Favorite Things: Jesus Images

The Christian faith, especially in the Catholic Church, offers rich imagery for believers to assist in their worship.  After all, God created us with five physical senses and desires us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Some images, however, fall flat for me, or are too pink-and-blue pretty.  For example, I seriously doubt that Jesus had blond highlights.

Since they say that a picture is worth 1000 words, in this post I’m sharing some of my favorite images to keep me mindful of my Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus…

Sacred Heart of Jesus stained-glass

Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, Texas; photo by MaryLea

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On Redemptive Suffering

Christina Chase

A friend told me fairly recently that she thinks of me when she reads Colossians 1:24.

Yes, I admit, I had to look it up…

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…”.

Ah, yes, I am familiar with this one, as well as its association with redemptive suffering.  But… I can’t say that I understand it.  Because I don’t.  I don’t really get the concept of redemptive suffering… but, I am trying.

My mother is a lifelong Catholic and, so, I do know about “offering it up”.  That is, she has told me to simply offer up my day and all of my pains and sufferings to God, suggesting to do this with a simple prayer first thing in the morning.  Okay.  I didn’t do that when I was younger, but, after my long spiritual journey and upon rediscovering Christ (perhaps, more accurately, upon discovering him for the first time) I wanted to give it a go.  And I have been.  But… I still don’t get it.

What Is Lacking in Christ?

Sometime during this year’s adventure in health, I thought again about this enigmatic phrase from Sacred Scripture, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ,” and a new thought was given to me.  Well, a new angle or perspective…

Cross

Jesus took on the sufferings of humankind with his sacrifice upon the Cross.  He was fully united with us in our pain, suffering with us.  But (and please forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, I do not mean it to be, and if I am speaking incorrectly of Church teaching, please correct me) Jesus was one human, with one human body.  He could not, in his one human lifetime, suffer every suffering that is known to humankind.

There are billions of ways to suffer in this life.  Jesus suffered his particular suffering and, being fully divine as well as fully human, in his particular suffering he took on all of suffering – but… he did not himself physically suffer leprosy, or lifelong disability, or cancer, or, of course, menstrual pains and the pain of childbirth.  We do that as individuals.  However (and this is a big however) when we offer these trials and sufferings of ours up to God, when we seek to suffer them in union with Jesus on the Cross, then Jesus was and is able (the Mystery of the Eternal Now) to suffer them himself up there, once and for all, for the Salvation of the World.

Why Am I “Offering It up”?

Does this make any sense?  Well, not completely, but that’s partly because it’s a Mystery.  There are some things in this life that we can never understand because we are limited.  Jesus asks us to offer our sufferings up to him so that he may unite them with his Sacrifice on the Cross for redemption.  He suffers everything with us and for us when we turn to him in our sorrows and needs and, thus, saves humankind.

So, I have come a tiny bit closer to understanding “offering it up” and the reason that my friend thinks of me when hearing St. Paul’s words.  It is, after all, quite obvious, upon looking at me, that I suffer in my body.  And also rather obvious, upon knowing me, that I rejoice in being alive – if not exactly in my sufferings.  (I’m definitely not a saint yet!)

I don’t know what sufferings await me in the future – of course, no one does – but mine were feeling palpably close and real when I came to this understanding.  When I was thinking about offering it up during my cancer scare, Carrie Underwood’s song would come into my head: “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”  I don’t really know the words of the song or what it is about, but the sentiment of wanting God to take control and take over – because I know that I can’t do it on my own – I get… And I’m hoping that this is part of “offering it up”, too….  Yes.  It is.  For I am not alone.  None of us are.  And it’s good to know that.

Why Redemption through Suffering?

All of this does beg the question, however – “Why redemption through suffering?”  What is so good about pain that it has eternal benefit?  I’m sure there are many theologians that have tackled this question, but I’m just going to answer with this:

Why are lush, green islands dependent upon volcanic eruptions?  Why do the bodies of furry creatures need to decompose upon the forest floor and, thus, feed the forest?  Why rain?  Why childbirth to bring new life?

