“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).
I sit here gazing upon an image, all too familiar, but also so mysterious to me-“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo. It is as though the mystery of the painting reveals a bit of the mystery of my own heart. In this painting, we see Adam, a lifeless being reaching out in desire, and God, the creator, stretching forth his hand to pass on his life to his creation.
In this image, though, there is an important detail that is often overlooked. Eve is also present, showing us a truth that we all need to hear. She isn’t in this unimportant place in the sidelines, but she has a primary place. She is in the Father’s embrace.
My dignity. There are so many times I struggle with admitting that I am loved into being by God and that I deserve love. While I am a woman who teaches of the love of God to my students and lives out ministry at my parish, it is only with difficulty that I admit that the reason I do the work I do with Behold is because I struggle with knowing of my own dignity, and need to encounter Christ’s healing touch through art.
And I know I am not alone in this struggle. It hits on a core part of all our hearts as women. We desire so much to be appreciated, loved, and pursued. We have this part of our hearts that seeks this out in so many ways. And often, very often, we strive to find this answer in finite things.
I am told intellectually of my value in light of God, but the doubt can often be there…Lingering in my heart. Perfectionism. Constant busy-ness. Vanity. All ways that I try to hide behind this wound that I don’t like to admit I battle with.
I have been praying with this image of creation recently as I probe into these questions of my heart. Eve is not placed in a random spot in the foreground of the painting. Her placement is so specific. She is in the arm of the Father, with an utmost dignity. She is reserved and upheld as an object of utmost worth…Someone who is so precious that God is not just giving her away. He is protecting her close to His heart until He can entrust her to someone who can receive that gift worthily.
My dear sister in Christ, how many times have you doubted this? How many times have you put your value in an unhealthy relationship? How many times have you striven for perfectionism, to hide the fact that you deeply desire and yearn for that affirmation of your value? If this is you, allow this image to penetrate your heart. You are the woman in the Father’s embrace, the one He protects.
In this painting, Eve is before the Father, and is without shame. Scripture tells us they were naked and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:25). Eve was able to be her authentic self, her most precious self, all because she was precious to the Father. She did not need to hide or put up a false image of herself…All because she was receiving the love of her Father.
This image of who Eve is shows us who we truly are.
Think of your true self. Who you really are; not who you want to be. Like Eve, allow yourself to be vulnerable before your Father and to receive His embrace. Place yourself in the embrace of a Father who keeps you, who protects you, who calls you daughter...Place yourself there- in the embrace of a Father who will always love you.
The images of "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_Adam.jpg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo,_Creation_of_Adam_04.jpg
Today is the feast of Pope Saint John Paul II, and as I write this post I cannot accurately express the wonderful aching of my heart.
There are so many things I could say about this beloved saint, about his heroic journey toward sainthood, his incredible artistic talent, the ways in which he changed the world.
But I came to this page empty.
I thought I was going to write something completely different- something that I felt more separated from, something that maybe didn’t speak so directly to my own heart.
But I feel moved to do something different and without fear.
I often struggle with accepting the Father’s love for me. My human mind can’t always grasp the concept of His unconditionality. I find this difficult to share with others as a Catholic woman, and as a former missionary. I feel as though I should have it together, know my worth, see God’s love for me at all times- but it’s not always something that comes naturally to me. I know He is there, and that His presence is very real in my life and I am in such awe of His tenderness, but I often need to remind myself of the Father’s love for me; I need to just open my eyes that can be so easily clouded by the fog of my own self-doubt.
When I first started to get to know John Paul II as a saint, he played an instrumental part in outwardly displaying the Father’s love for me. He made it so tangible. The way he loved the Church, the people he would encounter, especially young people- I so strongly saw the way he loved like the Father- with that same unconditional waiting.
As I was trying to focus on what I would write about today- I found a brief account of St. John Paul II’s life and ministry in the Church. When I was reading I was struck by one single line: I have looked for you. Now, you have come. And I thank you. These were the words that those who were around John Paul II were able to gather as he was coming closer to his death. This was after he was told of a group of young people who stayed overnight in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him.
I have looked for you.
Aren’t these the words we so desperately long to hear? Something that so beautifully wounds our heart when we hear it, maybe it’s even a little frightening. As I encounter these words, I can’t help but hear the Father saying them to me. He searches for me- for us- in our weaknesses, trials, our profound confusion of we are created to be. He looks for us.
