Just Me and Jesus?

The Christian walk requires more than just a two-way dialogue between the individual believer and Jesus.  We often hear the phrase, “I don’t believe (or need) organized religion.”  My response is generally something along the line, “So, you would prefer disorganized religion?”  You can only have one or the other.  Whenever two or more people come together for any purpose, there must be shared understandings for their gathering to have any meaning and hence some kind of organization.  Someone must set a time, there must be guidelines for interaction, and there has to be a shared language/vocabulary for sharing ideas.

The problem with the Just Me and Jesus approach to faith is that each day as one crawls out of bed, the tenets of one’s faith can shift depending on one’s mood and whims of desire. There are no reality checks, no doctrine by which one’s current understandings can be measured, and no informed dialogue with others who are travelling along the same path.  There is no basis by which to interpret perceived consolations (those times we feel especially close to God) and desolations (when we feel God is not responding to our prayers or needs.)   All believers need the input of brothers and sisters in Christ to avoid spiritual narcissism and to develop an understanding of how God relates to individuals, the Church, and all people He wants to bring to salvation.

But here’s the crux of the matter… (Get it? 😉  “Crux”  as in “Cross”)

Jesus, himself, was not a solo act.  He was and is and always will be the Son of the Father.  And, the Holy Spirit lives and acts at the intersection of their love.  Our faith relationship with Jesus exists as part of the relationship among the divine Trinity.  We are created to be in relationships. In relationship with the triune God and in relationship with others who are also struggling to become the people God created them to be.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, your mind, and your soul, AND to love your neighbor as yourself.  One cannot ignore the second part of this commandment and assume one’s relationship with Jesus is on track.

It would make the Christian calling easier if it were all about only “Me and Jesus,” but it was never intended to be a duet.  The Christian walk is more akin to  being part of a symphony of many, each contributing their unique gifts.  As the Conductor leads all of the players to come together to build something more than any individual player could do alone, each player must be aware and sensitive to the gifts and needs of all of the others.

Back to the “Crux.”  The cross has two bars.  One is vertical and can be thought of as pointing to the relationship between heaven and earth or more specifically between Jesus and the believer.  But, it is no cross without the second bar.  In this context, the horizontal bar can symbolize the relationships among those of us on earth who are learning how to bring Christ to the world.

The Me and Jesus approach to faith is counter to the life to which God is calling us. As one hand reaches out to Jesus the other hand must reach out to others.

Not “Me and Jesus,” but rather “Christ through us.”

 

 

 

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Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given

To love Christ is to be joined with Christ and to have Christ in us.  Our love and our suffering for Christ’s sake opens the way for Christ to move through us to sanctify the world.

Just as the priest during the Liturgy of the Eucharist takes the bread, blesses it, breaks and then gives the consecrated host, the body of Christ, to communicants, so does God lead each of us through a journey of faith during which we too are taken, blessed, broken, and given.

We are taken by God during our Sacrament of Baptism in which are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Baptism is the first sacrament that introduces us to the grace of God and places us truly in the presence of Christ.  We are taken in the sense that we are reserved or marked with the identity of the Most Holy by being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism a sacrament of joining similar to matrimony in that we become members of a new family, the Body of Christ and enter into a relationship with the family of God.

We are blessed with the many graces that God has given us. These purpose of these blessings is to help us become the people God created us to be. The most important of these graces is the gift of faith. To fully experience God’s blessings, we must be willing to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that God’s grace can manifest in our lives and ultimately in how we learn to love and serve others.

We are broken. Pain, heartbreak, and inexplicable tragedy are present in all of our lives at one time or another.  And, we are called to join Christ not only in love but also in suffering.  Our sufferings for His sake are added to His suffering, and this sharing of pain intensifies our intimacy with Christ as we gain a greater understanding of His sacrifice, and He extends His comfort and mercy to us.   Meditating upon Christ on the crucifix, his wounds, and his passion helps us to find His grace and compassion during times of pain.

