Living with Ashes

Like most of us, I adore Advent—the darkness of mid-winter, the flickering candles of the Advent wreath, the anticipation of the Incarnation, hope of the world. Even my impatient heart can enter in. But Lent? Its starkness is not even hidden by the dark of winter, but revealed for the barren reality that it is. 40 days of self-sacrifice, accountability and the anticipation of the gruesome and beautiful reality that ushered in our Salvation. This season is not for the faint of heart.

Lent is here. It was marked yesterday by the most widely-attended holy day of non-obligation on the Church calendar.  Amidst the ashes, this phenomenon gives me hope each year. The hope of Easter, yes, but more than that, the signal that as a society there is a need to publically set ourselves apart and be reminded of our humble existence and radical dependence on God’s mercy. A small gesture perhaps, but absolutely an opportunity for grace to enter in.

I have no light to shed on this statistical anomaly and what it says about the heart of where we find ourselves, culturally.

What I can tell you is that my husband and I have been helping to teach a course on Marriage prep at our parish over the course of the past four weeks and it has been a preparation for Lent of sorts. If there are grounds for self-sacrifice and death of selfish desires, some of their most humble beginnings can be found in honest preparation for and the living out of the vocation of marriage. I mean this in the most positive of ways.

Our preparation starts in Genesis—the same readings we reference as we receive our ashes: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  The story of our humble beginnings in the two creation accounts have become some of my favorites in all of Scripture. I love hearing the account of God lovingly calling all of creation into being—into communion, relationship with himself. Beyond that, over and over, the whole of creation is named “good.”

If I can let my hackles down about this Lenten call out of my comfort zone, then I can admit that essentially this is what I am being invited into in this season of Lent, too. Not just relationship, but right relationship with God as well as my spouse and my neighbors—all of them. As a spouse or participant in the Christian life, I am being re-created. I am living with the ashes that are my human limitations and the remains of my selfish desires, and it is good.

Then he said to all,
‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?
— Luke 9:23-25

The Hope of the World

Last November as her semester abroad was ending, my sister was planning on stopping through Paris on her way to Scotland for a week before meeting up with me in Rome. She originally planned to be in Paris only one day and one night. A couple of weeks before her trip she decided to skip Paris and fly straight to Scotland. On November 13, the exact day my sister originally planned to be in Paris, explosions rang out in the city as terrorists executed a coordinated attack throughout Paris. My sister was safely in Scotland and I met up with her in Rome the next week.

Last week in Munich there was a mass shooting at a shopping center near Olympiapark. Last November while in Munich, I walked past that shopping mall while I was touring Olympiapark. When I heard the news reports it struck me that, though thousands of miles away, I knew exactly where the terrible event was taking place. Furthermore, a fellow Franciscan University graduate was in the shopping mall with his youth group during the attack. They were travelling through Munich on their way to World Youth Day and luckily none of them were harmed, but I saw his facebook posts live during the attack.

Most recently we mourned the tragic killing of Fr. Jaques Hamel in France while he was celebrating Mass. In light of that, parishioners at the parish I work at have expressed concern, asking if we have a plan in place if an active attack were to occur at our parish. 

These are only a few examples of the turbulent violence that is scourging our world today. Others, like me, have stories of just how close to home these tragedies are. Many have had the violence strike even closer than I, even witnessing it first-hand. Shock, sadness, anger, and fear are common and reasonable responses to the tragedies around us. We inherently want to feel in control, but the reality is events like these could happen anytime and anywhere. In our fear we want to have a plan, we want to avoid all risk, but we can't do that. We can not let fear keep us from boldly living. In light of this, I would like to speak those tremendous words that have permeated throughout the history of the Church, "Be not afraid." 

I cannot speak better than St. John Paul II, but as your Christian brother, living with you among the fears of this world - the fear of terrorism, the fear of partisan political ideology, the fear of racial tensions, the fear of economic distress, the fear of the unknown other - I exhort you, fellow Christians, to not be afraid. To pray, pray for those whose lives have been taken, pray for peace, pray for justice, pray for your brothers, and pray for your enemies, PRAY!

It is easy to look at prayer and ask what it can do in the face of such evil, but therein lies our faith in God. That God is present, that God is here, and that our hope amidst the struggles and the terrors of this life is in Jesus Christ who died and conquered death in his resurrection. So stand as a witness to the world of the hope that is within you. We must not let fear turn us in on ourselves. We must not shrink in fear, rather let us grow in hope! Evil cannot sustain, it devours itself, but hope finds its fruition in the Love of God which remains forever!

Friends, in our grief, in our mourning, and in our anger, let us remember that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:13-18)

I originally had a different article I planned to post today, however, due to the recent events, I felt compelled to write this piece. Thank you for our prayers, thank you for your faith and your hope. The world needs now, more than ever, the hope and the work of Christians! All the angels and saints, pray for us.

“Let nothing disturb you; Let nothing frighten you; All things pass; God never changes. Patience obtains all things. The one who has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices."
- St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila)

Our Love: Preparing Our Hearts for the Encounter

Our Love: Preparing Our Hearts for the Encounter

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You Will Be Fulfilled

You Will Be Fulfilled

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