Unfathomable 

This past Sunday, the Church celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, a day dedicated to reveling in the greatness of God’s Mercy and specifically the message of divine mercy entrusted to the poor, uneducated nun of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland in the late 1920s and 1930s. This nun, Sr. Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament, was entrusted with private revelations from Jesus telling to her the greatness of His mercy and the job she had as His ‘secretary.’

In this, the Jubliee Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this past December, we the faithful have been commissioned in a special way to reflect on the unfathomable divine mercy of God and to participate in the mysteries of His mercy.

What is mercy? Mercy is the gift of God, He whom it is within His power to punish, to forgive our miserable mistakes and transgressions against Him. The Latin word from whence our word ‘mercy’ comes is misericordia. Misericordia comes from miserere (meaning ‘miserable’ or ‘pity’) and cor (meaning ‘heart’). Therefore, God in His infinite and unfathomable divine mercy forgives us of a miserable heart that has done wrong against Him. We are so far from worthy of this mercy, and yet we are in such great, great need of it! By His mercy, our God draws us ever nearer to Him.

In one of the recorded conversations in her diary Jesus said to St. Faustina:

“Know, My Daughter, that between Me and you there is a bottomless abyss, an abyss which separates the Creator from the creature. But this abyss is filled with My mercy. I raise you up to Myself, not that I have need of you, but it is solely out of mercy that I grant you the grace of union with Myself.” (1576) 

Though an abyss of Perfect to imperfect, Being itself to created being, Goodness itself to fallen man, Merciful Father to prodigal son separates us from Him, He draws us near in His unfathomable mercy.

Christ crucified is the image of divine mercy. There on the cross Jesus Christ overcame sin and death so that man, weak man, pitiful man, miserable man, might have another chance at true life in communion with God. The blood and water flowing from his side are a symbol of the Eucharist and Baptism. These two great sacraments are instruments of God’s great mercy. Baptism is a washing away of sin and putting on of Christ. The Eucharist IS Jesus Christ Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Nothing we could ever do could possibly ever, ever, EVER allow us to earn these gifts. They are gifts given to the Church in the mercy of God to wash away our misery of original sin, and to nourish us in the strength of heart needed for this sojourn here on earth. We need His mercy.

Today, I celebrate 21 years of life here on this earth. What better a time to contemplate His mysteries of mercy than during the Jubliee Year of Mercy, directly after Divine Mercy Sunday, after spending Lent reading St. Faustina’s diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, as I prepare to make pilgrimage to Poland in the heart of the Divine Mercy message, and on the day I get to particularly revel in marvelous fact of my existence which is entirely owed to the mercy of God? Answer: no better a time!

How often really do we contemplate our existence? I mean, it’s all well and good to celebrate a birthday with cake, a party, spending time with your favorite people, and for legal participants (which I now am!) a refreshing alcoholic beverage. We do all of those things because we know there’s a cause to celebrate, but I think we too seldom meditate on that cause: the fact of our existence.

I exist. There was a time when I did not exist. I do not exist independently. I did not will myself into being. Oh no. I am willed into being, better yet, I am LOVED into being every single second of every day by the God who is Love. How bewildering is that? My very existence, and the very existence of each human person screams the unending and unfathomable mercy of God. I was known and loved by Him long before I was knit together in my mother’s womb. I am loved by Him. I am known by Him. We are loved. We are known. We are wanted. And all this life is a gift from Him.

You know what is even more bewildering? Not only have I been giving this enormous gift of life on this beautiful earth, but through the efficacious grace of the sacrament of baptism, I have been given the chance of life eternal with God. This is what I (and every other person out there) have been made for: life with God. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, damaged our design of life walking in the cool of the day with God. Turning from God in sin, they turned inward and created for themselves hearts wallowing in misery. But Jesus restored us to life through His suffering, death, and resurrection and turns our miserable hearts to joyful ones by the surprising joy of Easter morning.