Now, you have come.
When he was told of the young people showing up, John Paul II took notice. He had been waiting and praying for them, and they came. Just as he acknowledged those he cared for so deeply, the Father realizes us. He sees us when we come to Him. He doesn’t let us stand alone unnoticed, rather He delights in our presence.
And I thank you.
These are such simple words… but filled with immense love and gratitude. He is grateful for us. God, who has created everything good and beautiful, is grateful for us. And He celebrates and thanks us every time we remember His great love for us.
As I finish writing this, I realize this is not so much about St. John Paul II, but I think this is maybe what he would want, something that reflects the way he lived his life and always pointing back to the One who is greater that he, the source of his love here on earth- God the Father. The Father who loves us.
This has served as a great reminder to me, and I hope in some small way it can do the same for you.
The Father looks for us. He sees us. He thanks us in celebration for our arrival. And through it all, He has, and remains always loving us.
St. John Paul the Great, a man who greatly reflected the Father’s love - Pray for us.
The image of John Paul II is from: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Story/TabId/2672/ArtMID/13567/ArticleID/14522/The-Legacy-of-St-John-Paul-II.aspx
“Wait for the Lord, Be steadfast and wait for the Lord.” -Psalm 27
As I sat with Jesus in the Church, this was the prayer of my heart. There was a silence and stillness of a Monday evening, mixed with the quiet hiss of incense burning. Around me were a handful of other devoted people, quietly bringing their cares before the Lord. And there was a peace which seemed to surround us all in prayer. But among this silence and peace, there was this interior noise in my heart, a wrestling with the Lord.
Waiting. Recently this has been the summary of my life. I know desires I have in regards to my vocation, and yet circumstances have not seemed to completely fit together. I know what hopes and dreams I have for my job, but there are things that I still have to wait for. I know what God is asking of me in my family life, but things are taking longer than expected.
My wrestling with God…I cannot tell you how many times I have yearned, pleaded, and cried out in longing to Him in prayer, bringing Him my desires.
And this is the wrestling of all of us - of all humanity. The truth is, God does His work in waiting.
When you examine Scripture, the Old and New Testaments are filled with waiting. Salvation is rich with it. The greatest stories of God’s power and love are found in stories of utmost waiting.
Adam. Hannah. Abraham. Israel. Elizabeth. Mary. Me. You.
These stories present a reality to us women. They present a call, seen in who we are.
We are all created to receive love, and a woman’s body does this in particular. Seen in the context of marriage, we see that once we receive love, a life can grow from that love. But that life only comes after a time of waiting…A parent only holds a child after waiting nine months.
In this time of waiting in my own life, I have been pondering one of the beautiful models of womanhood and waiting for the Lord - Mary. But I have been pondering a mystery quite unlike what we commonly pray through. It is one moment in particular that we often skip over…Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus.
We often hear of the Annunciation. We hear of the Visitation. And we hear of Jesus’ birth. But it is not very often we hear about the waiting of Mary for the nine months before she physically held Jesus. Mary’s body teaches us the beauty of waiting.
Mary said yes to the angel Gabriel. Like the rest of us would have been, she probably was so very excited to hold Jesus in her arms. But in order for Christ to develop to His fullness, in order for Him to fulfill His mission, he needed to grow in a quiet stillness in her womb for nine months.
That is the silent, but powerful beauty of waiting. While Mary probably waited often for the joy of Christ being physically present to her, she also knew the present moment was filled with the gifts of the Lord. She knew that all things had their proper time, and that God was at work. In this love of God, all things, even the waiting, spoke to her of His love.
The waiting stirred in her heart an even greater desire to fully receive Christ when He came at His birth. And it is the same for us.
The waiting in your life; it can be a cross. But it can also be the desire which stirs in your heart to be filled. It can be the void that God is cultivating so that you receive the gift all the more when the time is right. The waiting is God leading you to receive Him who is the source of all gifts and the ultimate desire of your heart.
So in your waiting, be Mary. Like those nine months of anticipation for the Savior, she rested in the Lord in hope. In those moments of feeling Christ’s feet press in her womb, she knew He was coming, but it still was not the proper time. As her belly grew week by week of pregnancy, her joy increased as things came closer to Christ’s coming. Her waiting led to great desire and anticipation. Likewise, we have moments where we feel God at work in making our desires known to us, and yet, He does not have it work out completely yet. In such moments, let us ask our Lady help us model her patience and hope in the Lord. It is in such hopeful waiting that Christ can come to full growth within us, and be born into the world in the proper time.
