Sunday, March 09, 2014

Finding Intimacy in the Desert

A Lenten reflection from Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

In the depths of our being, we all crave intimacy, connection.  We enter the world connected and remarkably well-equipped, even as babies, to draw others into relationship with us.  The very first moments of a baby's life have to do with bonding, with cementing fundamental relationships with mother, father, siblings, grandparents, extended family.  It happens in a rather mysterious way, before a baby has developed verbal language or conscious powers of reasoning. Nonetheless, by his very existence he draws people to himself by something that goes beyond a mere sense of obligation or duty on the part of the adults around him.

Agape, or the unconditional love of God for humankind, is sometimes described as being like the innocent love of an adult for a baby.  This is how God loves us!

From the beginning, this being in relationships is so much a part of us, so deep a need, that, by our nature, we are always seeking real relationships, and suffer deeply when we are deprived of them.  This is very much in keeping with our being made in the image and likeness of God Who lives in a communion of Persons and Who desires to share this happiness of a relational life with us.

It is equally true that almost from the beginning, the evil one sets out to disrupt and destroy not just particular relationships but all relationships.  He knows that if he succeeds in dividing us from God, we will become divided from others, and divided within ourselves as well.  Once God is removed, everything fragments.  Relationships fall apart. This was the strategy of the evil one in the Garden of Eden.  This is still his objective in every temptation he sends our way.  When one considers the incredible breakdown of marriages and family relationships, it is obvious he excels at this.  Yet, it is interesting to note that among couples who regularly pray together, the divorce rate is 1%, a striking contrast to the 50% rate found in society at large.  God keeps us together.  The evil one tears us apart.

True relationships are always a threat to the evil one.  They have a power in them that defeats him.   It is no surprise that they are his central target.   He severed himself from his relationship with God and all that is good.  He now seeks to pull everyone else out of that same relationship.  And so, there is always hidden, within any temptation, a challenge to our relationship with God and the way we live it, which invariably affects the relationship we have with ourselves and with others.  What is presented to us is presented in the guise of a good, but the thrust of it always seeks to disturb or break our relationship with God.

Today, a successful strategy used by the evil one is the lure of "alternative" relationships, perhaps with other people, with nature, with technology, or even with himself, (though it is misleading to speak of the possibility of having a real relationship with the devil since he seeks ultimately, not our good but rather our destruction, and has lies and deceptions without number to accomplish it.)  He draws us in countless ways, sometimes through vain curiosities that waste time, through pursuit of base appetites, through legitimate goods such as digital gadgets that end up replacing personal relationships in many people's lives.  He falsely suggests that the intimacy and inspiration we crave is more effectively met in these ways, than in fidelity to God and our loved ones.

Jesus went into the desert to show us the necessity of immersing ourselves in  our relationship with our Father.  When we are in deep communion with Him we easily recognize temptation and its core object.
It is intriguing to watch what Jesus does as He is tempted by the devil.  He does not debate the truth or lie of Satan's statements for there is always some truth in temptation.  He knows clearly Satan's aim.   Jesus hears the suggestion to abuse grace by turning stones into bread, to presume on or test God's love by throwing Himself down from a height (and every fall from grace is exactly that) and to replace worship of God with the worship of Satan in the interests of exalting Himself as ruler of the kingdoms of the world.  Jesus responds by defending the Father's  ways and holding fast to Him.  Real love always recognizes a threat to it's treasure and is not moved by self-interest but rather willing to sacrifice self to preserve that treasure.

Jesus shows us that in the desert, in a poverty where we strip ourselves of excess and superfluous things, we much more easily attend to and are able to enter into this living relationship with God.   This is what our life is truly about.  In the desert, less is more.  In the desert we are actually strengthened, not weakened.  In the desert, God can speak to our hearts, as the prophet says (Hosea:  2:14).  In the desert, we conquer, with Christ, the evil one who is always looking for ways to take us out.

