How to Amaze Jesus

*This article originally appeared on the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

We know well the words that the centurion speaks to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…” (Matt 8:8). We say them at each and every Mass. But have you ever taken time to reflect on the words following the Roman officer’s remarks to Jesus? Can you remember the words that the Gospel uses to describe Jesus’ reaction to the centurion?
Jesus is amazed (Matt 8:10).

Can you imagine what it would be like to amaze Jesus? Astonishingly, we know that the word “amazed” is used only once in Matthew’s Gospel—this is it. So amazement isn’t a regularly mentioned habit of Jesus in the Gospels. Secondly, God is, well…God. I imagine it has to be pretty difficult to amaze him. But somehow, the centurion did.

From reading this passage we learn that the thing mentioned here that amazes Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the faith of this centurion—a Gentile—an officer in the enemy army! So it is great faith (no matter who exhibits it) that amazes Jesus.

Back to the Mass. Just before our reception of Holy Communion, before we receive Jesus under our own ‘roof’, we repeat the beautiful words of the centurion here in Matthew’s Gospel. Why? I think the Roman centurion is a model for us of how to approach Jesus. He humbly petitions Him, and then has full faith and confidence that Christ will respond to His need in the way that Jesus knows is best. How many times in prayer do you approach Jesus with both a problem and a solution? But what a truly faithful, humble servant does is to present a situation to Jesus and then remain open to His will, His solution. That’s exactly what the centurion does; that kind of faith amazes Jesus.

The Transubstantiation is the supreme way that Jesus amazes us at each and every Mass. But what if the next time you’re at Mass, you think of reciting these words of the centurion and receiving the Holy Eucharist as an opportunity for you to amaze Jesus?

Every moment before Communion we stand face to face with God, as the centurion did. We, too, have an opportunity to place our petitions before Him, coming to His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity and awaiting His answer to our needs. We also have the opportunity to pray: just say the word, Jesus. To possess an unshakeable faith in Christ’s ability to be our solution to all of our needs—perhaps all of us, in this way, can amaze Him, too.

Lessons for Living from the Holy Family

As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting? 

Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.

In this last article of the series featured in the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the Holy Family.

The Holy Family: Salvation and Love
Finally, we turn to the Holy Family, the central “character” in this great feast and story of the Nativity, the character whom we, as members of families, can probably most closely relate to.

Pope Saint John Paul II famously wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (FC 75). For most of us, family life is the ordinary means of our sanctification—the way we live our everyday lives at home with our spouses, children, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren make up the stepping-stones toward heaven.

So, in other words, the first lesson for living from the Holy Family is: salvation.

As Dr. Scott Hahn puts it, “Salvation arrives by way of the family—the Holy Family.” Each of us can look to the Holy Family as an example for faithful living within the context of family life. How we respond to our call to live out the Gospel in our own homes, to grow in holiness in some small way as an individual, as a couple, and as a family every day, emulating the Holy Family, impacts the joy and meaning with which we paint our days. This spiritual leadership of our families—becoming the spiritual heads and hearts God made us to be, modeled after the great examples we have in Joseph and Mary—is what we were created for.

Bishop James Conley wrote in the foreword to my book, Head & Heart, “We are created for family life. To be created in God’s image is to be made for family life—the sharing of fruitful love.”

Another lesson for living the Holy Family teaches us is: love.

The most important characteristic that we as leaders of our families can exhibit is a desire to fulfill our vocation to love. St. Joseph, and in particular, Our Blessed Mother and Jesus, were expert lovers. Our vocation as men and women, as husbands and wives, as fathers and mothers, and as spiritual leaders of our families is to love—to love God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love one’s family with intention and purpose, seeing in each of them a reflection of God. This is what strong spiritual leaders do. They love.

The Holy Family demonstrates this model for love and spiritual leadership in a uniquely beautiful way. This Advent, we should all be encouraged to take these lessons for living from the characters of the nativity, and other characteristics of strong spiritual leadership, and practically—step by step—make our homes places where holiness can flourish, not only this Advent and Christmas season, but all year round.

To read the rest of the articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

7 Rosary Tips for Catholic Families

I came across this article the other day and I thought it served as a great foundation for a quick list of Rosary tips for Catholic families:

The first three ideas are taken from Fr. Cole’s advice (article linked above), followed by a few I’ve added, which, through personal trial and error and through hearing what other families do, have proven to be additional useful tips for giving the Rosary a more regular place in family life.

