Joyful

A few words about joy.  Well, okay, more than a few…

I used to think that Catholicism was very dour, celebrating solemnities (solemn celebrations?) bemoaning sin and life in this world.  This was a false picture of the Catholic Church, however.  Sadly, I’m not the only one who has had this misconception of Catholicism – probably millions do right now.  The error, I think, comes partly from human attempts to depict the Mysterious Majesty of God and the profound honor, respect, awe, and even submission, due to God.  When contemplating the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for example, we don’t do so with silly giddiness or casual interest.  We must do so with solemn reverence and humble, awestruck gratitude – so, also with joy.

One problem, it seems to me, is that it’s hard to find an ancient image of Mary smiling.  (If you know of one, please share!)  Smiles probably didn’t mean the same thing then as they do now.  But, let us remember that the Bible does speak clearly of joy.  Mary herself cries out to Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”[1] Mary rejoices.  And so should we.

I do like this modern (1873) Greek icon of the Most Holy Mother of God…

Greek icon Mary Mother of God

Today we observe the “Solemnity” of the Immaculate Conception (celebrating the Mystery of Mary being conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of Original Sin, so that she may truly be The New Eve).  And Gaudete Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent) is being celebrated this weekend.  So, truly, it’s a fitting time to reflect upon the importance of joy in our lives of faith.  With the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, must also come the gift of joy – for how can we not be joyful when we believe that we are made to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with God forever?  With this faith and hope we are free to love – and in the true freedom of loving others and knowing that we are intimately and infinitely love there is true and lasting joy. Continue reading

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

She at Pentecost

On creaking knees, worn with repeated hours on earthen floors making bread and coaxing coals into flame, she now knelt in the upper room in the city – and prayed.

“This is how you are to pray,” she remembered her mother telling her when she was but a little child, standing not much taller than her mother’s knees. The older woman had bent down and had put her warm, wrinkled hands on either side of her face, looking deeply and sweetly into her eyes as she had continued to speak. “You are to pray to the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength. You are to pray as you are to love – with your whole being and without ceasing. For you must remember that you are always and everywhere in the presence of God and His Infinite Love.”

Remembering, she lifted herself a little higher on her own aging knees and pressed her hands upon her heart. Lifting her eyes to the invisible heavens, she was keenly aware of Heaven’s listening. “For Love,” she prayed in her silent way, with every fiber and synapse-firing of her flesh, with the peaceful, fervent purity of her soul. Her own particular affection for the people around her, gathered closely together in the upper room, drowsy with their own prayer, radiated like the soft fragrance of a rose on a still summer day. “Oh, my God, that they may be healed, bound, and filled with Love… this is the prayer in the heart of your lowly handmaiden to whom You, Most Gracious and Good Father, gave the most precious and sublime gift, in all mercy and generosity. My Lord and my God, my Creator and my dearly beloved son, You who are Infinite and Eternal, You whom I love and adore beyond all measure, beyond imagining, may Your Holy, Perfect, Loving Will be made known brilliantly to those faithfully gathered here, those who have labored and loved with you, those faithfully awaiting the Holy Advocate to lead them out into the turbulent world and into the sure forming of Your Kingdom. This Advocate is Love, Love most holy, Love most pure, Love Divine. You are Love, Lord. You live and give Love – infuse Love into the hearts and minds of your faithful disciples here.”

The night wore on, and while some ate and others slept, all were praying. As they served, as they chewed, as they dreamed, every action, voluntary and involuntary, was an action of prayer, for all were caught up in the net of spiritual vigilance, awaiting the word of release – without even knowing exactly for what they were waiting. Though some were fearful, she knew, all had faith… faith and trust, trust and hope.

Before the cock crew his song of awakening, before the light of the sun broke the slumbering darkness, she lifted her unsleeping head again, the pain in her knees the joy of a deeply planted tree. Her heart in her chest lifted to God, her arms outstretched, she gazed sweetly and deeply with maternal love upon the men and women gathered in the dimness whose prayer, even as they slept, was for the power of illumination of mind, heart, and will. Her own tenderly loving face was radiant with her wordless prayer… “Oh, my Little One, Mighty Lord and Savior… The cavern of sorrow that hollowed so deeply at my heart has been filled to overflowing with everlasting joy! Ever sweet, ever kind, ever generous, You allow my heart to beat with yours… to beat with theirs… I suffer when you suffer and triumph when you triumph… And still I long as You long, I ache as You ache, for every heart to be restored, for every human to be healed of all division that can keep them from Your Love… I yearn for the hearts of these, your own dear friends, to be dispelled of all darkness and lack of understanding, to be filled with Light… with Truth… with Courage… with Love.”

