Father Robert Elias, OCD: at the Holy Sepulcher

A loose transcription of the Homily is below:

The Word, Jesus Christ, penetrates this great mystery of mysteries in being welcomed and privileged to enter into the Holy of Holies, the innermost dwelling place, God’s sacred heart.  God so loved the world that He revealed to us this Holy of Holies of who He most deeply is.   This is best expressed, and imparted through His Son. God the Father, the eternal, I am who am, Adonai, Eloahim, El Shadai – communicates His love, divine affection and identity in His Word made flesh.

And His Word, God’s self-understanding and knowledge of Himself, is given to us out of love, in His Son, who was born into the world. The Creator entered into His own creation to give His life through the cross. This was the impetus, the pulling of Jesus’ life; He was magnetically pulled to Jerusalem the whole thirty-three years of His life. He came into the world to die because His death would be the greatest life this world would ever see, and it would be life-giving; it would destroy death and the obstacles to being made in God’s image and likeness.

Every human being – whether they believe in God or not, whether they know Jesus or not, whether they are Christian or not – have been built in the image and likeness of God , and are built with an innate potential to know and love God. This potential – for which we are all made – for everlasting happiness through a knowledge of God and His truth is tapped into in an unprecedented way in Jesus Christ. God’s love is given to us in a universal, unrepeatable manner in Yeshua, the Messiah, the Anointed One.

In Christ’s baptism, God the Father declared to His Son, ‘This is my beloved.’ This is the one I want to give you to know Me. Because no one can come to the Father except through the Son. And there’s only one mediator, one bridge between heaven and earth, and His name is Jesus of Nazareth. There is no other name under heaven by which we shall be saved than by the name of Jesus.

This is God’s greatest self-communication out of compassion – the full revelation, the full splendor, the full beauty of His truth is revealed in Jesus and His Holy Face. We cannot look upon the face of God in all its glory and majesty apart from Yeshua.And when we meditate on the cross of Jesus – this greatest sermon of the Prophet above all prophets; who shares in the divine being and nature of the Father, Jesus the only begotten Son of the Father;  whose whole life is perfectly revealed on the cross, the capstone of His sacred humanity – we see the whole mission of Jesus.

Remember, He lived thirty years hidden and in obscurity, and only three years in public ministry. We can never for a moment dare to think that those thirty years were not important, even though they were obscure, hidden, and unknown. Though he wasn’t manifesting publicly, those hidden years are utterly important because by His very love, He was redeeming the world. 

His hidden years remind us that our hidden life – every sacrifice we make; every ‘No’ we say to sin in the secrecy of our thoughts and the allurements to the world in the desires of our hearts; every ‘No’ that we make to Satan in fighting temptations in our spiritual battles, seen to no one else but the eyes of God – are all very important for our salvation, and what it means to live by the Spirit of Jesus and not by the flesh. The hidden battles are all very, very important to work out our salvation and to allow our faith to be built up by love. 

And what is love? It isn’t about our feelings, but our choices.  ‘Even though I don’t feel Jesus, I choose Jesus.’  That’s love. ‘At whatever cost to myself, I choose You, Jesus, even when I don’t understand – be it done unto me as the Lord wills ; not my will but Thy will be done.’ That’s salvation working itself out. That’s the Holy Spirit coming to new birth in you by your being crucified with Christ.

Why do we meditate on the Passion? -to inspire love and courage to say ‘No!” to the world, the flesh, and to Satan.  And ‘Yes!” to Jesus; to inspire the determination to persevere until the end, – as a believer, a disciple, and a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. 

That is not easy. It will require spiritual warfare, a war against my flesh, against secular mentalities that are opposed to the Lord, a war against Satan’s cunning and snares, and who will try and keep me from being wholly united to Christ for the glory of God.

