Matthew’s Mystery

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Today is Palm Sunday when we hear the Lord’s Passion from the Gospel of Matthew.

I can remember going to Palm Sunday Mass as a kid and getting a little antsy while listening to the priest and narrator recite the Gospel. I always followed along in the missal so I could chime in during the “Crowd” responses. It was always really awkward and pretty devastating to shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” as a middle schooler. I always had it in the back of my mind to ask, “Why didn’t they crucify that Barrabas guy instead?” I hadn’t quite grasped the meaning of the Passion.

More recently, I hear the passion and I think of the movie The Passion of the Christ. I read the one line, “and they had him scourged,” and quickly think back to that 30 minute scene in the movie. That gut-wrenching, violent, emotionally wrecking scene. And it’s just one sentence in the Gospel.

Another set of verses that startles me, and I don’t think I EVER noticed it until I was narrating it today at Mass:

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary
was torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened,
and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection,
they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Ummm…WHAT???

After more than 30 Palm Sunday Masses and I just *now* decided to pay attention to these few verses??

I decided to go to a book called Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri to see just what in the heck Matthew is talking about here. Because you would have to assume, if we are talking about people OTHER than Jesus being resurrected and walking around, I think I want to know about it.

Here is the commentary direct from the book, for people as curious, or as crazy, as me:

 The most mysterious apocalyptic occurrence is the opening of the tombs and many saints being raised, which for Matthew highlights how Jesus’ death makes the resurrection of others possible. The “many saints” refers to the righteous Jews who had fallen asleep, a metaphor for death. Matthew reports that they were raised from the dead and entered the holy city of Jerusalem, appearing to many. Matthew leaves many questions unanswered in his account of this extraordinary event: the identity of the saints, what kind of bodies they possessed, the duration of their stay in Jerusalem, what happened to them after their appearance. A few points of theological significance can be noted. First, Matthew notes they came out of their tombs after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus, “the first born from the dead” and the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” is the basis for their resurrection as well as ours. Matthew, however, mentions this extraordinary event in the context of the crucifixion scene in order to make the theological point that Jesus’ death imparts life to others.

Some scholars think these details are merely fictional means by which Matthew indicates the significance of Jesus’ death. Yet however mysterious this account may be, it is not the kind of story one would have invented, since there is no record of anyone in first-century Judaism expecting the Old Testament prophecies about resurrection to be fulfilled quite like this. For the Jews, resurrection involved not the rising of one or many, but the general resurrection of all God’s faithful people. Matthew, therefore, would have had no reason to insert into his Gospel this surprising account about some faithful Jews being raised unless witnesses in Jerusalem actually reported the event.

And I suppose that’s as good of an answer as we’ll get.

It’s been suggested by many to watch The Passion of the Christ in preparation for Holy Week. After watching it the other day, I realized something that I haven’t thought about in years. Whenever I was asked as a teenager/younger adult that curious question of:

“If you could go back in time and witness a historical event, which one would you choose?” I always responded with “The crucifixion.”  At first I thought I gave this answer because I had doubt on my heart if this ever happened. But as I reflected on it more I came to the conclusion that I’ve always been attracted to the cross. I think I was naturally drawn to this event because I wanted to maybe join Him on there. Not for attention or to be the Savior. I think I just wanted to be near Him. Interesting that I didn’t answer that witness question with “That time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,” or “Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.”  Nope. I chose the most violent event ever recorded in history to witness.  Another mystery…

Concluding this little post with some wise words from a sermon by St. Andrew of Crete:

“Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will towards his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation…Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward Jerusalem, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.”


The Daily Mass Project will be in full effect on the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, specifically St. Joan of Arc, St. Rita’s, my own parish of Holy Angels, Church of the Resurrection, and St. Anselm.

The Gift of Teaching Others How to Pray

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For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

—St. Therese of Lisieux

I just love the different people I encounter at adoration on any given day.

Just the other day, as I was praying the rosary, a woman in the row of seats next to me seemed restless. She kept getting up and going to the back of the chapel to get some books. She didn’t seem to comfortable just sitting there and looked like she needed something to read.

As I went on with my rosary, the woman asked, “Excuse me, but do you have the Our Father over there by you?”

I rummaged through my bag o’ books and had to laugh: Of all the prayer cards and books I have on me at any given time, how could I not have the Our Father, the most common prayer?!

