Thursday, November 28, 2013

To Know that I am Loved

How do we find peace in this world? Things surround us, sometimes control us. We need, we desire, we obtain, and we still find ourselves in need, in desire, constantly obtaining. This is rooted in what Benedict XVI refers to as a "peculiar" aspect of the human person. We all have at the core of our very being an emptiness that cannot be permeated by another, an isolation that is seemingly devoid of life, but an isolation we must all traverse in time. Ratzinger calls this "the hell of humanity," the place we meet upon our death beds, which for so long we have escaped and that now lies before our eyes as clear and terrifying as an inescapable wasteland of all that is unknown. This is rooted in our common longing for fulfillment, for love. This is the Love of God. He is our fulfillment and our one and only gain, as St. Paul says he considered all else loss so long as he gained Christ. So it is for us now. To gain Christ is our goal, our infused orientation, to experience Love as it is. And peace will follow.

The discord of emptiness in search of fulfillment is due to the reality that love has its illusions, and experience makes this known. What have I sought in my endeavors for fulfillment, for love? What have I hoped to receive from some thing, experience, or person that was or is in no position to give to me? And what have I not allowed the Lord to pour upon me? I find myself desiring Him more and more. Yet I simultaneously desire so much less than Him. This is where the nuance of human frailty is rooted. I can see what is good and choose against it. I can desire to serve Him and in an instant serve my own will. But He knows I am trying, and He gives me another chance. Truly, He bats not an immaterial eyelash at my stumbled bumbling, so long as I am bumbling for Him.

And that is the key. I must invite him into my heart to show me what I do not see I am seeking in my desiring. I'm not going to be perfect. But I am going to be faithful, because He has placed faith within me. I can love Him with fidelity because He has first loved me, and keeps His eyes set upon me even when my eyes look upon anything but Him. This is Love. He knows my heart better than I ever will, and He sets it aflame. And all He desires is for me to experience Love, not even that I return that Love, but that I know I am Loved. But to love is so much more than to be loved and the Lord in His perfection moves us to freely love Him, as He told His daughter Teresa "I would create the world again just to hear you say you love me." His Love is this, and so much farther beyond my understanding. Certainly I can love another without having that love returned, but so much more powerful is a love shared and bonded in the Lord of Love, and thus I am compelled to respond to Him.

I am thankful for a hunger no feast can fill. I am thankful to have this longing for the Lord and to know that I am Loved. Lord I love you, recreate me in your Love.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Greatest Grace

It seems like just last week I was sitting in my room back home poring over my belongings, trying to ensure that I would be without want or need for anything during my time abroad. Now the end has come, and I have blown the dust off of my luggage, packed my things, and I am prepared to finish my time in Europe before returning to the States. My luggage is bursting with things I have collected over these last four months, and my heart is overflowing with the memories made and the love I have for my friends with whom I have been blessed to share this experience.

I move back and forth between the joy of being reunited with my family Stateside and the sadness that accompanies my departure from this family that has been formed here at the Bernardi house, where I have lived for the last four months. I have not taken the time to put into words exactly what this house has been for me because of the members of this community, all of whom have grown to be very dear to me. It is an "experiment," according to so many of our faculty, but that term does not even hold a candle to the reality of what this program is. The thirty-four of us came into this semester with an uncertainty as to who exactly we would be living with for the next sixteen weeks of our lives. And I was indifferent to this truth. I really had no expectations that I would be moved as I have been by this experience of familial growth and support and I expected most of the growth and grace I received to flow from other sources. These expectations were perhaps the most nonsensical things I packed to bring with me. How dear these men and women are to me now, and I feel my account of this semester would be incomplete, supremely lacking, if I did not express my gratitude for them to all of my family and friends who brought me to them. I know it would unfinished if I did not express to them my gratitude and love for taking me and growing alongside me, for sending me back into the world a changed person, a better person. This morning I wrote a journal entry that I wish to share.

