Author Archives: Julie Dienno-Demarest

Julie Dienno-Demarest Visit Website
Spiritual Director, Author, Educator
Artwork ©Jen Norton. https://www.JenNortonArtStudio.com . Used with permission.
Lent, Life, Liturgy, Passion
0

Palm Sunday’s Highs and Lows

While listening to our Pastor proclaim the Gospel as we watched our Parish’s Palm Sunday Mass on YouTube, my 12-year-old asked, “But wait–why are we reading about the crucifixion and death now. Isn’t that what happens on Good Friday?”

Lego design by my 12 year old son, Max.

Yes. Yes, it is. Palm Sunday begins with Jesus’ Triumphant Entrance into Jerusalem as the crowds sing “Hosanna in the Highest” and wave their palm branches. And then we are plunged into the solemness of Holy Week.

That tension from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows is stark… it’s uncomfortable… and it’s exactly the point.

In light of the pandemic, take a moment to reflect on your experience of this stark contrast in your own life. Think back to February or early March… recall the events, activities, travels, and celebrations that you had on your calendar.

  • What were you looking forward to with joyful anticipation?

Think of the disciples watching the One they know to be the Messiah and Son of God entering the Holy City of Jerusalem surrounded by glory and praise… and within days, he is arrested and crucified.

Before stepping more deeply in to the Passion, realize that having joyful anticipation abruptly cut down—that very sense of disappointment—is a crucial part of our Palm Sunday liturgy. We are all feeling it; we have all felt it, including Jesus and his disciples.

Allow this jarring experience and sense of profound disappointment to be an entry point into the Passion as we begin Holy Week.

Let Jesus meet you where you are.


Banner Artwork ©Jen Norton. https://www.JenNortonArtStudio.com . Used with permission.  LEGO design and photograph by the same 12 year old son who asked the opening question https://www.instagram.com/todayinlegocity/.

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Jesus Calms the Sea Eugène_Delacroix_-_Christ_Endormi_pendant_la_Tempête
Faith, Grace, Hope, Lent, Passion, Prayer, Scripture, Spirituality, Suffering, Transformation, Virtue
0

Having Hope in a Time of Crisis

Having hope in a time of crisis is not easy. Hope is rooted in truth, and the truth is, things are not easy right now.

Let’s be clear: having hope is not foolish optimism detached from the reality at hand. Rather, it has to do with trusting in the promises of God… which is hard… which is why it’s called a virtue (and not a given).

Hope—trusting in the promises of God—is intertwined in trusting in God’s goodness. On Friday, Pope Francis spoke about this very dynamic in his meditation on the calming of the storm from Mark 4:35-41 (full text and video here). Caught in a violent storm, the disciples, who are experienced, life-long fishermen, fear for their lives while Jesus is lays sleeping.

They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”(Mark 4:38-40)

Pope Francis honed in on the spiritual struggle so many of us have in the midst of a storm like Coronavirus and quarantine: “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.” Like the disciples, our faith in God is evident in the way we call out to God. However, in the midst of a storm so violent that people fear for their lives, sometimes we question God’s goodness. We cannot understand it and question if God cares about us. Fear threatens our trust in God’s goodness.

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/urbi-et-orbi-pope-coronavirus-prayer-blessing.html

Trusting in God’s goodness opens our hearts to hope. In a time of crisis and fear, we need to remind ourselves and each other that there is abundant evidence of God’s goodness at work.

How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.” (Pope Francis, Urbi et orbi blessing, March 27, 2020)

In the language of faith, this is the Paschal Mystery – God works with us, in us, and through us as vessels of grace to one another. Even in the midst of chaos and crisis, we can see goodness.

In the language of Mr. Roger’s Mom, “Look for the helpers.”

Mr Rogers Notice the Helpers

Name and claim the goodness and joy that you observe. Know that God is the source of all goodness. Believe that the Holy Spirit empowers us to be vessels of grace,

Recall the insight from the Raising of Lazarus: we have faith not in a God who rescues us; we have faith in a God who Redeems. We have faith in a God who is the source of all goodness; who respects our freedom enough to let things unfold… even difficult, painful, stressful things. Because our God Redeems.