A few months back, on Divine Mercy Sunday, I was able to speak with a wonderful priest. We had never met before, but we began to talk about various women in scripture who served Christ in some way. Veronica- a woman who had such compassion toward Jesus, when He was in need of care the moment she saw Him. The wailing women- the women who mourned the Passion of Christ, and recognized the truth of love that goes to the very end. Mary- a woman of great virtue, love, sacrifice, and femininity- our Mother. But as we continued to discuss he mentioned a woman with no name who embodied receiving the mercy of God- the woman caught in adultery. Normally, a part of scripture that is noted for teaching us not to cast the first stone, he took a slightly different approach. This woman, caught in a grave sin, could have been condemned for these actions. She was left abandoned, to be arbitrated by the self-righteous, but Christ came and spoke some truth. As the men dropped their stones, she could have run, left her home for fear of being unwanted, but she stayed. The priest just repeated, “Be that girl. The girl that stays.”
It stuck with me.
A few weeks later a friend of mine, who didn’t know about the previous conversation, showed me this image of the woman caught in adultery. She looked tired and afraid, but so beautiful. Her pain struck me. No matter what struggles she bared, she seemed so familiar.
As I really looked at the image, I saw a woman who carried shame, a woman who had been burdened by her sin, who felt outcast from her people; I saw a woman who struggled with seeing her own dignity, her innate worth, a woman like many women… a woman like myself. But I also saw a woman who was not defined by the ways in which she had fallen, rather given purpose by the way her Lord loves her, and shows sincere mercy.
One of the most beautiful things about this image, is that as she stands in humiliation, Jesus is knelt in front of her, drawing the line which invites her to see the promises of Christ, and the joy in celebration of new life.
As I further contemplated this, all I could recall was the words of the priest, “Be that girl.” The girl who stays, the one who doesn’t run away in fear. The girl who accepts God’s mercy, who may fall but gets back up. The girl who no longer aches of emptiness, but opens herself up to receive what she is really created for.
I want to be that girl.
The Image "The Woman Taken in Adultery" by William Blake can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Woman_Taken_in_Adultery_but486_1_1_wc_100.jpg
I always dreamed of being a mother. As the youngest of nine children (six sisters and two brothers), marriage and family was all around me. I was an aunt at the age of two and a half- before my first memory. Being around children was a huge part of my life. What little girl doesn’t play “house” and carry around a little baby doll at some point in her life? I saw our family grow with each new little baby and it brought joy to my heart. I saw my sisters getting married and having children and knew that that’s exactly what I wanted to do, too. It never occurred to me that one day I would choose a life of celibacy… but that’s exactly what I did.
Earlier this year, I became a Consecrated Virgin living in the world. Most people, including most Catholics, have no idea what that is and to be honest, up until six years ago, neither did I. Consecrated Virginity is a vocation within the Catholic Church where women who have consistently lived a life of virginity, become forever espoused to Christ. The fruitfulness of this spousal relationship with Christ, as with most spousal relationships, is children… in this case, spiritual children.
On my journey toward discerning consecrated life, Jesus gave me the gift of experiencing spiritual motherhood. He brought a young man into my life who needed a mother; he needed a mother to be present in his life, to care for him, to pray for him, to listen, and to open her heart to receive him into her life. Spiritual motherhood is a life-giving receptivity of another. Through God’s grace, I opened my heart to welcome this young man into my life. Not only did this receptivity bring a deep understanding of my call to motherhood, planted in my femininity, but it also brought life to him. He was received and loved as a son.
