By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“What has God been doing this past month?” – This is how my Spiritual Director opens our time together each month. The first time he asked me that, I literally felt a shift in my mind. I had made a list in my mind of things I wanted to discuss, but none of those would answer that question. I realized that my mind had been occupied with things that I was struggling with; I was paying more attention to the things that I had been doing, and to things the devil had been doing, than to God himself. I began to ask myself this question often, sometimes more than once a day. What I discovered was that the more I sought, the more I saw.
And what did I see? What do I see? I see that every time I struggle with something, it is an opportunity God is giving me to set me free. That every time I allow (fill in the blank) to take away my peace, to gain access to my mind and heart, God is right there showing me that I am free to choose Him instead. That when I hold to the things that eternally endure, I am holding on to Him. And, when I am holding on to Him, there is nothing I shall want, nothing I shall fear. (Ps 23)
“For you have given your children a sacred time
for the renewing and purifying of their hearts,
that, freed from disordered affections,
they may so deal with the things of this passing world
as to hold rather to the things that eternally endure.” (Preface II of Lent)
“My tears have been my bread day and night, as they ask me every day, ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps 42:4). This process of renewing and purifying of our hearts is not painless, but it is a good kind of pain. It is like when a tight muscle gets massaged by a skilled therapist…it hurts, but in a way that leads to healing, not to brokenness. God is the same today as He was yesterday, and He is loving us through every circumstance. His love and mercy are everlasting, and that is where we place our trust.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). When the world clamors for your attention, and the enemy thinks he’s winning, just look up and see the one who is beholding you and ask yourself: What has God been doing? “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:19)
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“Love makes burdens lighter, because you divide them. It makes joys more intense, because you share them.” - Anonymous
“Love makes burdens lighter…” I recall a time when my husband had received an abnormal test result, and we were facing the possibility that he had cancer. As we prayed and waited for a series of follow-up tests, we shared the news with some close friends, so they could pray for us too. We were with our friends the day we received the good news that there was no cancer after all, and the wife immediately praised God and started to cry. The relief they were expressing was bigger than even our own. They proceeded to share how they prayed every night as a family for Rick’s health, and how they cried sometimes at night when they thought of what we were going through. What was amazing to me was that, during the whole ordeal, Rick and I had experienced a peace we could not explain. We both had a sense of trust and resignation, knowing that whatever the outcome, we would be ok. When our friends shared their story with us we realized what had happened. They had literally carried our burden for us. “Love makes burdens lighter, because you divide them.”
“Love makes joys more intense…” Those of you who have been following our blog for a while are aware that last November our dear friend Ray, Laura’s husband, received a long-awaited liver transplant. Talk about an occasion where we were carrying each other’s burdens! I can not begin to imagine the weight of the cross Ray and Laura were called to carry during this time, but it must have been really heavy, because so many of us felt the need to carry a piece of it in our hearts. We were with Laura the day she received the call that a liver had been found for Ray and God had answered our prayers. We were about to begin a day of retreat with the Associates of the Blessed Sacrament (in Florida) when she received the call and was told she had to rush to the airport to meet Ray in the hospital in New York City. She went up to the podium and shared the news with our community of Associates, who had been faithfully and relentlessly praying for a miracle… “Ray got a liver!” The burst of absolute joy that enveloped that room was the closest I have been to experiencing what I think Pentecost might have felt like for the Apostles in the Upper Room. There were tears of joy, hugs, and a love so palpable that we could not stop talking about it and praising God long after Laura left for the airport. One of the priests said later, “we will not forget this moment for a long time.” … “Love makes joys more intense, because you share them.”
Our lives are meant to be shared, lived in community with others. This is what it means to live a life centered around the Eucharist. Our whole lives become the bread that is blessed, broken and shared. It is in the sharing of the cross that we find a participation in the joy to come. It was only through walking with others in their pain and suffering that we were able to fully participate in the joy of their restoration. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). Yet it is much easier to be the one helping carry the burden of another, than being the one who needs to ask for help.