St. Faustina writes:

“God, who in Your mercy have deigned to call man from nothingness into being, generously have You bestowed upon him nature and grace. But that seemed too little for Your infinite goodness. In Your mercy, O Lord, You have given us everlasting life. You admit us to Your everlasting happiness and grant us to share in Your interior life. And You do this solely out of Your mercy. You bestow on us the gift of Your grace, only because You are good and full of love. You had no need of us at all to be happy, but You, O Lord, want to share Your own happiness with us.” (1743)

So. I exist. Not only do I exist but I live in hope of life eternal. Not only that, but that life eternal would mean participating in the everlasting happiness of God who is Goodness and Love. Can I get a strong, joyful Easter Alleluia?

May we never forget our need of His unfathomable Divine Mercy!

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I conclude with the beautiful concluding prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy:

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

Jesus, I trust in You!

May God bless you on your way!

Everything is Grace

I flew over the Atlantic ocean to spend a semester in Ireland nearly five weeks ago. Almost since the moment I arrived I have wanted to share this journey with y’all. But every time I sat down to write my first blog post something held me back. Either I became distracted, or I argued with myself about what to write, or I became anxious that I wouldn’t be able to capture the experience. Now I am refusing distraction, I will plow forward with whatever words are given to me, and I have reconciled myself to the fact I will inevitably fail to capture all that I have seen and done and felt.

I’m going to give y’all the condensed version of my last five weeks for two reasons: 1) Telling every detail would make for a ridiculously long post (if you want more insight, I would be more than happy to fill you in if you contact me!), and 2) I have something much greater on my heart to share than the basic itinerary of the last five weeks.

Week One:

I left the continental United States for the first time in my life to come to Limerick, Ireland! In the Houston airport, my phone was lost and/or stolen. That was an adventure. Two days after moving into my new apartment, I went to Dublin for three days. My time in the city itself was happily spent meandering around, visiting Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, and a ton of churches that I randomly stumbled into.

The River Liffey.

The River Liffey.

Our Lady of Dublin inside Whitefriar Street Church.

Our Lady of Dublin inside Whitefriar Street Church.

I left from Dublin for a day tour of the Wicklow Mountains, and I can honestly say that my heart was completely captivated.

The bench from Leap Year - my super touristy moment.

The bench from Leap Year in Enniskerry – my super touristy moment.

The amazing Wicklow Mountains!

The amazing Wicklow Mountains!

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The breathtaking beauty of Glendalough.

The breathtaking beauty of Glendalough.

The rest of week one was filled with orientation and meeting the other international students, which was a lot of fun!

During the weekend I took a jaunt with several friends to the town of Adare, reputedly the most charming village in Ireland.

Thatched roof cottage in Adare.

Thatched roof cottage in Adare.

Week 2:

Adjusting to a different way of education was difficult at first, and almost all of my pre-approved classes fell through. I ended up in Modern Drama, Theology of the New Testament, German, and Celts and Early Christianity. I really enjoy each of my professors, but it is strange not taking my usual flux of theology classes. I miss my Church Fathers and complicated papers.

The first weekend after classes began, I was blessed with the amazing opportunity to accompany a professor to a seminar held at Clonmacnoise. Clonmacnoise is situated in the middle of Ireland, and during the Middle Ages it was a great place of study and prayer. Thousands of monks, religious sisters, and lay people worked, prayed, and studied there. Now Clonmacnoise is one of the two largest and best preserved monastic sites in Ireland.

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Week 3: The second week of classes brought with it a little more security and familiarity with my new routine. On Friday, a group of us explored the events open for Limerick’s Culture Night. We explored a local museum, walked the medieval walls of the city, and stormed King John’s Castle. It was a blast! Saturday, we went on a day tour the Cliffs of Moher, and my words fail to describe the awe-inspiring beauty of the Cliffs. If I could only recount all the thoughts that streamed in my head in awe of the majestic landscape.

View from the tower of King John's Castle overlooking the River Shannon!

View from the tower of King John’s Castle overlooking the River Shannon!

