I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling pretty tired lately, more than tired… depleted. Dealing with physical tiredness is something I am used to; in learning to manage my CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth), I have come to learn my physical limits and how to work around them. I know I need more rest than most people, and I am ok with that. But the mental and spiritual strain I’ve experienced this year is constantly testing my limits, and I’m having to learn, and accept, what those are. I am having to learn to spend more time in silence, more time in prayer. And while it can be tempting for us to try to separate our physical and mental needs from our spiritual needs, we are wholly human; one area will always affect the other. Our worries make us weary; the solution to this is rest.
“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). What happens when we allow ourselves to become weary? We can start to lose hope, and this is a danger we must avoid. A feeling of weariness lets us know that something is off, and that balance needs to be restored. This restoration is a passive kind of work. When our bodies need healing, what is required of us is to give the body what it needs and let it do its work. This is not easy. Ask anyone who has been on an extended bedrest; sometimes the hardest thing we are asked to do is rest. But our bodies are not meant to work without ceasing. Our need for rest is clearly displayed in the work of Creation when God rested on the seventh day. “Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). It is interesting to note, however, that what God commands us to do on this day of rest is pray. This is also not easy. While rest from our physical or mental labors means taking a break from the work, this is different in our life of prayer, where resting is the actual work.
The dictionary defines weary as “feeling or showing tiredness, especially as a result of excessive exertion or lack of sleep”. In our prayer, we experience this “excessive exertion” when we try to do the work of God ourselves. Think about it, God would not ask us to do something beyond our ability. He would not ask us to “pray always” if this depended on our limited human capacities. It is when we are faced with our limits that we can surrender to his infiniteness. It is in our poverty, that we realize we need a Savior. “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26). The only way we can pray always, without becoming weary, is when we allow ourselves to enter into His rest.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11-28-30). On a different translation we hear, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Just like the restoration of the body requires us to give the body food and rest, the restoration of our souls requires us to give the soul its food and rest. This food our soul needs is the Eucharist, Jesus Christ Himself; He is also our place of rest. It is in this rest that His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity mix with our body, mind and spirit… healing the sick, restoring the broken. It is in this rest that we become truly whole…we become holy. So when you are feeling weary, do not despair. Lift your eyes to Heaven and enter into His rest.
-Ivonne J. Hernandez
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
Early in our marriage, Rick and I would have a recurring argument whenever one of us would ask the other for a pot to cook with. We both grew up in Puerto Rico; I grew up in the North of the island and he grew up in the South. And even though the island is only 35 miles wide, there were small variations in the meaning of words. Most of them were small and you could figure out their meaning from the context, but some had real-life implications for us. Like the fact that what he called a pot, I called a pan…and what I called I pot, he called a pan. For those who speak Spanish, the words were “olla” and “caldero” (not exactly pot and pan, but close enough). You would not believe the time we spent arguing about these two words…mostly joking, but arguing, nevertheless. To this day, if I ask Rick for an “olla”, he will give me a “caldero”. He is not doing it to be difficult; it is just what that word means to him. How did we fix this problem? Did I re-learn what “olla” means for him and ask him for a “caldero” instead? No, the meaning of those words is deeply ingrained in me. What I do now is ask in English, where we both agree that a pot is a pot and a pan is a pan.
There are words and phrases I use every day with those who share my Catholic faith that would be difficult to communicate with someone who does not share my faith. Words like love, marriage, sacrifice, obedience, justice, happiness, mercy, joy. Each of these words, when used in the light of the Gospel, take on a meaning that eludes those who hear them from a different perspective. It is a language different than their own. How do we communicate with someone who speaks a different language than us? We must find a common language. That common language is love. Not the word, dare I say, for the word can have different meanings, but the action, the verb.
"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8)
The difference between the intellectual exercise of exploring a hypothetical moral dilemma and the sharing of a testimony is that the latter involves a real person, thus, love enters the equation. It is only then that we can experience an encounter with the other, seeing them for who they are. When we open our eyes to see, and open our ears to hear, and open our hearts to give, we are open to receive. This kind of encounter transcends barriers of language, of religion, of experience, and of circumstance. We are not called to change the world; that is God’s job. We are called to make of our lives a testimony, a living witness to the love of God. We are called to share the Gospel and witness to the Truth. We are called to love, and from that common language we can then perhaps have real dialogue. “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15).
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
I must have been around five years old when, one evening, I made a very big decision. I packed some things in a little suitcase and announced to my mother that I was leaving…for good. I remember the unworried look on my mother’s face, who, with a gentle smile responded, “ok, good luck”, turned around, and continued preparing dinner. I was taken aback a bit with her lack of care for my wellbeing, but I said nothing. I walked out the front door and proceeded to walk away from my home. I remember stopping in front of the neighbor’s house and looking back, half-expecting my mom would be coming after me…but no one was there. In my little heart I wondered, “mom, do you not care?” Realizing I was all alone and had nowhere to go. I turned around and went back home.