I find it interesting that when we hear the phrase “be Christ to others”, we usually think of being the one serving, like Jesus did on Holy Thursday, when He washed the disciple’s feet. (Jn 13:1-20) We are happy to be the one helping others carry their cross. We make a meal for a friend who is sick; we lend a shoulder or a listening ear for someone who is lonely. And this is good, very good indeed. We are not only called, but required to performs acts of mercy like these, but for you to be able to give, someone has to be willing to receive.
Jesus was also the one who needed Simon of Cyrene to help Him carry His Cross. (Lk 23:26) He was the one crucified, vulnerable, naked, the one who cried out “I thirst”. (Jn 19:28) We can’t choose to be Jesus on Holy Thursday and say no to being Jesus on Good Friday. If we truly want to be imitators of Christ, furthermore, if we are to become what we eat, we must allow ourselves to be broken for others… For it is in when we let others walk with us that we “fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2) “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). So next time we feel tempted to be self-reliant, let us remember that to be God-reliant is to see Jesus in those around us. Let us ask for the grace to have the humility to accept that today might be our turn to have someone wash our feet, to allow someone to share their love.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
I’ve never been a sporty or outdoor person. As some of you know, I suffer from a progressive neuromuscular condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT). Although I was born with CMT, it was not until I was 40 years old that I received a diagnosis. Growing up, I just thought I was clumsy, slow and uncoordinated…which I was, but I did not know there was a medical reason for my difficulties. One day, when I was a teenager, my family went on a day trip to El Yunque rain-forest, which we would do every few years. We would usually walk a short distance down a paved path to a picnic shelter area and spend the day grilling and playing games. This day however, someone had the idea that we should go on a hike up the mountain and take in some of the majestic views from high above. My mom’s husband was a big strong guy, and he said he would help me along on the trail. I do not remember all the details, but I have a feeling there was quite a bit of cajoling going on. If I didn’t go, someone would have to stay with me and miss all the fun.
We started going up this trail alongside the mountain and I started to notice the people that were coming down on the opposite direction; their shoes and legs were muddy, and it looked like they had been “through hell”. The path began to narrow and become steep, muddy and slippery. My eyes were on the path one second, and on the precipice below the next. I was having some serious second thoughts about the wisdom of my decision to join this adventure. I expressed my concerns to my fellow travelers but was “encouraged” to keep going… everything was going to be ok. The scariest moments where when there were gaps on the path that we had to step over. I remember inching along, holding on to my mom’s husband’s hand and keeping my back close to the side of the mountain, until we reached a breach that was too big for me to walk over. It required a leap. I remember a hand from the other side inviting me to trust, but I could not. One wrong step, one slip, and I would be dead, so I just froze. Much to everyone’s disappointment, I was not able to be persuaded to conquer my fears that day and we had to turn around.
God reminded me of this memory recently, as I was grappling with fear over a decision I was trying to make. As grown ups in charge of others, we often have to make difficult decisions, decisions that involve serious consequences for us and those we love. And sometimes, in the process of discerning the path to follow, we can feel fear over the unknown, fear of what may happen if we make the wrong choice. But, in my experience, the fear is only one side of the equation. On the other side of the tension is a voice that says: Come, “for I know well the plans I have in mind for you... plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11).
As we stand on the edge of the breach, if we look up, we will see God’s hand inviting us to take a leap of faith and trust in Him. “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Is 41:10). But when we are in that moment of tension, that moment of decision, the fear can be so loud that we find it difficult to listen to the still small voice inside us saying, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:11). Our eyes remain fixed on the precipice below rather than on the hand above.