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On Sunday, we visited the nearby town, Ennis, which was very charming. We also visited Craggaunowen, a heritage site that has reconstructed a crannog and a ring fort from ages past. It was a cold and wet day, but it suited the mood of the serene woods and ancient living situations.

Beautiful woods at the Craggaunowen site.

Beautiful woods at the Craggaunowen site.

Week Four: I experienced quite a bit of homesickness this week. I was finally settled, and I was no longer rushing around to get everything I needed. This meant I had time to think more and more about the people I was missing. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to Skype with a number of friends and family. This was the first weekend with some established rest. On Sunday, I was supposed to make a pilgrimage to Knock, but I unfortunately missed the bus to get to the Marian Shrine. Instead, I made the trip to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, and spent a lovely day there with good friends.

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Week Five: This has been a very good week so far, though it is not quite over. My classes are going well, and we’ve had some very fine weather for strolling through the park. I’ve experienced fall for the first time in my life, and I think I’m beginning to see what the fuss is all about.

Today, October 1st, is a very important day for me, and for many of the faithful in the world. Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She is my patron saint and is very near and dear to my heart. She is one of the four female Doctors of the Church, and much can be gleaned from the words she left us with during her short life on earth. Below is one of my favorite quotes, one that has been on my heart constantly since I came to Ireland:

“Everything is grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love — difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs — everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness — Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events — to the heart that loves, all is well.” -Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Everything I have experienced on this journey so far has been a grace. Everything. From losing my cell phone, to sitting in pubs talking to people, to spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, to walking literally everywhere, to expanding my horizons in sometime uncomfortable ways, everything has been a grace.

In the hub bub of getting over here, I forgot for the first few weeks that this is not merely a trip abroad, but this is a pilgrimage. My very first blog post, and in fact my entire blog, is dedicated to my understanding of being a pilgrim in this world. And I somehow lost sight of that, and lost sight of God’s specific call to me to come to this land.

Almost nothing has gone according to my plans for this experience. Five weeks ago, this would have made me worried sick. But in the last five weeks, I’ve gained a fair bit of perspective on my anxiety. I’m learning how to be flexible with my plans. A pilgrim has to be flexible. The destination may be solid, but the journey there can take many unexpected twists, turns, and may present some obstacles to overcome. My journey has seen a lot of change, a lot of variation in the plans I had originally intended, and although there has been some grief I have mostly experienced great joy in the unexpected moments of my journey.

Whatever graces come my way in this life, I must remember that this world is hardly permanent. Some day, it will all pass away. My dear best friend in heaven, St. Thérèse, reminds us that “The world is thy ship and not thy home.”

This understanding of the world and of the human condition came from the family in which she was raised. Her parents, Bl. Zelie and Bl. Louis, experienced much suffering in their lives and in their deaths. In spite of their earthly sufferings, they always looked forward to the joy of Heaven, the joy of abiding forever with God. Right now, I am reading their family correspondence, and it is very illuminating about Thérèse’s home life. Her parents were not perfectly pious people to be placed on pedestals. On the contrary, they experienced the uplifting joys and crushing sorrows of raising children and losing children, of trying to run a business, and watching the world around them change dramatically over time. What Zelie and Louis do provide us with is an insight into a home where Christ and His Church came first above all, where children were showered with love, where extended family was cherished, and where spouses mutually supported each other in all possible ways. They are a beautiful example of Christian marriage, and of a solid Christian family.

On October 18th, Bl. Zelie and Bl. Louis will be canonized saints by Pope Francis in Rome. Everything is grace, and I am blessed to announce the grace I have been given in the opportunity to attend the Canonization Mass for the parents of the Little Flower. I am in complete wonder and awe that this will really be happening in two weeks! I have been praying for this opportunity for months, and blessedly, my prayer has been granted. Their canonization will take place during the Synod on the Family, and they are, most significantly, the first married couple to be canonized together.

Two weeks from today, I will embark for Rome, for the heart of Christianity since St. Peter. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! I head for Rome as a pilgrim, and though I may encounter difficulties on the road to Rome, I accept all the Lord has in store for me as a grace.

