Tag Archives: Sacred Heart

God-vulnerability-faith

Suddenly

One of the readings at Mass on Pentecost Sunday was Acts 2:1-11. When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly…

The word suddenly caught my attention—and held it. Throughout the rest of Mass and in the days since then, I have been repeating it.

Everything changed for the disciples on the first Pentecost. In one moment, the old life was gone; a new life started.God-vulnerability-faithI thought of times in my life when suddenly everything changed. My own Pentecost experience on March 7, 1973, was a life-changing encounter with the Spirit. I had new hope and vision after that encounter. Life looked different; the possibilities seemed endless.

That was a good suddenly.God-vulnerability-faithThere have been other times, though, when things changed suddenly, but not in a positive way. Jim’s cancer diagnosis was like that. One day, he was fine and then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Life looked different, but the possibilities were not evident.

Fortunately for me, in between those two events—the first when I was twenty-one and the second when I was fifty-nine—I had plenty of other times when my life was going in one direction and then changed course. All of those course shifts taught me the importance of restoring balance as quickly as possible—and of trusting that no matter the direction, God was always with me.

But, why now did this word take hold? What is the significance?

I prayed for insight. Every time I found myself repeating the word, suddenly, I would ask God, “What is the invitation in this word?”

The next weekend at Mass, our pastor talked about personal missions—not going on mission or being a missionary—but rather having clarity about my specific mission, God’s plan for me with my exact history, gifts, skills and talents.

One would think that by my age, I would have great clarity about my life mission, especially since I have spent most of my life working in mission-driven nonprofits.

But then I think of Sarah and Elizabeth having babies in their old age, and I know that God does not have the same expectations of age that we do.

The thing about sudden events is that there is no way to anticipate them or to plan for them. But there is a way to live that makes it easier to receive them.

For me, that means letting go of expectations, dropping my defenses and keeping my cynicism in check. It means being open and vulnerable and willing to be born again in the Spirit.God-vulnerability-faithNext Friday is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an invitation to ponder unfathomable love and an invitation to keep my heart open to receiving and giving love. If I can do that, the Spirit’s sudden movement will be a breath of fresh air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus-heart-love

Jesus, I give you my heart

We had a visiting priest for Christmas Eve Mass, a charismatic, high-energy young man who was ordained three years ago.

His homily focused on the love of Jesus, and he shared his own story to illustrate the transformative nature of Jesus’ love. He had been raised a Catholic but lost his faith, moved away from the Church, and bought into the cultural promise that things would fulfill him. At some point, he realized that was an empty promise; he was disillusioned. Then he encountered Jesus and everything changed. He came back to the Church and eventually made his way to the seminary…and the rest is history.

He is clearly on fire for Jesus, and it was sweet to see his passion for Jesus. He so wanted to share it with us that he even gave us homework assignments. The first was to give our hearts to Jesus every morning, and he had us repeat after him, “Jesus, I give you my heart.”

As I listened to his homily, I reflected on my own relationship with Jesus. I remember those days of my early passion for Jesus. I remember how Jesus filled me with hope and gratitude, and how loving Jesus made sense to me.

Jesus’ message of forgiveness was exactly what I needed to hear when I was in my twenties and feeling lost. I had felt empty until I met Jesus. Then, like this priest, I could not stop talking about Jesus and how wonderful His love was.Jesus-heart-loveThe next morning, I began my prayer as the priest had suggested. I prayed, Jesus, I give you my heart.

To me, giving my heart to Jesus also means taking on the heart of Jesus, and I really do want my heart to be like the heart of Jesus—loving, accepting, forgiving. My prayer was sincere.

As I contemplated the love of Jesus, I thought of the people of Jesus’ time. I imagine that most people were expecting a Messiah who would free them from their occupiers.

How disappointed they must have been when Jesus told them to turn the other cheek, to actually love their enemies.

Imagine waiting for a Messiah who would give them security and prosperity and hearing Jesus’ message about vulnerability and riches in heaven.

Imagine wanting a Messiah who would make them feel strong and in control and hearing Jesus’ message about being weak and trusting that God was in control.

Where people were concerned with overthrowing their enemies, Jesus was more concerned with building up their spiritual lives, and his plan was based on love, not war.

Two thousand years later, little seems to have changed; many people still clamor for security through aggression.

Giving our hearts to Jesus means we have to let go of the illusion of power and control so that the love of Jesus can lead us to true peace and freedom.

Jesus, I give you my heart, I am praying every morning. Make it more like your heart, I add.Jesus-heart-love

 

Choose love

I recently officiated at my nephew’s wedding, and he and his new wife gave me some thank-you gifts; among them was a journal and on the cover were the words Choose love.

Choose love

I read it as a command: Choose love.

Tears filled my eyes.

In that moment, I had to admit that I have been afraid to choose love. Choosing love means being vulnerable, taking risks, being open. It means letting go. Avoid love would be a more apt phrase for me. Avoid the possibility of hurt and pain and sorrow.

A few months ago, several people recommended I see a movie called “The War Room,” and I finally got around to watching it last weekend. It is the story of a wise, older woman who is a prayer warrior. It is also about committing oneself to Jesus completely.

The movie invited me to look at my own prayer life and my commitment to Jesus. It held up a mirror and in the reflection I could see how far I have moved away from a heart connection with Jesus. My fear of letting go, of being vulnerable, of choosing love has distanced me from Jesus, too.

