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.
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).
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.