So I ask you to pray for me as I prepare for and embark on this pilgrimage to Rome. Please send me your prayer requests, and I will carry them with me on my heart as I embrace the experience and walk the streets where so many prayers have been offered up to God.

May God bless you on your way!

Leaving the Shire.

Tomorrow, I leave for a semester abroad in Ireland. I will leave behind family, friends, and home to embrace a foreign culture and people. I have never left home like this before, and I never anticipated that I would.

The last few weeks were a flurry of packing, looking up information, spending quality time with quality people, and saying goodbyes.

As I’ve said goodbye to many friends, it has dawned on me how very, very blessed I am to have the friends I have. I have been given not one, but TWO wonderful surprise going away parties by my friends and family at my parish and my friends at my university. There has been a lot of laughter, a lot of food, and a lot of tears. I am so in awe of the people God has placed in my life. They have done nothing but shower me with love and kindness and well-wishes and prayers since I made the decision to study abroad (except in those brief moments of “Kenzie don’t leave! No wait, go and have adventures!)

Although the goodbyes have been difficult to say, my heart has been overflowing with gratitude. I am so incredibly grateful to belong to communities who have helped me to grow closer to Christ through their witness, helped teach me about what it means to make Him present to others, helped show me how to love. The power of friendship cannot be underestimated and should not be under appreciated. How truly, truly marvelous it is to have so many people that make it so hard to leave.

During my preparations to leave, I’ve been watching and reading about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The story is rife with adventures from home, the power of friendship and fellowship, learning about the broader scope of the world, and insights about how the individual participates in the story of creation. While anybody who knows me knows that I could talk LOTR alllll the day long, that is not what I am going to do. Instead, I want to focus in on a very brief quote that has pierced my heart most especially in the last few days.

At the end of Return of the King, Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond board a ship at the Grey Havens to cross the Sea to Valinor. It is the end of their presence in Middle Earth because Valinor is essentially the Middle Earth equivalent of Heaven. Merry, Pippin, and Sam must say goodbye to Frodo whom they have sacrificed themselves for and whom they love dearly.

Gandalf here imparts some wisdom that has been on my mind often:

“Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

The last few weeks have seen me with many tears rolling down my cheeks. But the thing is, most of them are not out of the sadness of parting. Some of them are, I will admit, but for the most part, I have found them to be tears of gratitude.

Saying goodbye is bittersweet. The leaving part is bitter because it is difficult to be apart from those you love. But the leaving part is sweet too because it offers you an opportunity to truly reflect on the goodness of those you love.

The fruits of confronting the awe-inspiring goodness of my friends and family are tears. Not all tears are an evil. These have been tears inspired by the great goodness of the people around me.

How could it be that God has chosen to bless me with so many amazing individuals who I not only consider friends, but family? How could it be that I am surrounded in the unselfish, self-giving love of these beautiful people?

I have forged these friendships on mutual faith, and a mutual understanding that encountering the other person is truly an encounter with the Divine. Each of us are made in the Image and Likeness of God. When we recognize how and for whom we are made our relationships change. Encountering the other becomes an encounter with the Creator. We are shocked and delighted by the profundity of love that we find in the other, because he is and we are sustained by Love Himself.

Small wonder that I am having such a difficult time leaving such friends!

So this post is for all of you who make leaving home so hard. Thank you, each of you, for touching my life in ways I will never be able to fully understand. Thank you for being a shining light in my life. Thank you for embracing me as I am and yet always encouraging me to grow and become more fully myself. Thank you for the assurance that I am loved and I will be missed. Thank you for daily reminding me that life is a joy and a privilege, particularly when I’m sharing it with you. Thank you for being my friends and thank you for becoming my family.

Tomorrow, this Hobbit leaves the comfort and familiarity of her Shire. Tomorrow, I begin a new adventure. Tomorrow, I cross the Sea. But don’t worry. This isn’t Middle Earth. I am not going to Valinor never to return. I’ll be back come December. Expect many blog posts to come with updates on the mountains I cross, the dragons I slay, and the people I encounter.