The traditional practices of Lent:  prayer, fasting and alms-giving have this aim.  They are not mere disciplines or exercises of will, (which we often quickly abandon when the 40 days are over.)  They are instruments of healing, meant to strengthen our relationships, especially in areas where we have either been negligent or where the evil one has caused damage.  Prayer helps heal and strengthen our relationship with God.  Fasting heals the brokenness we have within ourselves, addressing especially our tendencies to selfishness.  Giving alms helps to heal the brokenness we have in relationship to others.  

Holiness is really nothing more than this: being in right relationship with God, with each other, and with ourselves.  Lent is a time in which particular grace is given to correct our relationships and bring us to the intimacy with God we  are created for.  When we come to this kind of holiness then we will have power and protection against evil, joy even in the midst of suffering, and grace-filled effectiveness in whatever God asks us to do in mission and ministry.  May this Lent bring us, through the Holy Spirit, to become one with Jesus in His love for the Father, His love for us, and His love for all our brothers and sisters.  May Our Lady enflame our desire for this life of love, and especially accompany us and protect us in our efforts.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Be Healed

I am excited to promote Be Healed, the new book from marriage and family therapist Dr. Bob Schuchts. This incredible book takes you on a journey of personal, life-changing healing in Jesus Christ.

From vast experience of over 35 years as a therapist, Dr. Bob leads the reader to a deep encounter with Jesus that provides lasting freedom and share his own journey to healing as well. I highly recommend this book!

You can preorder it via hardcopy or Kindle here:

Or from his ministry website: www.jpiihealingcenter.org




Thursday, February 27, 2014

Our Lady of Conquering Love

A reflection from Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

Our Lady of Conquering Love

The following poem yields some simple clues about the real nature of Mary.

Into cobwebbed haunts
And festering darkness
Slips a Lady of Light
In search of her children.

In many respects Mary is not known as she should be, often because popular devotion tends to trap her within the confines of pietistic practices and images that don't always lead to a real relationship.  Praying the rosary, asking Mary's intercession, and honoring her in different ways has so much more efficacy and meaning when we know and understand her as she really is.

In speaking to groups of women from different countries and different backgrounds, there is always a weak response to the question:  "How many of you would say you have a close relationship with our Blessed Mother?"  In response to the follow-up question:  "How many of you find it hard to relate to Our Lady?" the majority of hands go up.  She lived 2000 years ago, is portrayed as basically silent with a few notable exceptions, and of course was always praying, but in such a way that it seems like a private affair.  Not much for the modern person to connect to.

And yet, this is a shame, a great loss to many of us because Mary is more favored, has a richer personality, more gifts, deeper emotions, greater wisdom, profounder graces, more sensitive, loving virtue, and a more heavenly human beauty than anyone who ever was or ever will be born, aside from Jesus himself.  No one sways the heart of God nor reaches it as quickly as She does.  And no one aside from God Himself loves us as much as she does!

She is ours!  This is who God has given us to be our Mother, the very one He singled out and prepared for Himself.  This is the woman of unshakable faith in the midst of suffering and sorrows we will never even remotely comprehend or appreciate.  This is a woman of invincible faith, hope and courage, who comes up from the desert like an army in battle array and crushes the head of the ancient enemy with her heel.  Her humility, simplicity and modesty are more feared by the powers of darkness than the greatest preaching on earth!  This is the soul so full of grace and light, and adorned with such great fruits that it alone ravishes the heart of God and causes Him to send floods of grace upon the whole world, beginning with the greatest gift of all, the sending of His own Son, Jesus, to be our Savior.

This is not a passive woman, nor a pushy, aggressive one either. This is the valiant woman par excellence, who is as active a mother in the world today as she was when she mothered all those Jesus gave to her care during His hidden life, His public ministry, and in the early Church as it struggled through persecution to establish itself and evangelize the whole world.

How is Mary at work today, aside from her many apparitions?  There are some extraordinary stories which are not as well-known as they should be. 

One of the great stories from our recent history comes to us from the Philippines.  The Philippines is a poor country, and the trials and sufferings of its people are immense.  At the same time the people have a vibrant, living faith that freely expresses itself in their culture.  

