself and I watch over you a thousand times more carefully than you can watch over yourself." In your own words write an act of surrender to the Lord, giving over your life, your cares, your concerns, your goals and your dreams to him. Allow him to take control of your life, trusting in his infinite and unconditional love.

St. Josemarie Escriva exhorts us: "Don't be afraid to call Our Lord by his name, Jesus, and to tell him that you love him." Write a love letter to Jesus - be specific in the ways you love Him and thank Him for the grace of loving him.

One of Blessed Mother Teresa's most famous quotes is "Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love." I seriously struggle with this quote. It is not easy or natural for me to do the little things, like folding clothes, or scrubbing toilets etc. without grumbling and complaining. In your journal, make a list of the little things in your life that you can transform through performing these tasks with love. Each day, make a concerted effort to approach these mundane tasks with love - journal the results.  I'm starting with the dreaded unloading of the dishwasher.....

"Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved, as to love." With these words, St. Francis of Assisi challenges us to put the act of loving ahead of the benefits of being loved. Ask the Lord to give you opportunities to show love versus seeking love each day - take a checkpoint in your journal each night to see how you did.

Personal Reflections

What is the most powerful act of love someone has ever shown you and why?

Think about a person who really gets under your skin - someone in your life that you just don't like.  Ask the Lord for the grace to love that person and specific ways you can demonstrate that love to them. Be sure to journal any ways your relationship changes as a result of this.

In the first century. Tertullian wrote a famous line: "See how those Christians love one another." The witness of the love of the early Christians drew converts to Christianity. Reflect in your journal about times when you have witnessed love among other Christians and how that love has impacted your own faith.

Resources for Further Meditation and Study

Gary Chapman's book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts lists the following five ways most people receive love: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch. In your journal pray about what your spouse and children's love languages are and list ways that you can show them love in those languages.

Alex and Stephen Kendrick's The Love Dare and The Love Dare for Parents provide a wide variety of ways to grow and show love to your spouse and children. Both of these books provide ways to journal your experiences of taking the Love Dare.

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