As Christian Catholics, we meditate on the Passion so that we can grow in the love beyond all telling – to love even though it hurts, to see our crosses, our inconveniences, our discomforts, our contradictions, our unknowing, our mysteries, our afflictions – to unite all that to Jesus in order to receive a proper redemptive perspective, a resurrected vision to everything we have to go through to get to heaven.

We meditate on the Passion to know that the victory is ours. No matter what you go through, it will grow you.  The victory belongs to us.  God will bring good out of everything and we need to be reminded of this because we are all prone to discouragement.

Your human nature is no different from mine. My human nature is no different than yours.  Our human nature is no different from any of the saints whom we honor because they help us give greater glory to God. We’re all in the same boat – we are all sinners.

But as Christian Catholics, we are all beggars and we know where the bread is. It is in the Word of God and the Word of God made flesh in the Blessed Sacrament: as true presence and not symbol; as a bringing back to life again the sacred mysteries of Jesus;  as an extension of the incarnation;  as a feasting of victory; as an entering into – now – who we shall be with God for all eternity.

We are here, in a modest chapel that is meant to represent coming out of the tomb because though Jesus is on the cross in our churches to symbolically remind us of the love and price of our salvation, and to inspire us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, we know that in heaven, Jesus is no longer on the cross.

The Holy Sepulcher: the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.
Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jerusalem, 2018)

Jesus is risen! He is resurrected! He is victorious!  And He already prepares a mansion and dwelling place for us to share in this victory – and we are all called to share in His victory of love over evil, of life over darkness.

Where does that battle start? It starts in my thinking and my attitude – I must convert my attitude and my way of thinking. Then the conversion must go to my speaking, my words. I must live in the light of God’s love, His truth, and His grace. The whole battle begins in my thoughts and is in the mind.

Our thoughts are formed by our past experiences, relationships, and emotions.  I must claim the victory of Jesus’ resurrection and the significance of that resurrection for me as His child and beloved friend. 

I must allow the significance of the resurrection to change and transform me in my identity. I’m still moody, I can still get depressed, I can still get nervous and anxious.  We all do! We’re all on the same boat. We all have the same flesh. If you hit me, I am going to bruise and bleed just like anybody else.

But we use the truths in Jesus as a weapon of strength to be transformed by the renewal of our mind, to know God’s will in what is true, good, and beautiful, and to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice of praise to His glory.  This is how we live by the Spirit.

If we don’t start with our thoughts and our words, it will be very hard to control our choices and actions.  We will be guided by our impulses.  The battle and the victory all starts in the mind, which connects to the heart.

Today, we give our hearts to Jesus, that He may bring about a resurrection now.  To be a Catholic Christian in Christ means that Jesus’ resurrection has impacted my life personally. Jesus is real to me.  He is not just a historical figure, or an image or statue in my house; He is a living being, a living savior in my heart and soul. The resurrection has given me new birth.

I am still weak, I still have faults, and I still make mistakes – but my savior is with me, and I know in whom I place my trust. And nothing is impossible for His mercy.

His mercy will accompany me.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: the divine time of Holy Week

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SOURCE: Lent 2019, Conference to Santa Clara, CA OCDS, Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD

Palm Sunday, often known as Passion Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week.  It is when our Blessed Lord entered into Jerusalem in triumph. It was a foretaste, a prefiguring of His victory of the resurrection.  But He knew that the same people who were praising and celebrating Him would turn their backs on Him, totally backstab Him, and cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

We as the body of Christ who love Jesus, in reading that long gospel on Palm Sunday, and in taking the parts of the people –  it hurts us to have to say those words. 

During Holy Week, we are called to enter into one, the reality of His Divine Mercy and two – into our responsibility to enter into this grace; recognizing that because of our human woundedness, when we fail in charity and true love for others, as our expression of true love of God -–, we too are subconsciously crying out ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!”

