Today’s gospel speaks about the power of having faith the size of a mustard seed. My reflection on that as I am dealing with some major fear in my life–sometimes in my relationship with the Lord and how well I am really responding to him. Hope it brings you hope.
He is always and ever still God.
You’re still God, even on the days when I can’t understand how in the world this could possibly be good for me.
You’re still God, even in the middle of my overwhelm.
You’re still God, even when I can’t find You.
Even when You feel a million miles away.
Even when I wonder if deliverance will ever come.
You’re still God.
I won’t listen to the lies from the enemy that You’ve abandoned me, or that I’m on my own.
Self-dependence is something I fight against. As a Christian I can’t rely on myself, no matter how tempting it might be, but as someone who has been let down in many different ways, my natural instinct is to trust in myself alone.
So on the days when I look around at my circumstance and wonder, “What on earth are You doing?” I will choose to look back.
I will remember…
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May it be well with your soul today.
I am working on a talk I’m giving this week to a bunch of Santas at the St. Nicholas Institute–look it up–and this is one of the stories I want to share with them. Thought you might like to re-read it yourself. Let yourself be punished with a kiss!
This morning I was pondering my failings and starting to move to discouragement–as I am too often prone to do–when the Lord in His mercy brought to mind a section of a letter from St. Thérèse to Fr. Bellière in which she describes the ideal way for us to come to our heavenly Father when we realize our faults. Reading it always brings me great hope–and I hope it does the same for you:
I would like to try to make you understand by means of a very simple comparison how much Jesus loves even imperfect souls who confide in Him:
I picture a father who has two children, mischievous and disobedient, and when he comes to punish them, he sees one of them who trembles and gets away from him in terror, having, however, in the bottom of his heart the feeling that he deserves to be punished; and his…
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Wrote this five years after the previous poem. Slow learner.
Reflection by Joshua Elzner
“There is a beautiful reality which one discovers through growing in the childlike spontaneity of love, through being enfolded ever more deeply and consciously in the dimension of gift. This is, namely, the truth that holiness does not consist in surpassing our own limitations, either as a creature or as an individual, but rather in accepting them and coming to live joyfully within them. It could be said that the only limitation which we need to fight to overcome is the narrowness of our own sin, which blinds our perspective, isolates us within ourselves in possessiveness, pride, and fear, and draws us to dominate and abuse others and creation. But this sin is precisely a distortion of our creaturehood, not an essential part of it; it is the false effort to be bigger than we truly are, or to be something altogether different. Sanctity, in the last analysis, consists in simply being able to truly be a human being—indeed, more, in being oneself in the eyes of God.
“Precisely by wanting to “be like God” in a false way which went against their creaturely limitation and dependence upon God, Adam and Eve found their nature corrupted and broken. For us, therefore, returning to dependency upon the Father and trustingly accepting our littleness and our limitation is at the heart of our healing from sin, our rediscovery of the happiness of being beloved children. This is the happiness for which God made us.
“It is fear and pride which impel us to strive to be something that we are not, to fashion an “ideal” in our minds toward which we strive. Anyone who has taken a big step in life, whether in embracing a new vocation or a new job or a new way of living, has experienced the human tendency to “imagine” oneself in the new state. Certain ideas crystallize in our minds and we tend to act in a way so as to fashion ourselves according to these ideas. Because of this we can tend to become blind to the actual responsibilities incumbent upon us in our state, to the actual invitation of God that is coming to us in prayer and in the circumstances of our lives. Above all, we lose sight of the gift that each day and each new moment is meant to be for us. Further, we can experience a kind of “self-alienation” when we do not live up to our ideal, and consequently we feel like a failure. We say to ourselves: “This is who I was meant to be, but I am too weak, too broken to live up to it. Now God must truly be frustrated with me, at least as frustrated as I am with myself.”
“This kind of experience of humiliation can be healing, however, for it teaches us not to rely so much upon our own ideas or imagination. Rather, God’s grace seeks to penetrate into this experience of weakness and failure, and to awaken in us something much more pure and profound. We learn to see ourselves, not according to our own limited ideals, which are always more or less impersonal, but as God himself sees us. Then we realize that he loves us just as we are, here and now. He sees and loves in us the deepest and truest personal mystery that is our own. Who we really are is precisely who we are in God’s eyes. And there is nothing in the least impersonal or general about the way that he loves us, nor about the invitation that his love begets in our hearts to become free through responding to this love. He invites us to become, so to speak, “more than we are,” not by becoming someone else, or by living up to an abstract ideal, but by allowing the truth that he has already implanted within us to blossom from within and to express itself outwardly, to come to full maturity.