During the 1980s, after having suffered for 20 years under the corrupt, oppressive, authoritarian Marcos regime, their spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, called for a Marian year.  People attended Rosary rallies, processions and special Masses by the millions, imploring Our Blessed Mother's help.

At end of the year (1986), the people, including Priests and Religious, took to the streets, again by the millions, praying, carrying banners, and demanding that Marcos step down.  Marcos responded by sending tanks into the streets and ordering his soldiers to fire upon the crowds.  The soldiers looked into their gun sights to take aim but saw images of Our Lady everywhere.  They could not, would not fire.  In the end Marcos was airlifted out of the country and democracy was restored.  

This was an unheard of thing, a completely bloodless, nonviolent revolution.  Secular media called it the People Power Revolution.  The Spanish of another era would've called it the work of La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Conquering Love!  And the Filippinos themselves know where the real victory came from.

Blessed Pope John Paul II took his cue from the events in the Philippines and called for a Marian year for the whole world from June 7 (Pentecost), 1987 to  August 15 (the Assumption), 1988.  Following the close of the world-wide Marian year, the Iron Curtain fell, and shortly thereafter the Soviet bloc disintegrated, all to the utter astonishment of the secular press.

Coincidence?  Don't believe it!  They say the most common word heard on the battlefield is "mother".  But this is the Mother we need in the battles we fight today.  We are all her children and she is ready to help any who approach her.  

To those who might object to all this attention, remember, Mary is Jesus' gift to us!  The Church does not ask us to worship Mary.  Jesus does not ask us to worship Mary.  He is simply asking us to love our Mother as He does.  It is a love upon which Jesus bestows boundless blessing.  Love your Mother!  There is none better!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Miracles of God and Bishop Tony Palmer

Hello friends,
Below I am posting a talk by Anglican Bishop Tony Palmer. He is speaking at a conference for evangelical leaders and this particular talk was featured within Kenneth Copeland's worship service.

This talk blew my mind and I feel that it is deeply prophetic. Bishop Tony is talking about the unification of the Protestant and Catholic church through the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth he speaks is astounding. Bishop Tony knew Pope Francis before he was elected to the pontificate, and Pope Francis recorded a special message for the evangelical leaders that Bishop Tony plays at the end of this talk. It is powerful. The talk is 40 minutes of your life well spent.

God is doing something great in the Church right now. Something amazing. Will we be open? What you will see in this video may be a bit outside your comfort zone but I ask that you pray to the Holy Spirit and listen to the message. What is God saying to you?

Bishop Tony begins to speak at 4:30 of this video if you want to fast forward directly to that point.

God bless you!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Discernment in the Modern Age

A reflection by Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT:

DISCERNMENT IN THE MODERN AGE

One of the banes of modern life is the plethora of bad books, bad both in the sense of poorly written and bad in the sense of poisonous content.  It's an observation that can be applied to movies, music, TV, and other forms of human expression as well. This is not meant to be a moral judgment so much as a reflection on what constitutes healthy food for the soul.  We have great concern for the health of our bodies and our environment.  And we feed them and protect them accordingly.  At the same time, we seem to have much less conscious concern for what goes into our minds, our souls, our spirits.  We simply consume whatever is offered, no longer recognizing the difference between junk food and delicacy, nutrients and toxins.

Entertainment of a rather mindless variety seems to be the common fare these days.  It is big business to translate  the written form into visual form thus making things more sensual, gripping and exciting.  Books are made into movies, and articles are covered with images that engage the senses and the emotions in ways that are particularly potent.  We are attracted to manipulated, computer-generated scenes, enchanted by special effects, and seduced by music that diverts us away from a close examination of content.  We find ourselves being moved in certain directions without the benefit of an engaged intellect. In fact, our intelligence is often purposely bypassed.  

This can be very dangerous.  It's a lot like seeing a glass of cold, refreshing water, after coming in on a hot, dusty day.  The reaction is almost overwhelming, immediate, physiological and emotional.  We would, without thinking, take the water and drink it.   But if someone told us that despite it's inviting appearance, the water actually had e-coli in it, we would not approach it, much less drink it, no matter how thirsty we were, knowing it would be hazardous to our health.

