By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord, and, as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead is deepened, so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants also find new strength.” (Collect Prayer for today’s Mass, The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls Day)
I find it interesting that our society seems to be fixated with certain aspects of death, like zombies, haunted houses and Halloween. People pay a lot of money to go somewhere and be “scared to death”. But then, when it is time to talk about preparing for our own death, people think it is morbid and turn quickly to avoidance. Today, as we remember our loved ones who have passed from this life and pray for their eternal rest, we also strengthen the hope that we too will rise again with Christ, not only on the last day, but also today, as we rise from our pain and our fears.
I have discovered that the more I bring my fears to prayer, the more they lose their grip on me. Losing my father at the young age of nine, the reality of the separation we experience when a loved one dies was too much for me to deal with at the time. For many years I avoided looking at that wound. I became an expert at distraction and escape, but God had a different plan. The very wound that made me feel abandoned, became a source of love and grace. It is now the place where God shows me, over and over again, that He is my Father.
“Brothers and sisters: Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This love that was poured out on the Cross, is in the cup He gives us to drink (Mk 10:38). When we accept the pain and suffering that life brings, and bring it in prayer to God, we find the love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). And it is that love that will transform our wounds into rivers of flowing grace, into witnesses of His love.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
I am just coming down from the high of having celebrated my 50th birthday. It was a weeklong celebration of the gift of life, the gift of family and friends and, above all, the gift of love. This year, as I thought of how I wanted to celebrate, one idea came to mind during prayer. I would begin counting down the days from 50 days before and look for little love notes from God; like a scavenger hunt. I know He shows me His love every day, but I do not always notice. So, my desire was to open my eyes to His gifts, to open my heart to His love.
I thought it was a pretty clever idea… 50 till 50, and I started with zeal. I jotted the number of days left (50, 49, 48…) as I journaled each day, but about halfway through, I started to miss. I had forgotten how difficult it is to establish a new habit, and I hadn’t realized how long 50 days truly is! During those 50 days, life still happened, and challenges came. Illnesses, travel, deadlines, all these kept rocking my boat. During those times all the extras get stripped away and we hold on to the basics. We hope to at least find time to sleep, eat and shower. So then, how do we pray?
Just like our physical care routine changes, our spiritual care routine changes too. These are times when we need to hold on tight to God and let Jesus take the wheel. Trusting that He is allowing everything that happens to us, and that “all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28), we surrender our preferences, and rely on Him alone. St. Peter Julian Eymard says, “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.”
I did have a wonderful birthday celebration, but my routine was once again disrupted. I will look around after the storm to see which areas need reinforcement and be ready for when the winds shift again. But, as I sat in my back porch today sipping my afternoon coffee, I noticed a gift, the comforting rhythm of an ordinary day. So, in the end, like always, God is more faithful than me. He keeps sending me love notes even when I don’t see.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
Jesus said, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through who they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard!” (Lk 17:1). What was the disciple’s response? “Increase our faith.”
How much faith does it take to believe that Jesus is truly, substantially present in the consecrated bread and wine? Less than a tiny mustard seed. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Lk 17:5). But how much faith does it take to believe that Jesus is really and truly present in my brother, in my sister? I think that takes a little more.
The call to live the life of a Christian, to follow the way of life taught by Jesus, hinges on one thing, love; this is non-negotiable. Love of God and love of neighbor…all the other commandments are fulfilled in these. Yet, this love of neighbor command is a difficult thing to do. Our vision is blurred by sin, ours and theirs. The image of God in us and them is distorted. We can’t see Jesus in others when they are hurting us, and others can’t see Jesus in us when we are hurting them. When our eyes are blurred by sin, we need to look with the eyes of faith.
“Faith will tell us Christ is present when our human senses fail” (Tantum Ergo). It is in the Blessed Sacrament that we find the gift of faith we seek. It is in receiving Jesus, who brings with Him “every spiritual blessing in the heavens’ (Eph 1:3), that we receive the eyes to see Him in our neighbor, and in ourselves. We begin with the tiniest assent of faith and exclaim with the disciples, “Increase our faith!” So, let us be on our guard. Let us gather the faith we have, and with one word, Amen, uproot our sins and plant them in the sea of Christ’s mercy, so that we may never cause one of these little ones to sin.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples” (Mt 9:0-10).
I think this was the first meeting of the TCA (Tax Collectors Anonymous) support group. Matthew’s behavior after his encounter with Jesus must have changed radically. I think perhaps these other sinners, who had known Matthew for a long time, could not recognize him now and decided to come to his house and see who this Jesus person was. Maybe some of those men were there to satisfy their curiosity, but I am sure that those who were there seeking the medicine that healed Matthew, received it, and went home a different way. When we allow God’s mercy to transform us, our story of redemption brings others to Christ; it shows the world that “nothing will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37).
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13). The Bible does not tell us what Matthew was thinking right before his encounter with Jesus, but he must have been looking for something. Maybe he was struggling with the consequences of his choices, wondering if there was a better way to live, when he heard the words, “Follow me”. Matthew responded to the call. He rose up from the depth of his misery; he left his past behind and followed Jesus. And as he followed, he pointed the way for others.
As Christians, or followers of The Way, we have a responsibility to bring others to Christ. I wonder what would have happened if Matthew thought he was “fine” and that he could figure a way out of whatever was bothering him. Would he have even looked up from his ledger to notice Jesus passing by? Would their eyes have had the opportunity to meet? Whatever is going on in our lives, we are called to rise above our misery, lift up our eyes, and encounter Mercy himself. And then, as we experience God’s mercy and allow it to transform us, we must let the way we live our lives point the way and bring others to Christ.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“God our Father, …Sustain all those who hunger and thirst for you without knowing it, through the same Christ our Lord, Amen.”
As I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours with the Church this morning, the words above seemed to echo through time and space. I often think of how the prayers of those who came before me (parents, grandparents, godparents) have sustained me and helped me get to the place I am today. But this prayer expanded my awareness to see that I must be grateful for the whole Church who, from the moment of my Baptism nurtured me with her prayers and motherly care.
As we care for a limb suffering from poor circulation, so the Church cares for all the members of the body, especially those who are in danger of falling away. Every day, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, and echoing through time and space we hear the words: “May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”
We are truly One Body in Christ. Just as what is good for us is good for the whole Body, what is bad for us is also bad for the whole Body. Sin is never individual; when we sin, we hurt ourselves, and when we hurt ourselves, we hurt the whole body. Our sin slows the flow of grace (or cuts it off completely in the case of mortal sin) to the whole section of the body that we are directly connected to and does not allow it to function properly. These dysfunctional relationships affect us all in one way or another. If we want to effect change in the world, we must act within our circle of influence, and that circle begins with our own hearts.
As I sit here today and see all the work left to do to make my heart a true vessel of grace, I take comfort that the same Church that nourished me and brought me to where I am today, will continue to sustain me and bring me to my true home one day. May the Lord give me the grace and joy of seeing there with me all those He gave me here, that in the midst of the mess that all of our dysfunction and sin bring, we may bear our crosses together and glorify His name…”for our good and the good of all his holy Church”.
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.