Favorite Things: A Quote from Pope Francis

This is the first in a serial feature (which you can expect to see a lot of this summer) that I am calling Favorite Things.  Featuring some of my favorite quotes, artwork, poetry, songs, etc., each post is meant for your reflection, without taking up too much of your time.  I hope you find them as beautiful and inspirational as I do!

Here is an exquisite thought…

Pope Francis tears

… how truly does this thought bring us to the heart of  loving Christ – and to the profound self-giving of Christ’s love for us on the Cross.  Through the tears of our heartbreaking love, we see Jesus face-to-face, heart to heart…

© 2016 Christina Chase

The Sacred Heart in Scripture and Strawberries

strawberries

June is the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Catholic Church. You may ask, what is meant by the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Well, the Sacred Heart is Jesus. And devotion to the Sacred Heart is a devotion to the love of Jesus, devoting oneself to loving   Him entirely.  The heart is a symbol of love, of course, but also an ancient symbol for the core of one’s being, the sacred abode in which God dwells with the person… and more. I wrote more about the heart HERE, HERE, and HERE. For an article on the more scholarly particulars of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, please click HERE.

What does any of this have to do with strawberries? The answer to that is at the end, after a bit of reflective exploration…

Why Does Anything Exist?

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Making the Sign of the Cross

Living without the use of my arms is… well, odd. Because of my genetic muscle-wasting disease, there are things that I just can’t do anymore.  So many doors closed.  This post is not about the difficult, critical inabilities, like washing or feeding myself.  It’s about my powerlessness to do one simple and seemingly unnecessary act and how it awakened a deeper power and consciousness within me (the closing of one door and the opening of a holy other).

I’m referring to the classic Catholic custom of crossing oneself.

I used to be able to make the sign of the cross — right hand fingers touching forehead, then mid-torso, then the left shoulder, then over to the right shoulder — but became too physically weak to do so by my 20s.  Having been taught to cross myself at the beginning and close of every Mass, I did feel the growing lack over the years and it bothered me.  It bothered me at the time because I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing and I didn’t want to be even more conspicuous than I already was.  Going to Mass rarely, however, because I wasn’t a true believer at the time, meant that I didn’t have to worry about it much.

Not until later — after the bout with atheism and the recovery period exploring the religions of the world that brought me, finally, to choose and desire Christ — did crossing myself begin to mean something really important to me, as a prayerful ritual.  So, I would try to make the motions at Mass in faraway miniature with my thumb, as my hand rested upon the control stick of my power wheelchair.  In a crippled way, this took care of the outward sign.  But it did nothing for the inward reality.

It was in praying the Rosary that the difference was made. Lying on my bed on the couch, I could move my fingers where they rested next to my body, with similar distant, small motions. But, being alone, I felt less self-conscious and more desirous to enter into deep contemplation, so I began to really pray the Sign of the Cross.  What happened was, instead of the puny physical gesture, I began imagining the forming of a cross over my body while praying the words in my heart: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  And, through my imagination, I was able to connect to the essential meaning of the act: a recollection of the first Sacrament that I received, when I was baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us of the act’s significance:
“The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.” [CCC #2157.]

Sometimes, however, when people cross themselves, it can look like superstition. Even the Catholic custom of blessing ourselves with holy water in the sign of the cross when entering a church can look like (and can often be) perfunctory habit.  We Catholics might cross ourselves when passing by a church or a cemetery, or at the sight of an accident or other crisis, or whenever someone is speaking of something terrible.  It can be an instinctive reaction and may look to others like we are trying to ward off evil, like tossing spilt salt over the shoulder.  Yet, the instinct to cross oneself is a good one — as long as the outward gestures are connected to our inner reality as baptized persons, as persons given new birth, dedicated “to the glory of God”, calling upon the grace of Christ Our Savior to help us heed the Holy Spirit in every moment of our lives and truly live as children of Our Heavenly Father.

But… how often do we think of that when our hands are busy performing the conditioned gestures?

I didn’t think of it. Not until the physical ability ceased.  It’s like that old saying: you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.  Opening up my imagination, I was better able to appreciate what the making of the Sign of the Cross really is.  Because of this, I think that I do it more often than I would if I made the obvious outward gestures.  I will “cross myself” at the usual times, but I also find myself doing it throughout the day, without a formal “prayer”.