We are given.  But, we must first be broken.  Learning the reality of our weaknesses and our need for God’s grace and healing is necessary before we can get our egos and self-centeredness out of the way and let Christ work through us. We are given so that others can experience Christ love through us.  However, until we understand that God truly loves each of us, we will struggle in our service to others.  We are Beloved of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If we serve only out of a sense of obligation or out of obedience with no openness to God’s love, we inevitably end up a train wreck of fatigue and bitterness.  For many people, learning how to be loved and trusting that God’s love is real is the greatest spiritual hurdle to overcome.

Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given ….         We are Beloved.

At each celebration of the Eucharist, Christ’ sacrifice a re-presented to us out of God’s love.  As our response as the Beloved, we share our identity with Christ as we share with Him in being Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given.

This meditation is inspired by the book, Life of the Beloved, by Henri J. M. Nouwen.

 

 

Getting Real About Love

What is love really?

The time comes in every person’s life that you have to get real about what love is, and what it is not.

You know that light-headed giddiness you experience when you first realize that the person to whom you are attracted and have been pining over for weeks is also interested in you?

That’s NOT love.

This feeling may be the result of a surge of various hormones.  It may be the excited anticipation of being admired and the center of someone’s attention.  It may even be the beginning of a long-term and meaningful relationship.  But it is NOT love.  Unfortunately, this giddy flurry of emotional butterflies is what passes for “love” in our society.  And what is worse, people make serious life decisions based on the desire for this emotional high.  The high is elusive, it does not last, and it is very fickle.

This is not to say that Real Love does not come with passion.  The passion of Real Love is intense, and what is more important, it has the strength to weather the storms of real life.

Real love inspires sacrifice.

Real love asks us to make choices in which we do not put ourselves first.

Real love asks us to consider the needs, wants, and desires of the people we claim to be the recipients of our love.

Engaging in Real Love entails making hard decisions daily.  But if we Really Love, we can make these choices out of joy and will little or no deliberation.

If you are looking for Real Love, make sure you are familiar with what Real Love looks like.

 

 

 

The Thorns of the Heart

Jesus explained to the mystic, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, that the crown of thorns around his sacred heart represent those who have fallen away from loving Him, especially priests and religious.  In our walk of faith, how many times have we slipped from the lofty promises we have made to Christ –  promises to love Him, to do His will, to reach out to others in His name.  And, in trying to fulfill these commitments with our volition and sheer determination, we fail.  But with God’s grace, we hopefully recommit with a bit more wisdom about the need to participate in God’s mercy and love as we move forward in our love of Christ and faith journey.

As inhabitants of a fallen world, we share with Jesus in His suffering. We all have thorns around our hearts just as certain as each of us has left a trail of thorns around the hearts of others.  Love is a tough business. It comes with no guarantees of reciprocation or faithfulness.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes His love which unceasingly reaches out to us and asks for our devotion in return.  If we are to love others as Christ loves us, we too must reach out even as the thorns prick the borders of our hearts.

 

Dropping the Armor of Disappointment

O.K., so you’ve been hurt.  Life hasn’t turned out the way you wanted or expected.  You have been betrayed or abandoned by someone you thought would always love you – for better or worse, through thick or thin…  And it hurts.

It doesn’t lessen the pain to know that other people have suffered the same loss.  And relying on the adage that, “Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels,” leaves one stuck in a state of self-pity with little true hope of reentering into the joy of life.

When we stay focused on our disappointments in life and in love, it is natural to do what we can to protect ourselves from being hurt again, so we put up defenses.  By putting on an armor of disappointment, we can spend our days numb to hurt and safe from the threat of being hurt once again.  But, we also miss the opportunities God is giving us to grow out of ourselves by helping us develop a sensitivity to the needs of others and therefore being available to serve, to help, and to love.