God doesn’t do evil to achieve good (or to teach lessons). God doesn’t intend, rejoice in, or plan for suffering. God redeems it.

And we have faith in a God who Redeems.

Cultivating Hope

Trusting in a God who Redeems is at the root of the virtue of hope, and like all virtues, we can strengthen and grow in hope with practice.

Here one practice that we have been doing in our family to cultivate hope:

The Rose: Every night, when we gather for family dinner, we pray The Rose, which is a family-friendly, loose adaptation of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen. I have always appreciated the way the Rose allows us to hear about aspects of each other’s day that we otherwise wouldn’t.

The Rose Handout(Note: if you cannot see the image above, and/or if you would like a printable copy of The Rose, click here.)

  • Rose: Naming the bits of laughter and joy, the successes (no matter how small), the connections… Naming goodness and grace is essential to the spiritual practice of gratitude. Do it every night while eating dinner. Share your gratitude for goodness with one another.
  • Bud: For my boys, anticipation of joyful experiences is just as (if not more) exciting than the experience itself. Naming our buds lifts our spirits. However. In the time of Covid-19, when all the things we usually look forward to have been cancelled, it’s becoming more and more difficult to identify things to look forward to. Which is why it’s becoming more and more crucial to our spiritual well-bring. Yes, most of our “buds” have looking forward to upcoming Zoom calls with friends… and getting to the other side of the Coronavirus! This is going to take some effort, but it’s also key to cultivating hope!
  • Thorn: As I wrote in How Are You, it’s also important to be real about the struggles in your day. Articulating your thorn is prayer when that lament is directed to God, trusting in His goodness. Need some guidance there? Check out the Psalms.
  • Root: As a family, we join together in specifically praying for people by name… and praying for an end to this pandemic.

What are you doing to cultivate hope today?

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Philip Kromer / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
Faith, Grace, Lent, Life, Passion, Scripture, Spirituality, Suffering
2

How Are You?

Ironically, for as difficult as it is in this time of social distancing, isolation, and quarantine, at least we’re all in it together.

Be reassured: No one knows how to do this. No one knows what they’re doing. We’re all figuring it out together.

In my last two posts, I talked about needing to Reevaluate Lent and my decision to Be Real and Have Hope (with key insights from the story of the Raising of Lazarus). So here’s me being real: I’ve been going through a difficult time and things have been hard.

Here’s Me Being Real

About 9 months ago, I wrote about my son suffering 2nd degree burns. Five weeks later, I wrote one follow-up post. But nothing else because… it was just too much. It was just too hard.

While in the Pediatric ICU, the doctors said 2nd degree burns heal within 2-3 weeks. So, 2-3 weeks is what we mentally geared ourselves up for.

It was actually 3 months of daily wound care and intense restrictions. The most severe 2nd degree burns (“deep partial-thickness”) take longer to heal and leave thick, raised scars, which need another 18 months of care, including wearing compression garments for 23 hours a day. It was a lot. It took a toll on everyone, in every way.

Believe me: I’m not complaining. All you need to do is walk into any floor of Shriner’s Pediatric Burn Hospital to have every possible complaint in your life be put into perspective.

However, this was—and still is—our reality. And quite honestly, it was hard… really, really hard.

How Are You?

When we see people out and about, most of us greet each other with, “Hi! How are you?” Generally, Americans subconsciously intend this to be a surface-level, friendly greeting. Generally, in the aisles of the supermarket, we are not inquiring about the status of a person’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. It’s not to say that we don’t actually care about each other. It’s just… usually, if we’re genuinely interested and aware that the standard answers of “good,” “fine,” or “alright,” aren’t actually the expected answer, we’ll lean-in and give permission to be truthful with something akin to, “No, really; how are you?”