The wonderful sparklings of her mind reach deeply into her heart, through the universe, and beyond… “Once, was I overshadowed by Your Power, oh, Most High, and always and everywhere am I embraced by You, enraptured by Your Love. My Beloved One… the more I gave wholeheartedly to You, the more You gave wholeheartedly to me. The sacrifice of the mother is the bliss of the child of God – I am she! You know my heart! Ready, willing, and able, always and everywhere, to love You, to receive You, to hold You – and to give You away when You will… and the child heart within me rejoices to serve You and to be loved so intimately and infinitely by You.”

Joyful tears welled up in her eyes from her blameless heart. “Your Spirit came personally to me once in intimate mystery, I trust and believe that You will come, now, and send forth Your Spirit again to overshadow and lift up Your disciples here. Enkindle in us the fire of Your Love, Your Word breathed in flame, that we may ceaselessly bear forth the transformative power of Your Love to the hearts of others, everywhere, for generations to come… Your will be done, my Lord. My heart is one with Yours… I hear Your Love whispering now, cooing softly in the coming wind…”

*          *          *

            So quiet was she…. So filled with Love from the moment that she was conceived in the womb of her mother…. With empty hands she had given herself wholly and completely to her Creator, had lovingly surrendered herself, body, mind, heart, and soul to God….

Above the heads of the disciples, tongues of fire burned… above the beautiful humility of her head, the fire burned with the wings of a dove, with the caress of hands, with a baby’s kiss.

Unpublished work copyright 2015 Christina Chase


 You may also like these posts, more imaginings of the life of Mary:

A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread

  in the cloud of glory a portal opens

 Pregnant

First Friday and the Incarnate Image

Last year, I was searching for a Madonna and Child print to hang in my bedroom. I had thought that I wanted an icon or medieval painting. After looking at hundreds of depictions, however, I grew weary of so many grave madonnas tolerating so many, adult-like babies. Where was the wonder and joy of the Incarnation? Nothing moved me with the touch of human tenderness, with the divine light of living, breathing love.

And then, I found it. “The Virgin of the Grapes” by Piere Mignard, circa 1640-1650.

Virgin of the Grapes

Although, historcally speaking, the picture is far from accurate, the spirit of the work is exquisite in blessedness. The Christ Child is shown as a real child, with sweet baby flesh and a near mischievous little face. His mother Mary is beautifully peaceful, a joyful serenity on her visage. She delights in her child, but doesn’t smother. Her eyes are shown cast downward so as not to take away from the eager gaze of Jesus. He is seated on her, reminiscent of the ancient style, symbolizing Christ as the King seated on a throne – the throne being the soft, loving folds of Mary’s arms and lap. For Mary makes possible the Incarnation with her selfless submission to the will of God and with the humility of her generous motherhood. And none of this is dour. None of this is somber, burdensome piety. This is the beauty of love, this is the light of divine joy brought to us through human forms.

Even in this happy little scene, there is a touch of the sacrifice that is to come when the infant is grown into manhood. Mary innocently holds out a cluster of grapes that Jesus grasps fully with his baby fingers. The grapes symbolize the blood of the Eucharist – the Blood of Christ, poured out from the Cross, poured out for the multitude so that our sins may be forgiven. I believe a touch of the sacrifice must be shown in any good depiction of Jesus – for a good portrait shows the true identity of a person. Here we have a hint of the suffering amidst the joy of the coming of God among us. Should it not be so? As God is the fullness of reality, let us embrace reality fully – and not be afraid.

For God, in infinite love for us, comes intimately among us to reveal the divine light in the human. In Mignard’s painting, baby Jesus is playing partially beneath the veil that is covering his mother’s hair. In his sweet innocence, Christ is lifting the veil and peeking out to us.

Yes, let the angels sing, for Christ Jesus truly lifts the veil and reveals God to all of humankind. This is the holy Mystery of the Incarnation, inexhaustibly wondrous, profound, unfathomable… and as sweet and real as a little baby at play.

So, I take this image as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday of December.

Prayer

Oh, God, You so love the world

that You humbled Yourself to become one of us,

to live as we live so that we may love as You love –

lift the veil from my eyes,

lift the veil from my heart,

help me to pierce through time to eternity,

through space to infinity,

through my humanity to your divinity,

so that I may be transformed into the truth of your image and likeness

and bear love where there is hate,

bear hope where despair,

pardon where injury,

faith where doubt,

joy where sadness,

and light where darkness.[1]

Amen.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. Read more here.]

