Teresa Linda, ocds: the holy innocents

Matthew 2:13-18
13 After they had left, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’
14 So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt,
15 where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I called my son out of Egypt.
16 Herod was furious on realising that he had been fooled by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or less, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men.
17 Then were fulfilled the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more.

by Duccio di Buoninsegna (Wiki Commons)

During a recent retreat, I met a woman who was a parishioner in the church that welcomed and walked my whole family back to the Catholic Church. It was a non-silent retreat, so over lunch, I shared my experiences of the Holy Land, and she spoke to me about a trip she and her husband had taken to the Middle East.

Before the Syrian War had started in 2012, she asked a reluctant cabbie to drive them from Lebanon through the desert, to a monument in Syria along the Euphrates River, which marked the Armenian genocide by Turkish forces. The monument, as with many other Syrian institutions, has since been destroyed by ISIS and military conflict.

And as she recounted how the Armenian mothers, rather than have their daughters succumb to the enemy, would throw their daughters into the Euphrates, more than one-hundred years ago, we looked into each other’s eyes knowingly.

Such agonizing separations were more than likely still happening today due to the sectarian conflicts in the region. It is easy to look at the darkness of such atrocities with despair, but the birth of Jesus has already won the victory over death, for “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2).

The gospel accounts focus on the Holy Family’s narrow escape from Herod. After having received a vision from an angel in the middle of the night, Joseph immediately gathers the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, to begin a journey of over 400 miles from Bethlehem to Egypt, mostly on foot.

There is only a brief mention of the suffering of the families in the surrounding districts of Jerusalem when all the male children two years and under were put to death, and only through the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, written around 600 BC, before the 586 BC Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem: “A voice is heard in Ramah [Ramallah today, near Bethlehem] lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”

Zechariah, written around 500 BC, after both the Babylonian captivity and the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem through the Great King Cyrus  of Greece (538 BC), foretells this same event.

Zechariah 12: 8-14. On that day the LORD will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the weakest among them will be like David on that day; and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD before them.

9 On that day I will seek the destruction of all nations that come against Jerusalem 10 I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have thrust through, they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and they will grieve for him as one grieves over a firstborn.

11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 And the land shall mourn, each family apart: the family of the house of David, and their women; the family of the house of Nathan, and their women; 13 the family of the house of Levi, and their women; the family of Shimei, and their women; 14 and all the rest of the families, each family apart, and the women apart.

The prophet Zechariah vividly captures the intense pain that the families must suffer alone, particularly the mothers of the children who have been massacred, for the mourning in Jerusalem happens ‘each family apart, and the women apart.’ I could not help but think about the countless mothers today, who must grieve in the silence of their hearts, the children they have lost through violence.

Yet hope comes in the most unlikely form.

Through Zechariah’s prophesy, the Lord promises that ‘the weakest among them will be like David.’ How could it be, that the most feeble could be as powerful as one of the greatest Kings of Judah? History bears out that the drops of blood shed by the most helpless, the innocent infants of Jerusalem, would be the seeds to the flourishing kingdom of Christ.

Zechariah also points to the connection between Jesus as among the children in the ‘House of David…who will be like God’ and Jesus, ‘the firstborn’ and ‘only child’ whom Jerusalem will recognize as ‘him whom they have thrust through.’ The great I am, the Word made flesh is the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins – and all forms of captivity  – of the world.

This recognition of faith and love does not happen automatically. It requires the human willingness of heart, a prayer of desire and ‘supplication,’ on our part to recognize who we are without God’s grace – coupled with the ‘mercy’ of God, who is always God with us – which results in genuine repentance and the healing of all wounds: war, death, scandal, evil, addictions, pain.

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: An Advent Prayer

The Virgin of Lebanon (Chapel of St. Charbel, Lebanon 2018)

Stir up your power, we pray oh Lord and come to set us free by the fire of Your Spirit. Come by the fire of the spirit You sent deep within us, Lord Jesus. You came,You were born in the world to set us free from every form of enslavement, by the grace of your compassion from on high that we may possess true freedom.

Lord, Advent is a special time that you’ve given us to prepare for Christmas. The very name, the very word – Advent – means ‘come,’ – inviting You to come into our hearts; inviting You to be born again into the world in the Bethlehem of our inmost being.

And when You were born in Bethlehem, You chose not the perfect palace but You chose unexpected poverty. You wanted to be born in the most unexpected conditions – dire poverty. What to Mary and to Joseph must have seemed like a total inconvenience, what must have seemed like an entire setback, as if God the Father had sent them on this course and left them hanging – that setback was actually a set-up for a new way in which You wanted them to be blessed.

It was a set-up for those shepherds, for the poor people to come from the pastures; to come after hearing the message of the Angels; to give glory to God on high.

It was a set-up for those three wise men who came from far distant countries, having been kings of their own respective lands. They possessed everything the world ccould offer but they recognized that there was still something essentially missing. It was empty and they were inspired to seek a star that would lead them to the King of the cosmos, the sovereign Lord who would become an innocent infant.

You who are the infinite God became a vulnerable infant, Lord. As St. Therese says, you became a child, you became so small, so tiny, so helpless in order for us to not be afraid to approach you. Because there is nothing that can most attract our affection,that can most inspire tenderness than the beauty of a newborn infant.

You became that infant, Lord, that we may not be afraid to approach You as the eternal God; that we may not be afraid to take you into our arms, into our hands, into our lives and hearts. And You were born in the world Lord, in order to give Your life for us. You were born and placed in the wood of the crib in order to give Your life for us on of the wood of the cross.

You who are the sovereign Lord became a little baby, a little lamb and you voluntarily allowed yourself to be slaughtered, that every evil thing in our life may be slain and that we may have victory over anything and everything that could possibly try to steal our purpose for happiness.

You came to heal our wounds, to heal the brokenhearted. Your heart was moved with pity as You saw your people troubled and abandoned, and You gave your own followers, Your disciples power and authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.