May God bless each of you in your own adventures in this world.

The Walking Wounded

The sun glared. The heat wrapped us up in its devouring embrace. 

“By the statue of the Agony in the Garden,” I mumbled. 

“I found the grave,” my brother said. 

I stared at the stone. In gray and black it spelled out very few facts about the man: 

James William Key, MD 

January 30, 1953 – July 2, 2003

I found that I couldn’t cry at the grave.

After leaving the cemetery we stopped by the church he was raised in, where he had taken us, and where his funeral was held. When I entered the chapel, my heart became confused. It both sank deep into my stomach and somehow also rose up to my throat. I stared at the golden monstrance, stared at the Body of Christ, and did my best to offer it all up to him. In the restaurant we went to at lunch, I felt like my face gave me away. People looked up at me as I walked towards our table, and they looked into my eyes. I tried to smile, but I think the eyes gave me away. There they found the impenetrable sadness, the grief unexpressed. 

Yesterday marked the 12th anniversary of my father’s death. July 2nd has been the weirdest day of the year for me since then. Not necessarily the saddest, but certainly the strangest. It’s hard to put into words, but I need to try. That’s why I’m writing this post, so that I might be able to formulate both to myself and to those around me the state of my heart on July 2nd.

The cold and curt gravestone cannot capture who the man was. He had been a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a doctor, a Catholic, a football player and coach, a lover of musicals, a fan of the Beatles, a restorer of the family beach house. He was many wonderful things. But people are complicated. He was complicated, too. He was sad, very sad. An inexplicable sadness, an incurable pain clouded over him. It was his cross that he did not know how to bear. Not only was he sad, he was also angry at times. He couldn’t really control it. He was sick as well as sad. He was very sick. Because of the sickness, he sometimes said and did terrible things. Though he never physically hurt me, sometimes I was afraid of him. But mostly, I loved him, and I was sad that he was so sad. I was only eight when he died. I couldn’t process it. I couldn’t understand it. I wept for hours. I remember going to the viewing, and seeing his body in the casket and thinking, “Surely he’s going to wake up now. It’s all just been an elaborate misunderstanding, an elaborate joke.” But he never woke up, and the casket was closed. On the day of the funeral, I had a difficult time crying. I thought that I ought to be crying as his daughter. But I couldn’t. My emotions were mixed. I loved my dad, and I was so sad that he was gone, but in a terrible way I was relieved, too because I also feared him at times. And then I felt even more terrible for feeling relieved. How could a daughter be relieved by her father’s death?

My mixed feelings spiraled and I spent my third grade year in a depression that my classmates could not understand.

On July 2nd of every year, I still have mixed feelings. I have sorely felt his absence in my life. Now those feelings are dominated by a sadness for his sickness, and I am no longer relieved that he’s gone. But I began to build walls to “protect myself” from others when I was 8, and I really only stopped building them when I was 16 or 17. Since then, I have been working on taking them back down and truly embracing the people around me. However, it’s all a process. I rediscover new walls often. I cry my eyes out on days where nothing significant has happened, but I simply recall a new facet to the man who was my dad. Yet I can’t cry on the anniversary of my dad’s death. He was complicated. I am complicated. Life is complicated.

Something I have learned from the things that have happened to those that I love and from the things that have happened to me is that you never know what cross someone is bearing. Most people I meet, and probably most people who read this probably had no idea that my dad, his death, and his memory have been some of my most profound struggles in my life. We never know the cross people are bearing. Often, people are struggling up Calvary, and they feel that they must struggle in silence. Often, people struggle and manifest their stress in being unkind or violent because they do not know how else to release their pain.

Man struggles. Man is wounded. Our world and our hearts have been invaded by the horrors of sin, suffering, and death. We are the walking wounded.  But I implore you, whatever it is that you are struggling with, let not your wounds wound others. I have spent too much of the last 12 years wounding others because of the wounds I carry and the walls I built. Instead of wounding further, try a healing course. If you are wounded spend time thinking of the people around you who are also surely carrying wounds. Let your wounds make you more compassionate and more empathetic towards those you meet. Begin to heal the wounds instead of harming others; help instead of hindering relationships by your walls. Allow your wounds help you embrace faith, hope, and charity. I need to allow my wounds, and Jesus Christ my Healer, to do the same for me.