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Mary Margaret Alacoque (1647-1690) was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She wrote:

The sacred heart is an inexhaustible fountain and its sole desire is to pour itself out into the hearts of the humble so as to free them and prepare them to lead lives according to his good pleasure.

From this divine heart three streams flow endlessly. The first is the stream of mercy for sinners; it pours into their hearts sentiments of contrition and repentance. The second is the stream of charity which helps all in need and especially aids those seeking perfection in order to find the means of surmounting their difficulties. From the third stream flow love and light for the benefit of his friends who have attained perfection; these he wishes to unite to himself so that they may share his knowledge and commandments and, in their individual ways, devote themselves wholly to advancing his glory.

This divine heart is an abyss of all blessings, and into it the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need. 

As I reflected on the movie, I also thought of the abyss of love that is the heart of Jesus and the invitation Jesus extends to me to live in his love, to submerge myself and all my needs into his heart. By avoiding love, I know I have also been avoiding joy.

I want to choose love, to let go and move closer to Jesus, take a risk and be vulnerable. Jesus’ heart invites me to jump into the abyss.

 

An open heart

I have been thinking about living more mindfully and praying for the grace to be more attentive. The other day, a memory surfaced from my time in l’Arche, and in the spirit of mindfulness, I paid attention.

For fifteen years, one woman had been in charge of the house where I lived; she had left shortly before I moved in. The first time I washed the kitchen floor, it was apparent that she valued a polished floor. Over the years, fresh wax had been poured on the floor without first removing the old wax, and the floor was covered in a thick wax build-up.

So I bought a can of wax stripper and went to work.

I poured the thick liquid on a small section in one corner of the kitchen and got down on my hands and knees to scrape off the softened wax with a putty knife. It was not easy, and I soon resigned myself to the fact that getting back to the bare linoleum would take a while.

Over the following days, weeks and months, I spent hours removing the old wax—layer by layer and inch by inch, working my way across the kitchen. I found myself passing the time in prayerful reflection, as I repeated the steps of pouring wax stripper, waiting for it to work and then scraping off the old wax.

Eventually the whole floor was stripped of old wax, revealing that what had been hidden looked brand new. The layers of wax had protected the linoleum.

As I thought of this memory, I asked God if it held a new message for me. After a few days, I began to wonder if the wax build-up represents layers I need to strip away in my life now, and I asked God what needs to be softened and scraped away in me.

And then another memory surfaced from a time shortly after I left l’Arche, a memory of falling in love and giving my heart away to a man I trusted completely. He betrayed my trust and broke my heart. It was not the first time my heart had been broken, but I wanted it to be the last. I never wanted to feel that kind of deep hurt again, and, in an effort to protect my heart, I walled it in.

That wall has done a pretty good job of keeping my heart safe for many years.

Reflecting on it now, though, I can see how walling off my heart is like the wax build-up on the kitchen floor—and I wonder what my heart would be like if layers of self-protection were stripped away.

These days, I am preparing for the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and I can’t help but think of the invitation to love as Jesus loved—with a heart that is open and trusting.

Perhaps I am being invited to soften and remove what keeps my heart closed off—to risk and to love.

 

The Invitation

I once believed that new opportunities were primarily invitations to use my talents and skills in ways that would be helpful. I believed that I was called to situations where I had something to give. Living in l’Arche taught me that this is only one perspective, and probably not the most important.

When I was preparing to move to l’Arche, I imagined ways I could be useful—cooking, driving, shopping—everyday tasks. While these are important aspects of community life and I was happy to contribute what I could, I quickly learned that l’Arche was offering me something greater.

I came to see that I was being offered the gift of unconditional acceptance. It was an “aha” moment—this realization that God invites, encourages and sometimes compels me into situations where I am to receive what I need, and that what I receive is more important than what I give.

Since leaving l’Arche, I have tried to pay more attention to these kinds of invitations in new situations and to be open to what is being offered in every situation.

By the time I went to work at Cabrini, I understood that I was being invited to accept and spread the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (the Cabrini Sisters are formally known as the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). Mother Cabrini felt called to exchange her heart with the heart of Jesus and to live out of Jesus’ loving heart. St. Mary Margaret Alacoque calls the love of the heart of Jesus “an abyss of love.”

When I visualize this abyss of love, I see myself standing at the rim of the abyss, being invited to plunge in. I imagine stepping off into the vast emptiness of the abyss—only to be caught up and absorbed in love. It is a beautiful image, and one I have contemplated many times.

The image of the abyss returned to me as I made the move from Pennsylvania to Michigan, leaving the security of my life there for the unknown here. I felt like I was stepping off a cliff.

Now, I am blessed by the opportunity to work for the Mercy Education Project in Southwest Detroit, a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy and a work very similar to what I left in Pennsylvania. (I love the sound of the word “mercy,” with its suggestion of tenderness.)

Sr. Maureen, a Sister of Mercy, took me on a tour of the neighborhood around our building, and our first stop was the Cabrini Medical Clinic. Inside stands a life-size statue of Mother Cabrini.

As far as I know, Mother Cabrini did not visit Detroit or start any missions here, so seeing this clinic and Mother Cabrini’s statue was striking. I was reminded of the love of the Sacred Heart and the invitation to plunge into the abyss of love—and to add a little tenderness for good measure.