We present ourselves to Your love, Your heart, in the Blessed Sacrament in which is invisibly present, the grace of Your cross, Your life-giving cross; in which is present the radiance of your resurrection. Your divine mercy Jesus is present to us as the heart of who You are, the core of the gospel, the essence of Your message and mission, the power of God’s transforming love that is stronger than anything that can possibly ever harm us.

In the Eucharist, You are with us, as You promised You would be to the end. In the Eucharist, we can cling – as to an anchor- to Your victory over every evil. Your victory helps us to have the courage and strength to become the best version of ourselves; to not be afraid of conversion; to not be afraid to allow You to crush in us what whatever wall is getting in your way; to crush in us whatever hardheartedness is keeping You out; to crush in us whatever mountains of pride we’ve set up for ourselves in our false securities; and to raise up and exalt our valleys.

Lord Jesus, Your mercy is a medicine of immortality, an oasis of grace that heals our hearts’ deepest needs, a source of peace that overcomes the chaos, and a wellspring of serenity that gives birth to new life. We submit to your righteousness Jesus, to Your mission, to the riches of your grace and love.

Teresa Linda, ocds: my mother from Palestine

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jordan 2018)

When I got home from our Holy Land pilgrimage, one of the first things I did was call Asima, a seventy-something year old Arab who was once one of my best friends.  I meant to call her before the pilgrimage to let her know that I would be visiting her homeland, but for some reason, I didn’t. I was hoping that calling her soon after the trip would suffice.

“So what is the news?” she asked, since I had rarely spoken to her since she moved out of the neighborhood five years ago.

“Asima, I visited Jordan!” I replied with excitement.

But rather than responding with joy, she asked with hurt in her voice, “Why didn’t you tell me?! Hmm?…I lived in Jordan. My daughter lives in Jordan. Hmm…Did you forget? Did you forget?!”

Asima was born in Jaffa Tel Aviv when it was called Palestine, but in 1948, when Israel was established as a state, she and her family, along with countless Palestinians, were forced to leave their homes and lands behind, and they moved to Jordan. She eventually came to the United States with her two unmarried sons due to the persecution of Christians.

We had a hidden friendship, one that was shared and experienced by just the two of us, and it began when she started taking care of my three-year old daughter. I belonged to an inter-denominational Women’s Bible Study that met weekly with the goal of going through all the books of the Old Testament in seven years.

About four years into our study, I could feel the exhaustion of motherhood and being away from my extended family weighing on me, and I turned to Asima for help. She led the Evening Women’s Bible Study for a small group of Arab women, but during the day, she took care of her grandson and helped with childcare at the church.  Providentially, she also lived in an apartment just two blocks from our house and the grandson she was taking care of was the same age as my daughter.

I would try to simply drop off my daughter, but true to Arabian hospitality, Asima would not let me leave unless I sat down with her and had tea and anise cookies, or pita and hummus sprinkled with olive oil.

(“We are a people of the desert,” our tour guide from Jordan once said. “You cannot enter a home without being offered everything that we are able to give you. That is our way.”)

And we could not sit down at the kitchen table without Asima talking about the way of Jesus and the Prophets, as they moved through her homeland, a terrain that was so unimaginable to me, but one that Asima knew through the many generations of blood and family before her who lived there.

Soon, she was also giving me extemporaneous Bible Study lessons when she passed by my house and found that I was home.

I would come along on her leisurely walk around the block and together we would talk about scripture, rescue lemons fallen from bushes, and pick apricots from the tree on the side of my yard. In early spring, she would come with scissors to cut the young grape leaves off our terrace.

In exchange for the harvest from our yard, Asima would return a few days later with dolmas made of grape leaves, tabouli sprinkled generously with lemon juice, or a small jar of apricot jam.

“Asima, I didn’t forget you. I thought about you the whole time I was in the Holy Land,” I tried to explain to her. Every bite of hummus, the scent of anise and sesame seeds, and parsley and lemon that pervaded the places we ate in –constantly reminded me of her.

And everywhere we went, I heard her voice, telling different stories from both the Old and New Testament.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Petra Jordan 2018)

When we walked through Petra, the majestic city built in the red stone cliffs of Jordan by the Edomites, I heard Asima speaking. “Did you read the book of Obadiah? It’s only one chapter from the Old Testament. Obadiah spoke about Petra. The people who live in Petra, they were very proud because they are living inside the high mountains, and when the enemy comes, they must walk the narrow way. When the people of Petra see men coming to fight, what do they do?  They attack from the top of the mountains.

‘And who lived there before? Esau’s children. His brother is Jacob. Jacob used to live on the Palestine side, and Esau lived in the Jordan side. When the enemy comes to fight Jacob’s children, they asked Esau’s children if they can come around to their side, but they refused. They started to laugh. For this reason, Esau’s children do not get blessed by God.’

“Go to Obadiah verses two and eighteen. Read it.” I would then leaf through the Bible and find the scripture passage as fast as I could, while Asima would almost immediately open to the page. While I read, she ran her finger from right to left on her bible’s Arabic script.

Now I make you least among the nations; you are utterly contemptible. The pride of your heart has deceived you – you who dwell in mountain crevices, in your lofty home…The house of Jacob will be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau a stubble…none will survive of the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken,” I would read.

“You see,” she would exclaim. “To this day, Petra is empty except for tourists.”

Photo credit: The Speakroom (2018)

She would then share modern-day stories, those shared by word of mouth from one friend to another about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; the stories sounded too barbaric and unreal to me then, but they have today, become an accepted part of the news.

“But God is perfect and knows all. Jesus was born at exactly the right time. Go to Galatians, chapter 4, starting at verse three. What does Paul say?”

I would read, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!”

“Why does Paul say ‘the fullness of time?’ After the Greek empire, the Romans came. And after the Romans came, they couldn’t change the language. The Greek language  spread. And what did the Romans do? They fixed the roads. ‘All roads go to Rome!’

