A Thousand Deaths

A Thousand Deaths

When Jesus was confronted with untrue accusations, do you remember what He did? As the Sanhedrin gathered false testimony, as Pilate presented questions given by the chief priests, as Jesus struggled beneath the weight of the cross and the jeers of the people, as Jesus was maligned while on the cross, do you remember what He chose?


How hard it is to not rush to our own defense! When situations are misrepresented, when intentions are skewed, when honest questions are left unanswered, it is a tremendous act of the will to not attempt to set all things right. Sometimes, it is necessary to provide clarity and correctness and other times it is completely unnecessary. And sometimes it is necessary to try to show the misunderstandings, but to ultimately fail in convincing them of their skewed view.

We always feel the pains of injustice acutely when it offends our own sense of justice. I look at the lives of the saints and martyrs and I tend to think about how glorious and courageous were their deaths. Yet each of those martyrdoms was preceded by many, many small bloodless deaths. St. Paul didn’t only suffer beheading in Rome. Before that, he was imprisoned, he experienced riot after riot when preaching the Gospel, he was looked upon with distrust by the Jews and the Christians after his striking conversion, and he spent much time in chains for the sake of the Gospel. His final suffering, the death of a martyr, was simply the last death he experienced in a long line of dying to self.

Most of our stories won’t be quite that dramatic. We probably won’t sit unjustly condemned in terrible prisons awaiting our cruel deaths. We will, however, suffer in other ways. And it will be in ways that will be easy to want to reject or feel the need to correct. As Jesus heard false testimony, I am certain He had at least part of a desire to simply say, “I didn’t say that. That isn’t right. You weren’t there. You are intentionally misrepresenting me.” Instead, He suffered in silence with the Lord. He knew that the truth would be revealed and He rested with the Lord in the midst of being misunderstood. He invites us to do the same, in the small and the large sufferings of our daily life.

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Break Our Hearts of Stone

Break Our Hearts of Stone

It seems keeping the heart one of flesh, instead of being one of stone, is the continual work of a lifetime. Softening, rather than hardening, requires a strength and intentionality that doesn’t come naturally to me. In the wake of my defensiveness and desire for self-preservation, I repeatedly need to engage in the work of letting my heart be real. The simple act of believing in the goodness of others (and living in that truth) is one that requires me to be soft-hearted over and over again.

As I’ve gone into the prison, I have grown in seeing the goodness in people who have made many mistakes. Many of the men I interact with are easy to find goodness in because they are seeking the Lord, too. Their zeal for the Lord or their desire to love Him or find Him invites me to see how God is moving in their hearts. Others are a little more difficult since they make me feel uncomfortable or continually lie to me. But as a whole, I am able to look at men who have raped, murdered, and committed all sorts of crimes and proclaim their inherent goodness.

For whatever reason, we often look up what crimes the men are in for and how long of a sentence they received. At times, it helps to understand their position: are they in for life or a few years or simply back after breaking parole? We decided to look up one man I’ve talked with several times and see his crime. It was surprising because the kindness and gentleness I’ve experienced from him ran contrary to the crime he was sentenced to serve. Yet, despite the surprise, it didn’t really change how I felt toward him. The goodness and kindness I’ve experienced are real and he is far more than the crimes of his past.

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His Human Heart

Jesus loves us with a human heart.

Human hearts are unruly things.  They don’t fit neatly into boxes.  They don’t follow the head as often as we may wish.  They can experience the entire gamut of emotions…in an hour.  They get conflicted, torn, bruised, inflamed, and expanded.

Human hearts can be fickle, quickly following the ebb and flow of the emotions one is surrounded by.  Yet they can be enduring in their sentiments, sometimes for far longer than we would wish them to be.

The hearts nestled within us are the great gifts that may appear to cause us the greatest of trials.  They feel heavy when we suffer or suffer with/for someone else.  At times, we may get frustrated with our responses, the spasm in our heart when nobody else seems to be impacted.

