Thursday, August 25, 2016

Recipe for Holiness: Ingredient 7: Small Acts

An avalanche of kindness.  That is how I would describe this week.

It began with my sister in law offering to hang out with my kids for breakfast so I could take a final exam, online, in peace and quiet. The following morning my son greeted my husband and I with a fully wrapped (bow included) pre-anniversary present - a Magic Mesh Magnetic Screen Door.  Ours ripped a few weeks ago and he knew we would need to replace it before hosting a houseful of people this weekend.  Secretly, he arranged for my Dad to take him shopping so he could purchase it with his own money. A few hours later, a friend surprised me with a gift of a cute summer skirt in the colors of a new business that I have just jumped into. The evening ended with me dozing off on the couch while watching the Mets game only to feel my little one cover me with a blanket and kiss me on the cheek.

An avalanche indeed, consisting of the smallest acts of love and kindness.

We continue the Recipe for Holiness series this week with Pope Francis' next ingredient: small acts.  There is a temptation in all things to believe that it is only the spectacular, the heroic, or the super-abundant acts that make the difference.  We watch in awe as Olympic athletes break records to win gold medals.  The news reports recount tales of extreme heroism on the part of law enforcement. Even the church extols the sacrifices of the martyrs and the intense holiness of the saints.

Don't misunderstand me.  It is right to acknowledge and admire these acts of heroism.  I would like to propose that behind every act of heroism is a multitude of small acts done faithfully each day. The Olympic athlete does not win the gold without steadily persevering through conditioning exercises, mundane practices and bits of routines done over and over again. The vast majority of law enforcement's acts of protection and service go unnoticed by the general public. Finally, the saints themselves achieved their exalted place in the church through a lifetime of virtuous living and unwavering prayer. 

What's the lesson for us? 

The avalanche of kindness that I experienced this week was comprised of a few small acts of love. Like a true avalanche, these acts built upon each other to create a snowball effect of something much greater than they each were individually. Father Lawrence Lovasik, in his wonderful book The Hidden Power of Kindness, tells us:
"No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees."
Our little actions, when powered by love, make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.  Today, let us strive for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life one small act of love at time.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Recipe for Holiness: Ingredient 6: Mercy

Mercy - this ingredient in our Recipe for Holiness is the one most likely to bring up images of Pope Francis.  He is the "face of mercy" for some many people.  Mercy is an essential element of Christian life.  We are all in need of it and we are all called by the Lord himself to be doers and givers of it.

In establishing the Jubliee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father has highlighted Mercy as a key ingredient in a life of holiness.  Here are five of my favorite Pope Francis quotes on mercy:

1. "Mercy is a journey that departs from the heart to arrive at the hands." Address, August 10, 2016

2. "Let us ask the Lord, each of us, for eyes that know how to see beyond appearances, ears that know how to listen to cries, whispers, and also silence; hands able to support, embrace, and minister. Most of all, let us ask for a great and merciful heart that desires the good and salvation of all." Address, May 3, 2014

3. "Christians are called to give witness to God's love and mercy. We must never cease to do good, even when it is difficult and demanding." Address, January 13, 2014

4. "The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person. We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert." Homily, March 13, 2015

5."Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience, which always gives us more time. Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the sacraments. We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love." Homily, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2013

And finally, one of my favorite videos of Pope Francis encouraging all of us to get to the Sacrament of Mercy - Confession!

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Pope Francis Recipe For Holiness: Ingredient 5: Conversion

My husband experienced a conversion recently - a big one - life changing, really. His family is shocked by it. I am delighted.  I knew it would happen eventually - my son's witness was just too powerful to be resisted indefinitely.

You see, my husband was raised as a New York Yankee fan. I grew up the daughter of a die -hard Brooklyn Dodger turned New York Mets fan. Folks, the Montagues and the Capulets had an easier time than this.  Despite our extended family's passion for the game, the rivalry never really entered into our marriage.  Neither of us followed the game extensively, until our son came along.

This kid is a walking baseball statistician. He watches the game diligently and when he is not watching it live he is studying the MLB website, reviewing videos, watching old games and otherwise immersing himself in a mind-numbing (at least to me) swirl of statistics.

Baseball is his game and the NY Mets are his team. 

After a few years of watching my son's passion for the Orange and Blue, my husband slowly laid down his Yankee pinstripes and has joined the rest of us in rooting for the Mets. (even during the Subway series, which shows the depth of his conversion).  He just couldn't resist my son's enthusiasm.  My son's zeal for the game and the team, no matter how poorly or well they were playing was compelling.  Through his eyes, my husband has developed a love for the game that he unlikely would have come to on his own.

So, half a blog post in and you must be thinking - "this girl has eaten too many peanuts and cracker-jacks" - is this a post about holiness or about baseball?