“The encounter with God’s love in the midst of our own weakness and poverty goes still deeper than this. Ultimately it can lead us to simply entrusting our own limitations, our own brokenness, hopes, desires, and fears, into the hands of the One whom we know loves us—and leaving them there. This is true surrender. Rather than needing to control and fashion our own lives, our own growth, our own sanctity, we simply leave it in the hands of the Father. On our part, all that is ultimately necessary is to receive each new day as he gives it, each moment as it flows from his loving hands, and to respond to it with all of our heart. In his will, indeed, is our peace. If we simply surrender to him and obey him in childlike trust and simplicity, he will, truly, take care of the rest.”
by Andrew Petiprin June 4, 2021
About ten years ago, I felt overwhelmed with all sorts of things in my life, and I confided some of my troubles to a wise mentor. I later found out that he was going through something truly awful at the time; my concerns were ultimately very trivial by any standard, but must have seemed especially so to him at the time.
When I told him my woes, he had paused for a long while, then looked at me and unexpectedly asked, “Is it real?”
“Is what real?” I replied.
“All the Jesus stuff. The cross, the empty tomb, all of it? I know you say it is, but do you really believe it?”
And at that moment, I realized that far too often in my life, I am practically an atheist.
That is, when it comes to how I react in difficult circumstances, my instinct is not to think of God’s goodness and mercy, or even his wrath and judgment. My first instinct is not toward hope. Rather, I only think of myself. How will this situation create even greater inconveniences than I already face? How will that problem ever be resolved? How am I expected to deal with this?
Even in the most mundane matters, I find myself imagining the worst-case scenarios and leaving God’s grace completely out of my calculations. In such moments, when they come, I seem to answer my old friend’s question with, No, it’s not always real.
Last week, I woke up from a difficult night of pointless worrying only to find a tweet from another wise friend, who quoted the first stanza of St. John Henry Newman’s great hymn:
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene – one step enough for me.
My night was not a complete catastrophe, but it did concern a family matter—the kind of thing every parent says is normal and relatable but which feels so lonely when you’re actually dealing with it. We parents are often so quick to see problems, as they arrive, as indictments of our own character rather than simply life, as it comes. Newman’s familiar words were just the reminder I needed to keep it real.
My friend shared these words because it was the 188th anniversary of their composition. Newman tells us in the Apologia,
I was aching to get home; yet for want of a vessel I was kept at Palermo for three weeks. I began to visit the Churches, and they calmed my impatience, though I did not attend any services. I knew nothing of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament there. At last I got off in an orange boat, bound for Marseilles. Then it was that I wrote the lines, “Lead, kindly light,” which have since become well known.
I would not call Newman an optimist. Being a good Christian does not always mean being cheerful or bending over backward to put a positive spin on the worst things. Newman’s words do not evoke a facile “God is in control” affirmation.
But they are full of hope, and Newman was a man of great hope, which has always made me feel better about my life and the world. His work makes Christ real again, deep within me. Newman’s great hymn, written at the height of his Anglican influence, foreshadows his entry into full communion with the Catholic Church twelve years later. I endured the losses and enjoyed the gains of my own similar journey in large part because of his example. Newman disabused me of any idea that I would be entering an assembly, or living a life, without any problems. But his witness always assured me that if I moved forward in God’s direction, however slowly, I would find my way.
Seeing Newman’s familiar words pop up on my screen after my own recent dark night reminded me that the Church—and especially Catholic media—should do a bit more for its underserved market of people who would like—nay, badly need—a greater sense of hope in everyday circumstances.
People have hard times for all sorts of reasons—stress, loneliness, anger issues, health problems, financial woes, you name it.
There’s nothing wrong with stating this plainly: Because Christ died and lives for you, it’s all going to be ok. There’s nothing wrong with reassuring people: Your lousy situation could very well get better, and if it does, it is a victory for the kingdom of God.
Again, Newman’s words set the tone: “One step enough for me.” Sometimes that’s all we need. Just a little bit of good news can pack a powerful punch of grace.
And that’s how hope works. It is not particularly reasonable. It is not dependent on facts. It is not what we or anyone should expect. It is all because the Jesus stuff is real—the cross, the empty tomb, all of it.
What evidence-based judgment does an alcoholic have to think he can quit drinking? All the evidence seems to be stacked against him. And yet, he goes one minute, one hour, one day, one week. He is led to a new place with a whole new rhythm of life. He becomes someone who does not drink anymore, but he cannot ever dare to walk alone. It never stops being one step at a time.
Newman’s “encircling gloom” is always there. It’s not just the pandemic or the lockdowns or elections or protests or Church fights. It’s all those hope-sapping moments of emptiness at the first sign of difficulty in our daily lives.
We lie to ourselves if we ignore the possibility that everything that matters to us could just fall apart. And sometimes things are just really bad—like they were for my wise friend ten years ago, and like they were for Newman, seriously ill and stranded alone on an island where he did not know the language and did not practice the religion. But in both men’s cases, the Lord was there.
And there is the source of hope, even for those unaware.
I may forget God, but he never forgets me. Until the day I take my last step toward him, I pray I keep following where he leads.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Petiprin is Fellow of Popular Culture at the Word on Fire Institute. He is an author and former Anglican cleric who came into full communion with the Catholic Church on January 1, 2019. He earned an M.Div. from Yale University and an M.Phil from Oxford University.