Raising of Lazarus Van Gogh via flickr
Divine Providence, Evil, Grace, Hope, Lent, Passion, Scripture, Suffering, Transformation
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Being Real, Having Hope, and Lazarus

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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

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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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gifts
Advent, Grace, Holy Spirit, Scripture
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Gifts of the Holy Spirit

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As a post-Vatican II cradle Catholic, initially catechized by 1980’s parish CCD, I didn’t grow up memorizing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In fact, during Confirmation prep, I remember wondering how I would suddenly receive these gifts when the bishop anointed my forehead… as if the Sacred Chrism Oil were some magical Gummi Berry Juice.

I didn’t get it. I surely didn’t get how Sacramental grace worked. Nor did I get how wisdom differed from understanding, which somehow differed from knowledge. Amid my solid grounding in the abundant love and mercy of God, I especially lacked a healthy understanding of what was meant by “fear of the Lord.”

As a teacher of adolescents and adults, I’ve spent some time making sense of this beautiful concept.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are identified in Isaiah 11:2-3, which was in Tuesday’s daily Mass reading and will be proclaimed again in the First Reading on the Second Sunday of Advent.

Isaiah 11.2-3 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The gift of God’s love poured into human hearts through the Holy Spirit provides us with wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Explaining Each Gift

To better understand each of the gifts, we turn to St. Thomas Aquinas.

  • Knowledge as a gift of the Holy Spirit refers to knowing divine truth in a way that guides one’s moral life in both theory and practice; it is a knowledge of justice, balance, proportion, and judgment.
  • Wisdom extends from the perspective gained from combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience in order to make wise judgments aligned with goodness.
  • Understanding offers penetrating, intuitive insight into the very heart of things; the ability to “see” God and “to see as God sees.”
  • Counsel moves us beyond the human power of self-reflective deliberation, allowing us to be guided by the Holy Spirit in discerning God’s Will
  • Fortitude is the firmness of mind to do good and avoid evil, particularly when doing good is difficult or dangerous; beyond the cardinal virtue, this gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to confidently endure evil, fortifying us with the strength of God.
  • Piety is the gift that enables us to show the proper reverence, respect, honor, devotion, and worship for God
  • Fear of God is a fear only in the sense that we deeply fear losing those whom we deeply love; being in such “awe” of the relationship, rooted in such deep love, that one fears losing that relationship.

The Gift of Grace

The gifts of the Holy Spirit work as all gifts of God’s grace. Grace is the word we use to describe God’s freely given gift of God’s very self. Think of grace like divine assistance. This assistance only works if we cooperate with it.

It’s like this: imagine Jesus throws you a football of grace. Football of GraceYou either catch and run with it or it falls flat. Without your cooperation, nothing happens. The grace–and gifts of the Holy Spirit—lay dormant at your feet, waiting for you to do something with them. God deeply respects our freedom and dignity. God will not force the gift of Grace upon us.

Another beautiful image places the the gifts of the Holy Spirit as deeply planted roots from which the fruits of the Holy Spirit grow.

Gifts-of-the-Holy-Spirit

If we cultivate and grow the internal gifts that we have been given, by life lived in the Spirit, those gifts will bear fruit.

Are you cultivating those gifts or is the Football of Grace lying dormant at your feet?

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Houston, TX, September 21, 2005- Traffic jammed the freeways as Houstonians fled the on-coming hurricane.   Recent memories of Hurricane Katrina sent people scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Rita.  Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA
Faith, Suffering, Transformation
2

You are still on the fastest route.

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When first I started commuting into town, Google Maps guided me with directions.  After a few days, the routine was ingrained, and I began to appreciate her insight on traffic.

I mean traffic. No one likes it; everyone hates it. But if you’re going to drive, you have to deal with it… much like the reality of suffering in life.

Google Maps helps me deal with insufferable traffic.

Google Maps

I appreciate knowing how long the delay will last and whether or not there are any better alternatives. When she says, “There is an accident ahead; you can save 20 minutes by taking an another route,” I will always click ACCEPT! Who wouldn’t?

Who wants to suffer through traffic, when they don’t have to?

However, sometimes there aren’t any better alternatives. “You are in a 13-minute delay. You are still on the fastest route.

You are still on the fastest route. Hear that affirmation. Release the angst. Stop wasting energy trying to find another way around it.

You are still on the fastest route. Thank you, Google Maps. I’ll claim the confidence that there’s nothing I can do differently—that I am doing the best I can. And with that, I can patiently wait.

Occasionally, when I doubt her wisdom, when I just can’t stand it any longer, convinced I know better, I try some back roads. More often than not, that fails. Nothing is gained, and sometimes my impatience even costs more time.

Suffering is a lot like that. Sometimes there is an alternative and we should take it. (I mean – within reason. Google Maps won’t suggest illicit maneuvers, after all!) But other times — like when you unexpectedly lose a job or a loved one, or a traumatic illness or accident leads to months of care — there’s nothing you can do differently. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Our God is a Redeemer who takes our pain and suffering – no matter how long, no matter how hard – and redeems them. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Also, when the backseat passengers start with the unsolicited advice to take those back roads (bless their hearts – they don’t know), tell them Google Maps said “You are still on the fastest route.

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So the Story Goes: God’s Presence in My Life

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**The opportunity to attend this retreat at the CRC has passed, but I would love to present it to your group! We can easily take this show on the road!**

Email: julie @ diennodemarest . com

Once again, we are offering the 1/2 day mini retreat “So the Story Goes: God’s Presence in My Life.”

I will be leading this powerful retreat with Heidi Clark at the Christian Renewal Center in Dickenson, TX, on Saturday October 12th, from 10am-4pm.

You are invited to attend! And please, share this invitation with anyone you think might benefit from our Story Retreat; it’s open to adults of all ages and stages of life!

Take the opportunity to reflect on the story of your life through the lens of faith.

  • We’ll begin by exploring and meditating on the Paschal Mystery.
  • We’ll prayerfully identify how God is present to us in our joys and sorrows, both in day-to-day “ordinary time” and in times of crisis.
  • We’ll expand the words we use to describe our experiences with techniques used in writers-workshops.
  • We’ll examine how the Book of Psalms teaches us to turn to God with openness and honesty as we speak the truth of our lives.

This 1/2 day retreat is could be tremendously helpful for anyone in a retreat program like ACTS or CRHP who might benefit from guidance on reflecting on their story from the lens of faith.

God wants access to all of us, but we often hold back the “ugly” parts of our life. Maybe we think that God couldn’t possibly be interested in all those ugly parts. So, alone we struggle with crisis, hurt, despair, and grief.

Come and PAUSE at this mini retreat. Come and reflect on daily life and experience the power of the soothing balm of God’s grace as seen through the lens of our faith. Look back on the joys and sorrows of your life with a Paschal Mystery spirituality. PAUSE and experience God’s work. Don’t get caught up in the chaos of life and miss the soothing comfort of God’s grace. PAUSE and be part of this mini retreat.

Handouts and writing paper will be provided, but it’s recommended that participants bring their journal.

We hope to see you there! Register at: https://retreatcentercrc.org/so-the-story-goes-day-retreat

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