For a long time, my honest answer wasn’t, “Good!” It wasn’t even, “Fine,” (which my mother considers to be a four-letter word). For a long time, I was struggling. And my personal integrity was taking a hit by answering with anything less than the truth – because things were just so hard. Eventually, I settled on a non-answer, “Hey! Good to see you!” or with a swivel, “Busy! How about you?”

The lenten promise to Be Real was born out of this struggle. For the sake of my sanity and integrity (aka—mental and spiritual health), I eventually decided I would be real with anyone I knew would want to know… whether they were prepared for it or not. I had a lot of conversations that started with me stumbling over expressing the truth: “Good! No. Actually, I’m not good. Things are hard.”

Speaking Truth

When I started “being real” and speaking the truth, I started to open the door to unexpected love and grace.

No. Wait. Actually, a caveat: Not everyone is entitled to know the truth. And frankly, not everyone can handle the truth.

you-cant-handle-the-truth

No joke. Some people are really bad at this.

But more often than not, I found support, love, and compassion. Sometimes I’d lay out my truth with a voice-quivering, “Things are hard.” Then I’d purse my lips and shake my head—tears might fall—and I’d whisper, “Can’t talk about it. Pray. How are you?”

Speaking truth opened the door to community; I wasn’t so alone.

Yes. This is hard.

We are all struggling with this “new normal” (which is hard), for an undetermined amount of time (which is—speaking from experience here—really, really hard).

It’s been a relief to hear more and more people being real and acknowledging that this is hard.

Acknowledging that this is hard doesn’t mean you’re complaining. Nor does it mean you’re lacking in faith or trust in God.

Take a look at the exchange between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16, right after the big question “Who do you say that I am?” (v.15) and Peter’s profound confession of faith. This is when Jesus begins to get real with the disciples, predicting the his suffering and death (v.21).

When Jesus speaks these difficult truths, he’s not complaining. He’s not lacking in faith or trust in God.

In fact, it’s Peter who lacks faith and trust in the one whom he just confessed to be the Messiah! Peter refuses to hear the difficult truth and rebukes Jesus: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt 16:22).

Jesus has no tolerance for telling himself (and others) a lie that will make everybody feel better. Because although the pain and suffering of the Passion and Death will be hard, that is not the end of the story. (More on that another day.)

We’re all in this together

There is tremendous grace in hearing others being real and speaking truth. We’re reminded that we’re not alone. We’re reminded that we’re not doing it wrong. And in the broken Body of Christ, we’re reminded that our Savior is with us in our suffering, present to us through one another.

  • Is there someone you can call (old-school phone or Zoom) and be real about the things you’re finding most difficult right now?
  • Really. How are you?

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Raising of Lazarus Van Gogh via flickr
Divine Providence, Evil, Grace, Hope, Lent, Passion, Scripture, Suffering, Transformation
1

Being Real, Having Hope, and Lazarus

The other day, I talked about the need to reevaluate lent. The lenten practice that I’ve found really helpful, especially in this time of pandemic, is both being real and having hope, understanding that it’s important to do both together. It’s a practice that the Scripture story of the “Raising of Lazarus” has really helped me understand and practice.

Being Real and Having Hope

By “be real,” I mean to courageously acknowledge the truth of what is going on – in the world, in my community, and in my home – which includes honestly accounting for feelings, whether anxiety and sadness or laughter and love. Therein, it’s the humility to be real with both joys and sorrows… with both success and struggle… with both death and Resurrection… with myself, with others (including my kids) and with God.

By “have hope,” I mean to continually have faith in the transforming power of God in the Paschal Mystery. To hope is to both trust in God and to actively cooperate with God’s grace. Hope is a bit of an elusive virtue for many of us. We tend to take it to one of two unhelpful extremes, with either too much reliance on self (while lacking trust in God) or too much professed reliance on God (without bothering to discern how God may be calling us to cooperate with grace).

Hope Virtue with Extremes

I need to, I want to, and I have to do both: be real and have hope. To only focus on one without the other leads to more unhealthy extremes: negativity-and-panic… or saccharine-sweet-rainbow-unicorns. (Read more about the virtue of hope here.)

