With a Burning Heart

Every Easter season, I’m struck with the story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus in chapter 24 of Luke. Perhaps it’s because I relate to the two disciples in question, who begin the story with heavy hearts. Unbeknownst to them, they encounter Jesus, because “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16).  They tell Jesus of the mysterious events of the crucifixion and their discovery of the empty tomb.  Christ then explains the Scripture to them and reveals Himself in the breaking of the bread. The disciples finally recognize Him and their response to this revelation is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Many times in my life, I’ve gone through dark periods  – the infamous dark valley of Psalm 23. Like the disciples, I enter a mixed period of doubt, hope and wonder when life doesn’t go the way I planned, or I encounter an unexpected setback. During these periods, I wonder at the presence of Christ in my life and question His will. I know that I’m traveling to a new destination, but I feel uncertain, perplexed and sometimes sad and lost. And then, oftentimes without realizing it, I encounter Christ along the way.

In a similar way the disciples could not recognize Jesus, Christ enters my life and moves me in ways that I don’t immediately recognize. I’m blinded by past suffering and errors and afraid to hope for what’s to come. Suddenly, everything falls into place. My eyes are opened and I suddenly see God’s plan for me.  Christ’s presence in my life raises my spirit and gives me new hope. And again and again I recognize the burning in my heart that comes with the truth and love of Christ. Only the Lord can make my heart burn in such a way, as I renew my Baptismal vows every Easter season. The disciples encountered the Lord on the road and God in the dark valley guided the shepherd. In such a way, the Lord has led me through a dark valley and I celebrate his resurrection with my family. He has met me on the road.

The tale of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus reminds me that Christ pulls through in his promises.  He invites me to renew myself with his resurrection.  Sometimes I don’t recognize the way the Lord moves me in my life, but I just have to trust that He will guide me. He challenges me to reacquaint myself with His word and fall back in love with Him.  They say that hindsight is 20/20 and, at least for me, that’s very true. In retrospect, when I consider moments in my life when I felt lost or needed extra guidance, I realize that I became stronger and was on my way to a new beginning. When I doubt the Lord’s presence in my life, I must remember to be extra vigilant to an encounter with Christ along the way.  No matter how long the road – or the dark valley – Christ will lead me to my destination.


The God Who Languishes

Was it not too many days gone now that we called him Emmanuel, God with us? And now a few months later, brief as I am sure the years seemed to Mary, here is Jesus, Our Lord and King, wondering off into the desert, seemingly away from us. Thus begins the holy season of Lent, Christ hiding seemingly just after He appeared to us. 

But friends, in all truth we are the ones in the desert hiding, the dried out cavity of our hearts our dwelling place. When God became God with us in Jesus, he knew it was the desert caves that awaited him, to the scorching sands he must trod. Here in Lent, God languishes with mankind in the many man-made wastelands we have wrought for ourselves and one another.

Behold then the Son of Man, Jesus, desiccated and alone. Behold now the gaunt rib cage of God, empty from a weeks-long lack of food. Behold this God who was and is and always will be all fullness, all fruitfulness, all over-flowing fecundity, here in the sand hungry, something an alarming few of us in the West have ever truly felt. We stumble our way through a single day of light-eating, and here sits the God of all creation with a gnawing absence in his belly. We hem and haw whether to put a five dollar bill in the hand at a street corner lest we appropriate some unseen germ, and here is God letting the acidic burn of dissipating fat, the common dis-ease of all wasting flesh, wash over him as he makes it truly his. 

On this day of fasting, we who have plenty to eat think excessively of food, but what about Christ's thirst? Can any words be more truly said of Our Lord than those on the Cross, "I thirst," as if his life is one unquenchable draught from the drink of mankind's misery? When we think of the Chalice whose bitter dregs he willingly drank, the Sacrifice of the Altar, do you not realize my friends that all altars are thirsty, as any rudimentary survey of pagan literature makes good and apparent? In Lent, this thirsty God calls us to quench his seemingly endless thirst with souls, our own indeed, but others as well. Sitting in the desert alone, wretched from hunger and thirst, Our Lord calls out to all mankind, imploring us to join him, not merely as some sort of retributive punishment, but as a justice to quench his thirst for mankind. 