This is life, this is how this life works.  I don’t know precisely why because I didn’t create it.  But, I do trust the Creator and I am willing (God, help me) to live fully and love deeply this terribly beautiful life that He has given to me.  There are people who are suffering so much worse than I am, so much worse than I ever can.  My heart goes out to them… Can you imagine how much more so with Jesus?  His heart not only goes out to me, it is beating for me, it is being pierced for me.  For you.  I am not alone.  You are not alone.

May I truly offer my sufferings up to Christ for the Glory of God, for the Kingdom and the Salvation of Souls.

So mysterious… So fleeting this life… So lovely….  Please help us, our Lord and God…

© 2017 Christina Chase


Photo credits:

  1. At the Altar, © 2017 Dan Chase
  2. Aaron Burden, free to use through Unsplash.com

Joy of Heaven

When I was going through my cancer scare, a friend of mine asked me to pray for her friend who had just been told that his leukemia was terminal.  And I didn’t know what to pray.  The thought of my own dying was, I think, still to close to the matter.  If I were, indeed, terminal, I thought, for what would I pray?  For what would I want others to pray?

After heading out of church one Sunday with a sudden, bright knowledge that I was healed, I began to understand what was important about last rites and what was needed in all of our prayers for the dying.  It isn’t enough to tidy things up before one dies and then leave everything to God’s mercy.  The part about leaving everything in God’s merciful hands is certainly sufficient, but the beautiful healing in that is not only the rightness of it and the sense of peace that it can bring – but also the joy.

Sky, clouds, Revelation

Joyful Hope

What will it be like to be dead?  Does this question seem dark and morbid to you, raising up fear?  It does a little to me, but, perhaps that is instinctive, since it goes against nature to want to experience being dead.  However, as people of faith, it is not a scary question to ask.  For, we do not believe that death is the end of our lives.  Our bodies will no longer be able to hold onto life, will die and decay back into the earth – but the life that is let go continues.  Our souls, which had animated our bodies, are of spirit and therefore they are immortal and cannot die.  So… what happens after our lungs stop breathing, our hearts stop beating, and our brains stop firing signals?  What will life be like then? Continue reading

The Cancer Question and Being Wary of Hope

August 9th is nearing.  And that’s when I’m supposed to find out whether or not I have cancer.

flowers, forests, rotting log, rhododendron

Decay and Flowers, Such Is Life

Statistically, I probably don’t, since the kind of cancer that we’re talking about is rare.  Of women that have uterine fibroids (leiomyomas) only about 1 in 1000 become cancerous (lieomyosarcoma).  Even so, I am rather a rare individual, already living with a debilitating motor neuron disease that only affects about 1 in 6000.  That and ultrasound imaging that shows rapid growth of the outer fibroids but not the inner one leave me with no feeling of assurance.

On my optimistic days (which far outnumber the pessimistic ones) I have confidence in the mercy of God and the reality of miracles.  Whether it started as cancer or not, I believe that God can cure it.  On those days when I feel like I probably do have cancer, it’s simply an acknowledgment that we all have to die of something… God works in mysterious ways and enables all suffering to work for the good in His Masterpiece, the big picture.

I am too small to see the big picture.  Right now, God knows what is happening inside of my body and what is best for me and the people I love.  I don’t.

Having said all of that, I can see something inside of me, a truth about my particular personality, that is making this waiting period a little more difficult. Continue reading

Unknowing Worship

You have heard scientists extol the wonders of the cosmos, passionate about the laws of physics and discovered workings of bodies and the universe.  You have seen artists, brilliant in color, line, and texture, draw out the beauty of the natural world and the extraordinary in the ordinary.  You have watched dancers, and athletes, too, move in rhythm, strength, and agility with the fine mastery of muscle and nerve in the poetry of motion.

And, perhaps, none of these people ever speak about God.

But… don’t they?

