look to Mary

In this time of Advent and of the Extraordinary Jubilee my heart says “look to Mary.”

Mary is Jesus’ mom (OK you probably know that).  Mary carried Jesus for 9 months and then for 33 more years.  Mary wiped his nose, changed his diaper, and left him at church.  Mary is a mom, which is awesome because a lot of times I need a mom’s help.  But Mary is also a lot more.

Mary is a vessel of mercy.  She literally carried “Love and Mercy itself” (Diary of St. Faustina, par. 1074) and brought Salvation into this world.

Look to Mary.

At the Annunciation, by the Holy Spirit, Mary received the gift of bearing the Son of God.

mary(The Annunciation painting by Henry Tanner)

Shortly after she went to see her cousin Elizabeth.  There Mary exclaims the Magnificat, a song of praise to God.

artworks-000060192172-820shh-original(Jump for Joy painting by Corby Eisbacher)

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations shall call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and Holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
(Luke 1:46-55)

Mary knows what God has done.  She knows that her son is to be the savior Israel has waited for.  She knows that God is fulfilling his promise of mercy through her.

Look to Mary.  She is still a vessel of mercy.  She is still bearing Christ to this world.  She is still carrying light and hope and peace and joy and freedom.  And through her God wants to fulfill his promise of mercy to you.

A mother understands love and mercy probably more than anyone else.  A mother knows that a child must learn to comfort himself so she lets him cry until he falls asleep.  A mother knows it is a best for a child to have boundaries so she sometimes has to tell him no.  A mother knows that it is best for a child to grow up and take responsibility for himself so she lets him make his decisions himself.

There is so much mercy in the way a mother loves.  There is also great sacrifice.  Mary understood this more than anyone.  She understood that with this great gift to love a child there would be great sacrifice involved.  She stood by her son as he was crucified.  Pope Saint John Paul II writes “Mary is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy.  She knows its price, she knows how great it is.  In this sense we call her the Mother of mercy; our Lady of mercy, or Mother of divine mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, par. 9).

Mary’s love cannot be separated from God’s mercy.  She is the Mother of mercy, the Mother of love.  She is closest to the heart of God.

Look to Mary, the Mother of mercy.

Domenico Ghirlandaio - Cappella Vespucci - Madonna della misericordia.jpg(Madonna della Misericordia, painting by Domenico Ghirland)

the year of Jubilee

IT’S THE EXTRAORDINARY YEAR OF MERCY!!!!!

Please accept my caps lock as excitement for what this year means for me, for you, for our church!  It is incredible.

In the olden days the Jews would participate in what’s called the Jubilee year.  Every seventh year, by law, would be a sabbath year and after the seventh sabbath (49 years) they would have the Jubilee (the 50th year).  If you read Leviticus chapter 25 you will read about the sabbatical year, “for six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the LORD; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard….it shall be a year of complete rest for the land” (25.3-4, 5b).

So just as there is a sabbath every seventh day, there is a sabbath every seventh year and after seven sabbaths, the great Jubilee.

Leviticus continues to then outline the law for the Jubilee year and here’s where it gets good.

You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years.  Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud….And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.  The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines.  For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you:  you shall eat only what the field itself produces” (25.8-12).

In the Jubilee year you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land, return to your family, and not sow or prune the field.

– Proclaim liberty: as part of this year you are to free any debts owed to you.  If you have a slave they are freed, if someone owes you money or land you forgive the debt.
– Return to your family: this part emphasizes communal life.  If you have an estranged family member or a family member who has fallen on harsh times you are to take them in and provide for them without any return or payment or rent.
– Don’t sow the field: rest and let God provide for you.

Ok, now let’s look to Jesus.  In the Gospel of Luke Jesus takes a scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.18-19, Isaiah 61.1-2a).

Jesus is announcing a Jubilee year and as we know from Leviticus it is a time to proclaim liberty and freedom, to release slaves and forgive debts.  It is a time to return to communal life, to provide and care for one another without counting the costs.  It is a time to give rest to the field and let God provide food for you.

Here’s what I know.

– Jesus’ life, death and resurrection give us freedom from sin and death.
– Jesus instituted the Church and showed the importance of communal life.
– Jesus is the Bread from Heaven, the Bread that sustains.

Freedom from sin, forgiveness from the ones we’ve hurt or forgiveness for the ones who have hurt us, a return to family and to a life giving community and church, and the Eucharist.