I cross myself whenever I seek to remember that I am in God’s eternal presence and that everything that I think, say, and do is known to God. 

In the name of the Holy Trinity, I envision a cross over my body and I am centered… my thoughts better focused. Whenever I am given a small opportunity to make an act of will and choose not to just go along with whatever, but to be the person that God created me to be… I pray the Sign of the Cross.   I try to do it before I make a decision, any decision — and before starting a conversation with someone that I think will be a kind of burden or trial, because I know that the momentary encounter is also an opportunity for grace.  Also, I try to cross myself before I begin writing, because I want to be the writer that God created me to be, and this helps me to endeavor in His Name, for His Glory, by His Will, and for my eternal fulfillment.

For me, now, the Sign of the Cross is a reminder that everything that I do is in the name of God.  It’s like a summons… (or a slap upside the head)… or like a gateway.  In an imaginative and, also, a mystical way, the Sign of the Cross comes over me and I am transported to… connected to… the Divine — through, in, and with Christ… Christ on the Cross, where his Sacred Heart is opened for me and for all who want to enter into holiness, into true life.

It’s like stepping through an open portal to live in the infinite grace and love of God… ultimate reality.

© 2016 Christina Chase
reposting from the original
© 2014 Christina Chase

Ephemeral

Sometimes, I feel so small. The world is big and I am tiny, a mote at the mercy of the rough winds around me. I can’t control what will happen next. Mere chaff in a storm, hollowed and wanting, with no power of my own to stay. I could just blow away, far from you.

Sometimes, I feel too thin. Little and brittle, the strands of life, spun glass drawn out too long. Fine filament made for a light that burns so bright… using up its thread of time, then fades away. Nothing here can stay.

I seek hands to grab, muscles press into my flesh and hold me close to beating heart, strong, so that my heart may keep beating, too. But, no creature can hold onto me for long. For, ultimately, this isn’t where I belong.

The veil between the me of here and the me of there is but a sigh, a wisp of cloud – just a little slip, a split-second unretainable, and I’m through.

© 2015 Christina Chase

First Friday and the Will of St. Francis

In a shadowy recess of the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, I caught sight of a dimly lit bas-relief and felt myself drawn to it… and even changed by it.

Before I get to that, shortly – below the carving is a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi taking the body of Jesus off of the Cross. Of course, it is historically inaccurate. But, great art depicts the truth within and beyond facts. The artwork is meant to convey the love and life of Francis, who was so utterly devoted to God-Incarnate suffering in this world that he even developed the Stigmata, signs of Christ’s wounds on his own body. Francis’s arms are therefore shown to be encircling the body of Christ as he is ready to lift up his beloved Savior and catch him in embrace.

St. Francis Jesus Cross Ste. Anne de Beaupré

Francis is on tippytoe in his innocent eagerness, gazing upward in adoration, his hand curved and held in gentle wonder.

And I ask myself: do I want to embrace Christ this much?

Am I eager to carry the weight of his beaten and bloody body? Do I hold him in wonder and affection close to my heart? I wasn’t there when they crucified my Lord, but I am here, now, when the dying are crying out in pain and loneliness, and the abused are losing hope that anyone will carry them to safety. Is my heart suffering with theirs in true compassion, ready to do whatever I can to help – not to hesitate, but to give generously in love? Whatever I do for the least, I do for Christ.

As I wrote in the beginning of this post, it was the bas-relief above the statue that most deeply moved me. I had to look up at it a long while before I could discern the figures and details. While realizing what I was seeing, I felt the cords of my heart being so sweetly touched that the exquisite song of joy spread all through me. Below is the image, the image which I am taking as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday:

St. Francis bas-relief Ste. Anne de Beaupré

At first, I saw Jesus with his arms open wide, crucified. And Francis, in front of Jesus like a child, held his arms open wide in imitation, looking back and up at his Savior as though asking, “Like this?” Christ, the patient teacher, and Francis, the willing student. But, then… I saw that there were wings depicted behind Jesus, signifying Christ Resurrected, Christ Glorified and Ascended in Paradise. And I knew that Christ Jesus was teaching his beloved child… with open arms, a living Cross… how to fly….

Prayer:

Oh, my Lord and my God,

teach me to be little,

your little child,

so that I may grow big and strong like you.

Amen.

[This is part of the First Friday Faith Facilitator series, for the month of November 2014.]

© 2014 Christina Chase