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"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20

 

#Fatima100 at the Basilica

Laura DeMaria

On Friday night I got to participate in a very special celebration at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun. I shuffled over after work, my glasses misting up with the light rain, and entered the sanctuary of the church. The rosary had already begun, and someone handed me a blue candle and lit the flame from his own. The Fatima statue was right there, waiting at the back to be carried forward, all adorned with flowers.

I always love to hear Cardinal Wuerl give a homily, and he presided at this event. Once the rosary was over (something about praying the rosary in a crowd always gives me chills), the statue was brought forward. It felt so timeless; the same sort of reverence and ritual which has been done so many times before by so many Catholics. It was reverent and I like that all of us in the basilica were joined by those around the world watching on EWTN. It was a global moment.

After the celebration was over, I went up to the statue, as did everyone else, and prayed and talked to Mary for a bit. Lately my prayers are a simple as "Thank you for the goodness that is my whole entire life, for all the blessings you give me, every single day, over and over." 

There are so many gorgeous representations of the Blessed Mother at the Basilica and I spent some time with my patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe, in particular. I cannot make a visit to the Basilica without visiting the crypt, though, and the Lourdes grotto to the side which reads at top in stone, "I am the Immaculate Conception." This is the part of the entire building which moves me most deeply. The quiet, the stillness of the stone and candles, the sense that Mary is very near. There are no frills, no mosaics, no abundance of incense. It is just the image before you, which can become like a tattoo on one's heart.

"And they were afraid to ask him about this saying"

Laura DeMaria

Today's gospel comes from Luke 9:43-45:

"While they were all amazed at his every deed,
Jesus said to his disciples,
"Pay attention to what I am telling you.
The Son of Man is to be handed over to men." 
But they did not understand this saying;
its meaning was hidden from them
so that they should not understand it,
and they were afraid to ask him about this saying."

The reading starts with the disciples' very understandable amazement at the physical wonders Jesus has performed, like we saw yesterday in Jesus's first encounter with Nathaniel. Nathaniel is impressed that Jesus knows his name before he introduces himself, and Jesus asks him to understand he will see much greater wonders than that. Can you imagine what it would have been like to spend time with Jesus, and watch how in town to town he heals people physically, freeing them from their sins and changing their lives? It would have been, in the truest sense of the word, awesome. The disciples are in absolute wonderment at what Jesus can do, and are trying to make sense of it.

Yet there is one thing that Jesus keeps "hidden" from them, which is the truth about the end of his life. Why would he need (or the Holy Spirit need) to keep this teaching hidden from them? I believe the answer is fear. The disciples could be afraid of losing their friend, afraid of the consequences for themselves as his followers, and even afraid to personally witness what will happen to him. If they understood what was coming, they may have struck out in preemptive violent against Jesus's enemies. Perhaps they simply weren't ready for it; not ready to be given comprehension and understanding of the mystery of Jesus's death.

In reading this, I feel it highlights a few important things, beginning with the necessity of faith. The disciples did not abandon Jesus after this moment, but stuck around despite their fearfulness for what he could mean. In faith, they persevered along beside him. Jesus in his wisdom knew they were not ready for this bit of truth, and I reflect how in my own life there could be things Jesus withholds from me because I am not ready. This is symbolic of our overall limited knowledge. Recently someone asked me whether I'd like to know what will happen in my life in the future, say 10 years down the road, and my answer was an emphatic no. We are not meant to know everything, and if we did, we may reject it. Yet in ten years I will be exactly where God wills me, whether it makes sense to me now or not. Truly, when I look at my life now vs. even just 5 years ago, it is unrecognizable. If someone had shown me my future I may not have been ready for it.

Then that closing line of the reading, that the disciples were afraid to ask him about this teaching. Is this a choice to be copied? Maybe - in that sometimes we should simply accept what Jesus shares even if it is difficult to comprehend. But, not out of fear, out of faith.

This is an opportunity to talk to Jesus about his teachings which scare me or are difficult to understand, and to pray to accept them with courage. How do I feel about what the church teaches, and are there any that are challenging or frightening? Do we fear falling short of God's grace if we cannot follow his teachings? In the end, the greatest thing is God's mercy, and he is always willing to listen to us if we bring our fears to him in prayer. 

Accepting God's Blessings in Your Life + radio interview

Laura DeMaria

I had the great pleasure of joining Relevant Radio's Morning Air show once again last week to discuss my latest Catholic Stand article, Accepting God's Blessings in Your Life. You can listen to the interview here (starting at 40:45) and the entire article is below. Enjoy!

Accepting God's Blessings in Your Life

I’ve had an extraordinarily good year. By any rational standard, every year of my life has been good, but this year in particular I have experienced a measure of personal and professional success that has been, to say the least, deeply gratifying.

I took this matter to God in prayer because I realized I was wondering – “Why me, God? What have I done to deserve this?” To my surprise, the answer that seemed to resonate within me was that, quite possibly, it was because I was open to receiving all God has in mind for me.  This intrigued me, that being open to receiving made me more likely to receive, so I considered it further.