This understanding calls us to conversion, to allow Jesus to give us heart surgery, that He may take out what is not of His Spirit and put in what is. Holy Week is calling us to enter into the holiness of God’s heart as perfectly revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s so hard for most people, who aren’t brought up in the faith, who don’t yet know Jesus as Lord and God -Man, to recognize that Jesus is more than just a teacher, an important religious figure, a spiritual hero, a holy man, a western version of the Buddha, a prophet – or any representation of Him. He is more than Muhammad; He is more than Elijah.

It takes the grace of the Holy Spirit through the enlightenment of the Father to recognize that Jesus, as Hebrews Chapter 1 says, is the perfect image of God’s divine being, the refulgence of His glory in human form.

Colossians, Chapter 1, says that the whole universe came into existence and being through God’s Beloved Son, His Eternal Word.  That revelation recognizes that everything came into being, and received its life through the Divine Word of God’s only-begotten son. In His self-communication, He came in as the second person of the Blessed Trinity and He would become incarnate, taking on the name Yeshua – Yahweh saves; Immanuel -the Divine Reality of God in our midst.

It takes the grace of God to recognize that Jesus is more than just an awesome human being.

When we enter into Holy Week, in order for it to have its full impact, we must come with this understanding as the basis of our faith. But then there’s a second part.  We must not only recognize Jesus as Lord, but recognize that He is Lord now, today. 

Jerusalem towards Mount of Olives. Photo credit The Speakroom. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019.
Jerusalem towards Mount of Olives. Photo credit The Speakroom. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019.

He is present now in the celebration of the sacred mysteries through the Divine Liturgy, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, through the Mass – Missa – the Mission of God – the communication of God. God is bringing back to life, today, here and now, the reality of who He is and what He did once and for all.

Who He is and what He did in embracing all of us on the cross and lifting all of us personally through the resurrection – is being made present, real, and alive again.  It is being given again as if we were Jesus’ contemporaries.
How is this happening? This is the Theology of the Sacraments, the Theology of Mysticism – the mystery of Christ in our midst.  We’re called to enter into this mystery of God embracing us through Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

When we celebrate Passion Sunday, when we celebrate Holy Thursday, the continuation of Jesus’ priesthood through His ministers, the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, His Divine Presence in the Eucharist; when we celebrate Good Friday, His life-giving death – that death may not be the end of the story, but the transition of our story to our total destiny; when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, especially during the Easter Vigil, when it is celebrated with reverence – all of these aspects of the Liturgy is Jesus bringing back to life again, the most sacred mystery that ever happened on this planet. 

God wants that most sacred gift of Himself to be our possession. He wants to possess us through the Holy Spirit.

The Theology of the Sacraments teaches that God’s sacred gift happens, not in a physical or literal way. Jesus isn’t suffering or being crucified again. The spiritual significance of what he did, is being given to us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit by way of signs – every thing that we use physically and materially to express the mystery.

For instance, in the sacrament of Baptism we use water; in the Eucharist, we use bread and wine, at the Easter Vigil, we use candles; we have chrism oils.  All of these are signs that point to the perfect reality that God is giving Himself to us and through these signs, God gives us the actual grace – the Holy Spirit.  He manifests Himself.

Baptism is such a simple sacrament. The ideal method is immersion, because it expresses our immersion into the life of God. But even with just the sprinkling of a few drops of water, the same reality happens.  It is totally invisible to our senses.  We don’t see the transformation, but in the essence of that person’s soul, a metamorphosis takes place.  The Word is made flesh. Through faith, we receive this grace, though our senses don’t perceive it.

Another understanding of entering Holy Week to worship God in spirit and in truth is that we receive from the Liturgy what we put in it through faith. In the measure that we have an understanding and knowledge of what is happening intellectually or intuitively, our heart’s faith is fueled to enter into the mystery that we may allow ourselves to be loved by Jesus here and now. 

The measure of our understanding allows Him to take possession of our lives, and to have His mystery be enfleshed in our lives; it allows His cross and resurrection to transform our lives in the way that the cross is already present.

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin (1846)

How is the cross present in your life? 

