Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

Sea of Galilee at Sunrise

Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

God’s Forgiveness & Our Mercy

This week on Wednesday evening all churches in the Cleveland Diocese will be open for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a Lenten tradition. No matter how sinful, a person can experience the mercy of God. During Holy Week we will ponder the climax of God’s mercy: washing everyone clean by the blood of his Son.

Years ago, wearing my black habit, I sat on a window ledge in Chicago, waiting for a bus when an elderly gentleman sat beside me. He introduced himself as Herbert and told me he was a former gangster who had been at the Valentine’s Day massacre. “But as a kid, I went to Catholic school,” he said. When the bus arrived, and I was about to deposit my fare, Herbert pushed my hand away and said, “I’m paying for you.” He sat beside me on the bus and asked if I had eaten. I said I had, even though my meal was a faint memory. At Herbert’s stop, as he walked down the aisle, he turned back and said, “Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison”!  (Greek for “Lord, have mercy.”)

Herbert was proving that he did go to Catholic school. I’d like to think that this was his heartfelt prayer, considering his past life. If so, he was like the crooked tax collector in the parable, who could only pray in all humility, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This man trusted in God’s mercy. And Jesus assures us that he would be made right in God’s eyes and exalted, not the self-righteous Pharisee.

Looking back over our lives, we see things we are ashamed of: bad choices, mistakes, and yes, sins. We wish we could delete them from our life story. But there they are—permanent. God knows our weakness. He knows our sins and loves us anyway. God’s mercy is greater than our sins, it is infinite. Theologians say that mercy is God’s most stupendous quality—not his omnipotence, omniscience, or other perfections.

Jesus is the incarnation of mercy. You might say his middle name is mercy. Consider people Jesus forgave: The man by the pool who was sick for 38 years, the paralytic brought on a stretcher, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the good thief, the apostles who deserted him. Jesus told parables about God’s mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

The Hebrew word for mercy, is rahamim. It comes from rehem, which means a mother’s womb. God’s mercy then has a maternal warmth about it. It is unconditional, intimate, and flows from a nurturing love, symbolized by a mother’s womb.  We are safe with God. He regards us the way a mother regards her infant. With tenderness. A mother can always make excuses for her child.

Our Call to Forgive

We are to let mercy flow onto others. We are to be the face of God’s compassionate love. Jesus repeated this lesson relentlessly.

• “Be merciful as your heavenly Father.”

• “Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

• “Pray… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

• Forgive 7 x 70 (unlimited times).   

• He gave the radical instruction: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.”

• Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

When we are harmed, our first instinct, our gut reaction, is to retaliate.  Eye for an eye.  Watching movies, we want the bad guys punished. Christians however look at things differently. They forgive from the heart. They let it go and do not punish.

The world was amazed when Pope John Paul forgave his would-be assassin. In an Amish community in PA a man shot 10 girls, killing 5. Then himself. The Amish visited his widow, went to his funeral, and raised money for his family. Someone commented “Because they hold no grudges, they can concentrate on their own healing.”

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.”      We need super grace to forgive. Especially to forgive those who don’t ask for forgiveness.

The Works of Mercy

Last week there was an uproar in Geauga Country. A man had successfully opened a rescue home for men. He and my community hoped to open one for women on our property. At an open meeting, some people opposed the home so loudly and rudely that sadly the proposal was withdrawn. I can imagine Jesus shaking his head in disappointment.  

Jesus spelled out how to be merciful to the needy in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The corporal ones come from the parable about the judgment at the end of the world. The king will say to the sheep on his right:  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then to the goats who did not do these things he says, “Depart from me into the eternal fire.”

Here are people who showed mercy:

•  McDonald’s employee helps elderly disabled man with his food.

•  Heart surgeon calms weeping 2-year-old girl before heart operation.

•  Entire neighborhood secretly learns sign language to surprise deaf neighbor.

•  Turkish bride and groom spend their wedding day feeding 4,000 refugees.

•  Mom adopts all four of her best friend’s daughters after she died of brain cancer.

