When Your Only Offering Is Myrrh

I wanted Christmas to be perfect, but God had other plans.

I really wanted to feel some Christmas cheer, truly I did. But try as I might, I simply could not get into the Christmas spirit.

I frantically finished tasks, met deadlines and watched the calendar move further and further into December.

“I’m just tired,” I thought. “Maybe a Christmas movie will help,” as I settled into “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  Sadly, even that classic couldn’t lift it. 

I attributed my weariness to busy travels, a recent death in the family, and the many preparations for my religious community’s Jubilee celebration a few weeks before. 

On Christmas Eve, as I returned from work, I felt exhausted and felt a headcold coming on.

“Snap out of it!” I told myself, “You live on Ebenezer Road, and your name is Mary Joseph, for heaven’s sake!” What was wrong with me?  “I just need a break,” I thought.

But I could not dispel the sense of emptiness.

My superiors were kind and allowed me after Christmas a few days of rest with my family. I went to my sister’s house and hoped for joy and a festive spirit.

It was not to be! A toothache settled in, my cold got worse, and my whole body ached!

I didn’t want to infect the family so I holed up in the guest room, binge watching “Downton Abbey.” “At least I can check Downton off my bucket list.”

An emergency dental visit confirmed an abscessed tooth and the promise of a root canal. Wow, this was going from bad to worse!

I watched the extravagance and ease of the nobility on “Downton” and I thought of Jesus Christ. Here He was the King of Kings and yet he chose to be born into poverty. He didn’t have butlers or footmen; rather He came Himself to serve, not to be served.

I was able to get to daily Mass those days, albeit armed with cold meds, bottled water and hand sanitizer!

And I found Bethlehem there. At daily Mass.

Nothing extraordinary happened to be sure. Everything was quite ordinary, even mundane.

They were simple people who filled the pews, not unlike the shepherds of old, who came to find a King.

My whole Christmas was so commonplace. Not exotic like those bejeweled Magi! Those kings were amazing! And they had wonderful gifts to lay at the Child’s feet!

“I have nothing to give you, dear Lord, nothing but this headache, this head cold, these worrisome thoughts.”

“Give Me your myrrh.”

“What?” I said interiorly.

“Give Me your myrrh.”

Myrrh. For mortality, for death? What a gift! For Christmas? A season of ‘Joy to the World’, merriment and mirth, presents and parties? Myrrh?

“Yes, myrrh.”

I sighed. Ok. He wants my myrrh. I would give Him my myrrh – to this Divine Child who came to die for me.

I would lay before Him all my misery, my sickness, my worries, my failures. Recent deaths and the grief of dear ones.

I would give Him my emptiness, the darkness that had robbed me of so much wonder at Christmas, my lonesomeness for the people and joys that I seemed to have lost.

Such were my offerings. With tears springing to my eyes, as if ashamedly, I laid such burdens down before the precious Babe. For Christmas was supposed to be perfect, wasn’t it?

“Mine wasn’t,” He said.

It startled me. But of course! The Lord Jesus had come ‘unto His own, and His own did not accept Him.’ He knew cold. Hunger. A flight into a foreign land from murderous enemies. It was true, His own first Christmas was far from perfect!

I realized that I had been mourning the loss of my childhood, because it seemed I could not return to its wonder and security.

But the restorer of my peace, security and hope lay here in the manger, and, sacramentally, on the altar before me.

Yes, Christ my hope had come, shining like a brilliant star to light my way, his Heart burning like a torch to melt in me the frozen and warm the chill. He came to me bearing love, a new day, a new life!

I left my myrrh and went home by another route.

And so as the churches this week divest their Christmas adornments, the Christmas figures are packed carefully away, and life resumes its drab routine, for me, I am just beginning to celebrate my Christmas. I’m expecting the celebration to last all year long.

Christ is born for us! O come, let us adore Him.

The final gift

It was my mother’s funeral.

The weeks prior were a daze of disbelief. We could hardly grasp the sudden rapid decline of our mother’s cancer – another parent dying in her fifties, only two years after our dad!

I looked up wearily during the funeral Mass at her priest brother burying his little sister. I glanced at my siblings. The six of us were orphaned.