And lo, in his kindness Our Lord presents before us two altars* in which to quench his love for his fallen creatures, one the altar of Sacrifice, but the other the altar of the hands of the poor. For the first altar we fast and pray, so that we may be a worthy oblation to approach this God-in-the desert, so we can join ourselves to his life. But it is in the second altar that we share this God with others, that we poor out our excess to quench their lack. With the first altar we join the Son of Man in the desert of his sacrifice, and with the second altar we imitate in the smallest way the profuse charity God has shown us in finding us in our desert caves. Such love for us does our God have that he provides all that we need to empty ourselves this season, just as he emptied himself in the desert. He provides us the means to make room for his coming 40 days from now in glory.  

In this holy season, God is most assuredly with us, dear brothers and sisters, in the hungry and thirsty body of Jesus in the desert and in the hungry and thirsty bodies of his poor. There is no question he is Emmanuel. Indeed, the only real question we have for ourselves these 40 days is, are we with Him?


*I first encountered this idea in Gary Anderson's incredibly insightful book, Sin, A History, a book I would wholeheartedly recommend for Lenten reading.




Lord, Increase Our Faith!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered many Catholics who have approached me as a seminarian asking for my thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling on Same-Sex “Marriage”. Most of them are looking for a word of consolation. And on my part, I understand. It is disheartening to see the nation that I love and grew up in continue down this dark and evil path of corrupting marriage and the family—all in the name of a counterfeit “love.” But when I talk to these people who come seeking a word of encouragement, I’ve come to realize, left to my own devices, I have no word to offer. The only word I can offer is the Word of God, and that’s big: the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes it can feel we Christians go around adopting a mentality of a sort of “Bad News”: the world is falling apart, sin is taking a deeper hold of our culture and our communities, dysfunction is all around us (and if we are honest, even within us). But of course the simple truth is that “the world” is falling apart, sin is tearing apart that original harmony of God’s created order. The world is the devil’s playground. Not the world as creation, because that is good as we hear in the Scriptures. But the spirit of the world is under the control of the evil one.

But as Christians—that is as bearers of Christ—we are called to proclaim the Good News. And it is times like these we should rejoice, because in the midst of a twisted and deprived generation, we are called to be children of the light, St. Paul says. And while we too are sinners, we have found refuge in the merciful embrace of our Heavenly Father.

At the heart of the Good News is “that God works out all things for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) And the foundation for this truth of our Holy Catholic faith is found in the Cross & Resurrection of Jesus Christ. God drew the greatest good—our salvation, from the greatest evil—man putting the God-Man to death. Love does indeed win so the Cross proclaims. And God continues to draw good from evil. St. Paul says that “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” (Romans 5:20) We must live in a grace filled age, because sin is abundant!

Faith is needed to believe this. But we do not create faith. Faith is a gift from God. We must ask for it.  And faith is at the center of the proclamation of the Good News. “For man believes in his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.” (Romans 10:10) Cultivating faith is at the heart of evangelization. What miracles Jesus was able to do with people of faith. And he was amazed by other’s lack of faith. If we are going to be missionary disciples, as Pope Francis keeps calling us to be, if we are going to be missionaries of joy, than we must lead our evangelization efforts with this proclamation, first being people of deep faith, and then collaborating with the Holy Spirit in inspiring the gift of faith in those around us.

All of us need to ask the Lord for more faith. We can never have enough. We must beg for faith. And I mean beg! Whenever we begin to become discouraged, to complain or whine, we must cry out for the gift of faith! I think we can learn a little from children when it comes to begging for faith, because so often, as adults, begging is seen as inappropriate for an adult. Think of how a child can throw a tantrum for some candy at the store. The child screams, and cries, demanding to get what it wants. Now this image, when translated to our spiritual lives can only go so far: but perhaps we should throw a tantrum in our payers, making a ruckus as we cry out to the Lord for faith.

As a priest friend of mine preached recently on this SCOTUS ruling:

At the end of the day, God is love. As our loves are truly ordered to him, we enter into the life and love of God. There is happiness. There is joy. There we come fully alive. To borrow a slogan from the last few weeks: ‘Love wins’, yes; but, only if it is God’s love.

Lord, we believe you are love, and have truly already won the victory: Increase our faith, that we might be bearers of the Good News!

Forgotten Fruits of Suffering

The forgotten fruits of suffering,
The anointed spouse of loving.
When I run from you,
I flee my greatest friend.
Instead I keep my pleasures queued,
and follow to a bitter end.
I shun love’s cross.
My soul descends into a frost.
Alone and lost I grasp about.
Rains of grace have turned to drought
Twisting and writhing in comforts,
I let out muffled shouts,
The lies I live subverts
The truth I know inside.
I cling to hope, my guide,
Pray for grace to cast aside
the damning pleasure’s chains
For in these labor pains,
It is grace alone that reaches down,
and grasps me from the barren ground,
To walk the path of Calvary,
The only path on which I'm rightly free.
I beg the mercy of the lover,
that I may share in suffering,
to bear the lovers burden,
to know the fruits of love,
and to be fruitful too.
For by the gentle Dove,
gliding down from up above,
I find the strength to encounter all anew,
and bid the barren past adieu. 