It is already there.  You don’t’ have to look for one. It’s in your son who doesn’t go to church, who gives you a hard time, and pushes you to witness to your faith by your actions rather than by your words – more than by your nagging him to go to Church.  It’s in your daughter who is sick with illness like cancer.  It’s in your husband who, when you get home, is just asleep on the couch; but your dog gives you more joy than your husband does! 

It’s there in countless ways when your heart, which is made for love, is disappointed.

It’s there in every way that your love is challenged.  It’s there every way you experience your own brokenness and limitation and inability to love with freedom.  The cross is everywhere.

The question is, what do we do with it?

Do we dismiss it as an inconvenience and a contradiction? As a nuisance and a curse? Or do we embrace it and accept it as a blessing in disguise? Do we accept it as the wisdom and power of God? As a promise to something better, as a potential that can teach us something and ignite passion in our hearts? 

The cross is already there.

How we embrace the cross will make the difference in how beautiful our crown will be.  You can have a little itty-bitty crown – if you want a little cross. If you want a big crown, you need a big cross.  Simple as that.  The bigger your cross, the bigger your crown.

The more you concretely participate in the sacrifice of Jesus through your choices, the more you will share in His victorious glory.  The choice is ours. May He strengthen us to have courage.  May he strengthen us to have the faith to persevere. May he strengthen us to become saints.

Father Robert Elias, OCD – Carmel & Elijah’s Spirit of Prophesy

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SOURCE: Lent 2019 Formation Conference for Carmelite Novices & Postulants by Father Robert Elias, OCD. Mount Saint Josephs Monastery, San Jose, CA

(Below is a loose transcription of the audio)

The spirit of prophesy is embedded in Carmel’s identity. It is the breath of Carmel in the Holy Spirit. Elijah is the greatest prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures and he embodies for us what the life of a prophet looks like at its greatest. It takes on different forms and we all have a different calling to a spirit of prophesy in Carmel..

As our spiritual father, and as Edith Stein says in a short article on Carmelite spirituality, the presence of Elijah as our spiritual father is not some type of legend or myth.  He isn’t simply a historical figure of our imagination. He’s a real presence and communication of Christ’s grace that is personal and relatable.

Elijahis capable of befriending and fathering us in Carmel; much like a more modern and contemporary saint like Padre Pio, who is more relatable, is acknowledged today by many as a spiritual father.  Elijah is just as much as real as a saint and father to us. But this understanding is harder for us in the Western Church to acknowledge than  those in the Eastern Church.

The spirit of prophesy has always intrigued me. My first personal introduction to the vocation of the prophet before I came to know Jesus Christ as Lord is through  the book The Prophet written by Kahlil Gibran, who was a Lebanese poet and artist, probably of Maronite Christian descent. This understanding of prophet has remained a vital part of my soul’s quest for union with God. 

What does it mean to be a prophet?

Throughout scripture from Genesis to Apocalypse, we see a spirit of prophesy. The spirit of prophesy is very much part of the Judea-Christian tradition. When we look at comparative mysticism in other religious, in the eastern mystical religions, like  Hinduism and Buddhism, their understanding does not have a prophetic tradition in the way we do in the Judeo Christian understanding, with Elijah as our model.

In the Old Testament, Moses prayed that his spirit of prophesy would be bestowed on the 72 elders, when his father-in-law said that he needed to delegate his duties and to pray that what God had given him would be given to others.  Because only a person that has a spirit of prophesy can give the spirit of prophesy.  You can’t give what you don’t have.

But what did he give them? It says in scripture that ‘The spirit came upon them and they prophesied.’

What did that mean? That question has always been a curiosity that has led me to a quest in finding this treasure.

The Wisdom literature describes a prophet as an intimate friend of God, someone who has a personal experience, and direct contact with the living, transcendent God, and who has a heart knowledge of this Divine Being. And as a result of this friendship, they are called, often reluctantly, to communicate to a people who are deaf and not listening.