The Raising of Lazarus

The Gospel for the 5th Sunday in Lent, the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45), speaks to both “being real” and “having hope.”

Jesus receives word from his good friends, Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus is ill. But instead of rushing off, Jesus curiously stays where he is for two more days. By the time they arrive in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. First Martha (v.21) and then Mary (v.32) each greet Jesus by, saying If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

How many times have we similarly lamented, “Why? Why didn’t God do something to stop this?” Even now, amid the Coronavirus pandemic, how many of us have wondered “Why has God allowed this to happen?!”

In The Passion and the Cross, Ronald Rolheiser, OMI redirects our “Whys?” simply and succinctly: Because our God is a fellow-sufferer and a Redeemer, not a Rescuer.

“God doesn’t ordinarily intervene to save us from humiliation, pain, and death; rather, he redeems humiliation, pain, and death after the fact” (38).

Honestly articulating our questions and struggles directly to Jesus is being real, but Martha and Mary don’t stop there. They don’t just speak their sorrow. Immediately following her lament, “If you had been here…” Martha models having hope: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:22).

And Jesus. Even though he knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, we find Jesus deeply troubled by the reality of the situation. It’s here that we read the shortest verse in all of Scripture, “And Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Talk about being real with emotion!

Having hope in a God who Redeems (not rescues) means that things might not unfold as we would expect. Things certainly didn’t unfold the way Martha and Mary expected. Nor did things unfold the way the disciples expected following the Crucifixion.

Having hope in a God who Redeems means we are open to goodness and grace – especially when we least expect it!

(More on that in the next post!)

  • Are you able to be real and have hope about your joys and sorrows in the midst of all that is going on? (Or do you find yourself going to unhelpful extremes?)
  • Do you expect God to be a rescuer?

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Lent, Prayer
2

Reevaluating Lent

There was a great tweet the other day from Andy Crouch (@ahc): “Honestly hadn’t planned on giving up quite this much for Lent.”

Screenshot 2020-03-21 17.18.04

I have to agree. When the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston responsibly suspended the public celebration of all weekday and Sunday Masses, my heart ached. Of course, I understood, but truly, my heart ached.

I had plans for Lent that were good for me and (more importantly) good for my relationship with God. Daily Mass was one of them…. as was eliminating overindulgence (of food, drink, and FaceBook), as was a practice of morning silent prayer, as was an evening Examen, as was the simple practice of making my bed every morning.

Presently, I am (mostly) managing an evening Examen and making my bed at some point every day. And I have to be ok with this. 

Given the circumstances of Covid 19, with social distancing, with my kids doing Montessori schoolwork at home without materials, with my husband sharing our home office all day long with daily 9am telecons, and with all the adjustments that go along with living in the time of a pandemic, I have to be ok with this.

It’s more important that I be patient, calm, encouraging, understanding, kind, loving, generous, and compassionate than it is for me to follow through on promises made in a different time, in a different world. And sometimes an extra homemade chocolate chip cookie with an extra glass of wine helps me do this. And right now, I have to be ok with this. 

For me, reevaluating Lent is practicing mercy with myself, which in turn, helps me practice mercy with others. I’m doing what I need to do, to love the people who are always in my house right now. I’m doing what I need to do to love, support, and protect the medically vulnerable, the caregivers, the medical professionals, and all those who we rely upon to staff the grocery (and liquor) stores.

Amid the craziness, negativity, panic, and hoarding, I want God’s peace to dwell within me, so I’m reevaluating my Lenten practices, and I invite you to do so as well.

Here’s one way to guide yourself in making those adjustments:

  • What grace do you want to ask for, from God, right now?
  • Is there some positive thing you can (realistically) do to help yourself be more aware of – and receptive to – God’s grace (which is already at work in your life)?
  • Within your reflection, consider practices that will help you love God more fully, especially with yourself and others in this time of social distancing, be it through more self-care, more patience, and/or more generosity.
  • Pray about making this a daily lenten practice. In your prayer, ask God if you are being called to make this shift.

In my next post, I’ll explain my lenten commitment to practice both Being Real and Having Hope.

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