This is the reality we live in.  Today starts a new Jubilee – a time for mercy and joy.

How are you going to live this Jubilee?

What Makes You Happy

Hello friends,

All I have to say today is listen to this.  It’s a series of sermons from Andy Stanley called “What Makes Us Happy.”

northpoint

Yesterday I sat and watched re runs of Project Runway all day with the thought “I don’t want to pray, I just want to be relax.  I just want to do what I want and right now I don’t want to pray.”

I keep telling myself that I should fast from alcohol and pray to have a baby.  Then I tell myself “can’t I have fun?”

I keep telling myself that I should go to Mass each day (it’s less than 1/2 mile to the church) but sleeping that extra 10 minutes is much more appealing.  Shouldn’t I do what’s going to make me happy?  Sleep makes me happy.

I have the idea right now that religious is boring, that prayer is boring, that being a saint means not being happy.  Whether you’re like me or not you should give this a listen.  Happiness isn’t in what we do or what we have, it’s in who we know.

the Throne of the Cross

-We should glory in the Cross of our Lord

Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross!  Today we look to the Cross and recognize the power of the love that is revealed through Christ’s sacrifice and the healing mercy of this act.

In the reading’s for Mass today we hear about the Israelites complaining that they are unsatisfied with the food they have to eat: “why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?  We are disgusted with this wretched food.”  God doesn’t like their complaining so He sends serpents to where they are and those who were bitten die.  But Moses repents for the people and asks that the Lord take the serpents from among them.  God commands Moses to make a saraph (serpent) and mount it on a staff.  All who were bitten and looked at the staff were healed.

Just as God gave Moses the staff of a serpent for those dying to look at, God gave us Jesus on the Cross so that we might look at and be healed from our ailments and cured from death.  That is the power of the Cross.  One look can bring salvation.  He took what was the look of death and using the very same symbol (a snake, a cross) and turned it into life.

The cross depicts death.  Jesus did die on the cross alongside two thieves.  It was a cruel and embarrassing punishment.  Yet we know the victory His Cross obtained for us – the victory of life over death and freedom from sin.  So though we may have been bitten and poisoned by different sins in our lives we can look to the Cross and see our salvation, life and resurrection.  “Through Him we are saved and delivered.”

I’ve had my share of snake bites in this life.  As I remember them, yes, there’s pain and sorrow but mostly I remember the mercy of the Lord and the healing He gave to me.  His Cross didn’t end in death and neither do our sins; if we choose to accept His love and mercy there can be new life.

This is why we glory in the Cross, this is why we exalt it and admire it because it won for us new life with God forever.

Awesome God

We talked about fear of the Lord at youth group a few weeks back and it is sticking on my heart with super glue.  I can’t get away from what this means.  Not a fear of punishment or a fear of an evil tyrant but a fear caused by awe and wonder at the holiness of God.  Like most things in our faith it’s both simple and complex.

Ralph Martin, an author, speaker, professor and leader of Renewal Ministries, writes in his book The Fulfillment of All Desire:  A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints that “the biblical fear of the Lord is an intelligent fear, based on a deep perception of the holiness and majesty of God….While the fear of the Lord is simply the beginning of wisdom, and the end of wisdom is love (1 John 4:17), one doesn’t jump into love without a deep and ongoing experience of biblical, Spirit-inspired fear….Fear of the Lord is a gift of God; it is not opposed to love, but prepares for it.  Fear of the Lord and love of the Lord go together” (p 55, emphasis added).

Like I said, both simple and complex.

In trying to wrap my head around this I have learned that fear of the Lord is an experience and encounter with the Almighty, Creative, Awesome God.  This encounter with God saturates us in grace and moves us to act in love.  I am reminded of the beloved in the Song of Songs: “I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh” (5:5).  This awe inspired love sits over me like the liquid oil of anointment as I come to meet the Lord.  It is sacred and to be honored.  God does not want us to be afraid of Him but just as we might stand in awe of a beautiful painting or sculpture and admire the work of the artist, or just as we grow in excitement and anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit, how much more so should we be in awe of God and grow in anticipation of His visit to us.

Fear of the Lord and love of the Lord go together.  When we see God for who He is we are moved to love and honor Him as King and Ruler over all.  And we fall on our knees in humble service because of His majesty and magnificence.