My spiritual motherhood for him wasn’t something I planned. It was a gift that was given to me from the Lord. The Lord showed me the gift of motherhood He imprinted in my femininity and He desired me to share with others. He brought me closer to Our Lady, His mother, to show me the perfect model of spiritual motherhood. She is the mother of all humanity. She gives her maternal heart to each person and loves us with her feminine, motherly heart. She spiritually takes us into her womb and gives birth to us. She nurtures us. She prays for us. She fiercely defends and protects us. She loves us as her own. Our Lady taught me how to be a spiritual mother, to love someone not born of my womb, but nurtured in my heart.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD (St. Edith Stein) helps women to understand the deep calling, within each of us, to motherhood and Our Lady’s guidance in living it. “The intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul. For an understanding of our unique feminine nature, let us look to the pure love and spiritual maternity of Mary. This spiritual maternity is the core of a woman’s soul. Wherever a woman functions authentically in this spirit of maternal pure love, Mary collaborates with her. This holds true whether the woman is married or single, professional or domestic or both, a Religious in the world or in the convent. Through this love, a woman is God’s special weapon in His fight against evil. Her intrinsic value is that she is able to do so because she has a special susceptibility for the works of God in souls — her own and others. She relates to others in His spirit of love.” (St. Edith Stein, Essays on Woman, 259.)
Our Lady has brought many young men and women into my life upon whom she encourages me to pour out my spiritual motherhood and it is such a gift! I used to believe that spiritual motherhood was “less than” biological motherhood, almost as if it were the “second prize” of motherhood, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Through experiencing the gift of motherhood through my feminine heart, I experience a heart that fiercely loves. Without a doubt, I would give my life for any of my spiritual children. In fact, I give my life to them each day through my intercessory prayer. We all know the gift, beauty, and power of Our Lady’s intercession for us, her children. There is a deep desire in my heart to offer sacrifice and love for my spiritual children each day. Our Lady helps me to offer my pain, suffering, joys, and graces for the conversion and protection of my spiritual children. Living out my spiritual motherhood in this way, helps me to more authentically live out my feminine call to be a gift of self and to receive others into my heart.
The desire I had as a little girl to be a mother was the desire I needed to be a spiritual mother and is fulfilled in each young man or woman I open my feminine heart to love and nourish through my prayer and availability to them. I am forever grateful for these young men and women who have sought my spiritual motherhood and who have opened their hearts to receive me, as well. As women, we are all called to spiritual motherhood, whether we are already biological mothers, or religious, single, or married. Motherhood is beautifully stamped in our feminine hearts and bodies. The more authentically we live out our femininity, the more we are called to live the gift and beauty of motherhood.
Our Lady, Our Spiritual Mother, pray for us.
For more information on the Theology of the Body Institute, visit their website: http://tobinstitute.org/
Resources on Spiritual Motherhood
• “Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization” by Kathleen Beckman (Sophia Institute Press, 2014)
• “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity” by the Congregation for the Clergy (2007)
• “Essays on Woman” by St. Edith Stein
• “Mulieris Dignitatuem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” by Pope Saint John Paul II (1988)
• “Under the Gaze of the Father” by Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Amida and Archbishop Luis M. Martinez (Alba House, 2011)
• “When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer” by Kathleen Beckman, L.H.S. (Sophia Institute Press, 2017).
“Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Complete and utter surrender. In this image, these words seem to describe the attitude of Mary as she receives the gift of Jesus into her life and body. Here is a woman portrayed as so open and receptive, it seems as though there is nothing stopping her from receiving the love of God.
This surrender holds nothing back…what happens? A human being is made flesh within such a woman. And her life is forever changed.
Such surrender has major risks. Mary could be judged as an adulteress. Joseph could leave her. But, in this uncertainty, she knew the One who was confronting her with a decision, and she trusted Him.
When I reflect on my life, often I like to say I surrender to God, only to realize there is always that one thing I feel I can’t surrender to him. I tell him I surrender my vocation, only to find that I tell Him the way I want to find it. I give Him my family life, only to worry about how I can solve their problems.
It is as though I hold onto that one thing to keep control. Yes, I can give God “everything else,” but there has to be one thing, just one, which makes me feel in control.
It is scary to let go of everything. It means that things can happen to us that we did not want or plan. That can be extremely difficult. But, holding onto this false security only is an illusion. It makes us think that we are actually in charge of our lives, when the reality is that everything is a gift. And these gifts come from the hand of a Father who loves us even more than we love ourselves.
This image shows us the beauty of surrender. Yes, it is unbelievably scary. But look at this image: the Son of God became flesh in surrender; joy and peace came from surrender; beauty and love came forth from an act of complete surrender. This can be the same for us.
The plan of the Incarnation was not Mary’s own; but it was more beautiful than anything she could have intended. Yes, it was messy. Yes, it was painful. But, it definitely was beautiful. Death and separation from God became the vehicle for the utmost action of His Love…all through an action of complete surrender.