‘Now look how God prepared the way. One language, and Paul knows the language. He speaks Greek, and he’s educated. He has a Roman passport, and the roads are open. Yanni, it helps Paul to go every place to talk about Jesus. For this reason, it says ‘the fullness of time.’”

Asima was one of the first people to visit me when my youngest child was born. She would smile at the baby in her arms, and fondly say, “Habibi!” Then she would sing to him, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”

Our times together dwindled when I had to return to work to support my husband through graduate school and my children through several private schools. The endless weekends of grading papers and prepping, and all the demands of being a mother of four children while working full-time, made times with Asima less possible, and it began to seem that the friendship was really not so important.

But everything about Asima and the intimacy of our friendship came rushing back at me when we visited the Holy Lands.  It wasn’t just the smells, the landscape, and the sound of her voice telling a story behind every holy site – our tour guide in Israel even ended up being part of her extended family!

(“Oh, I know Asima,” he nonchalantly told me. Then he pulled up a photo of a relative Asima introduced me to fifteen years ago, and his baby).

The Holy Spirit was constantly prompting me to remember because He didn’t want me to forget who Asima was to me — for Asima reminded me of who I was before the Lord.

“You are like my other daughter,” she would often tell me with gleam in her eyes. “And you are also God’s daughter.  For this reason, always, you are beautiful. He loves you so much  — He knows the number of the hairs on your head.”

I didn’t so much forget Asima, as much as I had forgotten who I was.

ADVENT PRAYER

O Mary, my Mother, be my model during this holy season. Christ was alive within thee during the first Advent. We want Him to be more alive within us than ever during this Advent. May we not merely possess our precious Catholic Faith-rather, may It take complete possession of us, so that wherever we go, whatever we do or say, it will be the Christ Child that inspires us.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Moses and Abba, our Father

ADVENT PRAYER (from Catholic Online Prayers)

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father’s joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.

I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen.

EXODUS 3:1-14 Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb. 2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. 3S Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” 5God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.b 6I am the God of your father,* he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.c Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

  9Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.

11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12God answered: I will be with you; and this will be your sign that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13“But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you

Homily at Memorial Church of Moses, Mount Nebo  (Madaba, Jordan) – loose transcription below

Moses was chosen by Adonai, our Holy God to be the mediator of the communion between his holiness and his people. He was a beloved of God and was chosen for a mission of liberation.

In the first reading, we heard about this emancipation from slavery to freedom and new life when God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.

This was a process that took a long time. When we ask for God’s intervention, we expect results immediately, but his plan for his people’s happiness took a long, long time. And what prolonged the blessings to be received? – the disposition and attitude of his people, their wayward thinking; their deceiving and their negative speaking put up roadblocks and prolonged their arrival to the Promised Land.

Moses represents the holiness of God amidst of his people. He is a prophet of God’s presence, who hears the cries of the poor, knows their afflictions, and desires our liberation. God wants us to be happy just as any parent desires for their children.

Mount Sinai is is a place of Moses’ extraordinary experience of God and Mount Nebo is where he saw the fulfillment of the promise of Sinai from a distance:

Deuteronomy 34:1-6 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,a the peak of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and the LORD showed him all the land—Gilead, and as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, the plain (the valley of Jericho, the City of Palms), and as far as Zoar. 4The LORD then said to him, This is the land about which I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over. 5So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the LORD, died as the LORD had said.

Moses was a prophet of liberation and freedom. His encounter with God gave him the strength and endurance to journey for forty years. It is from Mount Sinai, where God manifested himself as a bush and revealed himself as ‘I am who am,’ a mystical expression of his identity. It was so holy that his name couldn’t even be pronounced or expressed in a single name.

There are countless names that reveal God’s majesty, but the greatest name that Jesus revealed to us is Abba – Father. God doesn’t want us to be afraid to come near him and know his majesty and merciful love, which is expressed through a filial love, so that we know his majesty with a heart-felt affection.

The same access of love that Jesus has for the father is our birthright. We have rights to God’s heart as our father. We have to know our real father. And Jesus wants to set us free from that which causes fear and intimidation. He is the new Moses who brings about the ultimate revolution of new life – and the cost was Himself.

 

And as Moses lifted up the serpent so that anyone who looked at it would be healed, we too have to face our fears. The Israelites were bit by the snake of their own complaining, which created a bitterness that was killing them from the inside out. In order to be freed from the sickness of their heart, they had to face their fears by looking at what they feared the most.

John Paul II said that the first thing we should do to discover our own exodus is to be not afraid; open wide the gates of your heart to Christ. The truth is that he will not hold back anything; there is no price he will not pay for our reconciliation.

The cross saves. This sacrifice saves us, but to enter into that sacrifice, we must embrace the cross of our own lives. Only by doing so can you be healed from it. In that cross is the wisdom and power. But you must face the enemy to experience the emancipation and liberation of the crossing of the Red Sea.

God wants us to have our own salvation history. And Jesus is the new Moses who brings about this new-found liberty.

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: Christ the King

Image from Creative Commons

SOURCE: The Feast of Christ the King Homily, St. Victor’s Church, San Jose, CA. November 2018)

(Click on the triangle to play)

The Trial before Pilate (John 18:28-38)

28Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.

29So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?” 30They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

31At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” 32*in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.

33So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

36Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

37So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him.

Today we celebrate a King – not a czar or a political figure – but a King who’s status ranks second to none. To this king belongs the primacy and priority. Another way of understanding a king is a champion, a chief, a master.

As we celebrate the King of the universe, the question for us, is ‘Are you down with the King? Are you willing to lay your life down for Him, as He has laid His life down for you?

Christ the King desires to reign not only in nations, but also in our hearts. His rule is redemption. He restores all things of who I am and who I am meant to be, and I say that speaking for everybody. As soon as I surrender my life to His, He starts to write straight on crooked lines. He begins to turn my wrongs into right. He desires to reign in our hearts for our sakes, and not for His own, so that He can liberate us from all that can shackle our capacity for happiness.