I apologized for not having it handy but then informed her it was in the Bible. (Matthew 6 for future reference.)

She had no idea and was so grateful that I mentioned this to her.

I went back to my rosary but couldn’t help think: “How sad that this person didn’t  know the Our Father!”

And then I realized the hard truth: There’s no prayer in public schools anymore. There’s no prayer on tv. There’s no one praying out in the open for fear of being sued or ridiculed. So why should I be surprised that this middle aged woman didn’t know the most common prayer in history?

If I hadn’t been raised Catholic I may not know the Our Father, either. But I also didn’t start really praying from the heart until a couple years ago. I started seeing people sincerely speak words from their heart, as they would pray either over me or with me or even before a meal and I thought, “I gotta step up my prayer game. These people are professionals!”

There’s lots of books on contemplative prayer, and meditative prayer and repetitive prayers, novenas, chaplets, devotions, etc. It can seem overwhelming if your goal is just to learn how to pray everyday.

I’m no expert but I thought, if I were to try to help someone learn how to pray, here’s what I would suggest:

Books to Pray With

Two books by Jacques Philippe are great recommendations:

Time for God  And his follow-up book is called Thirsting for Prayer

Both books are under 150 pages, which is why I like them so much. Sometimes I think we say we don’t have time to read about how to pray, but we do. We just have to make the time. And these books can easily be read in a couple of days.

Meditation and Contemplation

There’s also a great way to pray with scripture called Lectio Divina. I’m not too great with this. My poor Spiritual Director had suggested it to me and I really struggle with this one. I can’t quite do this by myself but I have found it to be helpful in a group setting. It’s harder to become distracted with others around, for me at least.

Thomas Merton is probably one of the more widely known teachers of contemplative prayer. His book,  Contemplative Prayer is one of the most popular spiritual books out there. According to reviews, ”

Another great author is Richard Rohr. He has a book entitled, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.  Rohr also has a great website where you can sign up for his daily meditations. Richard Rohr, OFM – Center for Action and Contemplation

There’s an App for that

If books aren’t really your thing and you’d prefer to use an electronic device to pray, I have to mention two that are FREE and worthwhile.

The first is called Examen and it’s my favorite app to use.  Not only is it helpful with your prayer life, it gets you to take a look back at your day for some self-reflection. In our busy day-to-day hustle and bustle, it’s really key to take time to reflect on not only all the good that God provides for us, but the moments when maybe we weren’t really acting or thinking with the mind of Christ.

The second app is called iBreviary and it’s used to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is what most priests use and religious as a way to pray for the Church and to mark each hour with prayer and song. I try to pray at least morning and evening prayer and lately I’ve been on a roll praying all 5 times throughout the day. It doesn’t take long and what I like about it is that this forces me to slow down and take a breather to focus on what’s really important. It’s amazing how SANE I feel and how any anxiety I have melts away after I pray this way.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:2

Recently, I shared with my 7th graders the 5 Finger Prayer. It was an easy way for them to understand a certain order to pray in because let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t know where to begin after we make the sign of the cross.

Here’s an easy way to remember that even a kid can understand:

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“But when you pray, go in your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret.” Mt 6:6

I’m in awe of people who create and construct their own home altars. Whoa. That’s a bit advanced for me.

I would suggest trying to find your own “cell” or private space in which to pray everyday. If you tend to become easily distracted, like me, then praying in the middle of a house full of people/kids/blaring tv, etc just isn’t going to cut it. A table or a desk and maybe enough space for a couple of books (the Bible being most important of course) is really all you need!

Speaking of the Word, if there was just one book you need or require to get started praying, the Bible is really the only one you need. And while there are Bible apps, I would suggest an actual Bible. And perhaps a notebook to act as your prayer journal. Because chances are, once you start to really pray religiously (ooooh see what I did there?) you will no doubt want to jot down thoughts that the Spirit stirs in you. Plus it’s a neat way to look back after a few months to see how some of your prayers have been answered!

When all else fails, when you feel overwhelmed by all these methods of prayer, just go back to the beginning and think of the woman I spoke to during Adoration. The most basic prayer you can pray is the prayer Jesus taught us:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

     On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses

    As we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

Amen.

 

The Gift of: Wasted Time

monstrance1For the past 7 months I’ve been kind of sneaking around.

I’ve been lying to my friends on Saturday nights. They wouldn’t have noticed if you asked them because I normally don’t stay out past midnight on Saturdays, if I am out. (I’m old I know).