~ You have broken my heart once again, Lord. Thank you. For all of my friends who have made my semester in Rome a blessed experience I pray with deep love, admiration, and longing. I miss them all very much, Lord. For all of them, I desire their well-being and pray for abundant blessings to pour out upon them. I wish this pen could express what I am feeling so deeply within my heart. Such an ache that can only find remedy in prayer and rest. I feel so drained, yet I could burst out of love. I feel so empty, yet I am full of life and joy in knowing these individuals, whom I now call friends, dear friends. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare with the love and joy of being here with them, and experiencing this time with them. And absolutely nothing can describe how they have changed me, how they have revealed You to me so many times, how their love has drawn me further into Your Body, and how much I desire to have them with me always.  These memories I hold in my heart, charged by love, give me the strength to move forward and to trust in You. They have strengthened my faith. Until we meet again, Lord, I hold them in the Your communion of prayer. They forever remain with me, as I love them and cherish them deep within my heart. ~

For all of the graces I have received in Rome I am unworthy, yet eternally grateful. The heart of the Church is here, and I have learned that the Church is fully alive and thriving by witnessing so many monumental testimonies to Her vivacity. My Roman comrades have made it possible for me to enter more deeply into this experience and have journeyed along side me through everything, giving faith, hope, and charity to every moment.

I realized that indifference was a prevailing feeling leading up to my departure from home back in January. Perhaps it had to do with the haste of preparing for this semester. Maybe I did not have or make enough time to actually sit and reflect on what a grace it was that I had received in being accepted to come here. There is truth in that, but even more real is my lack of hope in God's guiding hand for me while abroad. I had many expectations, yet I came into this time without the hope that something great would happen. My expectations were all so dependent on me, and I placed so much on myself instead of fervently trusting in God to make of this semester what He willed. Yet, even though I fell into this egocentricity, He willed what He willed, and made of this semester even more than my loftiest of expectations. And I have great faith that He willed that I share this semester in this place with these men and women, because His Love and grace was to flow through them most abundantly.

I came with uncertainty, and because I have been blessed to share in community with these faith-filled individuals, I leave with great hope for the future and great gratitude for every moment we were together. Si, tutti momenti. They allow God to work so well through their lives, and I have learned a great deal from them about how I can do the same. I could not have made it through this semester without them, and I take each and everyone of them back with me. To every one of my Bernardi brothers and sisters: I love you and will never forget you. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. God has a great plan for each of you and I am both blessed and honored that I have been a part of that plan.

"Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship; for as they are, so will their neighbors be." - Sirach 6: 14-17

Friday, May 10, 2013

Remembering I am His

My Roman days carry on quickly as life continues its waltz with time. I am aware of how much I am to be indebted to God and to those through whom His Love has touched me. I have experienced many graces and blessings great and small, all of which are exponentially more generous than any work of mine can merit. And there have been revelations of His work throughout my life that seem to have required my being here to realize - it is clear that God is truly outside of time! He gives us these little glimpses of His great work at the times when we are most ready to receive them and when our hearts are softened enough to be moved by them. I often ask why I cannot see the whole picture, or why I have received something and haven't the slightest idea of what it means for my life. This is just impatience and pride working in me, but it is nevertheless a question that fills my mind from time to time.

I truly believe, though I cannot say for certain, that it is a matter of the disposition of the heart and preparedness of the soul. If He were to shower us with grace and understanding whenever we saw fit, and our hearts and souls were not yet ready, it would be like throwing pebbles into a frozen pond and watching as they slide across. These pebbles would hit and bounce away, never to break the surface and cause the ripples that transform the surface as they spread outward and away from the point that the waters were pierced. No the heart, like a once frozen pond, must be soft so that grace can enter and provide those transforming waves. In His time He will "take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezekial 11:19). I have heard it said that it is better for us that God wait for our hearts to be warm, because His grace is like a flame. If our hearts were frozen, and He poured His grace upon them, they would shatter like a chilled glass that has been filled with hot water. Sometimes it requires our first being broken before His grace can work within us, but I think oftentimes He will be patient and allow us to become soft (still through His merciful grace) before He sends the rush of heat that enflames the soul and sets the heart on fire.

"It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority," reminds Christ, as He prepared to depart from His disciples to return to the Father. It is not for us to immediately know why He blesses us, besides the fact that we are His and He loves us, or how we are to use those blessings for others, or what those blessings could possibly mean for our lives. We simply accept the free gift of Love and live our lives as rapt servants of His good and holy plan. This word, rapt, according to Peter Kreeft, encompasses our entire disposition towards God and comprises the fourfold manner in which we develop our relationship to Him, through Repentance, Adoration, Petition, and Thanksgiving. So long as we strive to maintain this disposition within our lives, in time we will come to have the confidence in what it is God is asking of us. For the time that we sit in waiting, we just know that we are His.