What shackles our capacity for happiness more  than anything else? — sin and death – but He also came to liberate us from everything in between. For example, fear in all its forms – the fear of death, or even fear as a sole motive of obedience to God. He wants to set us free even of fear of the Lord if that’s the only motive of why we believe.

For He came that we might be free, so that our obedience can come from a place of freedom and love. In calling us to be free, He is calling us to victory. Our identity as believers in Christ is victory; therefore, we are not called to be victims of anybody or anything – not of our past or of our past choices or decisions. Nothing is capable of limiting us but our own selves.

God’s victory is vast and He has a vast vista, a broad horizon for who we are and what we’re capable of. We’re not to be victims of the past, of persecution, of oppression, or of abuse; we are not to be victims of pain because victory is our birthright and He is the King.

As the Psalms says, ‘His throne stands firm.’ Jesus is still seated on His throne no matter how bad things get; no matter how ugly things get in the world, in the Church or in your personal lives, Jesus’ throne stands firm. He’s still in control, He’s still in charge, and He’s still the chief. He is still writing straight out of crooked lines, bringing good out of everything.

His dominion is everlasting – definitive and indestructible. No one has more authority than Him in the whole universe. How did this King, our King accomplish this victory? – by Himself becoming a victim, out of empathy for our battle, and for the fight that we have to fight in order to be saved.

The victor became a victim. And how did He win this victory? In the second reading, it says ‘to Him who loves us and freed us’ – that’s how we won the victory – by His love. His love is the power that allowed Him to obtain the victory on our behalf. It was love that gave Him the strength and courage to lay down His life for our sake in order to lift us up; He lay down His life to give us the victory that we could never accomplish by our own strength.

He won the victory by His blood and by the sacrifice of His life on the cross. He who was pierced allowed His heart to be broken; He allowed His heart to be pierced in order to open up paradise for us through the forgiveness of our sins and the restoring of our lives.

He who was pierced became the victor. In the Book of Revelations, He says, ‘I am the beginning and the end of all time. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, who was, and who is to come, to Him be glory and power forever and ever.’

Photo credit: The Speakroom

He is the source and summit of everything and everything in between. All life revolves around Him – not us. He is the center of the universe – not me.

The wisest thing we can ever do is to give our lives to worship Him. That’s wisdom, because by worshiping Him, be become united to Him whom we love, and when we’re united to Him whom we love, we’re united to all that belongs to Him. And His life is victory. It is eternal and indestructible.

That’s not simply a hope for our future, like fire insurance or a back-up plan, it is a victory and reality of love; we’re meant to know the power of His love working in our life today, in our concrete circumstances and situation. In whatever challenges you may experience, the presence of Jesus and His victory is taking action, and taking flesh in your particular situation and in the context of your relationships.

Being united and being children of the King means that our blood is royalty. It means we have birthrights to His blessing. We share in His authority.

When we pray, we have the power to pray in the Spirit, to declare His promises over our lives, and to claim His victory in advance in the midst of the trial; knowing that if we trust, the Lord is going to transform this trial into a triumph. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but I know He is. We can possess that kind of confidence when we belong to the King because the victory has been won and it just has to be daily reinforced in you and me.

We heard about His majesty prophesied in the first reading from Daniel, centuries before Christ even came to the world. It was prefigured. And in the gospel, Jesus says, ‘For this I was born, and for this, I came into the world to testify to the truth,’ – a truth that is not of this world, a truth that is greater than common sense or natural wisdom, a truth that sometimes might contradict what you might expect, a truth that will really set you free, more than anything or anybody could or can.

This truth will set us free from slavery from a lesser self and a lesser way of living; this truth is not a something but a Somebody, and is all centered in the person of Jesus, the King of the Universe.

Jesus says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ It’s not political but spiritual; not temporal but eternal. Everything belongs to Him, both seen and unseen – in our physical body, on our health, the health of the planet, and all the cosmos. Everything is in His hands.

Therefore, our destiny is not limited to this world. It’s but the training ground and platform. Sometimes, this place where we must work out our salvation can be a battlefield. But Jesus says ‘I am not of this world’ and we too, if we really belong to Jesus, we also have to say, ‘I am not of this world. I belong to the truth. I belong to Somebody who loves me and who has given His life for me.

His victory is my identity; it is my birthright as a believer in Christ. I am called today to share in the victory of Jesus as King and even if we don’t literally win at everything, which is very possible, even if we don’t always win, as long as we learn and rise up – that’s where strength is found. That’s where true victory lies – in the cross.

Jesus referred to that cross as His glory yet it is seen to be far from glory for those who are worldly-wise. And yet He refers to that cross as His glory because it is the means for His resurrection, the means of His victory.

So too is every struggle and cross in our lives, every sacrifice of obedience of God’s law and will, even when it hurts to love in the way we are supposed and are meant to; it’s in the pain that we find the cross that is life-giving. And it’s by the cross that we shall be crowned.

No cross, no crown. Where there is the cross, there will be the resurrection. Jesus desires and He died so that He could crown our lives with His glory – so that His cross may be our anchor.

Are you down with the King? The choice is up to each of us whether or not we are willing to lay down our life in love, for Him who laid down His life for ours.

O lavish Giver of light, You alone are the fullness of life. Teach us to relearn how to listen, so as to be filled with the love of Your wisdom, and abide in the beauty of truth & holiness. Our heart of hearts is the Holy of Holies of Your dwelling, Lord God of Hosts. Enrich us in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit’s Effervescence. May his blazing radiance take possession of our hearts, now and forever. Amen.

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: True greatness

Homily at the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist  – Madaba, Jordan

(Click on the triangle on the left to listen to the audio.  Below is a loose transcription of the homily).