•  The young guy was struggling with his tie when the older gentleman without hesitation gave him a step-by-step tutorial.

•  Man has heart attack while moving lawn; firefighters finish mowing lawn after saving him.

A Brief Prayer for Mercy

An old prayer you might adopt as a Lenten practice is the “Jesus Prayer”:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  

This prayer is a mantra, which means we pray it over and over. A mantra is a simple way to pray. Some people like to pray the first half of the Jesus Prayer as they inhale and then the second half as they exhale.

An unusual song about God’s mercy:

•  When has someone forgiven you?  How did it feel?

•  What act(s) of mercy can you perform during Lent?

A Rest Test for the Stressed

Some (or most) days do you feel trapped in a hamster wheel? Your to-do list is a mile long. Taking a break, a rest, or, horrors, a nap seem out of the question. You are depressed, anxious, and feel an ulcer coming on. You don’t remember when you last laughed, had a good time with friends, or dabbled in your hobby. Beware! Rest is as essential as food and exercise. It keeps you energized, productive, creative, healthy, and happy. Henry David Thoreau said, “The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.”

Genesis reports that even God rested for a day after the work of creation, and all he did was say, “Let it be.”

Jesus: A Balanced Life

            Jesus had a full schedule during the brief three years he had to save the world. He had to teach throngs of people including his sometimes slow-witted apostles. He was expected to help the hundreds of hurting people who clamored for healing. He cast out evil spirits. He preached in synagogues. He traversed Israel from town to town. You would think that a sense of urgency would make him forego rest. But not so.

            In Mark’s Gospel Jesus carries out a jam-packed ministry. Still “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Later when because of the crowds, he and the apostles had no leisure even to eat, he invited, “Come away … and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). In a boat with the apostles, he lets himself fall asleep!

            Jesus invites you too:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11: 28).

A Parable

Two woodsmen were engaged in a contest to see who could chop the most wood. Periodically one man would walk away for fifteen minutes. “Aha,” thought the other, “I’m sure to win.” But at the end of the contest, he was shocked to find that the disappearing competitor had chopped far more wood than he. Puzzled, he asked, “How could this be?” The other man replied, “Every time I walked away, I sharpened my ax.”

Resting is a way to “sharpen” yourself. Once rejuvenated, you can accomplish far more and be in better spirits. You probably don’t really need to accomplish all that you think. At the end of your life, your achievements, your awards, your gold watch, won’t mean as much as who you’ve become as a person. You may ask, But what about my work? Don’t worry. God will take care. My friend says that some days she thinks God stretches time for her, so she manages her tasks well.

So rest from time to time. Don’t feel guilty. You are probably innocent of the sin of sloth! A wit remarked, “Those who don’t come apart for a while might come apart”! Recreation (re-creation) times make for a richer life.

A Test

Your answers to these questions will reveal if you are taking good care of yourself and enjoying the precious life God gave you.

• When is the last time you took a vacation?

• How often do you spend quiet, alone time with God?

• Do you suffer from insomnia because of thinking about all you must do?

• What do you do for fun? When was the last time you did it?

• Do you take afternoon naps?

• Is your first thought on waking “Yay, another day!” or do you recall jobs you must do?

• How is your blood pressure?

• Are you depressed?

• Do you pride yourself on being a workaholic?

• Have you been cranky and snapping at people?

• Do you bite your fingernails?

• Do you have digestive problems?

• What do you do on Sundays, our “day of rest”?

• Have you made a retreat or a day of recollection recently?

Lent and Rest

Lent is a time of transformation. This year you can aim to be a better, truer version of yourself by treating yourself to enough rest. Farmers let fields lie fallow for a year because they know that letting the soil rest will yield better crops the next year. Tend the soil of your soul. Read a novel, go on a hike through the woods, listen to music, paint a picture, crochet. Take a break from social media.

This week’s Time magazine carried an article titled, “Rest Actually Takes Hard Work.” It concludes, “In today’s always-on world, few things are harder to do than rest. But few things are more worthwhile.”