They may be atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists, but their passion, brilliance, athleticism, and artistry are rooted in the Divine.  God is the Divine Maker, Shaper, and Mover… do they not participate in the divine life whenever they discover, express, and leap?

The Gospel, the Good News of God’s personal love and merciful gift, is written in words.  But, it is received, love, and lived in and through the heart.  Sometimes, the heart knows what the mind does not.

cross, night sky, wonder

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Christmas Cycle

One Christmas Eve, after placing a small figure of baby Jesus in its resin manger at our house, my then 4 or 5-year-old nephew asked, “But… is he… alive?”  So much was said in his look of perplexity and disbelief – If Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, then where is he?  Shouldn’t he be growing up by now?  Also… if he was born 2000 years ago… then, maybe he should be dead – right?  Then why do we act like he’s a little newborn baby?  What is this weirdness???

Nativity scene, Christmas, Jesus in manger

Of course, there is something to be said about the Eternal Now, as well as our preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord – but that something is said in other places, I’m sure, with more scholarly expertise.  What I want to reflect upon in this post is the beauty and power of the newness of our celebrations – every single year. Continue reading

A Time to Sing: 5 Month Fetus

When you were this age, you, too, looked a lot like this picture![1] Baby at five months in the womb

With your eyebrows nearly complete on your little face, the hair on your scalp was beginning to grow. All of your skin layers and hair follicles were present, ready to sprout. You also had all of your glands by this age and your skin began to be covered in a creamy white substance, called vernix, to protect its new stage from the amniotic fluid until just before birth. Your mother’s body was beginning to grow and show her pregnancy, midway through, as she felt you move about more often.

After just five months in the womb, you had developed a pattern of movement, heart rate, and breathing activity that followed daily cycles. Called circadian rhythms, these cycles continue to be part of your biological life. Small, hidden, and utterly dependent as you were, you followed the laws of life… a time to wake and a time to sleep, a time to exercise and a time to rest, a time to listen and a time to speak… For, as we know, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens….”[2]

A time to listen and a time to speak?  Yes!

Sound became part of your life experience. Your cochlea, in your inner ear, was fully developed and you were already responding to a variety of noises. You were continually surrounded by the sound of your mother’s heartbeat, as well as her digestive system, and the swishing noises of fluid in the womb. Loud noises beyond the womb startled you. But even gentle, sweet, and melodic sounds coming from the world outside could be detected by you, as little as you were, and change your heart rate and movements. Repeated sounds that you heard in the womb started to become familiar to you – like your mother’s voice, lullabies, and the cadence of a particular story – and continued to sooth you after birth… as they can still comfort you even now.

Also, at this age, amazingly, you began efforts to make your own verbal sounds! Ultrasound imaging shows movement within the voice box of an 18-week-old fetus that are distinctly similar to those required for speaking. Think of it… when you were no bigger than a cantaloupe, your Creator began to draw sound from out of your mouth, there in the watery world of your first forming. “He has put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God”![3]

 © 2016 Christina Chase

originally posted on my parish’s website http://www.CatholicSuncook.org


Sources for the science – see:

The Endowment for Human Development, https://www.ehd.org/dev_article_unit14.php

Web M.D., http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/your-pregnancy-week-by-week-weeks-17-20


[1] http://www.archbalt.org/family-life/respect-life/spiritual-adoption/upload/Bulletin-announ-w-baby-images.pdf

[2] Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)

[3] Psalms 40:3 (NKJV)

What the Assumption Teaches about the Human Person

Do you see this person as beautiful?

popes man riva

Vinicio Riva, disfigured by neurofibromatosis

I have previously written about the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – but, in this reflection, I focus upon what the dogma teaches us about the human body.  And about the beauty of everybody…

The Dogma of the Assumption declares that Mary, the very human mother of Jesus, now lives bodily in Heaven for eternity, by the power and special grace of God.  Yes, she is in Heaven not only spiritually, but also bodily.  For, in order for a human person to be completely fulfilled, the soul needs the body as much as the body needs the soul.