Pondering this image, ask the Lord, “What is holding me back from complete surrender?” This area shows where you lack trust in God. In this, ask Mary to give you her faith, which knew that her Father would only allow what was truly good for her. In this area of your life, ponder the Incarnation and its beauty. Such an action can lead us to a similar act of surrender.
May we all, like Mary, receive, conceive, and bear forth Christ in the world!
The image, "Our Lady of the Millennium" can be found at http://cardinalsblog.adw.org/2013/08/mary-star-of-evangelization/
Last spring, I found myself back in the United States after a summer spent chaperoning a trip to Poland for World Youth Day, immediately followed by a crazy fall semester studying abroad in Italy. I realized mid-February that for about six or seven months, I hadn’t spent more than three weeks in the same bed. I was constantly on the move, experiencing new things, meeting new people, and living as a local in a foreign country.
Yet through the craziness and busy-iness, and all the moving around, the only word I can use to describe my experience is SIMPLE.
You see posts everywhere about simplicity: “10 Ways to Simplify Your Life," “Simplify Your Home," or “Simplify Your Schedule," the list goes on…everyone seems to be trying to simplify everything. All these posts and articles seem to point to one thing: that simplicity means having everything in place. Everything is perfect, there’s no messy-ness, no clutter, no mess-ups.
But what I learned last year is a different aspect of the simple life: simple life in Christ. Don’t get me wrong, Christ is awesome and mighty and SO BIG we can’t even wrap our brains around Him. Yet, life with Him is simple because as a friend of mine pointed out to me, He is CONSTANT. It’s not that He takes away the messy-ness of our lives, but instead He orders it by becoming a priority in our lives…and then everything else falls into place.
When I look back on the crazy school year I just experienced, I realize there was only One thing, One Person who was the same, no matter what country I was in, or what language I was hearing out loud at Mass. Through all the movement and change, He was Constant, and because He was, life was simple.
When I came home for the spring semester, I realized I needed something radical to make me understand this truth and luckily Christ sent me a bunch of beautiful friends, some old, some very new, who challenged me to radically strive for sanctity through simplicity.
These men and women and I gave up almost as many pleasures as you can think of for 90 days (snacking, sweets, unnecessary shopping, drinking, overeating, social media, TV, secular music, etc.) and dedicated much of our days to times in prayer, not because we are great saints, but because we desire to be and we needed a re-ordering of our lives to set us back on track. It was hard, it was messy, it was time-consuming, overwhelming and sometimes stressful to accomplish everything in one day, and yet, it was simple.
Yes, life was simple because so many distractions were taken away, but it was especially simple because we replaced those distractions with Christ. I guess what I’ve learned most of all is when you put Christ at the upmost center of your life, you’ll want to simplify everything else because all of a sudden nothing else matters except following Him.
When Christ became the center of our lives, life became more beautiful. Our friendships became more beautiful; our ability to live as true women of Christ became more beautiful. I think of Our Lady, and how since Christ was the absolute center of her life, she was able to be authentically feminine because her life was in order. In the same way, we were able to order our priorities and truly live our feminine geniuses because we were simply ourselves: young women striving for holiness.
Radically striving for sanctity is possible for all of us, we just have to jump in and trust the Lord will bring us the means, the support, the strength, and the joy to do so
"Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” -Letter to Women, 2
Authenticity. It is something we admire in others, and yet, it can be so hard to model for ourselves. Sensitivity. It brings people closer together, but it can also be seen as a point of weakness. But, in this line by our late Holy Father, we are actually encouraged as women in our sensitivity and authenticity. Why?
We live in a culture which cultivates anything but a genuine showing of ourselves- of making ourselves truly known. Photo filters remove every flaw in our skin for that profile picture, social media bombards us with what everyone else is doing, and often, our newsfeed tempts us to think of what we lack.
It is not that these things are bad at all…In fact, there is an immense beauty of that we can do with social media and photography. But amidst this, we can see an abuse of such goods. The environment in which we live can convince us that everyone has their lives together and that we are meant for complete happiness in this life. It can convince us that we are lovable only when we are happy, self sufficient, and strong.
I currently am writing this blog post in Belize, in the heart of a village which has spoken the message of authenticity to my heart. For a few weeks, I have been teaching here on mission in a little village called Benque Viejo. The journey has been quite different than expected, as has been a walk on the way of authenticity for me.