This is very much like what happens when we indiscriminately read or watch whatever is the latest rage, whether it be fictional stories, movies, TV shows, that mock God, believers, our faith, or current book marketings of pornography (now particularly targeting women's readership).  So many times people say:  "it's not so bad.  It's just a little sex, or just a little violence, or just a little language." 

It doesn't matter whether the poison is hidden in small amounts.  A little poison will kill you just as dead over time.  When our emotions, our passions, our senses, apart from our intellects, make our decisions for us, we are capable of drinking to the dregs whatever contaminant is presented to us.  And today, very deadly poisons abound.  Our culture prizes acceptance, tolerance and open-mindedness. It has been noted though that the danger comes when people become so open-minded their brains fall out.  Curiosity can be a grave temptation.  Being "well-informed" another hook.  Pope Benedict mentioned that knowledge for it's own sake only leads to sadness, and sometimes to much worse things.

This is not a new problem.  The young St. Teresa of Avila had an attraction to the romance/adventure novels of her time, until she realized that the illusions, vanity and worldliness they sowed in her were a great obstacle to her life in general and to her relationship with God in particular.  They did not help her live in reality and especially in the reality of her dignity as a woman, a beloved daughter of God with a great destiny, a great part to play in the life of the Church and the world.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits, also had this problem before his conversion.  He is famous for realizing how the books he read affected the movements of his soul, for better or worse.  While recovering from a serious battle injury, he began to recognize that the worldly books he was fond of, and which also fed his vanity, gave him a feeling of excitement which quickly passed and left him feeling discontented and restless.  On the other hand, when he read books on the lives of the saints and their great deeds, he found himself inspired and filled with a desire to follow their example.  These feelings did not change. From this simple observation St. Ignatius developed his principles for discernment, which are now indispensable teachings for anyone serious about the spiritual life.

We of course need discernment in many areas of our lives.  And because we live in a complicated age, it is good to look for some general direction.  One place to find this is back at the very beginning.  God gave some very simple directions for life in the Garden, and repeated them again after the fall, through Moses.  He told Adam and Eve that they could eat from the Tree of Life and the other trees in the Garden, but not of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Later, He reiterated this directive again to the Israelites in Exodus.  "Choose life that you may live."  

In all honesty, when our question becomes: "Is what I am about to say or see or do, life-giving to me and those around me" we are able to frame issues in a new light.  This is not the only question we sometimes need to ask.  But it is a very good place to start and finish.   Is this life-giving or is this poison to me, to my relationships, to my own dignity or someone else's dignity?  It is a question that can be used with many of the choices we should make today with more deliberation than we do.  And it is a question that avoids the dissembling of moral relativism.  Something is either life-giving to all involved, or it is not.  If it brings death of any kind in it's wake, it is to be avoided.

God's commandments and the Church's counsels are not meant to cramp our style or dampen our fun.  They are simply meant to protect us.  God knows what is good, what is healthy for us.  And He also knows what will make us sick.  Technology and the creative powers of mankind in many different fields have the potential to serve life or to bring death, both physical and spiritual death, depending on how they are used.  If we truly want to live and live well, live the abundant life Jesus promises us, then we have to stop starving our own souls and eat more plentifully from the Tree of Life.

Sr. Anne Marie

Friday, January 03, 2014

An Exchange of Gifts

Boston priest Fr Jason Worthley put together this powerful video about the typhoon in the Philippines. The devastation is stunning and so is the outpouring of love for the people.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Coming Out of Hiding

A reflection from Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

Coming Out of Hiding 
Making New Year’s resolutions can be a tricky business.  We may think our best interests will be served by addressing our diet and exercising  more regularly.  Our family and friends might prefer that our resolve center instead around curbing our negativity, our moodiness, our critical spirit, or our rash judgments.  We might decide we need to give extra time to charitable projects when our family or community would be happy to see us enjoy more time in their company.  We may even realize we need more prayer in our lives and determine to make space for it when God would prefer we look for Him outside the concept of an exercise to perform.