With the manifold graces He has showered upon me, and through the graces others have shared with me by our mutual participation in each other's lives, I sit in perpetual ponder as to what on earth I am to do. Perhaps I must continue waiting. Perhaps He is trying to reveal it to me now and I am too closed off. Perhaps I am already carrying it out, though that would take a profound surrender to His will that I feel I have not yet accomplished. In any respect, I must be content to sit and wait, to work and wait, to pray and wait, to live how He has taught me and to wait. I cannot be content with the things of this world, good as they are. I must be expectantly waiting for the time when He will return and, hopefully, look upon me and say "well done, good and faithful servant." Let us pray for one another's patience and faithful service to His mysterious plan.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Drawn in by His Sacrifice

Life here in Rome has taken a siesta as Easter break begins and spring pierces through the last tired remnants of winter. Having this recess has given me time to reflect over the last six weeks of my time here, and I have seen a similar change in my own life. Being here in this city has begun a true spring in my soul, and has awakened in me a joy and excitement for life, vocation, and what the Lord has planned for me during my time in this world.

True vocation - total submission to God's will

It truly was as if the seasons had collided when I arrived here in the Eternal City. It was the dead of winter when I departed from all I was familiar with, and all those whom I love back home. I felt the cold intimately, and the clouds were dense as I adjusted to all of the new surroundings, faces, and demands of taking up residence in a foreign land. At first my heart was fortified, like the frozen earth, braced against the unknown. But soon the rains of realization came, and the rain meant the chill was broken, my heart was softening - and it was being warmed to these new encounters God had placed before me. He is gazing lovingly over me always, and His warmth drew me in. Indeed, His fire is irresistible, consuming, and cleansing. It was providential that Lent began almost as soon as the semester had, and I was given the opportunity to unite my struggles with Christ's immediately. He quickly took them up, allowing me to live through them, yet He showed me a still more excellent way. 

The most amazing part about this semester is realizing how great of lengths God goes to show His children He loves them, and I know - and can never doubt - that He has showered me in this Love, and wishes to drown me by it. What a grace to look to all of the sanctified examples prevalent throughout this country, as I visited their homes, villages, and relics. Saints like Catherine of Siena, Dominic, Francis, Clare, Bl. John Paul II, Charles Borromeo, Francis Xavier, and many others - as well as an unborn saint who bears my name. Being able to ask their intercession for myself, as well as for my family and friends, has given me the strength to submit to God's plan for me, and also the ability to maintain that connection with all of those who have supported me throughout the years to bring me to this place. None of this, however, would be able to overshadow the immense blessing bestowed upon me while on retreat, when God had blessed me with peace, joy, and thrill.

A great place to find God on retreat

While in the silence of this retreat I encountered very intimately the Christ. He would call me into His life, to share in His joy and suffering, so as to share in His resurrection. He has been calling me throughout my life, and only in the silence, in the desert of Lent, could I see this. He allowed me this grace as I was striving to find Him amidst all of the excitement and noise of my novel experiences, and He bestowed it upon me in a time when I could most openly accept it. He is too kind, or rather, He is perfectly loving, compassionate and merciful. And He is also so very patient! He allows us to come to Him slowly - sometimes practically motionless - in our weakness, in our brokenness. As a broken sinner, it is frightening to approach the pure Inferno of Love that is God. Nevertheless, approach the Inferno we must! It is only in the Flame of Love that we can be purified and our imperfections singed away. And as the clouds of imperfection are dispelled by His Warmth, the rays of His Son illuminate His plan. As the impurities are purged by the Heat, they are replaced by virtue and uncontrollable joy! Joy and virtue that can be made manifest in nothing less then love. This is the excellent way.

Love is what man and woman rejected in the Fall. Love is what we still reject every day through sin and omission. But Love is the one thing Christ came to give us, and He did so through the Passion. He gave all that He was and is for us to be reunited with the Father in Heaven. He accepted our death, took it upon Himself, and destroyed it. He destroyed the destruction we placed upon and against ourselves. It sends a quiver through the spine to think about what He has actually done. How can we repay Him? It is a question that really has no answer. His Love is free gift, and it is far greater than anything we can do as fallen beings. But He gave us a simple way to remain in His Love, to experience His mercy, his forgiveness. We are called to share that Love and Mercy, to live as a people of hope, faith, and charity - to live as a people redeemed. We are to imitate His Sacrifice in our own lives, to carry the cross bravely, to offer everything to Him, because everything belongs to Him.