Jesus has one of these.  A human heart pumped Precious Blood through His veins and with that heart He loved.  He experienced anger when the temple was misused.  Jesus felt sorrow when He wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  He was compassionate and merciful to the sinful and the ill as they approached Him.

“He has loved us all with a human heart.  For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol for that…love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings’ without exception.”   (CCC 478)

The Incarnation is the central point of Christianity.  We believe in a God who desired so much to encounter us, that He became one of us.  He didn’t send a mere messenger, He sent His Beloved Son, He came Himself.

We romanticize the earthly life of Jesus.  Of course life would be easy if we were God, we think.  And then we say that God couldn’t actually understand our pain or suffering, because He never experienced something like this.

He experienced it all.

No, maybe your particular situation is not one that Jesus found Himself in.  Yet on the cross He experienced the suffering of all humanity, in all its forms and intensity.  The “But You’re God” excuse only lasts for so long.  Yes, you have grasped His divinity.  Congratulations.  Now grasp His humanity.  It wasn’t a mask or a mere appearance, it is a reality.

His human heart beats.
I love you.

It aches for humanity.
Yes, I suffer also.

It remains present to us so that we might embrace Him in a deeper way.
“The Body of Christ.”

Your weary little heart needs to know that Christ has a heart like yours.

His heart is tender, vulnerable, open to love all.

This heart desires to dwell within you.

"After this He asked me for my heart, which I begged Him to take. He did so and placed it in His own Adorable Heart where He showed it to me as a little atom which was being consumed in this great furnace, and withdrawing it thence as a burning flame in the form of a heart, He restored it to the place whence He had taken it..."  -St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Sacred Heart of Jesus, sanctify my heart.

Sacred Transplant

“I’m looking for my heart because I feel like I’ve lost it.”  I was surprised by the honesty from the young Canadian friend I made on the Camino.  It made one ache just to hear of the quest and immediately hope for the success of the mission.

Interestingly enough, my Camino quest was different.  Instead of finding my heart, I wanted to give it away.  Not to just anyone.  I was seeking clarity and hope in regards to my vocation, but early on, I knew that I wanted to give my heart more fully to Jesus as I walked the next five hundred miles with Him.

The days on the Camino were simple, idealized in my memory now that blisters have healed.  As an introvert, I relished the time spent walking alone, gazing at the beauty of nature and contemplating Beauty Himself.

In Leon, we went to Mass in the side chapel of the massive Cathedral.  Refreshingly enough, we weren’t ousted from the chapel right at the end of Mass, permitting us some time to pray.  Often throughout my walk I would picture myself with Jesus.  In the chapel, I did the same thing.  My intended meditation was hijacked by the Holy Spirit and instead of meditating on Mary, I was taken to an operating table.  Jesus took my heart and gave me His Heart.  It was simple but profound.  Then He picked me up and carried me.

Oh, I’m His cross,” I thought at first.  But in the next thought/prayer, one that completely alters the initial perception, I contemplated, “No, I’m His Bride.

Not a burden or a sacrifice, but a joy, a Beloved one.  In that prayer in Leon, I experienced the reality of Christ’s desires.  Longing to give my heart away, Christ is longing to receive my heart and give me His own heart.  In a method of Divine Sacred Heart Transplant, He impressed upon me the knowledge that His home is in me and that my ache to give my heart away was matched by my less articulated ache to receive Him fully.

Heart of Jesus, Sanctify my Heart

Can you imagine how large the heart of Jesus must be?  How patient, how loving, how gracious, how kind, how relentlessly unfathomable His mercy?

I wish I had a heart like that.  A heart that could encompass the entire world.  A heart that was large enough to love all I encounter, sincerely, truly, seeking the best in them regardless of how they respond to me.

My heart, tiny, puny, cold thing that it is, is impossibly small.  It is not enough to envelope my students.  It is not enough to embrace my family.  It isn’t even enough to surround myself.