Ambition of James and John. (Mark 10: 35-45)

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?” 37They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. 42 Jesus summoned them and said to them,“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. 43But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; 44whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. 45For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In the video we watched in the bus on the way here, I was pretty impressed by the King Abdullah II of Jordan. He was so down to earth and so in touch with his people, in regards to his authentic ways of living with passion, in his heart, and being very, very conscientious of the people whom he serves in a wholesome way. Seeing him dressed in civilian clothes, and the way he greeted his people and sat among them reminds me of the example Jesus is presenting to us in the gospel, where he says that ‘those who want to be great among the Gentiles, lord it over them, but it shall not be so among you.’

The King of Jordan shows us a wonderful example of the proper use of power for the sake of his people and how to serve his people as king. In fact, when he was chosen to be King, he never aspired for the position, and that is exactly why he was chosen. They told him, ‘We see the qualities that you have and you are not hungry for power.’

Gandhi once said, “The world will never know peace until the love of power is replaced by the power to love.” Gandhi also says something like greatness is not a matter of achieving our personal goals, in regards to my accomplishment for my ego’s sake, but rather true greatness is the transformation of the self. And that transformation, that living and bringing out of my better self, and allowing Jesus to show me my best self, that transformation of daily conversion begins with humility.

In today’s gospel Jesus says ‘Whoever wants to be great gives his life for others.’ That’s where you’ll find your greatness — in humbling yourselves to become a gift for others. First, you have to recognize that you are a gift. Know that you are a gift! Don’t underestimate the gift that you are. Your life is a precious gift.

We all acknowledge the sanctity of the unborn and we’re willing to sacrifice our own comfort to stand up as a witness to the gift of life. We have to allow that acknowledgement of that gift of life to begin with ourselves, in order to have the proper courage to allow God to bring out the greatness in us. In other words, God who desires the best for you, wants you to be the greatest of who you can be – in Love.

Your life is meant to be a transformation and resurrection, a finding the greater beauty of who you are us a gift. But that can only be discovered when we give our life away, when we give of yourselves — especially when we give out of our comfort zones, beyond what we thought we were capable of, beyond the limitations we put upon our own striving.

In order to be great, we first have to recognize that the greatness of God lives in me and loves me. Therefore, what I have to give is important and is treasured by Him. This humble recognition gives Him glory, no matter how small it might be, and Therese is the great prophet in teaching us that. The smallest act of kindness, even if it’s a smile, if it’s done out of pure love and the glory of God for the good of the other, is utterly important in God’s eyes.

We celebrate in this church, the Shrine of the Beheading of St. John of the Baptist; after our Blessed Mother, Saint John the Baptist was the greatest saint. Jesus himself acknowledged that. He not only baptized Jesus, but he was also the first one to enter into Jesus’s baptism, as in this gospel.

Two of the most passionate apostles, Saint John and Saint James, the Sons of Zebedee, were known as the Sons of Thunder and as great apostles. Yet they too had to undergo a conversion process. They weren’t born saints. They too had to mature in what it means to be a faithful friend of the Lord.

They approach Jesus and ask a question that sounds egotistical. They start with ‘Teacher,’ and not ‘Lord,’ which shows an earlier state of spiritual growth. They haven’t fully surrendered themselves and acknowledged Christ as Lord. They haven’t given their lives to Him. He’s still just a teacher. What do they ask? We want you to us give what we want from you. Give me! Give me! Give me!

This is not the attitude we’re called to foster. Our disposition, in order for us to draw new life, new spiritual life out of our spiritual pilgrimage is to recognize that it is Jesus who says to us, ‘Give me, give me, give me… of you, your heart, your trust, your hope, your life.’ And we must come to give ourselves more, and more, and more to this living encounter with Him, and through Him, and in Him.

This is the pilgrimage we are seeking to foster, this living exchange with Jesus of our heart for His heart for ours, that we may know him as our Beloved. “My Beloved is mine and I am my Beloved’s,” says the Song of Songs.

Jesus acknowledged St. John the Baptist as the greatest among the saints, but where do we see his greatness most? In John 3:30 in which St. John the Baptist says, “I must decrease, that He might increase.” This means – to learn how give our lives in order to receive new life; to know how to empty ourselves, in order to be filled with Himself.

 

This is the purpose of humility. It’s not becoming a doormat, not taking on a martyr complex or a victim complex. It’s meant to be liberating. It’s meant to lead to a fuller sense of self as God’s child and friend. That’s the fruit of true humility.

Another fruit of true humility that leads to this greatness that God wants for us, this greatness of living in Him, with Him and through Him – as St. Therese says, this humility – bears the fruit of great confidence in God. This is what Jesus wants from us. God delights to see His children full of joyful confidence; it charms and brings joy to the heart of God when he sees us full of this audacious trust.

In Hebrews, Chapter 4, it says, “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy in need, in time of help.” God wants us to receive His grace and mercy. And as our Lord taught Saint Faustina, in the measure that we trust, have a living hope, in the measure that we are confident with this trust and that our heart is open to a resurrection faith, in that measure can we receive. We receive in the measure that we believe and hope.

And God wants us to receive a lot of who He is because there’s no greatness without Him. Left to ourselves, whatever greatness we might imagine is passing away. We’re only great in the measure that we are united to God in love. God’s love in us is our strength. That’s what lasts forever, the greatness of God.

He wants us to be confident to draw from Him and assures us that in having this humility to recognize that I cannot be great by my own will, by my own strength, my own ideas, my own gifts, my own plans. That’s not going to bring greatness. Surrendering my will to His will brings greatness. Bringing my weakness to His mercy will bring greatness.

We have such a Great High Priest who knows how to sympathize with our weakness. He uses His authority as Good Shepherd by coming to us at our level. He engages in our weakness. He knows our weakness from within our skin. He Himself knows what it’s like to be tested, crushed, and afflicted.

The Passion of Christ was prophesied in Isaiah “that the Lord was pleased to crush Him in infirmity because he gives his life as an offering for sin that the will of the Lord to save us may be accomplished through Him.” Through His suffering, says the Lord God of Hosts, my servant will justify many.