The fear of the Lord is glory and exaltation,and

It’s OK if you aren’t ready to jump into love of the Lord.  Take time today to contemplate his holiness and majesty.  How can you grow in fear of the Lord today?  How can you honor the Lord God today?

with love,

Kiera

Do Everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus

-Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything

I found two things remarkable in today’s readings:

“Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
– Colossians 3:17

“Let everything that breaths praise the Lord!”
– Psalm 150:6

All I have to say is that this cannot be down without the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I ask myself “how is this done? do everything in the name of the Lord…everything?” It sounds lofty and great, sure God I give you everything, I’ll do everything in the name of your Son.  But really everything?  Like taking out the trash and watching Project Runway and finding the right dog to adopt?

There is a word in Greek that is used to describe the actions of the Holy Spirit: dunamis.  You’ve probably already guessed that this is linked to English words like dynamite or dynamic.  The Holy Spirit can work in incredibly powerful ways in our lives and the action is like dynamite – explosive.  I read today’s readings with a desire for a greater influence of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Dynamite results in an explosion and an explosion leaves a cloud or haze.  If we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives he will come like fire and explode in our hearts and he will leave his mark in the form of a cloud of grace and glory that will cover all we do and say.  It will change our perspective and our point of view.  It will saturate us in grace and love.  That same Spirit will breath new life into us and into our situation and praise and blessing will follow it.  This will effect everything we do, everything we are and it will make us more like Christ.  And then we can do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus with praise and adoration on our lips.

Harmony

Hello again my friends!  I’m sorry that it’s been so long.  We moved about a week and half ago and have been busy settling into our new home.  As exciting as it is to be in a new home that is all our own this last week has been chaos.  The daily visits from handymen, plumbers, painters and maids have left me anxious for a quiet put together home where I can sit and rest and not constantly wonder “who’s at the door this time?”

This week has been filled with boxes and piles of clothes and unwelcome friends (mice and spiders!); it’s been busy and chaotic and my heart has reflected my space – unsettled.

If I’m sure of anything today it’s that my interior space reflects my exterior space.  I need things to have a purpose and a place – old boxes, books without shelves, and clothes still in suitcases is not OK.  It seems for every problem solved another one arises. We got a brand new kitchen but the oven doesn’t work.  The plumber came to unclog the tub drain which resulted in another plumber needing to come this weekend.  But I’m not here to complain.

I’m here to say that though there has to be a certain detachment from material things in the life of any Christian, it’s also beautiful to see how order in our material and exterior lives leads to order in our interior and spiritual lives.

I know that when my spirit is tired and aching for hope or love or a prayer answered that it’s no coincidence that my room gets a little messy.  I know too that when my prayer is consoling and I feel alive that sitting on a cozy chair in a clean room is that much sweeter.  I’m not saying that if your house is a mess or that if you hate doing the dishes that you’re pushing yourself away from God.  I’m saying that in order for me to have clear and fruitful prayer or formation at home than I need an ordered space, and I don’t think it’s because of OCD.

It says in Genesis that “when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void” (Gen 1:1-2).  A formless void?  Like a black hole or something?  I don’t know, my brother is the physicist.  But here we have God creating the earth from this void.  He put order to the disorder.  He gave purpose to the random and meaning where there was chaos.  The result of God’s creation was a garden, beautiful and abundant and everything and everyone in it lived in harmony with Him.  Sin threw us back into that void – there was a gap between God and man and man was filled with confusion and despair and darkness.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

It continues in the hundreds and hundreds of years of God promising His people a Messiah, a Savior, and then finally delivering them one – Jesus, the Son of the Living God.  Jesus put the world back in order by offering freedom from sin and death and a way for us to live in harmony with God and His creation once again.

God desires that there be order in our lives because order leads to freedom and freedom leads to life everlasting with the one who created us.  So as silly as it may sound, my desire to live in a home without the chaos of renovations and trying to make things fit is a proof that I belong to the Creator (because I am like Him) and a proof that my heart can find rest and peace in Christ (because He fills the void and the gap and provides order to what is broken or disordered).

The apartment is getting cleaner each day and we are down to only a few boxes of DVDs and knick knacks waiting for a shelf to call home.  It’s refreshing to sit and take a break because the work is nearly done.