They frustrate me.  I can be lead to feel defeated, disheartened, angry, annoyed, sarcastic, listless, bored, and on the verge of tears.  My life is not based on teenagers, but I don’t think they quite realize how much of my life centers on them.  For hours I am with them.  My offerings are typically rejected because students (surprise!) don’t like homework and seem particularly prone to dislike even more “religion” homework.  Because it is supposed to be easy.  And Jesus is always the answer.

Part of me wants to lecture them for an entire class period–about how I don’t like grading their papers but I do it because it is asked of me.  I don’t like their attitudes but I try to be forgiving without being a push-over.  And I try to remain calm when they so flippantly assume that teachers desire them to fail and want to push them to the limits of sanity.

Why would I want that?  I’m on the limits of sanity myself, how would an entire class of teenagers bordering on madness help me?  One day last year, when the comments were more than I could bear, I asked them to think logically about what they assumed.  Unless a teacher really derives pleasure from their pain, what benefit would we gain by making our students hate school?  We are the ones that have to be with them all day, anyway.  Why would we want to make them miserable and then try to teach them?  The answer that they didn’t give me?  The students feel better when they assume it is simply out of spite that we give them homework.  That we challenge them, not because we desire their growth, but because we desire their tears.  It’s an obnoxious assumption that I am certain I entertained as a high schooler.  Now, on the other side of the desk, I see the ridiculousness of it all.

And this, readers, is why I need His heart.  Mine is clearly too small.  It gets annoyed at many things and subconsciously chooses favorites.  It makes hasty judgments, harbors unforgiveness, settles for mediocrity, and all sorts of other vices.

They deserve so much more.  They deserve a wide-open heart, one that has room for and welcomes all.  They need a heart that is tender yet firm, tangible yet limitless, patient yet demanding, relational yet depths beyond imagining.  They need Jesus.  So until they understand where He is and that He is, I must be a witness of that heart of His.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, sanctify us.

“He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, “is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings” without exception.”  –CCC 478

The Providential God

The only thing certain about life is that it is uncertain. 

That isn’t deep or profound.  But it is true.  Yesterday I found out that a young woman I went to college with lost her husband of 5 months.  It made my heart ache even though we never talked much.  I was surprised the effect it had on me.  That evening and this morning I found myself thinking a lot about her and how hard it must be. 

Yet it made me worry for myself.  Too often I trick myself into thinking that my complete happiness will come when I am engaged, or finally married, or starting a family.  Everything is transient, though, and it can all be taken away in a moment.  My heart began to feel restricted and desired to be closed off.  I began to desire that I would never be in a situation where so much could be lost.  So quickly I was being tricked into thinking that to be closed off was a better option than suffering at the hands of love or for the sake of love.

I imagined what she was feeling and I knew I never wanted to feel that.  I didn’t ask the age-old question, “God, why do bad things happen to good people?  Why did this tragedy happen?”  I didn’t ask that question because I didn’t wonder it.  The question I asked instead was “What can I cling to, Lord?  How could I endure losing that which I hold closest to my heart?”  In honesty, I was thinking that having God alone wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted more than the assurance that God would always be with me.  Instead I wanted promises that specific people would always be in my life, that certain things would never happen to me, and that parts of my heart would be left unbroken. 

I know that God alone is enough.  That He provides the graces for every heartache.  Yet in all honesty, I do not live as though He is enough.  I do not cling to Him now as though He is all that is certain.  I cling to other superficial things or to things, good as they are, that cannot fulfill me.

My mind knows the correct answer.  God will provide.  In fact, God is providing.  It is not some future promise but rather a lived reality.  The paradox of love is that one must love with one’s heart vulnerable and revealed or it is not actually love.  Yet to love means one will suffer and feel sorrow.  I have a natural tendency to want to protect my heart, to guard it from all that could injure it.  This can be good but it can also close it off from a deep, penetrating love.  The battle within is between self-preservation and self-gift.