But if there’s an event or a get-together on a Saturday evening, I’m usually the first to head home as soon as the clock strikes midnight.

No one ever really questioned me or harassed me why I would leave “so early.”  But I never did speak up and say why, although I really wanted to. But there’s that little voice that would say: “Don’t bother. They won’t get it.”

But, I think my friends can handle it:

I get up at 3:45am on Sundays. Why? Because I signed up 7 months ago to be an Adorer at my local parish from 4am to 5am. An adorer is a person who volunteers to sit with the Blessed Sacrament (AKA, Jesus) so He is never alone.

Pretty comical to me that I actually chose 4am on a Sunday to do this. But I gotta say it’s kinda cool to have Jesus all to myself. Not that it’s supposed to be that way, but let’s face it, 4-5am on a Sunday is a bizarre time to be out and about.

Several parishes in the area have a 24 hour adoration chapel actually. (I’ve been to almost all of them, because I’m crazy like that) and all of them have the same request in the bulletin – Adorers are Needed!

So allow me to sell you on this:

You have this great opportunity to sit in a quiet space in front of Jesus for just an hour and pray or listen (preferably both). I normally say a Rosary, journal, or read some sort of spiritual book. Most chapels have a little “library” to borrow from if you don’t have anything to read. And trust me when I say they will have a rosary (or 20) to borrow as well.

In the past I’ve also brought my (gasp!) phone with me to read emails of prayer requests. I usually look at the person’s name and substitute their name for “us sinners” in the Hail Mary as I pray the Rosary. I’ve listened to homilies online, I’ve read prayers from my favorite saints. But much of the time, especially if it’s the 4am time slot, I’ll sit in silence. And because it’s 4am, it’s quiet outside too. So it’s probably the quietest time I’ll ever have. By the way, if you live in a loud household with pets and kids, you will LOVE the quiet and stillness of a chapel, I don’t care who you are. It’s a terrific break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life..

Another good suggestion, especially for visual folks –  Take the photo collage of the seminarians (I assume all dioceses print these out, right?) and look and read each name of the young man and say a prayer for him. It’s gotta be rough being in the seminary, wouldn’t you think?  All I know is they could definitely use some prayers. And since there are so many of them, this usually takes up a good chunk of the hour.

As someone who has spent probably more hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament than actual working hours or hours at the gym this past year, I can tell you there are some incredible things that happen to you as you sit in silence and meditate.

I’ve had emotional highs and the lowest of lows sitting there. I’ve laughed and smiled, and  I’ve cried my eyes out. And sometimes, yes, I feel nothing. (But only later to discover that my prayers were indeed answered).

I’ve had funny experiences and downright bizarre experiences. Especially at 4am.

Being a frequent adorer at various churches in the area, I can tell you which parish has the creakiest sounding roof and the church with the comfiest seats. I now know which chapel to avoid on a Sunday afternoon when the ice cream truck goes by outside while you’re trying to remember the words to the Apostle’s Creed but that darn jingle is echoing through the walls. I can tell you someone will most likely distract you with their snoring (it’s EASY to fall asleep) and their growling stomach (Fasting and prayer go together like PB and J).  I can tell you you’ll more than likely run into people who don’t abide by the “quiet” rule and proceed to pray in a loud whisper, making it really uncomfortable to hear their prayer requests. (Bring headphones!)

But the little distractions that can occur during your holy hour are actually helpful in that they force you to really call out His name to focus your attention back to prayer. And really, that’s the whole point. I read once from a Saint (can’t remember which) that even if you just sat in the chapel calling the name of Jesus for the whole hour, that would be sufficient and a completely suitable prayer! So what we might consider a “waste of time,” would actually be considered a very worthwhile prayer.

I suppose this is my plea for you to check out your neighborhood church my Catholic friends. Adoration is the best thing ever! Even if you don’t belong to the parish you can still volunteer to adore Him. I would suggest that even if you know you can only take that hour for a month and then you’ll be on vacation or whatnot, just sign up! The people in charge will be so grateful.

And Jesus will be thrilled to see you too!

 

 

Breath of God

 

I cannot get enough of this Hymn that I came across a couple months ago while praying the Liturgy of the Hours. This was in the Daytime Prayer in my iBreviary app and I just have to share it because it almost makes me cry every time I read it!  Enjoy.

Breathe on me, breath of God,

Fill me with life anew,

That I may love the things you love,

And do what you would do.