I was sick from the disappointment of losing my parents so young. Although a religious, the doubt of grief was at the door of my heart, and I was lost and hurt that God did not give us the miracles we had begged of Him. I wondered how to go on without the love of my mother and father on this earth. God seemed very far from me in that dread moment.

Then something happened. It was one of those sudden happenings that could pass unnoticed, were the air not charged with the sense of profound feelings during that funeral Mass. It was something I shall never forget, a ray from heaven that pierced the darkness of my heart that day, and the memory has radiated all these years since.

Truth be told, it was a mistake of the funeral director. Who could fault him though, since it was a mistake God had planned from all eternity for my consolation.

Before the funeral began, as we had come from the funeral home and were entering the church, my sister realized to her dismay that someone had mistakenly taken a small bouquet of shamrocks from the car that were meant for the cemetery. I saw her hurriedly place the flowers on a small table in the rear of the church.

I became lost in my own thoughts during the Mass after the homily, until I became aware of movement in the aisle and saw the grandchildren were bearing the offertory gifts. I smiled. They were so beautiful, these children, the sign of new life continuing in the next generation.

Suddenly I watched in amazement as my funeral director cousin was carrying my nephew up the aisle bearing those very shamrocks. “How nice, ” I thought, “My Irish mother would so love this. Her grandson with shamrocks.”

Then, something unexpected took place. The young man bearing the little boy suddenly stopped, turned, and the grandson placed the shamrocks on my mother’s casket!

God was receiving the elements that would be transformed into Himself on the altar, but He allowed another offering to take place, the gift of a bouquet of garden shamrocks from the baby fingers of a grandson, a final offering of love to his grandmother. Sure but it made the angels smile for joy!

It was as if the reality of heaven’s goodness and love was suddenly opened to me. The significance of that moment was not lost on me. I knew that God is love. He is not cruel, heartless, unfeeling to our grief and loss.

It became clear that no relationship is taken away when God calls our dear ones home to Himself. The bonds that are forged in the trials and joys of this earth are not severed in death. God does not ask that of us. Those he calls to himself are in communion with God and with us still. Death does not destroy love, for love is eternal.

The Mass my mother loved so well paused, and a grandmother received a final bouquet of shamrocks because God is full of sweetness and love; because the Lord is thoughtful and tender; because God is love.

I knew I would not be alone. Love was with me. Eternal, infinite Love. The Triune God reflected in the shamrock.

The Destiny of A Perfect Love

Every one of us desires to be loved. Each one longs to be cherished. We were made for love. Nothing will satisfy us until we are loved. It is a capacity written in the very depths of our hearts.

Many people spend their whole life longing for someone to love them, searching for love. People reminisce on memories of past love or dwell on hopes for it in the future.

Simply put, the human heart cannot endure the agony of not being loved. It is a vacuum our nature vehemently detests. Its emptiness will compel one to try to fill this void with all manner of distraction, vain pursuits, even dissipation.

The hopelessness of feeling unloved is a suffering no one is meant to bear. Why? Because we were created to give and to receive love. We were made in the image of God for a communion of love. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves.

CCC, 1702

In seeking to love selflessly, we leave our state of alienation and misery, and we open our hearts to our destiny. In our gift of self, we discover a fulfillment until now undreamed of.

The Second Vatican Council document, Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope), drafted in part by St. John Paul II, makes love the sine qua non of self-realization:

Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

Gaudium et Spes, 24

This call to self-gift originates in the community of Persons which is the Triune God. All love finds its origin and its fulfillment in the very Heart of God. God’s very essence is love itself,

God is love.

1 John 4:8

and all true love is a participation in Him. When we seek to love, we finally encounter Him, the font of love.

Such was God’s ardent desire all along – to fill us with the fullness of His very life and love. He inspired the prophet Jeremiah to pen the Divine avowal of love,

With age-old love, I have loved you, therefore I have kept my mercy toward you.

Jeremiah 31:3

God longs for our love. What lover does not desire the response of love from the Beloved? Our Creator has loved us from all eternity with all the ardor of God! He has plans for our happiness and contentment. He has a future full of hope for us, a life of the fullness of love.

Using the Divine logic ithat love begets love, how then can we acquire love? The Song of Songs says this:

Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away. Were one to offer all the wealth of his house for love, he would be utterly despised.

Song of Songs 8:7

Love is invincible, eternal. It is a participation in God’s own essence, and is a pure gift from God.