The question in my heart reminds me of a story in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus was asleep on the boat as a storm was tossing them about (v.35-41). The disciples woke Jesus up and asked, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” There is another time in the Gospel when Jesus is asked a similar question. “Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” (Luke 10:40). When our hearts are hurt, fearful or anxious, it doesn’t matter if we are a five-year-old little girl, or a grown man or woman; our burdened hearts seek for someone who sees us, for someone who cares.
Did my mom care that I wanted to run away? Of course she cared! She was probably looking from the window, making sure I remained safe. As I grew I learned that my conclusion that my mom didn’t care was incorrect. I did not have the full vision; I didn’t see her peeking through the window. The waves tossing around my little heart were too big and even at such a young age I was, like Martha, “anxious and worried about many things” (Luke 10:41). The disciples on the boat were also wrong in their conclusion. Did Jesus care that the disciples were in trouble? Of course He cared. Even while asleep on the boat, He was watching over them.
Why do we feel terrified any time the waves around us overwhelm us? Why do we feel anxious? Why do we despair? Perhaps our faith is in our own limited vision and our limited understanding. St. Peter Julian Eymard tells us: “Abide in the House of God's divine fatherly goodness, like a child who knows nothing, does nothing, damages everything, but dwells in his gentle kindness.” When our hearts are burdened and seek someone who cares, let us hear God saying, “I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15)… “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:40).
“Continue to be like a little child in a boat which God is navigating. Leave the care of the future to the Good Lord; yours is to be ready to fulfill his holy Will.” – St. Peter Julian Eymard
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). When we look at the ten commandments, we see that the first three order our relationship with God, and the last seven order our relationship with our neighbor. This lets us know two things. First, the order of the commandments let us know that our relationship with God must come first. Second, the number of commandments relating to our relationship with our neighbor lets us know that we will struggle more often in that area. This makes sense when we think of how many hours in the day we are directly talking with God vs. how many hours we are interacting with others. Those we live with often challenge us the most.
When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. (Advice from Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis)
How often do we feel annoyed by the behavior of those around us? In my younger years I used to jokingly say, “I would be a saint, if it wasn’t for the people around me.” This thought, though meant as a joke, hides a deep truth beneath. It is true, that it is in community, in relationship, that our faults and weaknesses are brought to the surface. The “other” acts as a mirror to the state of our soul. But what we do when these faults come to the surface is the difference between vice and virtue, between sin and love. Those closest to us, by the mere number of interactions, bring up things that just can’t be ignored. Conversation, charity, change, compromise…either from one or likely from both, will be required if the goal is to live in peace.
“Now I wish to tell you further, that a man proves his patience on his neighbor, when he receives injuries from him. Similarly, he proves his humility on a proud man, his faith on an infidel, his true hope on one who despairs, his justice on the unjust, his kindness on the cruel, his gentleness and benignity on the irascible.” - (From The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Sienna)
When my faults rise up in response to an offense, and I become aware of them, it is like a double-edged sword, cutting “between soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12). “My sin is before me always” (Psalm 51). This revelation is a great gift from God. It is only when I become aware of my own sinfulness that I can bring it to the foot of the Cross. If it remains hidden it festers and slowly kills my soul. It is in the reflection of the other that the soul sees its true state and can surrender to the loving hand of God. Thus, through relationship with other sinners, God works on my soul. This process can happen simultaneously in a relationship, if both are striving to grow in love. “Love is the cross, and the cross is Love” (St. Therese of Lisieux). When we feel annoyed at something or someone we have a choice. We can either choose to focus on what is annoying us, or we can recognize the opportunity in front of us, an opportunity to practice virtue, to grow in patience, to grow in love.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
I still remember it like it was yesterday….sitting on the passenger side of our motorhome, kids strapped in their seats, car hooked in the back with five bicycles hanging behind on a bike rack, looking out to the house that had been our home for the past seven years… the home where we went from a family of four to a family of five, the home where we began to homeschool, the home we had just sold and was no longer our home. Almost everything we owned was now either inside or being pulled behind this motorhome and it was time to hit the road. We didn’t know where the road would take us, or for how long this house on wheels would be our home, but we were excited and open to new experiences, and God did not disappoint.
Our journey as “full-timers” lasted three years; we collected precious memories, friends, and stories, as we lived a life we could not have imagined before. There is something about living on a home with wheels… it is a daily reminder that at any moment you might go. My husband worked as a consultant and we never knew where his next job would take us, or for how long. We came back to Florida to visit friends and family a few times in between jobs, and I remember, on one of those visits, a friend asking me: how I could be gone for so long? She said that when she goes on a trip, after a few days she just wants to come home. I knew what she was talking about, because I had experienced that feeling before, but this was now different. The RV was our home. We brought home with us wherever we would go.