•  What is the best way you’ve found to rest?

• What is your hobby? Your favorite pastime?

Here is a peaceful, calming hymn for you:

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Today in honor of Valentine’s Day I’ve assembled a collection of quotations about God’s love for us. These are from my book A Love Affair with God, Twelve Traits. This February 14 is also Ash Wednesday. We are on the threshold of Lent, a season when we prepare ourselves to commemorate God’s stupendous act of love on Calvary and in the garden tomb.

May you take time to ponder and relish the following reflections on God’s love and the love we reciprocate:

Advice from the outstanding Catholic author and philosopher G.K. Chesterton:

Let your religion be less of a theory

and more of a love affair.

Observation of the beloved former superior general of the Jesuits Pedro Arrupe:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,

   i.e., falling in love in a quite absolute final way.

What you are in love with,

   what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed

   in the morning;

   what you will do with your evenings;

   how you will spend your weekends;

   what you will read; who you will know;

   what breaks your heart

       and amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love. Stay in love,

   and it will decide everything.

St. Augustine of Hippo is the source of the saying, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” He bemoaned in his book Confessions, “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient and ever new.” Through the unfailing prayers of his mother St. Monica, after a sinful life, he finally acknowledged:

To fall in love with God is the greatest romance;

to seek him, the greatest adventure;

to find him, the greatest human achievement.

St. Catherine of Siena, wise Doctor of the Church and my baptismal patron saint, prayed:

O unutterable love, even though you saw all the evils your creatures would commit against your infinite goodness, . . . you set your eye only on the beauty of your creature, with whom you had fallen in love like one drunk and crazy with love.

Seventeenth-century mystic and German priest Angelus Silesius said,

There is nothing here more beautiful than I am,

because God, beauty itself, has fallen in love with me.

My own words about God’s love from my book:

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Love is nourished both by the presence of the Beloved . . . and by the proofs of love that he gives us.” God continually orchestrates “lovebursts” for you, surprises that take your breath away and prove that he loves you. Your divine Lover has a habit of romancing you through surprises and melting your heart.

You need a piece of information, and a book falls open to the exact page that bears it. You lack money to cover a certain expense, and the identical amount unexpectedly comes to you. A stranger you encounter at an airport gives you good advice. A valuable item you lost shows up in the oddest place. Walking through a forest, you “chance” upon two fawns resting in the grass. You glance out the window just in time to see a shooting star. To your delight, a special plant that you assumed was dead displays green shoots. God “winks” at you more often than you know. You might record such magical moments in your journal before they fade from your memory.

God’s Love Words in the Bible

Scripture has been called a love letter from God. Here are a few reasons why that is true:

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

    yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)                                                                  

I have taken you by the hand and kept you. (Isaiah 42:6)

I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you. (Isaiah 43:4)

I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.                                                                 (Isaiah 54:10)

We Attest to God’s Love

Your steadfast love, O LORD,

   extends to the heavens. (Psalm 36:5)

You, O God, are my fortress,

the God who shows me steadfast love. (Psalm 59:17)

Your steadfast love is better than life. (Psalm 63:3)

When I thought, “My foot is slipping,”

    your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. (Psalm 94:18)

The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love. (Psalm 119:64)

Sharing Love in Lent

St. Teresa of Kolkata said,

“When you know how much God is in love with you,

then you can only live your life radiating that love.”

Lent is the perfect time to let love flow out from us to other people, especially the homeless, the hungry, the marginalized, the sick, and the depressed. Love shown to them is love shown to Jesus. He said so.

May you have a fruitful Lent and grow two ways: realizing God’s tremendous love for you and spreading love to those around you and those you can’t see.

  • When do you become most aware of God’s love for you?
  • When has God’s love been channeled to you through another person?

This hymn celebrates God’s love:


Me? Perfect? Growing in Virtue

An indicator

When I entered the convent, we received a chain of beads called an indicator to pin to our side. During the day we moved a bead up every time we did a good deed. This device was to motivate us to make progress in the spiritual life, to become virtuous women.