I pray that God may bring order to your life in whatever way you need it today.  It’s not just a physical order He wants to bring but a spiritual one.  He wants you to know Him first and to let everything else fall into place after that.  He wants whatever part of you that feels broken or empty to be filled with His love and mercy (He is Love and Mercy).  May God grant you peace today and always.

with love,

Kiera

here’s to new friends and beef stew

My friend Stacy always says: “story matters.”

Last night I had the privilege to sit across the table from seven amazing women.  One woman fought for eight years to bring home her adopted son and daughter.  One thought that once her son went away to college to could relax but then felt called to get a Masters in Theology and become a spiritual director.  Another shared memories of a happy life that leaves her now a widow.  Story does matter.

I planned these dinners months ago and picked out four questions to ask.  Each woman was prayed for and personally invited to join us for a simple meal and good conversation.  I knew we wanted a diverse group of women, different ages, different backgrounds, different stages of life.  I didn’t know what to expect as I awkwardly made phone calls and pitched the idea of coming over for dinner to women I barely knew.  I don’t know what made them say yes, it certainly wasn’t my charm, but many did.  And last night was the third time I got together with other women from the parish and talked about life.

I heard about the [If] Tables about a year and a half ago when a group of fifteen women, from all different backgrounds and families, gathered for one thing: to get to know Christ better.  We all huddled in our cozy clothes around a thirty inch TV to watch a live stream of a conference going on in Austin, TX: the [IF] Gathering.  The conference sparked a thought in me about how we all have parts to play in God’s story of this world and it sparked the dream in me that I can gather women to journey together to Christ.

Stories matter.  Your story matters.

A year and a half later I took that dream and gave it a home at Blessed Teresa and we started our own [IF] Tables.

Last night I threw away the questions as after an hour only half had introduced themselves.  It was clear to me more than ever how simple and beautiful it is for us to share our stories.  It didn’t matter if we thought our lives were insignificant or ordinary, we shared who we are and where we’ve been.  I sat quiet for most the night as others conversed and laughed and interrupted one another when a common theme was mentioned; you never would’ve guessed how unfamiliar we all were when we first arrived.  I sat and admired how God has allowed me to watch His story of love and redemption play out in the lives of these seven women in truly incredible and miraculous ways.  Through loses and hardships to joys and hopes to consolations and blessings.  I sat and was inspired by the not so ordinary lives of these amazing women and I wanted to know more.

God didn’t make us to be alone.  He designed us to be in communion with Him through others.  It is a great gift to deeply know another person.  Not just to know their name and what they do, but to know their heart and their story.  Each one of those women has attached themselves to my heart in a particular way that I could never forget them.

One of the questions I had ready to ask last night but never got to was “what makes a true and authentic relationship?”

Even though I didn’t ask it, it was answered: beef stew and biscuits, just kidding, though food helps.  The openness and freedom that each woman had in knowing who they are allowed them to invite others in and made for many new true and authentic friendships.

Tell your story.  It’s important, it’s you and it’s beautiful.

with love,

Kiera

raising my banner

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies.”
– Pope Saint John Paul II

In my heart I feel the faith of a great saint but I’ve been wondering lately if people would see me as such?  I want people to see that I have faith in a wonderful and immeasurable God.  I want people to see His character reflected in mine and to see His light and love shining from in me.  But I have to ask myself: is the life I’m living truly reflective of the faith I claim to have?

I’ve developed a “normalcy complex” this year, self diagnosed, of course.  I want to be normal and like everyone else.  I’m tired of explaining that I’m a missionary, of asking people for money to support me, of feeling different because of my title.  I want to be normal, with a normal job and a normal paycheck, a normal house with a normal dog.  I want to live as real people do.  But as I tried harder and harder to pretend to be normal I just got more and more bored with myself.  Sure, a missionary seems to be a pretty heroic job from most Christian viewpoints, a job filled with lots of adventures and stories of good conquering evil, how could it be boring?  It is an amazing life but it was boring because I wasn’t living the way that God wanted me to live.  I was settling for a false reality that told me that I would be happy if I would do what everyone else was doing, if I would be like everyone else.  And that was what being normal meant for me.

But God doesn’t make us normal – that implies that we’re the usual, what’s expected and typical, and that we’re average and ordinary.  But we’re not; how can I be ordinary when there’s no one else like me?  No one else has the same exact desires, the same exact hopes and dreams, or the same exact bedhead as me.  No matter how close I may come to be like someone else I am still not them and they are not me.  God makes each of us uniquely and specifically.  It’s not random that I love writing or that you love teaching or working with the elderly.  God instilled these passions in us with purpose and intention in order to give our lives a unique purpose and specific intention and that makes us anything but normal.