  1. Pause before each mystery to reflect. Mention the mystery before you start the decade, and pause a moment to reflect on that mystery, reminding you to think of that moment in Christ’s life (maybe even through the perspective of Mary!) as you pray the following Our Father and Hail Mary’s.
  2. Offer up each decade for a specific intention. Have someone in the family (or everyone) mention an intention they’d like that decade to be offered for.
  3. Split it up. The Dominican priest, Fr. Cole, recommends that people consider praying a decade of the Rosary at different times throughout the day, allowing more time to focus on each one. He recommends this as a far better alternative to “rushing through an entire Rosary” just for the sake of praying it all at once.
  4. Pick a set time. In our family, we usually pray a decade of the Rosary after dinner, since we are all gathered together then anyway. Warning: If it’s too close to bedtime, you’ll have sleepy pray-ers. Having a routine location is helpful, too.
  5. Rotate voices. Maybe dad prays the beginning of each prayer and the family completes, for example. Give children the chance to lead, too.
  6. Ask for the intercession of the saints. Have each family member ask for one favorite saint’s intercession before or after the Rosary or decade.
  7. Set the atmosphere. Make a holy atmosphere around the place you’ll pray. Perhaps you can have a picture or icon of Jesus and the Blessed Mother nearby, and/or light candles.

“Many in the world have lost the sense of contemplation, but if it is recovered, prayer could greatly strengthen individuals and families….If it [the rosary] is done correctly, wow it can really strengthen a marriage. Because in a marriage [and family], you have to face trials and difficulties. You need patience and kindness – graces that the rosary offers us are there.” -Fr. Basil Cole, O.P.

 

Head & Heart Supplemental Resources

I’m so glad you’ve decided to read Head & Heart, either on your own, with your spouse, or with a group! It’s a great way for other couples desiring to be strong spiritual leaders of their family to motivate one another and exchange ideas. Here are some resources to help you as you journey through the book with others:

  • Head & Heart Book Recommendation Announcements: designed to be used as bulletin announcements, for diocesan/parish/ministry email blasts, and for social media, these brief descriptions of the book will help encourage others to grab a copy for themselves or join a discussion group.
  • The Catholic Resource Guide for Spiritual Leaders: a great free resource for readers of Head & Heart and others who are looking for recommendations for tons of top-notch Catholic websites, books, audio and video resources to help you better learn and share the Catholic faith.
  • Head & Heart Memes: designed for use in social media to help spread the word to your Head & Heart study group – or even just to your friends or parish community – about the importance of spiritual leadership in family life. Please save and share! Also, follow me on Facebook for more images and articles related to spiritual leadership and family life to share with your networks.

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“Time spent with the sick is holy time”

So many of us are touched by the pain of mental health deterioration in some way. As a little girl, I remember my grandmother once repeatedly telling me how much she loved the ice cream sundae I made for her, not realizing until later that she had expressed her gratitude at least three times within five minutes. Though she was embarrassed, I recall loving her all the more in that moment, while simultaneously being frustrated that sickness can be so debilitating to experience and to witness. My grandmother was one of the most grace-fillled and beautiful women I’ve ever known, and I am thankful that even today, many years after her passing, I can relish not only the good memories we had, but also the faith in Christ and in His Church that we shared.

If you or someone you love is in a battle with declining mental health, I hope my recent article in the National Catholic Register on Caring for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s brings you some help and consolation.

“Time spent with the sick is holy time.” -Pope Francis

Book Review: Be Re-Amazed this Christmas

Book Review of Scott Hahn’s Joy to the World

Joy. It drowned me as I cradled my 8-day-old son in my arms and stared at the manger ornament that hung on our Christmas tree. For a moment in time, I had a glimpse of the joy that Blessed Mother must have felt when she held her own firstborn son, the Son of God, on that very first Christmas two millennia ago. In that still moment, I realized that I could sit here on Christmas, experiencing the joy that comes from not only being a new mother, but from being such a prized and beloved daughter of God, because God became man, entering time to show me that I was worth dying for, to show me that this joy that I felt so palpably now could last into eternity, thanks to His sacrifice and grace.

