Pope John XXII quote about the love of Christ

Today’s Lenten quote about love/compassion:

34 Lent--Week 5--Compassion--Pope John XXIII

This one sentence is so packed with meaning for me that I hardly know how to write about it in one entry–but here goes:

The word “animated” makes me think about how Christ’s love, poured into our hearts, gives great spiritual life to the soul. It is like the breath of God, breathing life into the inanimate clay of the first human. On our own, we are often as if “dead” or “unconscious”–so to speak–compared to the dynamic life that Christ brings to our souls  (whole persons).

In Christian tradition, the “love of Christ” is often strongly associated with the Holy Spirit. So it is that I sometimes think of this “love of Christ” as the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts.  The Holy Spirit is what Risen Christ breathed into the disciples:

When [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”  (John 20:22)

The Holy Spirit is what “animates” us with the love of Christ. I think Pope John XXIII (now Saint John XXIII) was fully aware that the Holy Spirit draws people together by the power of love. This is the kind of unity that is built on empathy for one another. This is the kind of “love one another” we need today in our world–a world filled with electronic messages of hate.

Hate divides and conquers others. Love believes in the dignity of other humans and reaches out to share and embrace–and that provides a kind of loving unity.

Hate tears down and destroys. Love creates, builds up, increases life.

The Holy Spirit that God pours into our hearts is the Spirit of Love, and it is this Spirit who will unite us more fully in this life, and unite us completely in heaven.

Until next time, Amen! 

Mother Teresa speaks about loneliness

Today is a special day honoring Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The 2-minute video below shows Mother Teresa talking about her concern for those who feel lonely, unwanted, or rejected–and how Jesus knew their suffering in the Agony in the Garden.

For reflection:

–Who in my circle of friends or acquaintances might be feeling this unwanted, left-out feeling or great sadness at this time? How might I reach out to them with compassion?

–Who in my community or country is most likely to feel unwanted, lonely, or rejected? What might I do to help them feel wanted and loved by God?

–Mother Teresa saw in the poor the suffering of Jesus. Is that how I view those who are poor or disadvantaged?

Prayer:

O God, you know sometimes I am less than Christ-like in my approach to others. Help me to find ways to put aside my selfishness or poor attitudes, so that I may reach out to others with the love of Christ.  I especially pray for . . .  .   May all who feel lonely or unwanted receive comfort this day.  Amen.

A Personal Note from Julie

Be still and know that I am God.
                                   
 –Psalm 46:10

I know that many of you have been praying for my dad this past year, and some of you may not have heard that he passed away, peacefully, on April 23 with his family gathered around him. Your prayers are greatly appreciated!

I spent some time with my family in Arizona, and now I’m back home. These days I’m allowing myself some quiet time, planting the vegetable garden, cleaning house, talking long walks, and having “downtime” in general. Although I am a writer, I am even more a “contemplative” with an artistic streak which demands at least some solitude.

I don’t want you, my readers, to think I’ve forgotten you in all this! We are one in the mystical union of Christ (or the Divine One however you may perceive God).  For me, writing is not just about cranking stuff out on paper, but taking my time to ponder life, to communicate with others, to serve the community of God’s people with words.

And so it is, I trust you will understand if my blog is quiet for a while. In the silence, God is present, between you and me, within us, and around us.

Until next time, Amen.

Friends with You by John Denver

You may be thinking I’m a little slow to sign up for Facebook. Now that I’m on there, I’m astounded at the number of past friends I’ve been able to connect with, if only just to see their photo faces smiling at me on my computer screen.

It makes me think of how we are all truly connected in the “mystical Body of Christ” or, to put it another way, the interconnectedness of all people so many spiritual writers ponder.

Saint Valentine’s Day is a good day for pondering the our many relationships. I think of John Denver’s song “Friends with You”:

Friends I will remember you, think of you
Pray for you
And when another day is through
I’ll still be friends with you

That’s how I feel about all of you: even when I am cooped up in my writer’s studio, I’m thinking about you, praying for you… and am grateful for your many prayers for me.