            Holiness is not reserved for canonized saints. God intends all of us ordinary folk to be holy, that is, virtuous, and so make it through heaven’s gates. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Face it. We will never be “perfect.” Our fallen human nature guarantees that. However, being our best selves is a reasonable goal and that means cultivating virtues.

            A virtue is a good habit, which is a strength or power. In his twenties, Benjamin Franklin aimed for moral perfection. He compiled thirteen virtues and decided to focus on them one at a time. This is his list, which I found interesting…

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

I just finished reading the book Saintly Habits by Andrew Whitmore. In it he explains St. Thomas Aquinas’s strategies for acquiring virtues. Here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Fake it till you make it. Repeat good acts with intensity.
  2. Overshoot the target. Aim beyond what you feel is virtuous.
  3. Break the habit. Withdraw bit by bit from a vice.
  4. Know thyself. Virtues grow together. Build your strong virtues and your weak ones will develop.
  5. Find a friend you will be accountable to and who will point out how to improve.
  6. Let go and let God. Pray for virtue and make use of the grace sacraments offer.
  7. Imitate a virtuous person, someone you know or a saint.

Of course, the more Christlike we are, the more virtuous we are. One of my favorite prayers is called “Learning Christ”:

Teach me, my Lord, to be kind and gentle in all the events of life; in disappointments, in the thoughtlessness of others, in the insincerity of those I trusted, in the unfaithfulness of those on whom I relied.

Let me put myself aside, to think of the happiness of others, to hide my pains and heartaches, so that I may be the only one to suffer from them.

Teach me to profit by the suffering that comes across my path. Let me so use it that it may mellow me, not harden or embitter me; that it may make me patient, not irritable; that it may make me broad in my forgiveness, not narrow, proud, and overbearing.

May no one be less good for having come within my influence. No one less pure, less true, less kind, less noble for having been a fellow traveler in our journey toward eternal life. Amen.

As I go my rounds from one distraction to another, let me whisper from time to time, a word of love for Thee. May my life be lived in the supernatural, full of power for good, and strong in its purpose of sanctity. Amen.

What do you consider Jesus’s three chief virtues?

Goodness is contagious, as this Jewish story illustrates:

A rabbi in a small Jewish village in Russia vanished every Friday morning for several hours. The villagers boasted that during these hours their rabbi ascended to Heaven to talk with God. A newcomer determined to discover where the rabbi really was. One Friday he hid near the rabbi’s house, watched him rise, pray, and put on the clothes of a peasant. He saw him take an ax and go into the forest, chop down a tree, and gather a large bundle of wood. Next the rabbi proceeded to a shack where an old woman and her sick son lived. He left them the wood, which was enough for the week. The newcomer became a disciple of the rabbi. Whenever he heard a villager say, “On Friday morning our rabbi ascends to Heaven,” the newcomer adds, “If not higher.”

Some people are so caught up in their busy lives that they forget they ought to be busy striving to build their character and become spiritually mature. Some can identify with St. Augustine who prayed, “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.” Some people may be discouraged by their lack of virtue. Wilkie Au, S.J. reminds us, “Our lack of perfection will never separate us from God because the Lord’s forgiveness is always perfect and total.”

Here’s sound advice: “Aim for the stars. You might not reach them, but at least you will land on the barn roof.”

Cultivating virtues— leading a good life—is definitely worth our time and effort. The result is wholeness and joy. I doubt you have an indicator, but each evening you can review the day and pinpoint your good deeds.

According to the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, spring is right around the corner. May you experience a new spring in your spiritual life. Yesterday I found Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on YouTube and was delighted to see captions that told me what the music was expressing. Here is his “Spring” for you to enjoy:

• If you were to focus on one virtue, what would it be?

• Which of St. Thomas’s strategies would you like to incorporate in your life?

• Who among your acquaintances has a virtue you would like to emulate?