The relationship first involves contemplative prayer, which is then shared.  The prophet bears the burden of divine mercy, according to Thomas Merton. You’ve experienced a cutting of your heart and now that you’ve allowed this healing, God asks that you communicate this same grace to others. 

But here’s the catch.  They may kill you as a result because they are blinded by the sin like the prodigal son. You have the responsibility now that you know God intimately, to communicate a truth, which will be an inconvenience and a controversy to the people.  That’s the burden of divine mercy.  That’s one of the vocations of the prophet of Carmel. 

One of the great wisdoms of Eastern Christian mysticism, teaches that a lay person can have a spirit of prophesy more than a priest – neumaticos – a person anointed with the Spirit to pray with power. ‘This power is not human eloquence or wisdom,’ as St. Paul says.  St. James in the fifth chapter of his letter, says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful indeed and he says, ‘remember Elijah who by his very words called fire upon heaven to consume the idolatrous offerings’

The power of prayer can only be inspired by God. St. Paul says in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and those who pray by the power of the Holy Spirit, pray by the anointing of God.  This praying with power is what Jesus calls us to.

But we first have to believe in the power of God’s word, and that faith will empower us by the Holy Spirit, having penetrated and changed our lives by the renewal of our mind with truths that are not of this world.

The prophet isn’t zealous for the law in of itself.  The prophet is zealous for the spirit of the law.  The prophet has the wisdom, insight, and spiritual vision to see the presence of God and what His will is in different situations, and desires His will.

St. John of the Cross is the best example of someone with the evangelical spirit of prophesy.  The prophet is not a legalist or a Pharisee. St. John says that there is no cookie cutter, sound byte that will fit every soul.  Every soul is unique and you have to be open to the mystery of how God is working in each person.

That doesn’t mean relativism, but that God’s spirit is incarnate in people uniquely and is given as gift in each soul in the order of their ability to understand.  The spirit of prophesy is not based on externals or obsessed with accidentals; it is not pharisaical,  but it longs for the essence, the pure spring.

The Carmelite Rule mentions the Spring of Elijah – the spring of the Holy Spirit by which we are able to enter into the gift of God as I a who Am – Love. The spirit of prophesy is that  of simplicity, humility, and purity of heart to be able t o realize with Easter eyes, the true presence of Jesus – in His essence, in the Holy Spirit.

For example, Carmel’s cry in the wilderness, it’s longing can be expressed in the two words – ‘God Alone.’ These wordsexpress a heart knowledge of God as the ground of life, as I am who Am, as the absolute Absolute.  And the one thing necessary is to love Love with all one’s life. Everything else is a distant second to that.

Carmel finds this pure love in silence – in the nada – that holy nothingness of entering into communion with God that is beyond anything that can limit His gift of Himself to us – the transcendent God.

To enter into a pure gift of God’s love is to pray with power, with the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy of Holies. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us to that place, that Holy of Holies.

An interior life with God is the essence of the spirit of prophesy.  It means Faith in the power of prayer, confidence in god’s faithfulness, and taking Him and his promises at His word.  He does not abandon his children. He does not divorce his bride.

The prophet proclaims God as divine mercy, not as laws. He’s not fixating in anything but God alone. Our religion isn’t a matter of a list of rules. The rules are indispensable, especially Jesus’ commandment to love God and to love your neighbor – but these rules are for divine communion.

 At the same time, when the prophet sees commandments desecrated in culture, the prophet is called by God to awaken people’s consciences to something that God sees as important about our humanity and our moral life.

This is why many prophets are martyrs.  One author said, ‘The purpose of life is to love with your whole being and might. And if you do it, they’ll kill you.’  Even though we are made to know and love God, those who actually communicate this love – the saints- will have to suffer for it.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate example.

A prophet is called to witness to God’s mighty love. Transformation in this divine love is the ultimate longing of the prophet and the heart of Carmel. This grace possesses two wings– silence and solitude.  That is how we are called to live the Carmelite Mystical and Prophetic charisms.