Please pray for me and my family and the crosses we bear. Please know I’m praying for you, too. May God bless you on this strange yet marvelous journey of life.

Twenty and Feeling Fine

Two months ago, I turned twenty-years-old. The weeks between then and now have been a flurry of finals, graduations, and celebrations. In the midst of it all, I have been reflecting a LOT on what crossing the threshold into my twenties means for me. As I waded through these musings on my age, I thought I might share them with the world. I’d like to make my blog posts more regular (hopefully weekly) so I can develop my writing skills. So, without further ado, below are twenty musings of mine on being twenty-years-old. 

20. I am no longer a teenager! Thanks be to God – the teenage years were difficult. I am over and done with teen angst. 

19. I can say that I have lived in two different millennium, two different centuries, and three different decades which is pretty weird when I stop and think about it.

18. A lot of people credit their twenties as the best decade of their life. I don’t know if this will prove true in my case, but I’m looking forward to the next decade!

17. I’m on the threshold of growing up. I have still got some time before I fully enter the adult world, and I am glad for the breathing room in my process of maturation.

16. I am halfway through my college undergraduate years! This is both amazing and terrifying.

15. I have so much enthusiasm about learning about myself and the world around me. Though I have plenty on my plate, I do not yet have the cares that adults in the working world have. I have the blessing to learn more about myself and the world I live in during this time of my life.

14. Living in hope is essential for me. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “The one who has hope lives differently.” I want to live differently than the masses who live in despair.

13. I have time to figure myself out. I’m only twenty, and I have (God-willing) time to discern the options for my future life.

12. Honestly, saying twenty rather than nineteen sounds more sophisticated and I enjoy that. 

11. Though my life so far has been tumultuous at times, I have been given a lot of perspective from my experiences. I have an abundance of experiences to reflect on and glean from.

10. It’s been six years since I truly began a personal relationship with Christ. Six! How much I’ve learned about Him and myself in these six years.

9. I appreciate that I’ve made it to twenty years of age because apparently I made a very dramatic and difficult entrance into the world.

8. My circumstances in life are such that not only are my basic needs met, but I have manifold blessings that I do not strictly “need.”

7. From the womb, my mother began a literary love in me that I continue to foster. Books have taught me invaluable lessons and taken me on many adventures. There are so many books I have yet to read – and a lifetime to read them! May the bibliophilia continue for all my days!

6. I have learned that adults don’t have life figured out either, so the pressure to have it all together all the time has dissipated.

5. I’m due for a quarter-life crisis. QUARTER LIFE. Woweee.

4. I feel like I’ve come so far, and yet, I still feel like a baby. It is a bewildering precipice that I stand on. 

3. I have learned SO MUCH in college thus far. I can’t wait for all the amazing things I’ll learn in and out of the classroom in the years to come. 

2. I may be young, but I have been given so much. I want to use what I have been given to glorify God in all I do whether it be in school, at home, in the Church, or my relationships with others. 

1. I am surrounded by beautiful people. My friends worked really hard this year to make the celebration of my existence on my birthday really special for me. My family loves me unconditionally. I was beyond BLESSED to celebrate my twentieth birthday on Easter Sunday. Christ gave all for me, and I want to use this life to give all for Him. 

An Every Day Resolution

First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR! *insert magical confetti falling all around*

It is now 2015, and that of course means that people around the world are making resolutions for this new year. From eating habits to work out habits to crossing things off the bucket list, people make all kinds of resolutions to improve their lives. More often than not, these resolutions are given up on within a month, if not a week. Too few of us have the determination and endurance to keep resolute for any extended amount of time.

After taking a practical morality class this past semester, it’s an especially beautiful thing for me to see people at least try to make some sort of effort to form good habits. Good habits are called virtues and bad habits are called vices. Virtue builds us up, and vice tears us down.