Love is not a commodity. It must be freely given and received. We can do no better than to seek love from its very Source, from God Himself!

This involves returning like the prodigal son to our spiritual senses, and making a conscious effort to turn our eyes away from our misery and loneliness, our alienation, and to see beyond ourselves. Now is the time to leave the reveries and daydreams of our former life, and to live intentionally in love.

Making a conscious decision to love God from our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves will prove to be the threshold of contentment for us.

Letting go of selfishness and seeking God will liberate us from bondage to ourselves and our self-centeredness. The transformation will begin and continue, until we can make our own an act of pure, disinterested love such as that of St. Francis Xavier:

O God, I love you! … You, you, my Jesus, have all-embraced me on the Cross. You have borne the nails, the lance, much ignominy, numberless griefs, sweatings and anguish, and death – and these on account of me, and for me, a sinner. Why, therefore, should I not love you, O most loving Jesus?—not that in heaven you shall save me, nor lest for eternity you shall condemn me –not with the hope of any reward. But as you have loved me, so also will I love you—only because you are my King, and because you are my God!

St. Francis Xavier

Opening our spiritual eyes to the loneliness and misery of those around us, we will begin to give love, to show kindness, to do deeds of mercy. Opportunities will not be lacking. Life will become filled with occasions of interaction that bring us happiness and fulfillment.

Union follows – with God and His people. The sadness of the past will hardly be remembered. Closeness to God will lead to unity with people.

Prayer will become second nature, charity will flow from it. Love is transformative, changing us into the very persons we always wanted to be, and uncovering to us the depths of love we always longed for.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld is an example of someone who could not be satisfied by anything until his conversion to God. He surrendered himself to love and wrote this profound prayer of abandonment:

I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld

The fact is, we were intended for the closest intimacy. Our heart’s longing is but an echo of the Lord’s longing for us. Listen to what God speaks personally to us through the Prophet Hosea.

I will betroth you to me forever: I will betroth you to me with justice and with judgment, with loyalty and with compassion; I will betroth you to me with fidelity,and you shall know the Lord.

Hosea 2:21-22

What will be our response? Will we open ourselves to love? Our destiny of love is calling.

Image: Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Joseph Finelli, http://www.sacredheartofjesus.net

Your Name is Beloved

The Divine Mercy image
By Terezia Sedlakova

It is His essence, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Love is who He is.

With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you.

Jeremiah 31:3

This is why we long to be loved, because we actually are longing for God. We are dissatisfied without His love. As St. Augustine has put it, “You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

What we fail to realize is that our longing is but the faintest echo of God’s longing for us.

Out of the fullness of his heart during the Last Supper, our blessed Savior said,”As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (John 15:9).

Think about that. As the Father loves the Son, the Son loves us.

We must never doubt that we are loved completely by God. We have only to look to what God has done out of pure love for us.

Our Founder, St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar has written this profound insight:

St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar

“If you want to know the greatness of this love, mediate on God’s great acts performed for men, namely the three eternal monuments of love: the manger, the cross and the altar. Stand especially beneath the cross, and look towards the love Crucified. Stand before the Most Blessed Sacrament and mediate on the immolation of the hidden God, the immense sacrifice of self, the entire giving to men with love without limits. Then penetrate
into the Heart of Jesus and look at His love. Indeed, no one can understand what a great flame consumes that most lively Heart.”

Office of Readings of St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar, January 19.
My God and My All!

“We adore you, O God, here and in all Your churches throughout the whole world, and we bless You, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.”

St. Francis of Assisi

Taking Holy Ground by Storm

In this weekend’s readings during Holy Mass we see real exertion being brought to bear to attain a goal.

The kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent are taking it by force.

Matthew 11:12

By force, for example, Joshua mowed down the Amalekites.

By force, Saint Paul used all his ingenuity, his zeal and strength – even to the very shedding of his blood, to preach the gospel whether in season or out of season, convenient or inconvenient.

Finally, the persistent widow in the Holy Gospel achieves her goal by the sheer forcefulness of her perseverance.

The real question then becomes how badly do we want something? To what lengths will we go to attain it? How much will we sacrifice for a particular goal?

For to the extent that we desire, we will spend ourselves. To the degree that we love, we will capture the Kingdom of God, like a buried treasure or a pearl of great price, and we will lead a host of others as well!