Conversion is the next ingredient in our Recipe for Holiness and my husband's baseball conversion contains many of the essential principles that our conversions to Christ need to have. 

Pope Francis, in a June 18 Year of Mercy Address, defines conversion as "changing direction."

When we experience conversion of any sort (even baseball team allegiances) we have changed direction from one way of living to another.  That "change of direction" is not just an ideological shift - in order for it to be legitimate, it must be joined by tangible changes in our actions, our speech, our very lives.  When my husband converted to being a Mets fan, he didn't just "say" he was a Mets fan.  He bought a Mets hat, went to a game at CitiField, learned the team's players, etc.  Lip service would not have convinced anyone that his "conversion" was for real.

It is likewise the case when we experience a conversion to Christ. 

Often our conversion is set in motion through the witness of others.  My husband NEVER would have become a Mets fan had he not witnessed first hand my son's love of the game and the team. It was his witness that led my husband to see something he had never considered before.

The lives of the Saints, both those the Church has canonized and those "simple saints" - faithful men and women in our families, our parishes and our communities who quietly and humbly live the Gospel, provide a compelling testimony for us.  It is their witness that leads many of us to say "I want what they have".  This desire, Pope Francis tells us, is the first step towards conversion.  The Pope says: "It is He (Jesus) , with the Holy Spirit, who sows in us this restlessness to change our life and be a little better."

Our conversion to Christ also needs to find its expression in the nuts and bolts of our lives. Pope Francis says that conversion "involves the whole person, heart and mind, in order to become a new creature, a new person." We need to put on the Lord's uniform colors, so to speak.  What are they?  They are the colors of faith, hope and charity; of the virtues and the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.  When people see us, it should be unmistakable to them that we are on Team Jesus.

Conversion is ongoing.  It is a mistake to think of a "conversion" as a once and done experience.  Noone would have accepted my husband's conversion if it lasted only one season, or one game.  Instead, true conversion must be on-going.  How does this happen?  We need to fuel our conversion with prayer, the Sacraments, Scripture and other spiritual reading, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and fellowship with other on-fire Catholics.

Today, let us pray for the conversion of that one person in our lives
who most needs to experience the love and grace of the Lord Jesus.  
Lord, we ask you to fill them with your grace and the courage to "change direction".  
Send a powerful witness to Your love and mercy into their lives,
that their zeal for You might light the fire of desire in their hearts. 
Mary, our Mother, please take our prayers to your Son Jesus. Amen.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Pope Francis' Recipe for Holiness: Ingredient 4: Joy

I am sitting here in my stateroom mid-way through a 9 day cruise with my family writing this post.  I am happy, tan and relaxed.  It's hard not to be with all the fun, food and entertainment available 24/7.  I know all too well, however, that worldly happiness is fleeting - here one minute and gone the next - like a rainbow in the sky or a wave on the sand.

Four years ago while on a similar family cruise we received the news that my beloved grandmother had passed away. We finished our cruise anticipating the sad task of burying her remains upon our return.  I can honestly say, that despite all the "fun" surrounding me, I was NOT HAPPY. 

I was, however, joyful.

Let me explain....

Joy is the fouth ingredient in our recipe for holiness and one of Pope Francis' favorite topics. His first Apostolic Exhortation is entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and it begins with these words: "The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."

In this phrase the Holy Father echoes the tradition of the Church for two millennia and the testimony of the Sciptures. 

Saint Paul lists joy among the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Gal 5:22)

Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that "The joy of the Lord is our strength."

St, Philip Neri, known as the Saint of Joy encourages a joyful heart saying: "A heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad."

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta sees joy as a powerful means of evangelization, saying "Joy is the net by which we catch souls."

Again, Pope Francis puts it bluntly: "A Christian without joy is not Christian. Joy is like the seal of a Christian. Even in pain, tribulations, even in persecutions."

The list goes on and on - the saints, the teachings of the church, Papal documents, Christian music and more all underscore joy as an essential element of Christian living.

Back to the cruise....I certainly was not happy to hear the news of my Grandmother's death - but I remained joyful in spite of it.  Why?  Hers was a life lived in, with, through and for Christ - of her eternal destination, I was quite certain - and I rejoiced for her.  My own faith and trust in the Lord sustained me during the days and months of grief which followed. 

I had so many experiences of grace and encounter during that time, that it confirmed that joy indeed can be found in the direst of external circumstances.  Joy is, as it were, circumstance - independent. Its source is the Holy Spirit, and we have only to ask him to receive it.

Is anyone else beginning to notice a pattern in the ingredients? They are all gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit - the Lord, the giver of life!  Holiness is on one hand, the most difficult recipe of all, because it involves a total surrender of our will, our hearts, our very lives.  On the other hand, it is the simplest recipe of all, because once we surrender, it is the Lord himself who mixes the ingredients and cooks them to perfection.  Now THAT is something to rejoice about!

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