 

[1] borrowing from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

For the Feast of All Hallows: The Saint Maker

After I had chosen, intellectually, to become a Christian, but way before I had embraced Christ in my heart, a priest told me that I was a saint maker. And I was perplexed. He looked at me, thin and frail, all crippled and crumpled and stuck in my wheelchair, and seemed a little surprised that no one had ever told me that. Explaining, he said that people were drawn to be more generous, kinder, and gentler around me. He told me that I was a powerful help to others because of my disability. My vulnerability, my weakness and dependency, inspired people to step up and be better persons – to be more like the saints they were created to be. My response? Well… not being right in the heart yet, I said, “But, what about me?” Yup, that’s right. I wanted to know what was in this whole saint-making business for me.

The problem was that I was thinking solely with my head, in terms of the practical: by merely being needy, and even difficult, those around me would be tested in patience and forgiveness and could become better people. Instead, I should have been (and should be now) thinking with my heart as well, in terms of the holy: by imaging Christ on the Cross, those around me are inspired to reflect God’s love and mercy and to become holy ones of God.

For that’s what a saint is: a person whose soul, whose very essence of being, perpetually reflects divine goodness, truth, compassion, and love into the world. And this is the purpose for which every human being is created. We are created in the image and likeness of God in order to receive the light of God’s love and, by truly receiving, give that love back to God and to others.

Imaging Christ

How I was created to live …

I hold myself before God Incarnate and, in the stillness of my holy contemplation of Christ, I let Him impress upon me, let Him form my soul, so that I may resemble Him and, in that imaging, shine Him out, shine out the light of the divine love and goodness that I have received. No one of us can either receive or give all of who Christ is at once – rather, each one of us is called to image Christ in the unique way peculiar to our God-given talents and the vocations to which we are called.

For me, it is Christ Crucified who calls, the Sacred Heart that was pierced. (Gulp and Heavy Sigh and “God, help me.”) But – and this is very important – it is not enough for me to be physically weakened and nailed down by limitations, my deformity resembling Christ in his agony – no. I must also be patient in my pathos, generous in my self abasement, and powerfully loving in my weakness: like Christ. This is what the priest meant by calling me a saint maker: that in my gentle suffering others are drawn to me, and, if I truly image Christ – who was crucified out of love for humankind – then, when they are drawn to my side, they are actually being drawn to Christ. They receive the light of His love, which is what I am simply reflecting out to them in my willingness to be like Christ, to be who I am created to be.

As in a Mirror…

mirror

To become a saint and to be a saint maker is the purpose for which every human being was created. If we don’t take up the call to holiness then we are not fully living our lives as human beings. We are not fully human. Take this analogy:

A mirror is made of particular materials for the purpose of reflecting the particular material things before it. The only reason that a mirror is made is for this reflection. If it is unable to reflect, then the mirror is not truly a mirror. Similarly, we, human beings, are made in the image and likeness of God for the purpose of reflecting God’s loving omnipresence. The only reason that we are made is for this reflection. If we are unable to reflect thusly, then we are not fully and truly human.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shares this thought about saints: “In addition to the sun, which is the image of Christ, there is the moon, which has no light of its own but shines with a brightness that comes from the sun.” He goes on to say that the saints are like new heavenly bodies “… in which the richness of God’s goodness is reflected. Their light, coming from God, enables us to know better the interior richness of God’s great light, which we cannot comprehend in the refulgence of its glory.”[1]

FULL MOON OVER WATER

In Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso and in The Great Divorce, by CS Lewis, saints in the outer reaches of Heaven are depicted as being clothed in light. They are so brightly resplendent that their distinction is not of form but of being – fulfilled as images of the Divine Love in which they were created. Their unadulterated reception of God’s love shines out in loving brilliance. Meanwhile we, who hem and haw below, who stumble and dither in the dark, need only look up from our self-centeredness, look up with open faces beholding, to be guided by the divine light….

*          *          *

            We are all saints-in-progress, created to help one another delight in the reflection of God’s love. I cannot stop people from calling me a little saint maker. But, I know that God is the real saint maker. If my vulnerability draws out the sweetness in others, it is the sweetness that was already within them, put there by the Maker of human beings. Any goodness, any beauty, any light that we shine is His.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[1] Benedictus, for the feast of All Saints, November 1

Minecraft Cats and the Worship of God

Bear with me.