 

Breathe on me, breath of God,

Until my heart is pure,

Until with you I have one will,

To live and to endure.


 

Breathe on me, breath of God,

My soul with grace refine,

Until this earthly part of me

Glows with your fire divine.


 

Breathe on me, breath of God,

So I shall never die,

But live with you the perfect life

In your eternity.

 

The Power of Prayer

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“Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.”

— St. Therese of Lisieux

Since my life-changing experience at the TOB retreat in PA in June of this year, I’ve been attending Adoration several times a week in addition to daily mass.

And something awesome has been happening.

My prayers are being answered.

This shouldn’t surprise me. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has faith.

But without fail, every single time I read something that strikes a chord in me…

…or I come across a scripture passage that speaks to me

…or encounter someone who says exactly what I need to hear at that moment

…or I see someone so strong in their faith…

I am left in awe at the power of my small prayer.

I literally sit there in front of the Blessed Sacrament beaming, grinning from ear to ear.

If I’m at home or at daily mass, I catch myself smiling when I think about how every time I may have a moment of doubt, I am ALWAYS proven wrong. It’s almost like God is saying, “Why do you doubt me? You know I got your back.”

These are no huge miracles.  These things are really nothing to make a big deal about. But to me, they HELP reinforce my faith that all this praying isn’t all for nothing. It really is tangible. It’s real. He’s real.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Just two days ago, I received a letter in the mail saying my Medicaid had been terminated because I hadn’t sent in the correct information. Just reading the word “Terminated” was enough to throw me off my game and send me into a panic. I’m on a very expensive medication that I receive every 8 weeks thru an IV. So of course, after reading this letter, I immediately panicked and worried and prayed for a solution. That night, I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted some part-time work to help my financial situation. (He had no idea about the letter obviously, he just knows I’m always looking for extra funds to help pay down my debt.)

I had to smile…I think I even laughed as I listened to his voicemail.

“God’s got my back.”

I called the case worker the next morning to ask why it was terminated when in fact I DID send in the information that was requested.

Without even waiting more than half a minute, she said, “Oh you were approved 10 days ago. Disregard that letter. It was sent by mistake.”

After an entire day and night of panicked prayer, it turned out I worried for nothing.

Once again, I had to smile and laugh.

God has my back. All the time.

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Prayer isn’t magic. And contrary to what I believed for a very long time, it’s not something that you do only when you need something. It’s something, I think, that you need to keep up with.

Some nights I don’t feel like going to Adoration. Some days, I’m just not in the mood to go to mass. Sometimes, I’m really tired and all I want to do is sleep instead of doing an Examen of Conscience.

But, without fail, every time, even if it’s just a short prayer to God asking for strength, I always feel immediately better. (The website I link lists 10 super short prayers. Even gives the estimated time it takes to say them; some of them under a second!)

I swear by it.  I live by it. And now I’m writing about it: This prayer thing?

Yeah…it’s the real deal. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

The Body is a Sign of the Divine Mystery

If you’re just joining us, be sure to read my last post to get “caught up.”

“You are made in the image and likeness of God.”

This statement was implanted firmly in my brain starting in Freshman Religion class. I remember thinking “I know this is true, but I’m still not quite sure what it means.”

I don’t think my 14 year old brain could process it. And this is probably true of a lot of teenagers.

I knew my life was a gift from God, but I also remember thinking, “But what does God have to do with my parents conceiving me?” In other words, what do Sex and God have in common? I literally had no idea the two were connected, as strange as that sounds to me 23 years later.

Now, after reading TOB, something finally clicked.

Human nature is both spiritual and physical. We aren’t spirits “trapped” in our bodies. The Church has always maintained that we are embodied spirits, or spiritualized bodies. Through the profound union of body and soul in each of us, our bodies reveal or “make visible” the invisible reality of our spirits. But it does even more. Because we are made in God’s image, our bodies also make visible something of God’s invisible mystery.  TOB For Beginners

God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange. CCC 221

And here’s where this all comes together –

God created us male and female so that we could image his love by becoming a sincere to gift to each other. This sincere giving establishes a “communion of persons” not only between the sexes but also-in the normal course of events- with a “third” who proceeds from them both. In this way, sexual love becomes an icon or earthly image in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity. TOB for Beginners

Whoa.

Have you ever heard anyone describe sex like this? Yeah. Pretty awesome right? It gets better.