And Jesus knows the daily responsibilities of your life. For those of you who are married, Jesus knows your battles to be faithful to your spouse, to be faithful to your children. And if you’re not married, He knows your battle to be faithful to the Church in a secular world. He knows your battle to be faithful to whatever other obligations or responsibilities you might have. And he sympathizes in everything that you have to go through.

Christ in His Passion is the full expression of divine empathy. God empathizes with the process of everything that we have to go through that grows you. As we enter into the sacrifice of our Great High Priest who gave His life for us, may we give our lives to Him, and for Him, to others, and find our greatness in God alone – in giving ourselves us gift to others as He has given Himself as gift to us. In this process, we come to the throne of grace, the cross, with confidence, to draw mercy from the heart of Jesus and to find grace for every detail and need that we present before Him.

Unlike the apostles, we don’t say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” We don’t come with that kind of confidence. Instead, ask God for His kingdon to come in a particular situation in the way He knows best and our soul waits for the Lord.

We wait with hopeful expectation that God will come in the way He knows best. With peace, we let go, we let God, and we thank Him in advance.

 

Teresa Linda, ocds: The praise of glory of Lebanon

LEBANON

Between miles of half-constructed phantom buildings
Along steep-mountain climbs hugged by rocky cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea,
Lebanese men smoke from hookahs and drink Turkish coffee
Over a small table of friends – Where are the women?
One boy watches intently as our bus passes by
Soldiers, holding machine guns wave us on into Holy Christian sites.

A country torn by a history of wars and conflict
Multiple attempted annihilation of both Christians and Muslims.
A land artificially pieced together by neighboring Arab countries
A refuge for Palestinians, exiled from their countries,

As we pass by each building, each olive grove, each turn
The story of this land changes.
But one thing is certain.
She cries inside while smiling with radiant beauty.

“If there is anything that Lebanon does not have a shortage of, it’s rocks,’ says our guide to humor us as we round a sharp curve along a thick wall of limestone. It is past 6:00 pm, and the sun has already set, but our bus continues to make its way through a precipitous mountain climb downhill, with dangerous cliff drops just inches from our windows.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

I close my eyes and recall the majestic tranquility of our earlier walk through the forest of the Cedars of Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley. In ancient times, these trees once thrived in Mount Lebanon, and are called ‘Cedars of God’ because they are said to have been planted by God.

“The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted,” says the psalmist (Psalm 104). Though we are far enough from what remains of the cedar forest, I inhale its woody evergreen scent in my imagination to keep myself calm.

The tour group is on our way to the Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great of Qozhaya in the Quadisha Valley. Finally, we pull up to what looks like a dead end, with a small number of seemingly abandoned cars parked alongside the street.

“What are we doing at this forgotten place at the bottom of a deep valley, in the pitch black night?” I wonder.

“Get out, get out the bus now,” our tour guide encourages us on.

And with very little to go by, we all walk toward a small gleam of light further ahead, which then opens up into a spectacular spiritual haven. Shadows of worshippers, walking with deep reverence, seem to come out from the walls.

“You must know, that to understand Lebanon, you must understand the conflict of our multiple confessions,” explained our guide earlier. “Lebanon consists of Muslim Shias and Sunnis. The country also has twelve Christian confessions: Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic…” he continued to list them but I couldn’t keep up.

According to recent statistics, Lebanon is 54% Muslim, 41% Christian, and 5.5% Druze, along with a small number of other faiths. The most recent Civil War, from 1975-2000, mostly between Christian Maronites and Palestinian Muslims, involving shifting international alliances, has resulted in a Lebanese society whose faith lives have been tested and strengthened by the crucible of conflict and death.

Most Lebanese Christian families (as with Muslims) know someone who has died as a result of one war or another, or has fought in the Civil War. No wonder then that they cling to their faiths as young children who have been hurt clasp onto their mother’s hem – most with great love and forgiveness, but some with terrified hatred.

Almost immediately, I am drawn to the Grotto of Saint Anthony, a natural cave dedicated to the saint. At the altar in front of the cave, a young couple both hold onto a grey, oblong, smooth stone with a hole at each end. They are praying quietly, he in Arabic and she in French, their lowered dark lashes veiling their eyes, as the candle smoke cuts through the cave’s mustiness. They are probably praying for a child, as this grotto is known for such miracles.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

Countless supernatural phenomenon are attributed to Lebanese saints, most of whom are unknown to much of the world, like Saint Charbel, whose intercessions after death have healed many.

For me, the saint who most embodies the country of Lebanon itself is Saint Rafqa (1832-1914), a Maronite nun who, despite her intense share of Christ’s suffering through blindness and paralysis, continually gave praise to God, and maintained her peace and joy. And she used her hands, the only part of her body she could move, to weave beautiful patterns displayed throughout one museum.

Saint Rafqa is very much like Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose feast day Carmelites celebrate today; she continued to sing in her heart and offer herself as God’s praise of glory through her painful death brought on by Addison’s disease.

“I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself,” said Saint Elizabeth.

That is the way of the Lebanese Christians I encountered. Their witness , I believe, is one of the most accurate modern day examples of faithfully living out the Carmelite spirit in the secular world.

Without a doubt, every Lebanese I saw, personally knew the pain of crucifixion in one way or another. Yet rather than giving visitors bitter gall, they offered – without cost – golden wax candles, scented frankincense oil, and incense of myrrh.

Lebanese saints with the Good Shepherd: Saints Nematala Al-Hardini, San Maron, Charbel, and Rafqa

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: at the tomb of St. Charbel

Photo credit, Lorelei Low, ocds

at the Monastery of St. Charbel, Annaya, Lebanon

How blessed we are to be in the presence of one of Jesus’s very close friends. The life of St. Charbel is enigmatic, so unusual, and contradicts our expectations of saints like Padre Pio, whose holiness was obvious to many. But Saint Charbel lived a hidden life of union with God; he lived only the essentials of what it means to be a child of God.