That day on our hike through the rain-forest, I let fear control me. I did not trust I had the strength and balance needed to make the leap, or that my mom’s husband would be able to bring me safely to the other side. I missed out on a wonderful experience, and, because of my fears, others missed out on the experience too. Just like the beautiful views that would reward those who persevered along the hike, when God calls, it is because He has something amazing waiting for us on the other side. He who quiets the storm will quiet the storm in our hearts and give us His outstretched hand, inviting us to trust in Him and just take the leap.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle, “the day that Christ appeared to him in a vision as he was on his way to Damascus, reproached him for his persecutions and converted him to the true faith.”* I find it interesting that the feast day is not called the “Conversion of Saul”, but rather, the “Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle”. Saul didn’t get converted that day; he died, and Paul rose in his place.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, chapter 1, he recounts, “Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans.” He was chosen by God, called by God, and sent by God.
First of all, we know that Paul did not receive instruction from the other apostles. He begins his letter saying, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” So, this knowledge Paul has about having been chosen in his mother’s womb, did not come as a result of intellectual pursuit, nor of faith in some teacher or other, but it was revealed directly from God. Before Paul can receive his mission, before he is even called, God lets him know he is infinitely loved. What comes next is truly amazing, Paul says, God “called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me.” The new man that rose that day, Paul, was no other than Jesus Christ in him.
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). Just like God formed Jesus in his mother’s womb, he forms Him in us while we are still in our mother’s womb. He chooses each one of us and loves us into being. Then, at the right time, He calls us though His grace, so that we can then say, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Unlike St. Paul’s dramatic conversion, most of us will spend our lifetime shedding the old self and growing into the image of the Son in us. Even if we feel we are not ready, through the grace of the sacraments, Jesus can already begin His work. We just need to remember through Whom are we chosen, called and sent. “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” (Eph 2:10).
* From Universalis: About Today (25-Jan-2020)
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
One of the traditions I miss from Puerto Rico is the celebration of Three Kings Day. Every year, on the eve of January 6th, children fill shoe boxes with grass for the camels and then go to bed with great expectation, for the Three Wise Men will visit that night and leave presents behind. We continued that tradition with our children, but, since we lived in the United States, we had to come up with great stories to explain why the neighbors did not get presents on January 6th; my kids accepted the completely logical idea that camels were slower than Santa’s sleigh and only had time to stop by the houses of the Puerto Rican children who believed in them. They accepted it because it came from us, their parents, who they trust and love. And it was true… as long as they believed the Three Kings would come and visit them that night, they did.
In today’s Gospel (Mk 16:15-18) Jesus says that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” But later He adds,
“These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
When I read that impressive list, my first thought is, “well, I guess I don’t really believe.” But then, as I ponder a little more, I challenge that thought. I remember the times that I did drive out demons in Jesus’ name. Like the time I was speaking with someone who was having a really bad day, and I witnessed despair leaving and hope settling in instead. I remember the times when my eyes have met the gaze of another, and a new language was spoken, one that went straight to the heart, without a sound being uttered. I remember the time when the “snake” was lurking inside my home; I learned all I could about internet safety and had some uncomfortable but necessary conversations with my children. I remember the time I was given a false teaching, like a deadly thing to drink, yet the truth was so clear in my mind that it did me no harm. And I can also remember the times when a touch, a hug, or just a pat on the shoulder healed a heart sick with loneliness and doubt. Seems like at least sometimes, I do believe. But what about the rest of the time? What about those times when I let fear and worry creep in?
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). We need to return to the place where we trust, where we believe. Every time the world tells us we need to be afraid because things are scary and out of our control, we need to turn and hear the Word saying, “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5), and believe that “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phi 4:13). “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”” (Rom 8:14-15).
My children received gifts from the Three Kings because they were born into our family. It didn’t matter that they were living in a different land, they only had two requirements to fulfill: to be part of our family and to believe. God also has a gift for His children who believe. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). Through Baptism we have become children of God. Let us help each other remember the truth when doubt creeps in. Let us believe so that God can work amazing signs through us – through our words, our eyes, our hands, our feet. Let us help each other believe.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“There is nowhere to go, but down.” These were the “encouraging” words an older and wiser coworker of mine shared the day we found out our company was closing the site we were working at and we would soon be unemployed. I had landed the “perfect job” after college; the work was challenging, the pay was excellent, the coworkers were wonderful to work with, and my boss was amazingly supportive. Those words proved to be kind of prophetic, as every work experience after that one failed to measure to the ideal I had just lived. It seemed that everywhere I went there were compromises to be made. I could have a good salary OR a flexible schedule; I could have challenging work OR supportive teammates. The disappointments and job dissatisfaction I experienced eventually led me to become a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, where there was nowhere to go but up.
“I always wanted to become a saint…Instead of being discouraged, I told myself that God would not make me wish for something impossible…I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight. It is your arms, Jesus, which are the elevator to carry me to heaven. So there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must become less and less.” – St. Therese of Lisieux
We have a built-in desire for perfect happiness, perfect love, perfect beauty, perfect truth. We search and seek, yet anything we set our sights on, in this world, has a limit, an ending. Once we climb to the summit of one mountain, we must come down and look for another, taller mountain to climb, yet no matter how high it is, it will never be enough. Still, we know that there is something, or rather someone, who will fulfill our deep desire, because, just like St. Therese said, “God would not make me wish for something impossible.” It is only when we plug in our desire for perfect love to the perfect love of Jesus on the Cross that our desire is fulfilled; anything less will leave us wanting. Like St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
So, how do we “plug-in” to His love on the Cross? We don’t do it…we rest in Him and let it be done to us. Every cross in our lives is an invitation to an encounter with Jesus; we either pick it up and follow Him, or we don’t…we can try to escape it, deny it, go around it, or drag it, but we will remain restless and unfulfilled. I’d like to share a little acronym I came up with when I was praying about this “rest”.
It is in that act of surrender and thanksgiving that our poverty meets His Majesty. It is there, at the foot of the Cross, where His arms, like rays of blood and water, reach down and carry us up to Heaven.
After a few years of trying to be a career woman and a working mom, God called me to serve Him from home. It is there I found mouths to feed, minds to fill, and what seemed like a string of endless, mindless chores. But behind each one of those chores hid a reason of love. When I remember that I am doing these for another eternal soul, everything changes; the things that didn’t seem to matter, matter now most of all. It is when we “scoot down” to serve others that Jesus lifts us up; this is the contradiction of the Cross, …where we go down, so we can then go up.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
In the Gospel for this Sunday, we find Jesus nailed to the Cross. The rulers and the soldiers mock him saying, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself"(Lk 23:37). Amidst the sneering and jeering we hear a lone voice, like one crying from the wilderness, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). This is the climax of the story that had been unfolding since Jesus began His public ministry saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, brings us to the contradiction of the Cross.
When I look at the two men crucified at either side of Jesus, I wonder... What was the difference between them? They both met Jesus on the Cross, but only one recognized the King in disguise. Why did one see the mystery while the other did not? Perhaps one was blinded by self-interest, by self-love. "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” (Lk 23:39). He just wanted to get off the cross. Yet, the other one had wisdom, for he said, "Have you no fear of God?” …The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD (Pr 9:10). The Good Thief saw himself hanging next to the innocent Lamb and accepted his own cross; he did not ask Jesus to bring him down from it, for he realized it was just. Wisdom allowed him to see that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36), and, repenting from his actions and accepting his current suffering, placed all his hope in Love.
“If you want to be happy, despise what Jesus despised on the Cross, and love what Jesus loved on the Cross.” (St. Thomas Aquinas) This is the contradiction of the Cross, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). This is the truth, and it is found in the crosses of our lives. It is when we are suffering the consequences of sin that we must focus on the Kingdom of Heaven. We must close our ears to vanity and focus on the one Who is hanging right beside us, for He longs to say to each one of us, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.