This last year my life was reflecting the sad reality that this life is it and that this world is all that matters.  But that’s just not true, life is so much more than what we see here.  The reality is that God is the Living God, actively working each day to bring about salvation for all.  This is the reality I want my life to reflect.  This is what I want people to see in me.  The reality that faith in God means trusting that it will work out for good even when it seems impossible.  The reality that faith in God means that Christ really did die on a cross, taking on the punishment we deserve for our sins, offering freedom for us.  The reality that a life with Christ is a life of constant transformation and renewal and one of inexplainable joy.

He doesn’t want for us to be normal or average or ordinary.  He wants us to live the faith that we claim to have and to enter into a life of abundant grace, allowing ourselves to be transformed into the face of Christ, reflecting His image and His glory.  To be extraordinary.  To be saints.

This is what I want my life to reflect!  For too long I have been caught up in the exterior life that I have forgotten my interior life.  I have let normal be more important than Heaven and I wasn’t surprised that I found the response to the above question to be no.  Is the life I’m living truly reflective of the faith I claim to have?  No, the life I was living wasn’t truly reflecting the faith that I have but it will now.  My faith requires boldness and transformation.  It requires that I take time to pray and learn who Jesus is so that I can become more like Him.  It requires that I build on the qualities that reflect His image and glory and that I get rid of the qualities that don’t.

Faith comes from within and if I want that faith to be known than I have to work on what is inside of me.  I’ve had a new conversion.  My desire to be a saint and to live extraordinarily has been reawakened and I have given my life, my hopes, dreams, fears and desires, everything I do and am, over to Jesus and I intend for people to know that I believe in Him.

with love,

Kiera

one year later…

yesterday was our anniversary, and while it was spent doing some of our favorite things like playing music at mass and shopping at savers, this post isn’t about that.

you probably don’t care that i wore my wedding dress around and pretended to walk down the aisle.  you probably don’t care that i had a gyro for dinner and nate had a burger (we’re simple folk).  and you probably don’t care that on our paper anniversary i got nate a roll of toilet paper to take on our next camping trip and he got me a cute old copy of one of my favorite books (wuthering heights, in case you do want to know).

this post isn’t about any of that either.

i laughed almost out loud yesterday before Mass when i saw that the second reading was from Ephesians 5: “husbands love your wives” and all that.  well i’m not a theologian and this post isn’t about the option to omit that part of chapter either.

it’s about this:

“As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.  Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?‘  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’
– John 6:66-9

this was in the Gospel yesterday.  Jesus told everyone that He was the bread of life, the bread that will satisfy them entirely and yet many walked away.  can you blame them?  it seemed to be a ridiculous claim.  of all the things you could be you chose to be bread?  not fire or a tornado or a shark, but bread?  and while many did turn away from Him, simon peter could see something in Jesus that the others couldn’t see.  peter could see that Jesus was the Son of God.

why bread?  well it’s delicious and everyone gets hungry.  but even more than that it shows once more how God has provided for His people.  this time it’s not manna in the desert but manna in a person, in love itself.  manna that will satisfy heartache and pain, all desire and search for love or happiness.

through working with nate each day and learning to live as his wife and through the loses and fights we’v shared, one thing has remained in my heart: Jesus, You are the words of eternal life.  You have everything we need.

marriage is really quite strange to me, even after a year.  my whole life i dreamed of a wedding and a true love and i never stopped to think what that would actually look like.  what is life like after the happily ever after?

i’ve realized every day this year how the rest of my life is in front of me.  years and years and hopefully more years of life and i have no clue how it will unfold.  and every day this year i’ve realized just how important those words of peter really are.

where else will we go when life gets too hard?  where else will we go when we’re too stubborn to admit our faults?  where else will we go when we are hurting and don’t want to go to each other?  Jesus, You have the words of eternal life.

i pray that in this next year of marriage that we do better.  i pray that when we do want to turn and run in fear that we turn and run to Jesus and we eat of the bread of life.

this post isn’t much but it will remind me of what we have been called to: a life giving marriage, one that at the end of everything will bring us face to face with Jesus.

wedding

“Jesus we believe that You are the Holy One of God.  Jesus we believe that you are our provision and protection and life.  Jesus, You are everything to us and we will follow.”

with love,

kiera