Love is a Sacrifice
Love is frightening, sacrifice is often painful, crosses are heavy, and we humans are weak. This is not grim pessimism, but liberating realism. Cast aside the illusions of super-humanism and rugged individualism, fall into the arms of Christ outstretched on the cross, and submit to His Divine Aid. He wants nothing but to save us! To save us from ourselves. We are nothing without Him, but we have everything with Him. We are lost apart from His Love. We are lifeless outside of His Saving Grace. Let us no more resist Him, because He loves us so dearly!

"And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." 1 John 4:14-15

Let us take up the cross and confess Christ, so as to one day take up our rest in the Eternal Life of God.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What is His Plan?

I have made it safely through my first week abroad, and I am still in a state of disbelief at everything that has occurred since stepping foot outside and feeling the sun beaming down on me this time last friday. While the week has been a whirlwind to say the least, I wanted to take the time to put down some of my blessings, though words cannot very rightly describe how these have impacted me. I have been given opportunities to experience places that many are not able to see, and while I wish everyone could share this joy, I know that God especially blesses each of us in His perfect plan for every one of His children. Wherever He is leading us on our ways, His Grace is there. God is beauty, and Grace is from Him, therefore Grace beautifies our lives. Indeed, life is beautiful, and He gives endless reasons for me to believe this.

I saw this beauty in a very special way when we were walking the dirt hallways of the catacombs, where, undoubtedly, many martyrs and early Christians were buried. To see the faith and zeal they had for Christ's Gospel was enough to rejuvenate the same in me. Again, beauty abounded at the place of St. Peter's, when we went down into the necropolis beneath the basilica to see where Christ's first apostle was buried after his martyrdom. I was overwhelmed when, turning the corner in this underground city, I was face to face with his sacred remains. That same day, we were invited by the Missionaries of Charity to come and see their convent. They invited us in, and pointed us in the direction of Blessed Mother Theresa's rooms, and we each entered into her living space, the very place she passed on, and entered into her share in God's Glory. The stories her dear friend in the order told us of her were heart-breaking, but not in the sense of sorrow. Rather, they filled my heart with joy and hope so much so that it overflowed, and my heart could not contain itself. Truly, holy men and women live in a way such that God's message lives on by the example of their lives, even long after they have departed from their earthly dwelling. That is the way of God's Grace, and that is beauty.

You can imagine the gravity and weight of walking in these sacred spaces. I don't know what God has planned for me during my time spent here. I continue to wonder at the work He does, and why on earth He has called me to continue my journey in this holy place. I don't truly know what He is asking of me, but I ask that you pray that my heart may be open to whatever it is. In all actuality, one never does know what it is God is leading them to, at least not temporally. We are all called to share in His glory, as these noble souls have undoubtedly done, but each child has a responsibility to walk His path for them to Him, and to live this earthly life with faith, hope, and love. The key, as I have been shown, is in being confident - confident in God and His Divine Providence. Having the confidence a child has in its parent is all we can do, and God will reward us immensely for our trust in Him. St. Therese of the Little Flower paints the image of a child, attempting to climb a staircase, and upon committing that first inevitable stumble, the Good Lord will lovingly stoop down to pick us up and start us off again, because we trusted Him enough to make the effort to go where He beckoned. This is how we must approach our own spiritual journey. I know not what His plan is for me, but I strive to trust that, taking the step, He will assist me in ascending the flight.

May God bless you.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Eight Hours Ago

Upon arrival in Fiumicino International Airport yesterday morning, and in the subsequent hours after bidding our taxi-cab driver "ciao!" once we had been dropped off at Suore Carmelitane, I have been overwhelmed by my new environment. This journey I am starting to embark upon has started off by giving me ample time to think and reflect, and it all started with those three words: Eight Hours Ago.

I thought to myself this morning, while listening (with, roughly, a 4 percent comprehension rate) to my cabby chat with our greeter about directions to our stay, "eight hours ago, I could understand every word coming out of the mouths of the people around me, and now I can't even ask how this kind gentleman's day has been going, or properly thank him for his courtesy." This revelation made me realize with much more gravity just how small I am in the greater context of humanity. In less than half of a day, my whole world had been turned on its head, and suddenly I am relying on broken conversation, (innocent) hand gestures, and even a bit of charades to get myself to the bus stop, which was just around the corner. To me, that is a humbling experience.