If you feel like a little break from your work, a mini-spiritual meditation, check out this short YouTube video set to the song:

[If you are receiving this in email, you may need to go to my blog to see the video. Or, visit YouTube and search “John Denver Friends with You.” The video is by Catbrush 123. ]

Happy Valentine’s Day–and, until next time, Amen!

Sunrise through Winter Frost: Reflecting Divine Light

Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” –John 8:12.

Not much snow in Minnesota this winter, but the frost patterns have been lovely. Here’s a photo I took one morning of sunrise, looking through our window and the frost on the storm window:

Sunrise through Winter Frost–by Julie McCarty– (click on photo to enlarge)
 
The sparkles you see in this photo are reflections of the sun (camera flash was off). We often think of all the sin and darkness in our world, but this picture reminds me of the beauty of human souls reflecting the light of God. When we open our hearts to God, when we act in ways of love, we become reflections and conduits of God’s light in the world. So often, we are swimming in this light of God without even thinking about it.
 
Spiritual writer Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda put the following quote on her Facebook page today, and I share it here because I think it goes well with the above photo:
 

“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness. Little do we realize that God is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As you take another breath (right now!) it means that God is choosing your existence now, and now, and again now…Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence. The full contemplative is not just aware of the Presence, but trusts, allows, and delights inside of an active and experienced Union.” ~Fr. Richard Rohr in “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.”

We are always in the presence of God, but we forget God is with us. Like each little “snowflake” of frost in the photo, we are already in the presence of the God. All we have to do is open our hearts and absorb the light of God’s presence. And, in so doing, our souls are capable of reflecting that light of love to others, who in turn reflect God’s light to still others… a ripple effect of light and love.
 
Until next time, Amen!
 

Holy Vulnerability

For he who is acquainted with our inmost hearts and knows the secrets of our minds knows when each one of us is ready to respond fully.  –St. John Chrysostom*

click on image to enlarge

I was surprised the other day when this lovely bird sitting by the grassy path did not fly away as I approached. He (she?) even allowed me to stand only a few feet away, taking photos.

I don’t know if it was the closeness or the filtered sunlight, but the bird appeared to me the most exquisite, beautiful living thing. (I would later find out it was an ordinary fledgling robin!)

From the bird’s behavior, I thought it was either sick or wounded–indeed, it was no longer living when I passed by it on my return trek. I was saddened, but grateful that in its vulnerable state, I had been able to see the details of its gorgeous feathers.

This experience made me think how God wants to be close to us, but often we fly away, just out of reach. God is always with us, of course, but sometimes we just don’t want to get too up-close-and-personal with God.

I am not sure why this is. We may be afraid because of having been exposed to harsh, wrathful images of God when we were young. Perhaps we are afraid God will ask us to change our ways or take on a new calling. Maybe we are just too busy to spend time with God. 

I think for some of us, it is when we are most vulnerable, like the little bird, that we allow God to come close. When we are suffering prolonged illness, failing relationships, job loss, or grieving, we may cry out to God in our anguish. In our vulnerability, God determines we are ready to receive spiritual growth, new callings, or deeper experiences of being loved.

St. John Chrysostom, an early church father known for his preaching, observed that God uses our vulnerability to draw us to himself. Chrysostom writes that Jesus did not call Matthew at the same time he called Peter and John because Christ knew Matthew was not yet prepared to accept the calling. He notes that others, too, like Paul, were called at various times because it was only when they were finally vulnerable they could really respond fully to the good news. (I wonder, did Paul’s vulnerability cause him to fall off the horse, or did the great fall cause his vulnerability? Ha ha ha ha…)

God knows the best timing for spiritual growth in each unique person. As Chrysostom explains:

click on image to enlarge

For he who is acquainted with our inmost hearts and knows the secrets of our minds knows when each one of us is ready to respond fully. Therefore he did not call them [the apostles] all together at the beginning, when Matthew was still in a hardened condition. Rather, only after countless miracles, after his fame was spread abroad, did he call Matthew. He knew Matthew had been softened for full responsiveness. *

When we have an attitude of openness and “holy vulnerability” before the Lord, we can really listen to what the Spirit desires for our lives. This attitude of vulnerability does not mean cowering in our shoes or belittling ourselves, but rather being open to whatever God has in store for us. Holy vulnerability allows God to draw close, like the little bird allowed me to share in his last few moments of life.