For love of God and the salvation of immortal souls, no sacrifice was too great for the Saints.

And what the Church today desperately needs are such saints, relentless apostles, like the martyrs St. Isaac Jogues, St John de Brebeuf and Companions, and the Polish martyr, Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, all of whose sacrificial deaths we honor today.

What the Church longs for are heralds of the truth, indefatigable missionaries like St. John Nepomucene Neumann, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos or the Servant of God, Fr. Demetrius A. Gallitzin.

What the whole world seeks, above all, is a living faith joined to the irresistible force of pure love, a relentless love, capable of opening minds and transforming hearts.

Quenching Our Thirst from the Stream of God’s Delight

Jesus, my Lord my God my All
By George Henry Grenville Manton

They feast on the rich food of your house; from your delightful stream you give them drink. For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.

Psalm 36:9-10

There is a placid stream that flows from the right side of the Temple, from the side of Christ. Out of the ardor of His love, from the depths of His goodness, our Lord, our beloved Rock was struck and we can quench our thirst from the wellsprings of our Savior. Gazing into these life-giving waters, we now see our true image reflected, our very identity.

This identity is not found in people’s perception of us, or even in our own regard for ourselves. People are fickle, and we are inconstant. Our worth is indeed so much more than that.

Our value is found in God, in what He thinks of us.

Our value is found in the mind of God, in the Heart of God, our essence is found in the God who made us and redeemed us.

The reality is that we are loved, infinitely, completely, ardently, loyally. We are loved in the all-consuming flames of God’s love.

We may not feel this love, this value. Our self-esteem may lack the ability just now to perceive of our true identity. It may take time, it may require many visits to the Wellsprings of the Savior, when we will allow ourselves to peer deeply into His depths of love and begin to believe that we are so precious to God.

The mystical poet Caryll Houselander has written:

We go through life with dark forces within us and around us, haunted by the ghosts of repudiated terrors and embarrassments, assailed by devils, but we are also continually guided by invisible hands; our darkness is lit by many little flames, from night-lights to the stars. Those who are afraid to look into their own hearts know nothing of the light that shines in the darkness.

Quoted in The Spiritual Path of Caryll Houselander, p. 102

Do not be afraid to look into the heart! For too long we have believed the infernal lie that we are unloved, that our identity is found in the whims of ourselves and others. Can someone so precious be regarded in so intemperate a fashion!

No! Our identity is rooted in the very heart of God! Our identity is found in the eternal fidelity of his love!

By those ‘invisible hands’, those many ‘little flames’, those ‘night-lights’ along the way’ – those graces that God sends us through people and situations, we begin to have the faintest glimpse of God’s perception of us.

By faith, we can realize what we are worth in his eyes! We are valued at the very price of the Precious Blood of the Son of God! We are loved eternally, and our identity is found in the very Heart of God!

Beauty is in the Heart of God

Middletown, Pennsylvania

It has been said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

According to this thinking, beauty is perceived as a superficial thing, determined by the taste of the onlooker.

Last evening, my Superior and I went to a nearby orchard, down the road, just past the horse farm.

Along the way we observed the most beautiful, breathtaking view. A magnificent sky and gorgeous creatures -majestic horses. I asked the superior to please stop the car, and I took the above picture on the phone.

I later posted the image on social media with the caption, “What a glorious view, this Pennsylvania, this America!”

Why did I perceive this sight as beautiful? Why did it stir my soul so deeply? Why was I profoundly moved to think of the Creator who made all this beauty? And why did I receive such an overwhelming response to this picture on social media, specifically about its beauty?

The answer is to be found in a much deeper reality – the fact that beauty is not defined by the eye of the beholder, but is rather painted and recognized in the very heart of God, the God in whose image we are created.

When beauty is seen as having its origin in God, it becomes something holy, something even eternal. It is not that which passes with age, or something purchased in a bottle; neither is beauty determined by a human being.

If beauty is the sign of God’s handiwork, seek beauty, treasure it, consider that you are truly beautiful, fashioned as you in in love by God, in His image, a reflection of God’s own perfect beauty and artistry.

Great is the LORD and worthy of much praise, whose grandeur is beyond understanding. One generation praises your deeds to the next and proclaims your mighty works. They speak of the splendor of your majestic glory.”

Ps 145:3-5a