The Mystical expresses the gift of God – the Prophetic aspect expresses the responsibility – the demands this love makes so that we can become who we are in Christ.  Love is a gift and a responsibility. It’s not easy. It requires true death to the ego and sacrifice.

As members of Carmel, we are descendants and heirs of prophets.  Saint Elijah,  our father, stands as a bedrock; he is our source of inspiration as he burns with zeal for God’s glory. As Catholics we don’t question that idea as a Protestant would.

When Protestants hear that anyone other than Jesus is a source of inspiration, it’s taken as idolatry. But for Catholics, we see Elijah as Jesus in miniature. Jesus is the new Elijah – His ministry and miracles are a perfection of what God did in Elijah. The saints are an echo of Christ, an extension of Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to us.

As Carmelites, we celebrate people like Elijah because he exudes Jesus to us and embodies Him.  We praise God for friends in these places.  Elijah means ‘My Lord is God’ – his name describes his identity and essence. God is the substance, not the substitute – of his life.

Luther venerated Mary very much, but the rationale behind the protest of the Protestants was that many uneducated Catholics would make the saints the substance of their lives and not Jesus – and yes that was idolatry. To make anyone the substance of one’s life is a substitute.  We’re called to make God alone as the substance, the center of our lives, and we are not to give that holy of holies to anyone else.

The prophet is called to cast out the false god in people’s lives, and to break the chains of attachments that enslaves us to a lesser self.   And the truth is the sword by which chains are broken in Jesus’s name.  The truth unmasks the lie and imparts the faith that allows God to work the miracle of freedom in our lives.  This is the teaching of Saint John of the Cross, a contemplative way that sets us free from our attachments. And like Jesus he didn’t despise anything that God made in itself – the problem is not a person or a material thing, but how our heart relates to it.

The ultimate false god in this world is money.  Our Lord says you can’t love  both God and money, because money can mislead our hearts into a mindset that is not of God. But the error is to make the false conclusion that money is evil.  That is not holistic Christian thinking – scripture says the LOVE of money, not the money itself, which leads to evil.

I am very aware that my tongue can be used for great good or great harm in regards to using it in anger. Scripture says that ‘life and death are in the power of the tongue.’ Because I have sinned with my tongue in a moment of righteous indignation, chopping off the head of others,  the way Elijah did,  with my tongue – I am sinning. That is not pleasing to God because charity is being sinned against. The ultimate rule of life is Jesus Christ and his commandment to love your neighbor. It is better to be righteous than to be right. 

But does that mean I should cut off my tongue – of course not. The right way of relating to something the evil is not the thing itself, but how it is used.  The Prophet is called to set captives free from their slavery and a prophet can do that in prayer, but there’s usually a time when a prophet is called to speak, and their mouth is meant to be the instrument of God’s Holy Spirit of grace and of  Jesus Christ saving souls.

Zelos zelatus sum – with zeal I have been zealous for the Lord.  Elijah is the man of zeal, the prophet of fire who is a champion of the true God, and a herald of God’s mercy.  He is spiritual warrior who breathes the fire of God.  We are called to breathe the same fire of Elijah– the fire of the Holy Spirit. And we too will have to be purified in the interior deserts of life.  There is no true prophet who has not experienced deep purification and healing.  Prophets are often led into the desert so that God can work in them, and so that He can use them to help others in a way that builds and exhorts.

To conclude, we pray that the Holy Spirit lavish upon  us, Jesus’ divine love,  that the humanizing power of the gospel stir us to be zealous with passion for the Lord God of hosts who loves us fervently unto the full.  Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Lent & the Carmelite desert identity

 

By Romero Zafra

(40 minutes) – To listen to this audio, click on the triangle.

SOURCE: Lent 2019. Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD at Mount Saint Joseph’s Monastery, San Jose, California.