The Holocaust

The Assumption was declared Dogma in 1950, giving an official mandate and explanation to what Christians have believed since the beginning and publicly celebrated in the earliest centuries. We may wonder why it took so long for the universal declaration to be made – but, we know that all things happen in God’s time.

The proclamation came forth just after World War II, a terrible period of history when millions of human beings were systematically murdered, having been stripped and gassed, their dead bodies heaped in piles like cordwood. The graphic images of this massacre and desecration horrified the world – and the Catholic Church took action. With the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Universal Church, founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, gave us a powerful reminder of the dignity and destiny of the human person – body and soul.

Sacred Matter

Our bodies are sacred, not like some kind of prison from which the soul has to escape, and not like some meaningless shell that we can do with as we wish. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit – body and soul as one person – and we believe that our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies at the end of time, through the salvific power of Christ.

Therefore, it is right and just to respect human bodies. God loves what He has created. The human body is created by God and is not to be profaned, mutilated, abused, murdered, or desecrated in any way – for every human being is intimately and infinitely loved by God and destined for perfection, body and soul, in heavenly glory.

To fulfill this destiny, we need only to seek it through Christ, in the mercy and love of His Sacred Heart.

Loving As Christ Loves, Seeing As God Sees

Perhaps, you have seen someone as deformed as Mr. Riva, or perhaps you know someone who is much less deformed – as I am with my severe scoliosis.  Maybe one of your loved ones is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, severe autism, or brain injury.  You may have a friend, coworker, neighbor, or family member who is a grave sinner, someone who seems to you to be far from the ideal of a human person, who may even seem to you to be inferior or cursed in some way.  But, did Christ not love the lepers?  Did he not sit and dine with the sinners?  And did Christ not do these things because he loves human beings, so much so that he was willing to give his life for humankind so that each person could be redeemed to the beautiful eternal destiny that he saw waiting for them?

We know that human beings come in all physical shapes and sizes and in all levels of physical and mental abilities.  Some of us have twisted or missing limbs and some have faces so scarred or disfigured that they are hardly recognizable as human.  Far too often, in our society, we don’t even recognize human beings in the first stages of life as human beings.  But, make no mistake about it, whether small and weak, whether impaired in cognition, babbling and drooling, whether aged and decrepit or delayed or deformed – we are all human.  And if we are truly going to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, then we must remember that everybody, every body, is beautiful in the eyes of God, who sees each of our particular heavenly glories….

What would happen if we saw each other that way? What if we truly remember that each human creature we encounter, whether mentally disabled, physically deformed, or mired in sin, is exquisitely beautiful in the eternal eyes of God? If we could see the heavenly glory that God intends for each one of them – for each one of us – we would be blown away by the intense radiance of that beauty, the eternal destiny of every human being redeemed and resurrected by the power of God’s love.

And then, maybe, we would love one another as God loves us and we would experience something of Heaven on Earth.

Pope Francis kisses disfigured man

© 2016 Christina Chase

 

Favorite Things: Quotes from Saint Therese

It’s a human inclination to want to be famous, wealthy, or influential in some grand way. I want to be a successful author, with big dreams of making bestseller lists and overcoming my severe disability to support myself and my family. It may happen, God only knows.  But, it won’t start there.  The purpose for which God created me begins here and now, in this moment, as tiny and seemingly insignificant as this moment may be.

Our lives are made up of small moments. What we do in those small moments and how we do them determines how we live – how we live here and now, and how we live forever. Joy is in the loving of each moment of each day – not in amassing.

quote Saint Therese little things with love

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said it best. Because she lived it. She had big dreams Continue reading

The Atheistic Questions: Genesis

Saw this classic on a preview for a TV sitcom:

“If God made Adam and Eve and they had Cain and Abel, then where did Cain and Abel’s wives come from?”

Genesis Roelandt-Savery

The little girl preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation seems to have bewildered and flustered her “very Catholic” mother with this question. But, any “very Catholic” person should know the answer… Continue reading