Half my life, I dreamed of going on mission. I was inspired by Mother Teresa as a child, and wanted to help others in need. And the reality has been far from what I expected. I came to help people with my own “strength,” only to find that I am very weak. I have found that, while I thought my heart was open, it actually has been full of barriers; I have grasped onto many material possessions in order to try and find my identity in things other than God.
Amidst all this, something has struck me and brought down barriers in my heart. The people here are so genuine and open to receiving the other. They are direct and ask questions that get to the heart. And, many times since being here, I have witnessed a joyous smile, and a moment later heard about a tragedy from the same person. It has been through such people that I have encountered Christ in a tangible way.
Life is not “perfect,” and yet it still holds its joys. By sharing their stories, these people have shared their lives. They have opened their hearts and homes to a visitor like myself, making me feel more welcome than I have felt anywhere else. It seems as though the vulnerability of their lives has propelled them to be more open and welcoming to receiving the gift of the other.
When we think of the deepest outpouring of God's love for us, what comes to mind? The Cross. It is on the cross that Jesus was vulnerable. In such vulnerability, He was exposing himself to others in his weakness, making that a gift of love. He took a risk, knowing He could be rejected, and yet, still made a gift of Himself. It is in such an act of showing our true selves, in both joys and sorrows, that true love is born.
Authenticity. I have found that, yes, it is painful. It is hard to allow yourself to be seen and truly known. Doing so is taking a risk…It is taking a leap of faith that you might be rejected by those around you who do not fully embrace who you are. And yet, it is one of the most beautiful and attractive qualities one can possess. Authenticity - feeling both the joys and sorrows of life to the depths - enables one to embrace life to the fullest. It enables one to be loved as one truly is, and to give back in love to others.
Yes, our sensitivity as women can be seen as a burden in today’s society. And yet, the world needs us and this gift. The world needs the woman who feels things deeply and is there to listen to her best friend. It needs the mother who notices the joy her son finds in art, and encourages the unfolding of his talents. It needs the businesswoman who shares her feelings on how a new company change will affect the employees on a personal level. The gift of our sensitivity can change the world. It can be a gift that, as the Holy Father stated, “makes relationships more honest and authentic.”
By cultivating those authentic and real relationships around us, we can encourage others to see the person. We can encourage genuine love of others as they reveal their true selves, hoping to be seen and loved. And in that, we can love them and be with them with our compassionate hearts. Our sensitivity can encourage love in today’s world. So the real question remains, Where can you gift the world with your sensitivity and authenticity?
“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27)
Darkness, Light. Doubt, Faith. Death, Life. Our faith is full of paradoxes, and where there is a lack, we often see the birth of the opposite.
In this painting called “The Resurrection of Lazarus” by Leon Bonnat, we see faith in an utterly hopeless situation. This faith is exemplified most especially by two women whose feasts we just celebrated. In this image, Mary and Martha are at the feet of Christ, witnessing a miracle before their eyes. Instead of terror and fear, we see serenity in their face. We see a gentleness and awe in their appearance. These women are beholding in physical form the invisible reality of their faith.
In the midst of the two sisters, Jesus stands, firm and unwavering. His power, though not physically seen, is shown by his posture. With outstretched arms, it seems as though the life is coming out from Him. And Lazarus, whose lifeless body was in the darkness of a cave for four days, emerges in hints of light, still covered in his burial cloths. A life which was lost has been found again…All due to the faith of simple women who reached out to Christ in a time of need.
We often hear of Martha as the woman who was filled with worry (Luke 10::38-42). Yet, in this passage of Scripture, we see a woman with her weaknesses placing her entire self at the disposal of the Lord. Her sensitive heart, overwhelmed with grief at the loss of her brother, shows its true strength amidst one of the darkest moments of her life.
While this image doesn’t show us the darkness surrounding Lazarus’ death, we can probably imagine what Martha experienced. For four days, she probably went through the stages of grief and wondered how her life would move on after the loss of a loved one.
But, in this, she had the strength to run to the Lord and to proclaim her faith in Him. In John’s Gospel, we read that when Jesus was approaching the village, Martha did not wait for Jesus to come…She ran up to him. Her act of faith was persistent, as she claimed, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died." and later said, “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22). In this moment, Martha not only believed that Jesus was a healer, but she also proclaimed who He is…She saw with the eyes of faith. She knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and so, would have power to raise her brother from the dead if He willed. She got to the core of Christ’s identity by her faith.