In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says that we are called to be and destined to be a child of God and to be his intimate true friend. He writes, “In love, he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.”

That is our destiny. People often wonder what God’s will is for their life. In one word God’s purpose for our life – is Love. Be open to what God has to present to you at each moment. We don’t have to look for anything else. Loving in a hidden way is sufficient.

Saint Paul continues the we were chosen “so that we may exist for the praise of His glory.” We’re called to worship the Blessed Trinity. Whatever our state of life is, our primary purpose is that we do everything for the praise of His glory.

Photo credit, Lorelei Low, ocds

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that ‘not one sparrow has escaped the notice of God.’ No act of love and true humility escapes God’s notice. Be aware that the divine presence is in your heart. We must find Him there. Seek first the praise of His glory and His face in your own life.

In our pursuit of the kingdom of God, Jesus warns us to “Beware of the leaven – the hypocrisy – of the Pharisees. He warns us not be fake friends and the model that juxtaposes against those who are his real friends are the Pharisees and their hypocrisy.

Jesus also tells His disciples, “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed nor secret that will not be known.” There is nothing hidden. We can’t live a double life, putting on a good life on the outside only. Jesus calls us to an authenticity of love, which first comes from our personal recognition that ‘I can’t do it on my own.’

Without God’s grace, none of us can fully live up to the perfect love we are called to, or allow His indwelling spirit to live in us. Grace and complete humility is what makes St. Charbel’s life so fruitful.

The hidden union he had in his heart was life- giving after he passed from this world. In this life, though the secret intimacy he shared with Jesus went unnoticed, when he went to heaven, he became a fountain of miracles for God.

St. John of the Cross writes that in the spiritual marriage, a totally flourishing friendship with God comes alive, and God chooses each of us to fully share in this intimacy.

When we kneel before Saint Charbel, we praise and glorify God for what He has done in St. Charbel. God can accomplish far more than we can imagine, provided that we allow him. We are all called to share in the fullness of his divinity. St. Charbel is that witness to our day and age. He models the spiritual marriage here and now, giving us the confidence that Jesus is capable of doing today what He did in the ancient days.

One of the main reasons it is appropriate to begin a pilgrimage by honoring Saint Charbel, is to help us to prepare our encounter in Jesus’s footsteps. By his very witness and presence, Saint Charbel is a bridge that unites the East and the West. He was a contemporary monk who lived the same contemplative spirit of St. Elijah in this Holy Land.

Saint Charbel calls us to discover our own roots and identity. He embodies, especially for Carmelites, the zeal for the absolute primacy of God’s love. As we come before the altar, we already share in this future glory through the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of the Mass. In the Spirit, the food of the Eucharist is a divine medicine that already gives us a foretaste of the reality that we are God’s possession.

We are all created to be possessed by God’s eternal love. In allegiance to Jesus with Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity and Saint Charbel, may all of us come to know how to live a hidden life of love for the praise of his glory.

Photo credit, Lorelei Low, ocds

NOTE: Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD is currently leading a Holy Land Pilgrimage, organized by Beth Maddatu, ocds and Adriatic Tours.  I have loosely transcribed his homilies so that readers can participate in the journey. – Teresa Linda, ocds

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: At Saint Charbel’s Birthplace

NOTE: Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD is currently leading a Holy Land Pilgrimage, organized by Beth Maddatu, ocds and Adriatic Tours.  I have loosely transcribed his homilies so that readers can participate in the journey. – Teresa Linda, ocds

Saint Charbel’s Birthplace (Kafra, Lebanon, in the Quadisha Valley)


 A reading from the second letter of Saint Paul to Timothy (4:10-17)

Beloved: Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry.

Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeded. You too be on guard against him, for he has strongly resisted our preaching.

At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.

Our pilgrimage of Phoenicia (Lebanon) gives us an opportunity to study a saint who lived only for God.

While Demas and most of his companions deserted Paul, Saint Charbel, enamored with Christ, deserted the world to seek friendship with God. We’re here now, the highest mountain in the Middle East, where Saint Charbel was born and raised.

God, who knows us before we were conceived, chose Saint Charbel to be born in this region, foreshadowing that he would be born to the heights of holiness, the summit of what it means to live in the silence of God — just like Mary and St. Therese, who lived their lives, hidden and in union with the Holy Trinity.

Those seeking holiness must experience Jesus as Savior and have a personal encounter with Him. This intimate relationship allows our new holiness to be stored in us through Christ’s sacred humanity. The psalmist proclaims, “Your friends make known, oh Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” We are called to be true friends of Jesus.

St. Charbel wrote very little; most of what we know about him comes from oral tradition, but when we see his icon, we see that he is in prayer that radiates peace. He is looking down in humble awareness that God abides in him – the kingdom of God within.  As a prophet for the kingdom of God, Saint Charbel embodies what we value in the life of the spirit.

In the gospel, when Jesus sends his disciples out to witness to the kingdom, he says to them,”Carry no money, bag, no sack, no sandals.” In other words, he asks us to be detached of all material details so that you can focus on the one thing necessary – allowing the peace of Christ to be in your soul.

Embrace discomforts and challenges and allow peace to abide in you, a peace that comes through the holy spirit and the supernatural world – this is what St. Charbel radiates, the abiding embrace of God within us.

We, like the disciples, are sent out like lambs among wolves. However, Saint Paul didn’t allow the wolf bites to get infected, but brushed them off of himself. “May it not be held against them,” he writes. Paul rid himself of resentment, and the desire to get back at Demas, Alexander, and others who hurt or abandoned him – he leaves everything in the Lord’s hands.

Jesus also warns the believers to be careful against those wolves. We must love one another but be as wise as a serpents. Know who you’re dealing with, and be on guard of anyone who can steal your peace.

In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul was deeply disappointed because the people he expected to help, hurt him yet he didn’t allow his disappointment to discourage him and bring him down. As a result of his affliction, God gave him strength.