Just like our home was detached from the ground, set on wheels and ready to go, so must the heart of a Christian be set only on the Will of God. We put down roots and anchors to feel secure, but this world is not our home. No matter how much we seek comfort in its beauty, our hearts will remain restless, because we are meant to go. But God is with us, within us, He’s made our hearts His home. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23). So, fear not my friends and let yourself go. Let God detach you from what holds you back from living the life He wants for you. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11).
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). I close my eyes and picture Jesus addressing these words to me today and ask, “What does this mean?” The answer I hear in my heart: “It means it is not about you.” Light does not shine for its own sake, but for others. “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). …”that they may see…” How can this be? I can’t make anyone else see; I can’t even make myself see. Ah… it’s not about me.
I think this is the source of so many of our problems, of so much frustration…our refusal to give in to this one lesson. So, in what may seem like a contradiction, I must focus on my part, yet remain aware that everything I do is about others. Even my most intimate encounter with God is not about me…it is about God. And love of God always leads us to love of others. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Mt 22:37-10).
Our world is in darkness. People are searching for hope, for light, for truth. Yet, “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. ...But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear” (Mt 13:13,16). I often wonder at the great gift of my faith, at the gift of having been born in a Catholic family and having been baptized as an infant. I didn’t do anything to deserve it; I didn’t do anything to earn it, but I must do everything to keep it.
When a child is being baptized, a candle is lit from the Easter candle, and the celebrant says: “Receive the light of Christ. Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly, so that your children, enlightened by Christ, may walk always as children of the light and, persevering in the faith, may run to meet the Lord when he comes with all the Saints in the heavenly court.” So now, as an adult, whether my light was kept burning brightly, or was almost quenched, it is my responsibility to keep the flame of faith alive in my heart. "Having received in Baptism the Word, "the true light that enlightens every man," the person baptized has been "enlightened," he becomes a "son of light," indeed, he becomes "light" himself. "(CCC 1216).
But what about those days when my light is so dim it barely shines? What about when I feel I should just hide it and save it because it is barely enough for me? I must look out and remember…it’s not about me. The image that comes to mind is the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree. They are not all on at the same time; they take turns. When the lights are alternating, it looks like a beautiful dance. We do not see the darkness, just the light. But if you take one out, the whole section goes dark. Some days my light will shine before others, some days the light of others will shine before me. But if we keep the light of faith burning for each other, Christ’s light will shine for all to see.
By: Ivonne Hernandez
I have always loved visiting office supply stores. Browsing up and down aisles filled with brightly colored papers and plastic bins of every shape and size touched on a hidden desire of my heart, a desire for order. I bought into the idea that with the right combination of tools, perhaps my days could be organized, my thoughts filed in an orderly manner, easily grabbed at a moment’s need. Over the years I’ve bought bins and binders, pens and markers, calendar and label makers, filing cabinets and colored papers. As I look at the piles of papers and baskets on and around my desk today I wonder…did any of it help? Or am I still the same disorganized mess I was before?
If I were going to write an autobiography, I would probably title it Work in Progress… Pardon My Dust. It seems like my life is always changing and as soon as I adapt to a new phase, the phase is over, and it is time to start new again. Whether it is with our marriage, homeschooling, health and exercise, home projects or spiritual exercises, sometimes it seems life is like laundry…the drudgery of life is never done. And, though there is truth in that statement, it is not quite the whole truth. When you wash a load of laundry, fold it, put it away, and then wear it again, you do not create a new piece of clothing, you just take away the dirt that had accumulated on it. When you are building a life, you are always making something new. “Founding a monastery is a continuous process of sawing to build your design and trying to dispose of the sawdust, while you're always being forced to reconstruct. You have to give it your all and it's never done” (St. Benedict).
This experience of creating something new, does not only apply to the lives we build, or the monasteries monks establish. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we ourselves are works in progress…in the hands of God. “For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor 3:9). Each day, each interaction changes us; each day we grow. So perhaps all this dust that so often drives me crazy is there to remind me of the work that has been done and should become an opportunity to give thanks to God. Maybe rather than looking at the bins of unorganized papers I should focus on the work that has been published. Perhaps rather than looking at another unopened calendar I can remember the family activities we had, and all that is yet to come. Yes, I am still a disorganized mess, but, despite that, with God’s help, I’ve accomplished much. So, let us remember what we are building --what God is building with and through us--, and rather than being discouraged by a little dust, let us keep going, persevering, always living in hope.
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We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.