For many years prior, I had fallen into the commercialism funk that plagues so many of us during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It became too easy to focus on the giant list of presents to purchase, the cookies to bake, and the parties to attend, and somehow, in the midst of all these supposedly happy activities, there was no joy. Happiness didn’t last far beyond the opening of the gifts under the tree or even after the beautiful Christmas liturgy. But last Christmas, in front of the manger on the Christmas tree, I rediscovered that joy for the first time in years. I was re-amazed at the wonder of Christmas.

As I approached Advent this year with no life-changing event (like the birth of another child) on the horizon, I realized how important it was to me that I still feel that same rich and lasting joy. Christ’s birth should constantly amaze us, and then re-amaze us, every year. So among the many religious activities my husband and I have going on in our home this year to help our family prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas with renewed joy, we are ecstatic that Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does) published by Image Books, will help us in our efforts to make this Advent a truly meaningful period of preparation to welcome Christ at Christmas and then celebrate the joy that only begins on Christmas morning.

Dr. Hahn’s book lives up to what it promises. It continues to inspire in me amazement at how the birth of Christ changes everything and is the secret to lasting Christmas joy, rather than fleeting Christmassy happiness. He shows the reader that when you take time to look more deeply into the mysterious Christmas story with its unusual cast of characters and its unconventional heroic family at the center of the action, you give your own family the opportunity to celebrate a Christmas that lasts beyond Christmas day. When I interviewed Dr. Hahn about the book, he mentioned how the Christmas story is “complex…dark, but with sudden bursts of glory.” When was the last time you thought of the Christmas story like that? It’s time to be reengaged in the narrative. This story will help your joy to build during Advent, leading to an explosion on Christmas that lasts until the Epiphany…long after the commercial stores have taken down their trees and tinsel.

As the spiritual leaders of our family, my husband and I recognize how important it is to instill in our family religious traditions, especially meaningful Christmas traditions. Dr. Hahn’s book presents a powerful reminder that “the family is the key to Christmas.” He demonstrates how “the truth of Christmas begins with a family” and is “passed on by way of families” and then offers a powerful, stirring narrative that awakens in the heart a desire to pass on the most beautiful story ever told to your own family, creating a tradition that will far surpass any other Advent and Christmas activity in your home.

As with Dr. Hahn’s other titles, this book is relatable, understandable, and filled with biblical teaching that is as easy to follow as it is captivating and thought-provoking. In his final chapter, he reminds us that Christmas is what sets us as Christians apart. When you demonstrate the joy and love that Christmas inspires in you to your own family and to others you encounter, you will become a powerful witness to the Gospel and the utter amazement that comes with celebrating the birth of Christ. But first, you must be re-amazed.

Is Jesus saying to you, “Look at Me”?

I sat there in the quiet chapel, feeling exceptionally grateful for my seven-month-old son’s spontaneous nap, which gave me the chance to savor a few minutes with Jesus in adoration. Still, prayerful moments like these before the Lord in the Eucharist seemed so fleeting lately that I was almost too giddy to buckle down and pray. I nestled into the folding chair at the back of the chapel, resting against its minimal padding to help support the weight of the sleeping baby in my arms. I closed my eyes and started to pray.

I wasn’t keeping track of how many minutes had gone by when I heard a clear, soft voice speaking in my heart: “Look at me.”

Instantly, I became acutely aware of the fact that in all the time I had been sitting with Jesus in the chapel, I hadn’t once stopped to gaze at Him in the Monstrance before me on the altar. I looked up. My soul flooded with an inexpressible feeling—like a perfect combination of love, peace, recognition, understanding, and hope—something like that. All it took was a look, “that look” which is described so beautifully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

…”I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men… (2715).

After that moment, I couldn’t help but think of how easy it is to forget to look at Jesus. Sometimes we get so busy, whether with our work or the care of our family or even our prayer (all good things!), that we forget to take time to just fix our gaze on Jesus, even if for a moment.

Imagine passing a family member in the hallway of your home and failing to give them even a passing glance. Wouldn’t that be strange? But isn’t that what we do to the images of Jesus in our home? We get used to that picture of Jesus hanging in that special spot on the wall or the crucifix suspended in that particular corner of the room, and we frequently pass it by without a look. When we look at something or someone, it causes us to think about that thing or person. Of course, Jesus is not present in those holy objects like He is in the Monstrance or the Tabernacle, but aren’t those items in our homes to remind us of Him, to remind us to look at Him, to think of Him?

