Saturday, June 20, 2015

St Paul and the Catch 22

What happens when you have a summer schedule with more free time? For me, it means several things:

1.) an infinitely more relaxed Julia.
2.) more time to read
3.) more time to pray
4.) more reading + prayer + more relaxed = more time for blogging.

And so, after a couple of non-blog months, we have the two posts in one week summer special.

(Also, thanks to those of you who saw my tweet re: my last post and assured me that there are others besides my mother who still read this blog. Also, hi, Mom. :)

I spoke earlier this week about Joy and how if we want to grow in Joy, we need to grow closer to Jesus. And as I've defined other times on this blog, joy is underlying and long term. It is not the same as temporary happiness. And it is motivated by love.

St. Paul points out another way that we can remain close to Jesus: the thorns in our sides. I know that I've also posted about this as my long-standing love affair with St. Paul and his boasting in weakness is well documented. Today, the first reading was from Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (also, btw- his rant yesterday about "talking like an insane person" I also found endearing) is one of my favorites:

"Brothers and sisters:
I must boast; not that it is profitable,
but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows),
was caught up to the third heaven.
And I know that this man
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)
was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things,
which no one may utter.
About this man I will boast,
but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish,
for I would be telling the truth.
But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me
than what he sees in me or hears from me
because of the abundance of the revelations.
Therefore, that I might not become too elated,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong". - 2 Corinthians 12: 1-10

I love this passage for so many reasons but mostly because I think that we all identify with Paul's pleading to God to take "the thorn" away, whatever it may be for us. And that Paul goes on to identify that thorn as the thing that God allows so that we might stay close to Him.

I know that this may sound a little messed up, but this is the heart of the Paschal Mystery: suffering and death is what brings about new life. And while I know I often tell God: "Hey! I will praise you forever if you give me what I want! You don't have to use this thorn in my side! Give me all the good stuff and I will stay close to You! Promise!" God knows humanity better than that. How often do we truly go to God in prayer when things are going all smooth vs how often we go to Him when things are not? It's humanity that's a little messed up. We are the ones who often only turn to Him when we have "thorns."

And so God uses these thorns and allows them so that we can rely on His strength, and therefore, draw closer to Him.

It's a Catch-22, I know. We want to grow closer to God to understand Love and Joy and sometimes (read: most of the time) that requires suffering. It's a Catch-22. It's the Paschal Mystery. But hey, at least we are in good company:

And! And! Jesus tells us "not to worry"! Another fav reading was the Gospel for today! No coincidence that the Church pairs this with St. Paul's thorn tales, lest we begin to worry about our weaknesses:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” - Matthew 6:24-3

I mean, c'mon guys. Wild flowers are pretty and so are birds, but we know they got nothing on us.

Happy Summer! Beware of post-Italy blogpost coming soon! 


Monday, June 15, 2015

In Pursuit of Hope and Joy

Typically, I write a post around the feast of Pentecost, proclaiming how it is my favorite feast of the year and that the Holy Spirit is moving and doing something big in my life. Notice how this was not the case this year.

Where are you this year, Big Guy???

Pentecost has come and gone, and so has the joy of the Easter season. The joy of summer has arrived, but Pentecost did not bring the movement that I had hoped for this year. I had prayed for it, as I do every year, with the novena from the feast of the Ascension to Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit didn't want to come my way, at least not in the way that I had hoped for.

Hope and Joy have been things that I have blogged about for years now. I know that these things are not unique to pray for, and everything in our lives seems to be cyclical. About 5 years ago, I was desperately searching for a change at work and finally in the summer of that year, the job at the school I now teach at fell in my lap. 7 years ago, I wanted out of the decision I had made for my vocation, and then about a month or so after, I was led back to DC.

Trust is another thing that we work on from time to time and I was working on last year by reading "The Way of Trust and Love" by Jacques Phillipe. Not to say that I feel like I have "mastered" trust. We are always challenged to trust. But I do feel like I have come a long way in my confidence in God and His work in my life. I know that the prayers I made in my novena to the Holy Spirit were heard, maybe just not in the way that I would have liked. I know that the Lord is looking out for me. I can't lose my joy in Him, however. And I can't lose hope.

It's hard when it seems like everyone around you has had their prayers answered: Friends who prayed for babies now pregnant. Friends who prayed for homes or moves now moving on. And you are staying put when you also prayed for the Holy Spirit to move you as well.

But we can't lose our joy. We have to remain joyful for those around us because that joyful spirit will also aid in us not feeling sorry for ourselves. Back when I was on NET, we used in a talk this acronym for JOY: "Joy comes when you put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself third." All year, since Advent, I have been reflecting on and praying for Joy. But joy really comes when we draw near to the Lord. The closer we are to Him, the more joyful we are going to be. The homily I heard by a visiting Franciscan priest this Sunday also reminded me of this. Sometimes we lose the joy even at Mass. Franciscans are known for their joyfulness. I was grateful for this reminder and this Franciscan joy this weekend.

St. Francis does look pretty celebratory here, while that other guy can't be bothered...

And then there is Hope, which my spiritual director reminded me this past visit, stems from Praise. I had been told before that when we are feeling negative, we should try and practice gratitude. And similarly, when we are in need of hope, we should praise God simply for who He is. It is hard not to be joyful and hopeful when are praising the Lord for all of the Good He has done and the Good that He is.

There is a Jewish prayer that is said at Seder meals that I became aware of a few years ago called the Dayenu prayer. Essentially, it is a list of things that the Lord did for the Jews and the Jews pray that "if God had only done _______ (insert one of the things the Lord has done here, like 'Lead them out of Egypt'), It would have been enough."

I challenge my students to create their own Dayenu prayer, and as I pray for hope in praise and gratitude, I have been making my own. "If God would have only given me the health of my family, that would have been enough." "If God would've only provided for me throughout my life, that would've been enough."

Try your own Dayenu prayer when you are seeking prayers of gratitude, praise, and joy. And even though Pentecost has come and gone, that doesn't mean that Holy Spirit has left. He is still our advocate. We just need to surrender and let him do his advocating.

I am also grateful for SUMMER and some upcoming travel in a week or so to ITALY where I will get to see some of the best stuff from my guys St. Paul and St. Francis!!! Hoping and trusting that the Holy Spirit will be bestowing some graces on us while we are there.