Until next time, Amen!

~~~~~~~~~~

*Quotes and concepts based upon St. John Chrysostom’s The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 30.1, quoted in Give Us This Day (Sept 2011, pp. 219-220). Give Us This Day is a new monthly publication from Liturgical Press centered around the Roman Catholic lectionary (daily Mass readings) with morning and evening prayer. I highly recommend this insightful and convenient daily prayer guide. For more info click here.

“Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?”

…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
       
–I Corinthians 15:22.

All will be made alive in Christ? All? All might end up in heaven?  Or just Catholics? Or just Protestants? Or just Missouri Synod Lutherans? Or maybe just baptized believers? Or maybe “good people” of any spirituality? Or just those who do good things? Or those who give enough money to charity? Or those who believe the right things?  

Rob Bell brings up questions like these and many others in the book we’re reading in my church group, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011). In case you haven’t heard about this book, here’s a preview video (if you are reading this in your email, the YouTube preview is on my blog):

Bell raises important questions about heaven and hell that many Christians secretly wonder about but are afraid to ask. He particularly challenges the types of church-goers who seem to relish the thought of some people being sent to hell. They consider themselves “saved” and righteous, but anyone outside their select group “condemned.” They seem to worship a God who is loving one moment and wrathful the next. 

Reading Bell’s book is one thoughtful way to consider how we view Christ-followers of “other groups” (denominations, political parties, that “other choir” at church, etc.), those of other religious groups (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.), the “merely spiritual,” or those of no particular philosophical or faith adherence. Do we treat them will equal dignity and compassion? Or, as Rob Bell points out, do some of us secretly rejoice to picture certain people in hell? Would Christ our Lord rejoice to see someone be cast into hell? Bell asks, Is this “good news”?

Christians of other centuries have also wrestled with these questions. In the article “Dare We Hope For the Salvation of All?” Greek Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware  examines how Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Isaac the Syrian considered the salvation of all people and the restoration of all things in Christ.  He also draws material from a variety of others, including Julian of Norwich, C.S. Lewis, and St. Silouan of Mount Athos. (Theology Digest 45:4 (1998); also reprinted in The Inner Kingdom, Vol. 1, pages 193-215).

Like Bell, Bishop Ware is trying to remain true to the immense love of God, while also upholding human free will. My favorite story in the article was about a conversation between St. Silouan and a hermit. St. Silouan was so convinced that hell might not be a forever situation that he actually prayed “for the dead suffering in the hell of separation from God. . . [Saint Silouan] could not bear to think that anyone would languish in ‘outer darkness.'”

When the hermit criticized St. Silouan for this, the holy man said, “Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire–would you feel happy?”

The hermit responded that it would be the condemned person’s own fault.

The holy St. Silouan replied, “love could not bear that…we must pray for all.”

(Quotes above from Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, quoted in The Inner Kingdom, page 194).

For Eastern Christians, heaven is less a “me and Jesus” and more of a mystical communion of persons. God is “communal” in the sense that God’s oneness is Trinitarian–and to truly mirror God and be taken into the glory of heaven, the multitude of saints (all God’s beloved people) would need to be included in order for the joy to be complete.

The best way to explain this is to consider that the definition of hell for Russian Christians is two people, tied to each other but back to back. They are with each other but not really one. The opposite of that, heaven, is “face-to-face”: face-to-face intimacy and union not only with God, but with each other.

Saint Silouan didn’t think he could be completely happy in heaven until every last person was there, “face-to-face,” dwelling in glory with God and each other, including every single person.

“Into these things, angels long to search.”

Until next time, Amen!