However, humbling as it may be (and who doesn't want to be humble, am I right?), on an even deeper level it has filled me with a profound sense of awe at the reality of the inter-dependence of the living Body of Christ. We are not only moments in the lives of one another, as can sometimes be the feeling when we, say, take a bus we hope is headed towards where we intend to meet a friend, only to hop out on the curb and hop into a cab to take us the remainder of our trek. We can sometimes come to see everyday people this way, as simply someone we must interact with to get to someplace or something as painlessly as possible. But this is neither healthy nor correct. Rather, in a very true sense we are pieces of the same body, not moments in the individual lives of others. Each piece, even the piece that simply (and quite helpfully) points you in the right direction, serves its necessary function in the welfare of the whole, and without the many different pieces we would find our lives to be much more difficult. In other words, we need each other.

What a revelation that is for me, and it entreats me with a simple request: to love. Saints live and die in the spirit of love, and do so even to the detriment of their own earthly well-being. It is easy for me to love someone who has kindly helped me along when I am unsure of my way, but sanctity grows exponentially greater when I am loving towards the one who has scoffed me aside, or the one who disregards me in my need. I must recognize the dignity of all with whom I come into contact. I must live as Christ calls if I can even pray that others will live similarly. But I have been blessed. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who do love me, and who are concerned for my welfare and I must live accordingly. This city is filled with people, and I know the Lord has filled me still more with the capacity to encounter whatever I will in a Love that is beyond the bounds of human existence. If this is what He has shown me in a span of only eight hours, I cannot fathom what he has in store for me yet.

Christ has told us: "he who does not love does not know God; for God is Love." I desire to know God, therefore, my desire compels me to love.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Do not be afraid.

Four years ago today, people thought America was done for. Today is here, and four more years of what we originally feared is yet again set in motion. But I'm not concerned.

Let me rephrase that. I'm not afraid. Yes, I am saddened by what I have seen, what has happened, and what may possibly commence, but fearful? Not in a million years. There are several reasons for this calmness I am blessed to be experiencing.

First, one man is not going to change the world. For those who want change, well, that comes from within. If we are afraid that our freedoms have been lost, then we are just too caught up in the American ideal. Don't get me wrong, I'm a man who loves ideals - but in proper perspective. In God alone, we are truly free. The president, no matter who he is, is not going to change what the general populace holds frightfully dear. Things like on demand birth-control, abortions, suicide, recreational drug-use, and entitlement after misguided entitlement are in the hearts of what I fear is a powerful number of people. But this power can be turned to good, if there is change in our hearts. Then, all of the zeal for things unholy will be redirected and properly devoted to its true end - eternity. Not just eternity, but eternal happiness. If we want the world to change, it must be a personal act of love. An act humans are fully capable of making. Pray for conversion in the heart of humanity.

Secondly, I am prepared to struggle. At least I have the hope that I am. Faith is a metal forged in the fires of persecution. The hotter the fire, the purer the metal. Christ did not promise a life of comfort on this side. In fact, he asked us to prepare for a world that would hate us because He loves us, because He called us from it (John 15:18). To paraphrase my all-time favorite author (C.S. Lewis), it's easy for us to say we trust a rope to be strong, until that rope is suddenly the only thing left for us to hold on to. Do we trust God to be our strength? Time will tell. I pray for the graces to let Him watch over me. If I must struggle, if I must live and die (figuratively or literally) for Him, I hope I have the strength to do so. I do not foresee my own martyrdom, but a martyrdom of sorts is undoubtedly on its way, and is happening in many forms already. How many Saints were produced in the centuries directly following our Lord's footsteps on earth? The trials they endured are in many ways similar to ours, and in strength and trust in the Lord they obtained a victory supremely better than any political election can ever provide. If we cannot find consolation in the lives of the Saints, then we have grossly underestimated the virtue and sanctity they possessed as fellow human beings, virtue and sanctity that flowed directly from God's loving and protecting hand.

Lastly, opportunities for holiness are endless. One door opens to ten doors which open to ten more. God is calling us to holiness every day, despite the things that get us down. Are there times when we have to look a little harder to find those doors? Of course! Clarity is something we give up every time we say "No!" to God's love. We have to work to get back to Him, and part of that is searching for the opportunity.  Don't let the world fool us into thinking everything is all figured out. Leave the figuring to God, and let's just be a part of His plan. He'll get us where we're supposed to be if we let Him, and guess what...that place is with Him! And believe me, if God wants something for us, and we are willing to allow His grace to work through us, then NOTHING is going to prevent that from happening. Do not be afraid.