One weekend this summer, after having my nephews over to play on the Xbox and going to church the next day, the thought came to me that our relationship with God is a lot like a feature in the videogame called Minecraft. In that game, which is about mining, gathering, building and surviving in a PG landscape, a player can tame wild creatures, called ocelots, and change them into kitty cats. I tried to use this imagery from the ordinary lives of my little ones to teach them about Life Itself – and in the process, I learned something, too.

From the Minecraft Game

From the Minecraft Game

The Minecraft player has to trap the ocelot into a confined space and hold a fish, offering it to the creature. The wild creature will briefly look at the player and then go away into a corner, sometimes hesitating there a long while before coming back. Hearts will start to form over the creature’s head, indicating not only its desire for the offered fish, but also its growing affability toward the player. Sometimes, eye contact will be held between the ocelot and the player for several minutes, with many hearts floating up – and then the ocelot will skitter away again, turning its back on the player. The player will move in front of the creature again and wait some more. Sometimes, the waiting is quite long (and I’m impressed that my young nephews have had the patience to wait it out.) Then, finally, after much eye contact and a sea of hearts, just when you think it will never happen – the change occurs.

The spotted, wild creature has become a domesticated cat.

It even looks different, like a black-and-white cat, a siamese, or an orange tabby, although you never know what specific kind of kitty the ocelot will become until after the change. The transformed animal will follow the player wherever the player goes – it will even teleport through closed doors to be by the player’s side, unless the player makes the cat sit down before leaving. Wherever they may be sitting, the cats will always recognize the player passing by and meow.

So… how is this like our relationship with God?

Well, we are like wild creatures whom God desires to change into higher versions of ourselves. Sadly, too often, we totally ignore God and so never enter into a divinely loving and transforming relationship with Him. So we are never changed. But, God continually does things to get our attention. Sometimes, those things make us feel like we are stuck in confined spaces. It is right there, however, in that tough spot, that God is offering us something wonderful – something much more than fish or any perishable food. God offers us God’s very self and wants us to look at Him and receive His love.

God does this most directly and pointedly when He comes down from Heaven to live among us: Christ Jesus. In him, through him, and with him, we are able to intimately enter into loving relationship with God – as God offers Himself to us through the Incarnation and the Sacrifice on the Cross.  And, so, also, perpetually, God offers Godself to us in Holy Communion and through all of the Sacraments –  through the Church, the priests, and even through our fellow human beings who act in the loving ways of God.

What do we do in response?

Well, some desire might be stirred up within us (a heart or two may appear over our heads) but we often run away. We turn our backs on God.  Perhaps, we are afraid of the unknown – we are afraid of the pending transformation that we can sense in our souls. We are afraid that being transformed will mean that we will no longer be able to be ourselves – we want to do our own thing, wild, and we do not want to follow God’s will, tamed. But, what we don’t realize is that we only become fully ourselves through the transformative power of divine love – through the worship of God. We were never meant to be ocelots and we will never be truly joyful by remaining wild. We were always meant to be transformed by receiving God’s love and all that God has to offer us, to follow God’s will. Then, and only then, we are able to give divine love ourselves and know true, deep, and lasting joy.

Out Of the Mouths of Babes

I told my nephews (ages 11 and 8) a much shorter and simpler version of this thought, trying to use everything I can to catechize them.

Matthew, the oldest, looked at me with his big blue eyes and I knew that a part of him was uncomfortable with this kind of God talk (he is my cautious/studious one). But he was really listening and I believe that a seed was sown. Nathan, the youngest, was listening and thinking about what I said, too. And it made him remember what he did the last time that he transformed ocelots into cats. He tried to justify why he had kept killing the siamese cats after they had been transformed. I knew it was because he and Matthew only wanted one tabby cat and one black-and-white, to be like the real cats that they have at home. (And, yes – I could go through a whole lesson just from that! I admit it disturbed me when they were doing it, but I did have to remember that it’s just a game.) On the day that I gave the comparison to God’s love, however, Nathan told me why he did what he did in a different way.

I could see him, with a cute look on his face, trying to explain it in a way that would fit the analogy of my storytelling (he is my poet). He said that he killed the videogame cats because he had a demon in him – because he was the devil. That got a big grin from me and Matthew laughed. “That’s brilliant,” I said, “because it just goes to show you that you need to be careful what you worship. You may want something and obsess over it and worship it – but then it turns out to be the devil and it kills you.”

We are only to worship God, and we are to worship God with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, with all of our minds, and with all of our strength – nothing else will do for our fulfillment. For, as St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in You.”

© 2014 Christina Chase