As St. Paul says, quoting from Genesis, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

This passage from Ephesians 5 is a key text- perhaps the key text- for understanding the body and sexuality “theologically.” Christ is the one who was sent by his Father in heaven. He also left the home of his mother on earth. Why? To give up his body for his Bride (the Church) so that we might become “one flesh” with him. Where do we unite sacramentally with Christ? In a most profound way in the Eucharist. TOB for Beginners

Confused? Don’t be! It’s simple really.

When all the confusions are cleared and the distortions are untwisted, the deepest meaning of human sexuality – of our creation as male and female and our call to communion – is “eucharist.” John Paul II describes the Eucharist as “the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” God created us male and female right from the beginning to live in a “holy communion” that foreshadows the Holy Communion of Christ and the Church. In turn, the gift of Christ’s body to his Bride (celebrated in the Eucharist) sheds definitive light on the meaning of man and woman’s communion.

The Spousal Analogy

The Bible begins with the marriage of the first man and woman and it ends in Revelation with another “marriage” – the marriage of Christ and the Church.

And here is what we learn from the Pope’s Theology of the Body: God wanted this eternal “marital plan” to be so plain to us – so obvious to us – that he impressed an image of it in our very being by creating us male and female and calling us to become “one flesh.” TOB For Beginners

So two things to take away from this:

1. God is a communion of love

2. We are destined to share in that exchange (God wants to “marry” us – Hosea 2:19)

There is so much more to be discussed here but it is my hope, my dear readers, that you now have an idea of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. I understand it’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around, and one that is never going to be understood completely due to our limited brain power, but that’s why it’s called the “mystery.”

Fitting in My Faith: I look at Eucharist differently now that I have read TOB. Now I understand why it’s a sacrament. Now I understand why marriage is a sacrament. Now I know why the Church takes it seriously, and now I appreciate it even more when I hear the words, “This is my body, given up for you.”

I also appreciate life, my own life and the lives of others, much more greatly. I don’t think of how we are created as just “sex between two people who love each other.” And 9 months later, life. It’s much more than that. It’s a sacred union. It’s not gross or disgusting or bad. It’s awesome and it’s miraculous and it’s a small, tiny, itty bitty taste of what heaven is going to be like. No, we won’t be having sex in heaven, 🙂 We’ll BE in heaven, we’ll be in UNION with God! We’ll be married to Him!

This is the purpose of sexual union in the divine plan: to prefigure in some way the glory, ecstasy, and bliss that awaits us in heaven TOB For Beginners

I don’t know about you, but understanding why we were created, makes me have greater faith of the heaven that awaits us all.

to be continued….

-Michelle

Trust in the Lord

Psalms 27:13-14

I know that I will live to see the Lord’s goodness in this present life. 

Trust in the Lord. 

Have faith, do not despair.

Trust in the Lord.

Twice the psalmist says to Trust in the Lord. Seems to me that he wanted to get this point across pretty badly if he repeated it to himself in this way.

Do I trust in the Lord this much? Do I believe, do I know, that I will live long enough to see the Lord’s goodness. Haven’t I seen the Lord’s goodness already? I think it’s easy to despair and think, “There’s too much “Bad” in this world, I can’t quite see all the “Good,” where is it?!

But I believe, even with all the “bad” and evil in this world, God has conquered and is conquering it. The more bad things happen, the more opportunity there is for the good in all of us to shine through. Think of all the disasters and tragedies that occur in a given month. Then think and look at all the good people that come out to help and assist with clean ups, with food, with relief, with hope. That’s the Lord’s goodness. He always wins.

Fit In Your Faith Today: What is one way you can see the Lord’s goodness in your daily life? In what way can you participate in that goodness? Is there a cause or an “evil” that you see as hurting others? In what way can you help and overcome all that evil with something good?

Some examples:

  • Donation to victims of a recent disaster in your area (flood, fire, accident)
  • Thank You Card or handmade card to someone who was in the hospital/recently sick/recovering from illness
  • A fundraiser for someone who recently was diagnosed with a terminal disease
  • Making food or bringing by homemade items to an invalid/recluse
  • Visiting someone in a nursing home or assisted living who has no family to visit them
  • Planting flowers or a garden in memory of someone who has recently passed

Your action, however “small” you may think it is, goes a long way to show others how there are still “good” people in this world. You can remind them that they too need to Trust in the Lord. The good always prevails.