The Bible: God’s Personal Words to You

“My words will never pass away,” Jesus said. His Word is contained in Scripture. This sacred book is meant to be a personal letter. It’s not addressed “To Occupant.” It’s not a duplicated letter like you might send at Christmas. No. It is a love letter from God to you, assuring you that he is there loving you, and saving you. It’s been called “a book drenched in love.” A definition of the Bible is “The word of God in the words of human beings.”

People have heard God speaking directly to them in the Bible by opening it to a random page. St. Francis found the three basic rules for his Franciscan community by opening the Bible three times. He called this practice the First Opening. (Others call it the Lucky Dip or Bible roulette!)

• When St. Augustine was an immoral unbeliever, he heard a voice order, “Take and read.” He turned to Romans 13:13-14:  “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, . . . “ This led him to convert and become a saint.

• When Thomas Merton was discerning whether he should be a Trappist (known for not speaking), he opened the Bible to the words, “Be silent, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10).

I’ve had three experiences like this.

• As a postulant, when many Sisters were leaving the community, I wondered if I should go too. In our college chapel I prayed to know what to do. No one was around, so I walked up to the open Bible in the front. My eyes fell on Matthew 19:29 in which Jesus says, “And everyone who has left houses, brother, sisters, father, mother, children of land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over and also inherit eternal life.”

• During a retreat when I was distressed by a crisis with a publisher, I opened my Bible and saw, “When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2).

• Lately, when I was invited to join the choir at our province center, I was torn. There were pros and cons. I asked for a week to think about it. Then as I prayed Morning Prayer, the words weren’t registering. Suddenly I came to and read, “Sing to God, God’s chosen one. Give him the praise that is due.” Problem solved!

There are other ways to listen to God speaking to you in the Bible. Our novice director told us that the Scripture readings on the day of our birthday held a special gift for us from God. That held true for me; maybe it will for you too. The first reading was from Jeremiah: “When I found your words, I devoured them. They became my joy and the happiness of my heart.” Most of my life has been a journey working with God’s Word.

Recently I came across another idea:  In each book of the Bible look for the verse whose citation is your birthday. For example, my birthday is July 29, so in each book I would see what chapter 7, verse 29 says. (I haven’t done this yet.)

Now you may be thinking that these ideas verge on the superstitious. However, when you do them prayerfully and expecting God to speak to you, he may. After all, God can contact you any way he pleases.

Louis Evely inThat Man Is You named the attitudes we should have when approaching Scripture. He refers to the time a woman in a crowd touched the fringe of his clothing:

Hand stretched out for healing

         Now everybody’d touched him, everybody’d hustled him, still nobody’d been cured or transformed. Only one had touched him with faith; a profound sense of well-being coursed through her; she was cured. As for us, we all read the Gospels now and then.  But if we approach them like an ordinary book, they’ll produce no extraordinary effect on us.  We have to read them the way we’d have touched Christ; with the same reverence, the same faith, the same expectancy.

                  St. Gregory the Great said, “Scripture enables us to know the heart of God through the word of God.” In the Bible we discover the tremendous love God has for us. You might enjoy pondering God’s “love notes” to you:

• Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)

• Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you. (Isaiah 54:10)

•I have grasped you by the hand. (Isaiah 42:6)

• I will espouse you to me forever . . . and you shall know the Lord. (Hosea 2:21)

• I have called you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

• You are precious in my eyes and glorious, and I love you. (Isaiah 43:4)

• I have carved you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:16)

• With age-old love I have loved you. (Jeremiah 31:3)

 • Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make a home in him  (John 14:23).

Here is a hymn with a catchy tune that praises God’s Word:

• When have you heard God speaking to your heart in Scripture?

• What are your favorite verses?

• As you heard God’s Word proclaimed in church, did any passage ever make you sit up and take notice?

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Jesus depends on us to spread the Good News of God’s love, offering the world hope and joy. Mary Kathleen, a Sister of Notre Dame from Chardon, Ohio, responds through writing, speaking, giving retreats, and teaching. Her motto, adopted from Eddie Doherty’s gravesite, is “All my words for the Word.”

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