I think Jesus longs for us to take brief (and not-so-brief, more contemplative) moments of our day to stop and gaze on Him, whether that be in His True Presence in the Eucharist, or in pictures and statues and crosses in our homes, or in an image we hold of Him when we close our eyes. And I don’t think He longs for this for purely His own loving sake. When “I look at Him and He looks at me,” I am changed, instantly. “His gaze purifies [my] heart” and I am reminded, for one special, lasting moment, that I am deeply, indescribably loved.

Originally posted at IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

What God Did When I Thought My Crosses Were Too Small

This Lent, I resumed my favorite Lenten prayer tradition, praying for a different person, couple, or family each of the 40 days, offering all of my prayers, petitions, frustrations, joys, and sufferings that day for their intentions.

It was a particularly amazing experience for me this year. Before the Lenten season, I had become unusually fixated on the fact that the crosses in my life seemed to be so small lately compared to the challenges so many of my acquaintances, friends, and family were facing—dreaded illnesses, marital problems, struggles with fertility, death of loved ones, and so on. Yet here I was, cozy, at peace, and joyful with my beautiful little family and happy life. I started to worry that it was just a matter of time before everything in my own life spiraled out of my control, before it was my turn to experience deep suffering. I thought my crosses were just too small, and that God, in order to make me a saint, was going to have to up the ante, really make me learn what carrying a heavy burden was like. Though I knew that this is not how God works, I let my irrational fears plague my mood for days and weeks.

Then God did something. Over 40 days, He showed me that I was looking at the situation all wrong. I was looking at crosses in terms of “mine” and “theirs,” when I should have been looking at them as “ours.” The petitions that poured in from friends and relatives over six weeks stirred in my heart and dominated my thoughts and prayers each day, bringing me to a better understanding of how crosses are meant to be carried—together.

How easy it is for me to get caught up in my own little world sometimes, focusing on my crosses, however big or small I think they are, and not realizing that my neighbor’s cross is my cross and that I am meant to help in carrying it. Over 40 spiritually challenging and fruitful days, I was able to make small sacrifices daily for others and their needs. Many days, the Holy Spirit would coordinate the timing so perfectly, and the person I was devoting my prayers to that day would even tell me how that moment or day or week was when they were needing prayers the most. As the hours passed by each day, I would constantly reflect and petition God for that person or family, and the craziest part was that, at moments, I could actually tangibly feel the weight of their cross. In those same moments, I felt immeasurably blessed by them for giving me the opportunity to help them carry it.

Now that Lent has ended, I realize that this prayer practice cannot. It has changed me. It has made me more acutely aware of my connection to others as part of the Body of Christ. God calls us to be there for one another, but so often we are not. We may fail to pray for others when we say we will, or we are so focused on our own prayer intentions that we act as if we don’t have time for anyone else’s. But when that happens, we miss out on this great treasure of sharing the weight of our burdens and lightening each other’s loads.

Here’s how you can participate in your own cross-sharing mission:

  • When a person you know pops into your head for whatever reason, reach out to them, and ask them how you can pray for them that day.
  • If you have a friend or relative asking you for prayers for some intention, think of how you can relieve some of their burden, not only through your prayers, but also through an act of service—gifting them with a meal, an inspirational book, a cup of coffee and a listening ear, a hug, a thoughtful card.
  • Challenge yourself to offer not only your vocal prayers, but also your daily sufferings, frustrations, accomplishments, and joys for another. For example, when you start to get annoyed as you are stuck in traffic, offer your frustration for your special prayer recipient. The graces of that annoyance offered up will bless them in ways you may never see. No negative or positive feeling or experience, when offered for another, is ever wasted. God is meticulous in applying the fruits of our prayer to those in need.

From now on, I plan on being more conscious of helping others carry their crosses, not just through prayer (though that will be primary), but also through acts of service— physically, charitably helping others in small ways that make a big difference.  When I thought my crosses were too small, God did this—shaking up my spiritual life and giving me bigger crosses to help carry—and for this, I am inexplicably grateful.