There is actually one answer to all the needs for change we contemplate at the beginning of a new year:  Jesus Christ and the Trinitarian life He came to bring us.  Many of us know about Jesus.  Fewer of us really feel comfortable saying we know Him.  And out of those of us who know Him, we don’t always relate to Him, or allow Him to relate to us in any kind of way that really affects our lives.  There is a kind of split in us between our faith and the rest of our lives.  

Vatican Council II sought particularly to address this difficulty of believers today, the problem of a duplicity that manifests itself in those of us who intellectually assent to the existence of God yet fail to live as though we really believe He exists.  Instead, we live, practically speaking, as atheists.  We do not live as though God is our Father, providing for us in all that is most necessary.  If we did, we would not be filled with anxieties and stress over how to take care of ourselves.  

We also profess a belief in Jesus as our Savior, and yet we are constantly trying to save ourselves.  Witness the incredible number of self-help books and social programs that promise fulfillment and ultimate happiness.  The promotional tag line is often the only really successful part of the whole offering which inevitably engenders its own problems.  In the meantime, participation in the life-giving, healing sacraments wanes, and attendance at Mass is no longer seen as essential.

We say we believe the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Guide.  And yet we fight our own fights without seeking His help while the course we try to steer in our lives isn’t on His map.  It’s of our own making and doesn’t lead us to happy or peaceful outcomes.

All of this comes because we fail to realize that our Trinitarian God is a personal God.  He wants to be up "close and personal" with us.  And He wants us to be personal with Him.  The Father is a Person who wants us to relate to Him that way. Jesus is a Person and He wants us to relate to Him that way.   The Holy Spirit is a Person, Who also wants us to relate to Him that way.  

It is worth noting that no two relationships with God are alike.  Just as a group of siblings who have the same mother and father have unique relationships with them, so too is our relationship with God unique to each of us.  Trying to be someone else, even a saint, will drive us away from an authentic communion with God.  If He had wanted hundreds of St. Francis of Assisi’s or St. Therese of Lisieux’s, God would have created them.  But marvel of marvels, He’s created each of us to be our own exceptional expression of His love.

This means, in order to find ourselves, we have to stop hiding from God, and in a way, from ourselves too.  We often hide from Him without even being aware of it.  Sometimes we hide out in our illusions.  Sometimes we hide behind our wounds, our excuses, our busyness, our technology, science, our own pride or distrust of God.  We often hide behind our self-sufficiency until God either takes it away, or shows us the limits of our own power.  Sometimes we hide behind our sins either out of shame or because we don’t want to give them up.  

Hiding from the Lord is as old as Adam and Eve.  We become afraid of what He might say to us, what He might ask of us. We become infected with doubts about Him.  And so we hide.  But as soon as we hide, He comes looking for us.  We are like children in the game of Hide and Seek.  The adult always knows where the child is.  But the child still needs to be found.  And in the spiritual life, even though we choose many things to hide behind, deep down, we all want to be found.  We all want to know we are beloved and sought after because this tells us something essential about ourselves.  And this is precisely what God wants for us.  He wants us to come out of hiding so He can not only reveal Himself to us, but so that He can reveal us to ourselves as well.  It is only in friendship with Him, in a living relationship with Jesus Christ, as confident children of Our Father, and in trusting openness to the Holy Spirit that this happens.  These are exciting revelations because infinite Love is behind all of them.

Perhaps we can glean help for the New Year from some of the recent writings and homilies of  Pope Francis.  But we will have to come out of hiding.  The whole of us.  No holding anything back, because every area of our life must be touched by God’s transforming presence.   A good resolution then would be one that seeks to “encounter the Lord and most of all, allows us to be encountered by Him.”  Then we must keep our eyes open for the many different ways He encounters us, finds us, in our life experiences, in our prayer, in creation, in the words of another spoken to us, in the Scriptures and Sacraments and Mass and in thoughts that come to us within, from the light of our Baptism.

As Pope Francis so beautifully says:  “God does not hide Himself from those who seek Him with a sincere heart even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.”  Why?  Because  “His delight is to be among the sons of men” as the Christmas season has just gloriously proven to us once again.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT