By: Ivonne Hernandez
When we speak of the human heart, we speak of a twofold reality. We speak of the organ at the center of the body, which purifies and pumps the blood that flows through the whole body, and we speak of the hidden center of the human soul, the place of decision, the place of truth. The heart “is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant” (CCC, 2563). St. Peter Julian tells us that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament is the soul and center of all religion. When we receive the Eucharist and allow His heart to transform ours, we can then become the heart of His mystical body, allowing His grace to flow to all its members.
When Jesus was asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”, He replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:28-31). The second commandment flows from the first. If we love God with all our heart, if we respond to His love with love, he will change our hearts of stone and give us a new heart of flesh (Ez 36:26). Loving God with all our heart means giving Him our whole heart. He wants our broken hardened hearts, so He can transform our wounds from sources of sin into sources of grace, for ourselves and for others. This new heart, this heart of flesh, this source of grace, is really His own heart beating in us, dwelling within us, in the place of covenant, the hidden center of the human soul. This most beautiful Sacred Heart, the model and life of love, is with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We receive Him, we adore Him, we love Him. He transforms us into Himself.
“The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful: From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice” (CCC, 791). We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, but what about His heart? Jesus is the Head of His Mystical Body, and we, the Church, are the rest. We must bring all of Him to the world. We must become that Heart, overflowing with His Blood, pumping His Grace to every part of the Body. When circulation is cut off, the body gets diseased and a part has to be amputated if blood flow is not restored in time. By remaining united to the Heart of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, we are directly connected to the source of life, and, by remaining in Him and allowing Him to work through us, we can bring His love to our neighbor, who is really part of our own Body in Christ.
It is in this unity of the Mystical Body that we celebrate today the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In honoring Our Mother, in rejoicing together, we become a community of one heart and mind. And together, with Our Mother, we adore the Sacred Heart. “May the Heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment in all the Tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time. Amen.”
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
Just like you can catch more flies with honey, you can change more hearts with kindness. I once watched a video that showed different people in a hospital lobby. As they walked in and out of the elevator and greeted each other with a smile, a caption would come up and reveal to the viewer the hidden struggle in their hearts. One had just received a cancer diagnosis; one had just lost a child. One after the other, they each carried a burden invisible to others’ eyes. The message of the video was, “You never know what someone is going through. Be kind.” Being kind is not always easy but it is always right. But the kindness I am speaking about is much more than simply “being nice”; it is one of the attributes of the Spirit of God, “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor 13:4).
I find it easier to be kind when I either have a pretty good idea of what someone is going through because I’ve gone through something similar, or when I have no idea at all of what they are going through and allow myself to give them the “benefit of the doubt”. I find it hardest to be kind when I know “some” of what they are going through. When I know just enough to form an opinion, but not enough to truly empathize. And if I think their choices will end up negatively affecting me, then I find it even harder to be kind. The choices of others affect us. “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26). It can be unnerving when we see others taking actions that might negatively affect us, yet we are still called to be kind.
Kindness is intimately connected to mercy. You can’t have kindness without mercy, and you can’t have mercy without love. These actions come from the love of God and move towards love of neighbor, fulfilling then the law of love. So, kindness is not merely being nice for our own benefit, or to avoid conflict, but it is necessarily focused on the other. It is sharing with another the very love of God. A truly kind gesture or word has the power to change another’s life, to be a light shining in the dark. It is through our own prayer that this light will shine. As we take the time to nurture our relationship with God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, His fruit will grow in us. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). It is then we will have the grace to be truly kind.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
I sometimes think of how great it would be to be able to look at a piece of art and know if it is real or not by examining it, to know the fingerprint of the artist so well, that a counterfeit would not fool me. To acquire that level of knowledge would take a lot of time and effort; you would need to truly know the artist. In most cases, the artist is long gone, but their works remain. It is by studying their works, immersing yourself in them, that you can ever hope to be able to tell the difference between an authentic work of art, and a fake. Why would anyone want to do that? Why even care? Because authorship is important. It is not just a matter of talent; a forger must be very talented to be able to copy a great work of art. But a forger is not creative; he is just a pretender whose talents are misused. The author of a work imparts it with some of its own self, creating something new; authorship gives the work it’s value. When we search for authorship, we are searching for truth. Why? Because truth matters, and deep down, we know it. But learning to discern the truth takes effort, and time. And accepting truth requires a willingness to deal with its consequences. It means valuing truth above comfort, valuing truth above convenience. “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).
Truth matters; it is everything. If you doubt that, think back to a time you discovered you had been lied to, betrayed. Betrayal can cause one of the deepest wounds in the human heart. It makes you question everything, even the truth of who you are; it affects your ability to trust. Unfortunately, I have quite a few of those stories to look back on, and I am sure the same is likely to be true for you. The human condition is such that we hurt each other, sometimes willingly, but many times unknowingly. We become so accustomed to a life of lies and half-truths that we believe the biggest lie of all…that we can’t handle the truth. But truth matters. If we want to learn to discern the truth, we must immerse ourselves in the Truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” (Jn 14:6). The world will try to dazzle us with counterfeits, with lies adorned with bits of truth, but it is up to each of us to choose. Do we want to live the life of truth we were created for, or do we choose to believe that we are not worth it after all? It is in Christ that we find the Truth of who we are.
A work of art has worth by its connection to its author, even when it has been damaged but not destroyed. Its value is such that experts will spend painstaking hours carefully restoring it to its original glory. The same is true for us. “We are God’s work of art” (Eph 2:10). If we look in the mirror of God’s love and look past the scratches and the damage, we will see the image of the One who created us, inviting us to trust in Him. “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). Who would be better suited to restore an original work than the very author of the work? When we surrender to His care and allow Him to pour love in each of our wounds, He painstakingly restores us to the image of His Son. “He restores my soul” (Ps 23:3). By his authority as creator not only can God restore His work, but He can make of us something completely new. Trust in Him, because in the end, each tear and drop of sweat will be worth it. “Behold, I make all things new… Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:5).
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“My tears have been my bread day and night, as they ask me every day, ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps 42:4). So much of my devotion has depended on and benefited from the frequent reception of Holy Communion and attendance to daily Mass that the experience of “fasting” from them has been very disorienting. It is almost like if a magnetic field confused my inner compass as my soul searched for His Presence in our midst. I know God is everywhere; I know He dwells in me, yet… What does it mean to be a Eucharistic person when I don’t have access to the Eucharist? This has been the question in my heart.
I remember clearly the last day I received Jesus Sacramental; I knew it would be the last time, at least for a while, and I said goodbye. I thought of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father” (Mt 26:29), and I wept. I had the blessing of sitting in Eucharistic Adoration for an hour afterwards, and I begged for the graces I would need during our time apart. I knew he would sustain me, yet I knew it would be hard. For a while I consoled myself in the knowledge that He is always with me, and focused on praying with Scripture and watching live streamed Mass. I joined in spiritual communion and, for a while, I thought I was fine.
The knowledge that the Mass was still being celebrated by priests all around the world, and even in my own backyard, brought much solace, yet the question continued to nag in my heart… What does it mean to be a Eucharistic person when I don’t have access to the Eucharist? What should be different for a Catholic during this time? I thought of Jesus hidden in the bread and wine, and I allowed myself to mourn for what I once had. As tears streamed down my face I felt a longing I did not know I had. “My tears have been my bread day and night…”
The tears become my bread, the longing my life. It is this desire that, watered by the tears of my love, God is allowing to grow inside. I thought of the beautiful “O Antiphon” prayers we pray during Advent, and how God waited patiently for his people’s desire for him to grow. The longing in our hearts expands our capacity to receive his love. Yet our longing is tempered by the knowledge that He is already in our midst and that He is alive in our hearts. So, with that joy we wait patiently, and allow our hearts to be stretched a little more, knowing that the pain in itself is a sign of our love. And ultimately, this is what our call is and has always been, to love.
May our hearts grow in that love as we ponder on His Presence in the Tabernacle, waiting and longing for us. May we quench his thirst for souls by our prayers and service, by our acts of love. May this chalice of suffering we receive from His hands, mingled with our tears, become bread for others. And, “May the Heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the Tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time. Amen.”
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.
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.