 

Where’s the Green Tree?

A five-year-old girl sits at her desk looking eagerly at her teacher, waiting in ardent anticipation of her next coloring project. The little girl’s eyes widen joyfully as her teacher approaches, holding a colored marker in her hand.

“This green marker is for you,” the teacher tells the little girl. “Use it to draw me a tree.”

As the teacher walks away, the little girl looks at her blank white paper with unbridled excitement. She pulls the cap off the marker with her tiny fingers and then stops abruptly. She looks over at the edge of her desk and something spectacular catches her eye: a purple marker.

The little girl puts the green marker down, grabs this new, captivating purple marker and begins to draw a dainty flower on her blank page. “This looks beautiful!” the little girl thinks to herself. “My teacher will be so happy with me.”

Ten minutes later the teacher strolls back over to the little girl’s desk. She looks over the little girl’s shoulder to see a dazzling landscape on the colorfully transformed sheet of paper—replete with pink and orange butterflies, a star-studded blue sky, and a spectacular little purple flower.

The little girl turns around in her chair in the direction of her teacher, looking up with hopeful expectation of her teacher’s admiration and praise.

After what feels like an eternity of silence to the anxious little girl, the teacher finally speaks.

“Where’s the green tree?”

God has some very specific gifts He gave you. Why? Because only you can use your gift perfectly. And when God gives one of His children a special gift, He intends that His child puts it to good use.

Chances are, you can think of an item in your home that is sitting on a shelf, wasting away its usefulness because you completely fail to acknowledge its existence. But the last thing we want to be doing is subjecting our God-given gifts and talents to this same fate. In that case, we must take time to discover what gifts God has given us, and how He wants us to be using them, so that they do not get old, dusty, and helplessly ignored.

Well, what is the best way to find out what our gifts are and to know how to use them?

  • Pray. First and always turn to prayer. Ask God what He wants you to do to serve Him. I’ve sometimes found myself justifying my lack of consultation with the Father’s will by saying that God can be too ambiguous at times. However, if I am to be truly honest with myself, I can’t help but acknowledge that God is anything but vague and wishy-washy. In fact, sometimes He can be shockingly specific! God answers prayers, especially when a sincere heart is in search of Him so that His Holy Will may be done. (You remember Matthew 7:7, right? “’Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.”)
  • Consult others. God is fabulous at dropping little hints for us, which He usually does through a spouse, family member, friend, coworker, acquaintance, or sometimes even a stranger. I remember in the tenth grade, after a class period of group presentations on parables in the New Testament, my theology teacher asked me to stay after class for a moment. She asked me, “Katie, you are going to be a theology teacher someday, right?” I had absolutely loved learning and speaking about my faith before that day, but I had never—ever—thought about making it my life. Good thing she said something! God is always speaking to us through other people; it’s one of His favorite ways to communicate to us. Make sure you are open to listening to Him through others.
  • Study. Learn about how to decipher the will of God. Read books about how God communicates His will. Consider taking a spiritual gifts inventory, so you know what gifts God has given especially to you: teaching, evangelization, music, hospitality, intercessory prayer…?

Remember, you must take time to discover your gifts. Since many of us don’t take this to prayer, we end up stockpiling ourselves with an overabundance of ministerial activities and, as a result, give everything a half-hearted effort, instead of putting all of ourselves into the one thing God wants us most to do! We can all get caught up in all sorts of absolutely good activities, but if God wants us to do something entirely different to serve Him, we aren’t going to be truly happy (and God will never be fully satisfied) until we do just that. We can’t let ourselves get distracted by those purple markers—not if it keeps us from drawing His green tree!

God gives us all the tools we need to create His masterpieces. But he gives us all different colored markers. He gave you a green marker to draw Him a tree, but what you don’t see is that He gave me a purple marker to draw Him a flower, because only He knows how marvelous you are at drawing trees and how beautifully I can color purple flowers.

When God hands us our markers, we often foolishly try to draw Him a whole picture. That’s because we don’t realize that God is piecing together a mural on the back wall of the classroom—made of a collage of all of our paintings: your tree, my flower, another woman’s butterflies, another man’s sky.

God wants your piece of the bigger picture. His painting is incomplete without it.

Where’s your green tree?