Living our identity

LIVING OUR IDENTITY
(Teresa Linda, 2/2019)

You, oh Lord,
Who multiply out of nothing
Are our God and King.
And we thank You and praise You,
For every gift you have given creation.

How is it, our Lord,
That in the perfection of your Fatherhood,
Through the power of the Spirit,
And with the incarnation of Your Son, the Christ,
We have come to be your adopted children?

We desire, our God and King
To live this identity – in this life
Not just in the life to come – but in this life

For You who have promised and willed,
On earth as it is in heaven,
Have made all truth come to pass.

Only, let us not get in Your way, oh Lord,
And give us the grace to move
In You, with You, and through You
In our every breathing

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Homily at Cana in Galilee

Photo credit: Lorelei Low (Cana in Galilee 2018)

JOHN 2:1-11 – There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.

And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from — although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him.

There’s a lot in this scripture to capture the significance of this vocation of marriage. In God’s providence, He chose to manifest His Divine identity in the context of a wedding. In the Old Testament, God refers to His covenant with His chosen people as a spousal relationship. Isaiah refers to our God and our maker, as the Bridegroom.

God has a love for His people as a husband has a love for His wife. And Jesus came to bring about this mystical marriage between our humanity and God.

Byzantine marriage (Wiki Commons)

This Mass is going to be for the couples who are here present, number one. Two, for those of you who are married but your spouse isn’t present, I invite you also to renew your covenant with your spouse who is back at home. And as the couples here renew their vows, hold your hand with your wedding ring and renew your vows with your spouse. Invite the Lord to bring healing into your relationship, if there is need of emotional healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, or of resurrection in your relationship with your spouse.

The third intention is for those who are widowed; pray for the eternal rest of your spouse that they may rest in the peace of God. The fourth intention is for those who are divorced. Love your enemies and your persecutors, whether they’re remarried or not. Some divorces are really traumatic and hard, so pray for healing. In some divorces, you just divorce as friends and you go your separate ways, and you have a friendship for the sake of the children. Pray for your ex-spouse, but pray especially for your children because they experience the effects of the divorce differently than you do.

And fifth, for those who are single and are still open to the possibility of marriage: if that is God’s divine will for you, pray that God will bring the right person in your life, the person that He knows will be the best for His plan for your happiness. For those who are called to the single life, and didn’t want to have a single life, who wanted to be married but never found the right person –pray for the peace of acceptance because God’s vocation of love is ever alive in your life.

Pray for the acceptance in your life, knowing that you are not any less lovable in God’s eyes. You’re not in any way less than those who are called to marriage. Pray for that acceptance in discovering God’s vocation of love for you because God needs you to flourish in the gift of love that you have to offer, whatever it may be.

Pray for the acceptance that ‘Yes, God has chosen me for a vocation of love and it doesn’t mean that I am any less qualified for marriage than anyone else, but that God needs me where I am, and where I’ve been planted.’ Pray for the acceptance to grieve for the fact that ‘I may not have been able to be married and be a parent.’ Grieve this gift of experience that you may be free to live the gift of where you are called to now.

As we celebrate the Eucharist, and as these couples renew their covenant, let us renew our covenant, first and foremost, to God because He is the love of all loves and the only love of our lives that is important.

Those who are married know that to love is a battle. Sometimes, those who are married wish they weren’t married, and those who aren’t married wish that they were. We’re always admiring the ones on the other side. We hear from the scripture that love is a battle. It’s not easy and we need God’s grace.

And ultimately it’s God’s love that is the only love that does not disappoint. As human beings, we are so flawed and broken that we make mistakes. Inevitably, we will let down those who rely upon us. There is no perfect person and we have to learn to be comfortable with the imperfect, to accept the weakness and to find grace in the midst of it.

It is with faith that we celebrate love, especially the love of God who is the center of all of our lives.

Photo Credit: Lorelei Low (Cana 2018)

 

 

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.

 

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