Faith. It is something so powerful that it can bring someone back to life. Often, certain passages of Scripture can be so common to us that we often forget their significance. But, meditate on this image and Scripture passage again…A man, who was dead for four days, and as Scripture mentions, was stinking (John 11:39) was brought back to life! Something utterly impossible happened right before the eyes of numerous witnesses…All due to the faith of two women.
As you ponder this image, place yourself in the position of Martha or Mary. What is your Lazarus, dead in the tomb? What is that one thing which is dead in your heart? Is it a certain decision you made that you regret? A feeling of helplessness as you struggle with spiritual desolation? Or that one sin that you committed which you feel you can never let go of? Like Lazarus, Jesus wants to raise this from the dead. He comes into your life, as he came to the house of Martha and Mary, asking you for a reply.
Like in the situation of Lazarus, Jesus tells you, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it" (John 11:4). He awaits your faith; such an act of faith will bring an even greater glory out of something which seems like an evil to us.
Like Martha and Mary, let us give Jesus those areas of our hearts which seem dead and hopeless. Let us see with the eyes of faith, and place our hope in Him who is more powerful than us. Let us surrender ourselves to Him, knowing that as He raised Lazarus, He will bring glory out of all things.
The image of "The Resurrection of Lazarus" by Leon Bonnat can be found at https://www.wikiart.org/en/leon-bonnat/the-resurrection-of-lazarus
Recently, I came across a book by Alice Von Hildebrand titled, The Privilege of Being a Woman. While I have not read this book, the title carried to me an important reminder: it is a gift to be a woman. So often, our culture tells us that we, as women, are oppressed…But in reality, we are privileged! When viewed at from this lens, one’s entire perspective changes. One of these privileges given to us by God is the ability to be receptive. Women not only have the capacity to receive life within their womb, but also within their heart. Each person we encounter gives us the opportunity to exercise our feminine capacity to receive the other.
Pope Saint John Paul II in his papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, beautifully stated:
"We need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a ‘wonder’ (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death's door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity." (Evangelium Vitae, 83)
In each person, there is a facet of Christ. Every person is a unique and irreplaceable creation of God. If we allow it, we can open ourselves up to recognizing Christ in each person and discovering His qualities in them. There are many things that we can learn from others if we only open ourselves up to them. However, many times we fail to come out of ourselves and our own concerns in order to receive the gift of the other. When we do this, we miss out on receiving the gift God wants to give us through those around us. In addition to this, we miss out on the opportunity to serve others in their needs.
Mother Teresa constantly sought out “Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” She desired that all people recognize the presence of Christ in the poor; for when they serve the poor, they are serving Christ. Mother Teresa embodied this message and is a powerful intercessor for those of us who desire to see the face of Christ in each and every person.
It is so easy in today’s world to go about our busy lives constantly thinking about what I have to do next instead of taking in the gifts of the present. Do I take time to pause and reflect on where God is around me? Am I constantly on my phone while I am walking down the street or am I looking ahead to see whom I can greet? Am I always talking about what I want to talk about or do I listen to what others want to say?
It is not easy to always be open to the gift of the other. In some instances, it is difficult to see a person as a gift. Sometimes, it is much easier to see their faults instead of the gifts and virtues they possess.
This reminds me of an encounter I had with a homeless man and woman. They were sitting outside a store with blankets over their legs trying to keep warm. From the exterior, these individuals looked extremely rough. They both had strange piercings and tattoos. The man even had a profane word tattooed onto his knuckles. At first I felt very hesitant and uncomfortable when speaking with them, but after listening to them tell their stories, I realized that they were human beings with real emotions just like me. Their hard exterior began to melt away as I began to see them for who they really were and empathize with their sufferings. These individuals touched my heart and made me more open to seeing Christ in others.
Let us pray for the eyes of faith so that we may see each individual as Christ sees them. When you cultivate such an attitude of heart, you will be amazed at whom God puts in your life and what these individuals can teach you. May we never forget how privileged we are to be women of God; women who have the beautiful capacity to receive others into our hearts. May we use this gift of our femininity to serve the Church and those around us.
St. John Paul II, pray for us.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.