Instead of being fearful warriors putting on armor to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows that life throws our way, we must practice true courage and love by dropping the armor of disappointment and re-engage with the people we love and especially with the people who need our love. By offering ourselves to others as friends, helpers, and encouragers, we enter into Christ’s love.  Our wounds will still ache for a while, but they can have a purpose in being added to the suffering of Christ.

Is there anything greater? Is there any better sacrifice?

 

 

Living the Single Vocation

Every baptized Christian is called to a vocation of living life in the presence of Christ.  By living a life of faith, we bring Christ to the world, and we bring the world to Christ.  It is as simple and yet as complicated as that.  No matter our state of life – married, single, or religious –  we all share this same calling.

Those who are living the Single Vocation have opportunities to exercise their freedom from family and social obligations so that they may invest their time, their talents, and especially their love to grow and minister to the body of Christ.   The primary calling for each of us is to develop daily in our love of Jesus Christ and in turn to learn how to love others.   This seems simple and yet is our greatest challenge. . .

. . . and, it is a REAL vocation.

 

The Gift of Loneliness

Loneliness tends to be the prominent challenge with which many single adults struggle.   We often hear someone claim, “Being alone does not mean being lonely.” But this statement does not really make anyone feel any less lonely.  It doesn’t even begin to address the reality of the painful feelings of loneliness or suggest how a person can work through the malaise and depression that accompanies it.

Too often loneliness is spoken of as if it is a weakness that we must either ignore or overcome out of strength of character.  This  makes it difficult to admit experiencing loneliness and sharing its challenges with other people who can help. This philosophy of pulling oneself up by the boot straps is not only ineffective, it is destructive and only serves to perpetuate feelings of isolation and futility.

As Catholic Christians, we must understand that loneliness is not a sin or a product of a lack of spiritual growth, or a result of being distanced from God.  It is not something of which we should be ashamed of struggling.  Jesus certainly experienced loneliness during his 40 days in the desert, especially when Satan tried to tempt him during his period of isolation.  When Jesus was at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, he expressed an intense need for the company of his friends during that time of trial.  And, we can never fully grasp the absolute aloneness Jesus suffered on the cross as he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”   Just as we are called to join our sufferings with those of Christ, so too can our episodes of loneliness help us to enter into and better understand Christ’s humanity.

Loneliness is a gift much the same as is pain. We don’t think of pain as desirable, but studies of people who cannot feel pain reveal how important it in helping us remain healthy.  People afflicted with congenital insensitivity to pain or congenital analgesia, which prevents pain receptors from doing their job, cannot sense pain.    Pain serves as an indicator that one’s body has been damaged or is under assault by a microbe, bacteria, or virus.  Imagine not being able to sense that the car you are leaning against has been sitting in the sun for hours and is burning your skin even through your clothes, or think how dangerous it would be to not to be able to sense that you have sprained an ankle or broken a bone.  Pain has a very real purpose for our well being.

Loneliness, like pain, lets us know that something is not quite the way it should be in terms of our relationships and daily life. Everyone experiences loneliness sometimes.  The pertinent question regarding loneliness is, “What is the healthy response to these feelings?”

God created us to have strong, loving relationships with family and friends.  But just as Jesus experienced hurt and loss of trust in relationships with his friends and disciples, so too will we have trouble in our relationships.  In addition, because we are imperfect in loving and in our understanding of others, we must allow God to do a work in our lives so we can grow in the strength of love and faith to address loneliness with hope rather despair, with a positive attitude rather than cynicism about relationships, and with a love of others rather than self-pity.

When we are suffering loneliness, it is a signal that we need to take action to meet a real need – our need to connect with others.   If we never felt lonely, it would be easy to isolate ourselves holding to the belief that we don’t need other people.  God created us to love Him, to love others, and what is equally important – to be loved.

Loneliness is God’s gift to us.  Do not despair in loneliness, but let it encourage you to move closer to God and give more of yourself to others.   “For it is in giving that we receive.”  St. Francis of Assisi