This little heart has a lot of expanding to do.  She needs to begin to live as though everything rests in the hands of God and that He will truly provide for every need.  To be so grounded in the Lord that should all else be lost, she could rest assured that not everything was truly lost.  Sacred Heart of Jesus, sanctify our hearts.

P.S. My household sister who lost her husband has a fund set up for her and their unborn baby.  If you feel your heart moved in that direction, please give a gift of money.  Regardless, please pray for them.


Sensibly Sensitive?

Some words can be used in either a positive or a negative way, depending on the particular situation.  One such word, I believe, is “sensitive.”

“Well, he is such a sensitive guy.  He brought me soup when I didn’t feel well….”

“You are always so sensitive.  I say one little thing and you start crying.”

Yes, I know the context varies greatly but sensitive can be seen both as a desirable characteristic or something that one should try to curb or diminish in oneself.

I have become very sensitive to Halloween and to evil.  That is not to say that I am perfect, that I never do anything bad, or that I have a sixth sense that allows me to sense evil people.  I think, rather, that my sensitive seems to be highlighted simply because so many have become desensitized to evil. 

Just because I dislike something or have a sensitivity to it doesn’t immediately mean that it would be impermissible for anybody else to enjoy it or for it to not be a vice.  However, the culture’s love affair with evil and violence is sickening.  We are conditioning ourselves to not react to things that we should react to.

My hometown has seemed to really dive into celebrating Halloween over the last few years.  When I was younger I was used to seeing the sheets transformed into ghosts, the jack-o-lantern bags filled with leaves, and the fake cobwebs stretched across the decks of different houses in town.  I will admit I could fall into the category of being overly sensitive but the town has seemed to change for the worse. 

Last year, several houses had dramatic scenes staged on their front lawns.  One house we would drive past on the way to Mass and the scene was horrific, even if it was very obvious that it was fake.  The sheet covered mannequins had blood stains and were positioned in different ways.  The most memorable pose to me was of an elderly lady, complete with walker, with a man coming up behind her armed with a chainsaw.  I saw it for weeks and it disgusted me.  One Sunday on the way home with just my mom, I saw it and I just started to sob.  People thought it was fine, humorous even, to stage vicious murders in their front yards.  It literally hurt my heart and I felt sick. 

This year I have battled within myself the desire to look and see their annual bloodbath and yet not wanting to feel sick again.  The glimpses I’ve had revealed someone wielding a sword and one quick glance left me convinced that someone was being tortured on an operating table…but then I was never certain and I was too divided to actually study the scene when we drove by.

I just don’t understand the enticement to evil.  Why is it permissible to glorify the most sadistic acts simply because it is Halloween?  I don’t believe that seeing a lawn display of fake murder will make the children of the town desire to go kill people.  However, I firmly believe that seeing this, repeatedly, and with the view that this is all in good fun, does something to our hearts.  My heart is already stony enough without needing to view funny mock crimes that I don’t at present find particularly funny. 

That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was not the result of squeamishness or an overactive imagination.  I think it had some connection with just receiving Our Lord in Mass.  Perhaps it was His Heart aching within mine.  Think of the incongruities of this picture: Our Lord, having suffering and died for us, gazing at us with infinite love as we laugh at things that completely strip the human person of their dignity.  It doesn’t praise the goodness of humanity or the goodness of God.  It instills fear and not love.  It brings sickness, not health.

So am I sensitive?  Yes and no.  Sometimes I run over other people and disregard their feelings in the most insensitive ways.  Other times I begin to cry at the drop of a hat.  A sensitivity to evil, though, seems like a good thing.  This is not to mean fearfulness or anxiousness.  Yet a perception to what is not of the Lord can certainly work to draw you nearer to what is of the Lord. 

Who had the most sensitive heart in the world?  Our Lord.  May this stony heart became a new heart, a heart of flesh.  And may St. Michael the Archangel defend us in this battle that rages on earth and help bring us to the glorious victory found in Heaven.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.