By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
In a letter to Mme Tholin-Bost, dated October 22, 1851, St. Peter Julian Eymard writes:
St. Peter Julian wrote about this “universal indifference taking hold of many Catholics” back in 1851, which he described as happening “in a frightening way”. I wonder what words he would choose to describe the level of indifference we see today. Yet, as tempting as it is for me to look out and see how “other people” are suffering from this indifference, the call is always to look within. Is there any part of me that has grown numb to the suffering of another? Is there any part of me that is choosing not to love?
Once I heard someone say that they were not going to visit a loved one who was dying because they didn’t want to remember them that way. They didn’t want to deal with the reality of suffering, the reality of death. Visiting the sick is a challenging act of mercy. It requires something of us. When you truly look in the eyes of someone when they are suffering, you cannot be indifferent. Once you open your eyes and look with love, their suffering becomes yours. “Of you my heart has spoken, Seek his face. It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Psalm 26:8-9). He does not hide His face from us, it is us who choose to turn away when that looks brings us pain.
We are in the season of Lent, a time when we are invited to be transformed, to change. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving awaken our dulled senses to the reality around us, lifting the veil of indifference that keeps us separate from one another. When we first hear that the remedy for the universal indifference is love for Jesus Eucharistic, some might wonder how this might be. What does receiving the Eucharist or spending time in Eucharistic Adoration have to do with caring for the suffering or tending to the poor? Everything! When you fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist, you will then recognize Him anywhere, especially in the face of the poor, the suffering, the lonely. These are the faces that most resemble Him while hanging on the Cross. It is when we look in those eyes that we hear Him say, “Turn to me and be safe, …for I am God; there is no other!” (Isaiah 45:22). When we look with love into the eyes of suffering, His face might be disfigured, but “faith will tell us Christ is present when our human senses fail” (Tantum Ergo).
Love always seeks to give itself, and Jesus is the great multiplier. An hour adoring Him in the chapel will be multiplied into many hours serving Him in the world. It is then that the fire that He kindled in our hearts will spread and “enkindle the whole world” (Luke 12:49). So let us take this opportunity of grace to look honestly and ask which parts of our hearts have grown cold and need kindling. And then let us turn…turn to Him and listen… “Listen to Him” (Mark 9:7). “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
There is a phrase my mother always says at the end of a difficult day: “Tomorrow will be another day.” She said that to me last night. Yesterday was one of those days when you feel like you’ve been bopped around nonstop, when you feel like your strength and your sanity are hanging on by a very thin thread. It was one of those days when you’ve been praying nonstop, yet you do not know if you have been heard. And then the day comes to an end, and you hear your mother say… "tomorrow will be another day" …sigh …and you allow yourself to exhale…
“Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil” (Matthew 6:34). “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Sufficient…enough…His grace is enough for me. His grace is enough to deal with today’s evil, but not yet for tomorrow’s. When we worry about tomorrow, we are biting more than we can chew. When we try to run ahead of grace, when we try to do it on our own, sooner or later, we will always fall. But sometimes we will catch ourselves and will notice the small thin thread we are holding on to. And then we look closer, and we realize it is Him who is holding on to us. “Even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast” (Psalm 139:10). It is then we remember…that thin thread of grace is enough. It’s the hem of His garment, “the tassel on his cloak” (Matthew 9:21). “Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, 'Courage daughter! Your faith has saved you'” (v.22).
Jesus saw her…just as He sees each one of us. He sees our efforts and our failures; He sees our perseverance; He sees our faith and our love. At the end of the day I allow myself to exhale because if there is another day, I can also trust there will be another breath. As the breath leaves my lungs I surrender, and without words my soul joins the Church as she sings each night the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32):
“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
I’ve always found this prayer to be a balm for my weary soul. Just like the words from my mother, they carry within them the gift of hope… hope for a new day, hope in God. This is the mark of a Christian, for can you imagine a Christian without hope? Whether we see it here on earth or we see it from Heaven above… Tomorrow will be another day, and we trust tomorrow is also covered in God’s love.
The other day I was listening to a podcast with my headphones as I walked into the kitchen to grab a drink. My husband started talking to me, but I didn’t hear him. After I noticed his flailing arms signaling to me, I paused the podcast and removed my headphones. He couldn’t see the ear pods hidden behind my long hair and grew concerned over why I was ignoring him. Imagine if I hadn’t seen his attempts to grab my attention and had gone back to the bedroom… I might have never known he was trying to talk to me. How often do we do that with God? How often are we listening to everyone and everything while not even noticing Him trying to talk to us?
Anyone who has been married for a while knows that it is often the little recurring everyday annoyances that make marriage challenging. Family life presents us with constant opportunities to practice the virtues of patience, kindness, and humility; it is truly a school for souls. And in this school, as well as in any other school, we tend to overcomplicate things and lose sight of the simple truth.
“You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Only… that means no less, no more. Simple, right? That is always the way it is with God. We are the ones who complicate things. In our efforts to justify our behavior, to accommodate our will, we twist and turn the truth until we are so tied up in knots that we can not tell which direction is up.
In the footnote for this Scripture passage (NABRE) we read:
So yes, this is simple, but it is not easy. We can only do what is required of us when we “walk humbly” with God, when we listen carefully to the revealed will of God. Humility is tied to listening; it tells us which way is up. We are down; God is up. He knows what is best. And He reveals His will to us… if we only listen.