Rejected Blessings and Acedia

It is a strange concept, to think that anyone would ever reject a blessing. I came across a take on this in a recent article by Jim Schroeder called, “Is it possible that you’re refusing the joy God is offering you?” In the article, I came across a term I have seen several times in the past few years. The word is “acedia” and it is arguably one of the lesser known sins.

Acedia is typically defined as sloth or laziness. A commonly-referenced work on the concept is Dom Jean-Charles Nault’s The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Time. Fr. Paul Scalia referenced this book in a talk he gave to the Diocese of Arlington.  He explained that, rather than a noonday devil, he found acedia to be about a 3 PM devil that crept in during that time of day when lunch has been over for a while, and the end of the work day is close.  During this time we are bored and feel it is a perfect time to waste a few minutes (hours?) on Facebook.

Detached “Busyness”

But Acedia is more than laziness, it is a form of detachment that allows one to slip out of one’s own control. Alternatively, acedia can manifest as a meaningless “busyness;” a schedule full of brunches and happy hours with no real substance. It is only natural then that the fruits of this sin are not just boredom, loneliness, and self-pity, but also depression and anxiety.

As Schroeder notes, acedia is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as going “so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God, and to be repelled by divine goodness,” (CCC 2094). This corresponds to the idea that all moments of life in the present are indeed given to us as a gift from God. We are able to reject the blessing of the present moment by giving away our inner spark – the thing that animates us, our true identity in Christ – by choosing to detach.

Acedia in the Modern World

I wonder if this recent resurgence of interest in understanding acedia has to do with how virtual our daily life has become, and how it allows one to disengage while still feeling fully engaged. Watching a cooking show substitutes for cooking dinner, a happy birthday post on a Facebook wall substitutes for a phone call, and a dating app keeps you from leaving your apartment to meet your true love. We are offered an endless array of opportunities to “try” new things, without really experiencing them physically and in the absolute present.

Afraid of Blessings

Acedia can also occur when we do not fully engage with life out of fear. We remain distant, not because we do not want blessings, but because we do not want to experience hardship. Sitting on the sidelines as a spectator is easier than getting involved and risking a loss. It is easier to be a critic than a struggling artist. It is easier to complain than to change your circumstances, and to never face failure, nor success.

The Defining Sin of Our Age

I would agree, then, that acedia really is the defining sin of our virtual age. A piece of this conversation that is missing, though, is how acedia relates specifically to the Christian’s inner life.

I believe a major part of why I spent most of my life (until my mid-20s) with little interest in the Catholic church was because I didn’t really see anyone living the faith. I experienced church once a week, however, we did not engage in any of the ministries and there was no hands-on feel to what the Church meant. It was a building, it was a ritual, and that was it. Sadly, I think this is the norm for most Catholics who attend Mass each week, which is good, but not enough. It is like we feel a hesitation to become a truly active part of the body of Christ. Do we fear the sacrifice that would entail or perhaps the drain on our very busy time? Or maybe we’re not prepared to stand out for unpopular reasons, to be different or look “uncool”?

Active Faith

It wasn’t until my mid-20s when I joined the Legion of Mary and participated in nursing home visitation, praying with strangers, and performing jail ministry that I finally understood what it means to be a Catholic. Our faith must be a living thing; it is our duty to live our baptism and therefore fulfill our purpose in life. That is what is so important and wonderful, that all are called to a lay vocation and that everyone has something to offer: the kind word to a stranger, the casserole for a new mother, the much-needed note of encouragement to a co-worker. This idea that every person has something to offer is at the heart of Legion of Mary philosophy, and truly it is at the heart of Catholic teaching. It is why we value life itself so highly, including the unborn, disabled, and elderly. Every single person, where they are, as God has created them, has something to offer. The world needs you.

There is fear, I know. Believe me, I never thought I’d be entering a jail, let alone talking about God with inmates. And yet I did, and it changed my life.

And truly, I believe that is part of why this year has been so good: because I went, and did, and tried, with full reliance on God, as a member of His church, without knowing the outcome, and prayed, “Your will be done.” By simply being open to what God wanted for me, the door was opened for so many blessings.  Or perhaps I just got better at recognizing them.

A Beautiful Future Ahead

Even though I think I’ve had a good year, what is even more beautiful to remember is that I don’t know all of God’s plans for me yet, wonderful things that are waiting to be gifted according to His time. Have you ever thought about that for your own life? Rather than wondering what tragedy is next, have you taken time to wonder what incredible blessing could be waiting?

By the way, I have no fear of speaking casually of success without “knocking on wood;” what God has given me is certain today and if I lose it, or experience hardship, then that is part of His plan, too. I know that whatever talent I have is on loan from God and I can no more take credit for it than I can the color of my hair. So God gives, and He takes away, and what is more important is to know that through it all He will always be there. I do believe, also, that God meets us halfway, like Peter walking across the water. He fell, and Jesus caught him, and what mattered was that Peter tried.