Where Paul’s companions were lacking, God provided peace. May this peace define what it means for you to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

During pilgrimage, we bring everything with us – our family, our local community, our nation – and we ask Jesus Immanuel into that. Let us be open to an unprecedented encounter with Jesus, that He may make our hearts His Holy Land. Amen.

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: The Eucharist and SaintTeresa

PART I

PART II

(Click on the triangle to play the audio.  Below is a rough transcription of the conference)

In John 6, Jesus refers to himself as ‘I am’ – Jahweh. As Catholics, we sometimes are repulsed by the name Jehovah because we associate this with ‘Jehovah Witnesses’ and their often anti-Catholic teaching.

When God revealed His name ‘I am who am,’ this revealed who God is. It is a metaphysical expression that God is of another dimension – He is far and above creation in essence. Everything of His creation is a reflection of His beauty, His truth, and His goodness. Everything witnesses to the grandeur of God. However, none of this can fully capture who He is in His essence; this is beyond human comprehension. He is transcendent as well as eminent.

In the Western church, we lose sight of His transcendence, and we need to recapture what was at the heart of Christian mysticism. He is the only one for whom there is no origin.

God’s essence is to exist; He is the cause of our becoming. He is ultimately, supreme perfection, the absolute Absolute, that of which nothing greater can be conceived, ultimate Reality – Being itself. All these philosophical terms point to His supernatural being. He cannot be comprehended by our human understanding, though all of creation points to Him.

No image can capture God, but in the incarnation, we ultimately see God, for the God-Man, Jesus Christ, reveals the face of God. Because of the incarnation, we have a person who is tangible to help us relate to God. He gives us access to the magnificent mystery of God. He enters into full relationship with us through His Son. Jesus is God made man who made God visible.

Through the Eucharist, especially, Jesus becomes tangible in our hands; the Eucharist is at the heart of the life of the Trinity. It enters into the mystical relationship and is given to us as a foretaste of the eternal banquet. Love’s true nature is to come down. God in his humility came down to our level to raise us up to Him.

Jesus wants to feed us from heaven. In Toledo, St. John of the Cross writes a series of poems titled Romances, about God’s love for us – the divine romance. Through the Eucharist, we are being drawn into this love.

In our Catholic tradition, every saint has discovered and seen the reality of what the Eucharist is, and have freely made that as the center of their lives – the Holy communion that leads to the Holy Trinity.

Saint Teresa describes her experience of the Holy Eucharist – “in a moment, all the darkness of the soul disperses.” All afflictions of soul and body can leave in a moment through the Eucharist – exhaustion, negative sarcasm, critical spirits – can wear out our spiritual journeys but in one moment, God can alleviate us from all that weight.

In the Eucharist, Saint Teresa sees the “extraordinary majesty of God” so that “the whole experience seemed to annihilate” her. When we contemplate this truth through the eyes of faith, we’re able to acknowledge in our hearts the reality of God’s presence, though by its physical nature, we only see something very insignificant.

This mystery points to who we are as the Body of Christ. To the eyes of the world, we are ordinary human beings, with faults and defects, just like anybody else. Yet through grace, the God of heaven and earth lives in our hearts and calls us His Body and calls us to be Light for the World.

What does it mean to be Light for the World? This is not meant to be egocentric or narcissistic. It means that we must be united to the sufferings of Christ; we must experience the contradictions of the cross and experience that suffering in union with the cross. It means being His ambassador for the sake of the family. God can use us as instruments of salvation for those whom we most love. We must love Christ on the cross. This love is not about loving suffering itself – loving the bare cross without Jesus– but loving Christ on the cross.

It is true that Jesus is disguised in all creation. God is everywhere, but not everything is God.

St. Teresa recognizes the immensity of the Deity “concealed in something as small as a host…wisdom so wonderful…the stone that was rejected has become the cornerstone.” The universe revolves around the cross and resurrection, and the Eucharist enters into the victory of God’s eternal now, of love that overcomes every evil.

Where there has been destruction, the cross is somehow at work. Saint Paul says that all creation groans for the coming of the freedom that comes in Christ; all creation shares in the redemptive act. The great saints, starting with the Greek Fathers and greatest saints of the Early Christian Church and the East, understood and wrote often about this mystery.

Saint Teresa contrasts the experience of prayer possible through Communion as opposed to prayer outside of the Eucharist, mental prayer or meditation. As Christians, meditation for us means the gaze of faith on some truth that is revealed to us that expresses something about who God is and who we are.

Our spiritual life must be well-formed through proper meditation and an understanding of who God is – and then – we can go into emptiness, into the cloud of unknowing and enter into the embrace of God. In the early states of meditation, we must have proper formation. We are to use our sense to reflect on the truth of the faith that can help us deepen our relationship with God in a way that changes and transforms us.

Holy Communion is entering into God’s eternal Now. I am, Now, in the present moment. God exists to abide in the eternal now, in the sacrament of the moment, and we are called to enter into that. The present moment, where God is to be encountered, is liberating and takes us into the fullness of who God is – embracing all things, all of creation in one act of love. Whenever we celebrate communion, we enter into that experience.

God wants to make Himself enfleshed in you, now, and this happens through the Eucharist. It is an amazing marriage between heaven and earth.

Saint Teresa says, “There’s no reason to go looking for Him further away.” He is present in the humble wafer as He is in the great cathedrals. We must find that treasure in ourselves especially – and in unexpected places and people. Jesus comes not simply for us to adore Him in the tabernacle, but He comes down so that we may be His tabernacle.

What is keeping you from keeping the treasure of heaven within yourself? How is God asking you to find the priceless pearl within you?

When we start to love ourselves the way God loves us, then we can love others more freely, and see God everywhere. The key to this liberty of grace is our true awareness of God’s deep love.

SOURCE: 2018 OCDS Meeting Conference, Santa Clara, CA