Who is Your Adventure?

“You are my greatest adventure.”

-Mr. Incredible

If you haven’t already read Jacob Machado’s One Step Guide to Going on an Adventure I highly recommend you do so here. His discussion of adventure as an unknown risk and not in accord with comfort or a desire to be in control is wonderful, and will be helpful to keep in mind as I attempt to expand the idea without regurgitating.

Being in the middle of a semester abroad, I am currently living what a vast majority would consider an adventure. I am living in a reformed monastery in the foothills of the Alps, studying philosophy and theology, and spending my weekends traveling all over Europe. I am experiencing different cultures every week, each one incredibly unique. I have spent weekends hiking through snow to frozen waterfalls and incredible views. I have learned how to navigate European train systems, and spent afternoons wandering through thousands of years of history.

What I have noticed, through all of these adventures, however, is that the experiences, in and of themselves, while beautiful, do not satisfy. What has elevated each one from experiences to check off my list to adventures is what I have learned about the people around me (including myself) in and through these experiences.

If you have ever taken the time to get to know someone, and I mean really get to know someone, you have experienced an adventure. Each time you learn something new about them, there is a new thrill. Each time you are vulnerable you take an unknown risk. Getting to know someone better, whether it is yourself or another, is what makes experiences, even the thrilling ones, adventures.

In the midst of a pilgrimage to Rome, I was invited to join a few friends at a dinner with a former Franciscan student living and studying in the city. At first it was just exciting to think about going to a Roman apartment and having homemade Italian food. What was incredible, though, was that after a dinner filled with talk about studies in humanities, she decided to walk us around Rome, showing us her favorite sites. It was exciting to see the city at night, with someone who knows the way. As she talked, incredible turned to indescribable, and I saw the city through her eyes. As she told us how she ended up in Rome, I began to see everything the city was to her, and the whole night came alive. Through getting to know her, wandering the streets of Rome, though they were familiar by this point, became an adventure.

As communal creatures, the fact that learning about others is what makes an adventure means that not only do we desire adventure, we need it. We need to be drawn out of our comfort zone and into the hearts and minds of others. We need to be challenged in our beliefs, our thoughts, and our skills so that they might become stronger. We need to come to know others and ourselves so that we may come to know Christ. And it all starts with the One Step Guide to Going on an Adventure.

I would like to propose, however, before signing off, that we must be careful in this discussion not to undervalue stereotypically adventurous experiences. It was not until traveling that I could see the areas in which my spirit of adventure had started to atrophy. It wasn’t until wandering the streets of Rome on someone else’s timetable that I could see in what areas my need for control was affecting me. It was being the only two awake on an overnight train that encouraged me to be a little more vulnerable with a new friend. It was jumping into a random pick up game of volleyball in an Italian schoolyard that reminded me I need to cultivate my spirit of adventure.

And so, my friends, let us be adventurers, in all senses, keeping adventures themselves and the spirit of adventure each in perspective, so that we might live fully that adventure we are called to, a life lived in Christ. 

There and Back Again: Tolkien’s letter to his son

There and Back Again: Tolkien’s letter to his son

Just a few weekends ago, I completed my second Lord of the Rings marathon, marking the bagillionth time I’ve seen each movie. I would find it unusual for those who have also seen the movies (or read the books) multiple times to ever find them “old” or “boring”. The credit for my and many others’ continued infatuation goes to the author and literary mastermind, J.R.R. Tolkien, who portrays a world pit between the forces of good and evil in creative detail...

The way that I just realized I need to imitate Christ

The way that I just realized I need to imitate Christ

This week I want to discuss the imitation of Christ. Not the book written by Thomas á Kempis, despite it being a wonderful work with superb insight into the spiritual life. I want to look at the imitation of Christ from a slightly different perspective.

How should a Christian imitate Christ?

Let Go of Time

Let Go of Time

Maybe it’s the beginning of a new year and all those resolutions that bring my friends, and myself, to reconsider how we use our time. We resolve to use it better: spend wisely, save time, never waste it. We are limited; time is limited. We agree: with time at our disposal, we should make the best of these limits.

It sounds reasonable, and this is how I behave, consciously or habitually, most often.