I was thinking of the example of the Holy Family and how they listened to God. We know we have in Mary an example of perfect humility, of perfect receptivity to the will of God. There was no obstacle between her and the message of the angel. And, as much as I want to be like her, I know there are still many obstacles in my heart that make it difficult sometimes for me to listen. So I also look at Joseph, who had his own plans for how to solve a difficult situation. God waited until he was asleep to speak to him. I don’t think it is a coincidence that in times of worry and anxiety the first thing to go is a good night’s sleep.
“It is in vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, To eat bread earned by hard toil—all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)
What if instead of trying to find a solution to every problem on my own I would give Jesus my burdens and let Him be my God? What would happen if I shut down the noise of the world and open my ears to Him? Perhaps I would find it easier to “do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with my God”.
The first few days after the birth of a child can be a trying time for the mother. The physical toll from the birth itself is compounded by lack of sleep and the needs of others in her care. The circumstances surrounding the birth of each of my three boys were different, but my favorite memories with each of them were those quiet times in the middle of the night when it was just the two of us. The rhythmic squeak of the rocking chair provided a backdrop as I hummed a lullaby and breathed in the sweet new baby smell of his head. In the middle of the hectic stressful post birth period, time stood still. It was as if God knew that I needed that time, in the silence, to ponder and take in the miracle in my arms.
We find ourselves within the octave of Christmas, an eight-day celebration of the Solemnity of Christmas. It is as if time stands still. As the commotion of the world goes on all around us, the Church invites us to quiet down and ponder on the miracle in front of us, God Incarnate, the Babe in the manger. The baby has been born and St. Joseph sleeps after the long journey. The shepherds and Magi are on their way and the crowds will soon press in, trying to see the King. We are invited to open our eyes to the invisible reality “hidden from the wise and the learned” (Mt 11:26), and to see how much God loves each one of us. Mary is inviting us to sit with her and adore the Babe.
Christmas is not over, it’s only just begun. God knows that we live in a fallen, hectic, sometimes crazy world, and that we need a little extra time to take everything in. If your house has been busy with guests, or if you are just exhausted from all the preparations and celebrations, open your ears to the invitation to be still. Maybe you can wake up a little earlier than the rest of the household and let the silence outside give way to the silence within. Those moments before everyone wakes up can be like those precious moments before the shepherds arrive. Accept the invitation to this intimate moment with Mary and the Babe. Ask Mary to place the Baby in your arms, and to be right there with you to make sure He is safe. Ask her to teach you how to hold and ponder all these things in your heart. (Lk 2:19)
As we lit our little Advent wreath at home each night this week during our family prayer time, we all wondered if that first candle is big enough to last until Christmas. A little debate ensued, with everyone pitching in suggestions…one person said we should only light it on Sundays, then it would definitely last. Another suggested we turn on a different purple candle each night, so we give that one little candle a break. I didn’t like either of those solutions. For those not familiar with Advent wreaths, they have four candles, each representing one of the four weeks of Advent. The four candles traditionally represent hope, faith, joy, and peace. Each Sunday of Advent, one more candle is lit. The light gets brighter and brighter as we approach the birth of Jesus, who is the Light of the world. So, the way I see it, the first candle of Advent, the one that symbolizes hope, needs to be lit every night, and it needs to last all the way until Christmas. I “suggested” (mom’s suggestions carry a lot of weight around here) we should try lighting it only for the last part of the prayer, when we are sharing our intentions and prayer requests. Maybe we can make it last by lighting it up for a shorter time each night. I am not sure how that will work out; we’ll have to wait to find out.
I find it interesting that the candle that is in danger of extinction is the Light of Hope. As I was pondering about this, the lyrics from one of my favorite Advent hymns, Night of Silence, by Daniel Kantor came to mind:
“Cold are the people, Winter of life, We tremble in shadows this cold endless night, Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping, Flowers that will echo the sunrise, Fire of hope is our only warmth, Weary, its flame will be dying soon.”
This song has always tugged at the strings of my heart. There is a great truth here. When I look at the world, with all the chaos, confusion, all the sin and darkness, I see hearts weary, running out of hope. Hope… Isn’t that what everyone needs? Isn’t that what we have to ensure we don’t run out of?
The first night we lit the Advent candle, it burned faster than the second night. The difference was that the second night we turned the ceiling fan off. We noticed that when the flame was still and calm, it burned slower and lasted longer. Hearts weary with the storms of life needs to be tended to gently. We must provide shelter from the wind, and then share a little hope. A simple word of encouragement, a smile, a kind gesture… these are concrete things we can do for each other always, but especially during Advent, a time of year when many do struggle with loneliness, when many begin to lose hope. “Whom shall I send?” (Isaiah 6:8). “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. …a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (42:1,3).
But what can we do this if our own flame is weary? We must first kindle the fire of love in our own hearts. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of us Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.” We need grace. We need the Sacraments. We need the Eucharist. We need prayer. We need to avail ourselves of every single opportunity to flame that fire. Much is at stake… the world needs our hope.
With each new candle of Advent, we pray for an increase in hope, faith, joy, and peace. These gifts we are given, as grace, are not just for us. They are meant to build us up, to strengthen us, so we can encourage one another, so we can build each other up. “For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober… But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation… Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6,8,11).
The Candle of Hope in the Advent wreath needs to last only until Christmas. After that day we don’t need it anymore, for we will have the fulfillment of what we are hoping for, the birth of Our Savior, Emmanuel…God with us. The light of Hope in each of our hearts needs to last until He returns. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49).
So I am still wondering, will the candle on our wreath last until Christmas? … one can only hope.
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).
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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.