Unfortunately, most of us fall into vice instead of resolutely choosing virtue. To make a habit of vice is easier (especially in today’s society) than to make a habit of virtue.

But here’s the thing: we want the good habits. We want the good so much that it hurts and it can hurt to choose the good, both the choice itself and the consequences of that choice. The alternative is evasion of this hurt in making a different (and ultimately more painful) choice. Choosing a false or lower good rather than striving towards the true and higher good is sadly the common response.

I think a lot of people (myself included) make New Year’s Resolutions to comfort ourselves that we at the very least thought about choosing good habits. However, how many of us actually make resolutions to improve and grow in the life of moral habits or virtues? After all, we are called by Christ and His Church to holiness. Do we apply this call to the resolutions that we abandon before February? Or do we know that if we did that, we’d have to endure and persevere in our resolution? Would we be less likely to abandon our new year’s resolutions if we resolved to be kinder than if we resolved to eat healthier? Or would we be more likely because resolutions of virtue are more difficult?

I am not sure I know the answers to those questions.

What I do know is this: sometimes our resolutions are not realistic

Sometimes we want too much from ourselves all at once. We recognize how much we need and want to improve, and we try to accomplish sainthood in a day.

I think a lot of us would do better and be more resolute in our resolutions if we did what serious runners do: pace ourselves.

The life of virtue is arduous. It is entirely possible. You can pursue it. But we all need to be able to evaluate ourselves realistically and set goals that are attainable at the pace we are able to maintain.

I think I have a realistic resolution for everyone at the beginning of this year. And it is this:

Sursum Cor, Prorsus Oculos.

Translated from Latin this says: Heart up, eyes forward. This is a phrase I strung together last summer after some reflection on Jesus’ Ascent into Heaven and the words of the Mass.

During the Mass, the priest says: “Lift up your hearts.” In the Latin it is: “Sursum Corda.” A more literal translation would be: “Hearts up.” We are called – during the Mass – to offer up our hearts to God. Do we really do this?

After Jesus ascended into Heaven, what did the apostles do? They stood around staring at the sky. Some angels had to tell them to leave. I feel like this is sort of a face palm moment for the apostles. They know that the Holy Spirit will soon come to them. Instead of setting off to prepare their hearts for the descent of the Holy Spirit they stand and gape open-mouthed at the sky. (Acts 1:6-11)

The apostles eyes were on the sky, not in front of them. They were too worried about what was to come (the restoration of the Kingdom) instead of their current mission on earth.

I do not want to refuse God the offering of my heart. I do not want to lose sight of my mission. To prevent these things from happening I will repeat over and over and over again: sursum cor, prorsus oculos. Heart up, eyes forward. I want to offer my heart up to God daily while daily keeping my eyes focused on my God-given mission: the salvation of souls and the glorification of God.

This is not a New Year’s resolution. This is my every day resolution. Sursum cor, prorsus oculos is the resolution I hope to keep resolute. I think it’s a realistic resolution for me and for you. I hope you will take up this resolution with me.

May God bless you on your way!

Lux

Last week I was able to go see the Zoo Lights at the Houston Zoo with my friend. It was a fantastic experience! So. Many. Pretty. Lights.

Fairy Lights!

Fairy Lights!

Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

The displays were absolutely breathtaking and awe-inspiring! Lights that twinkled, lights that glowed, lights in formation, lights hanging down, lights flashing in time to music, white lights, color explosion of lights! So many lights! In the midst of my child-like awe and excitement I began to contemplate the reason we put up lights at this time of the year.

A little investigation yielded the fact that the first Christmas tree lit up with electric lights was a sales gimmick for Thomas Edison in the late 1800s. It was offered as a safer alternative to the tradition of placing lighted candles on the tree (can we say fire hazard?)

Speaking of candles, we see a lot of those at this time of year, too. Especially placed on big, green wreaths. Especially groups of three purple candles and one pink candle. Especially due to the Advent season.

Why is there so much light to be found even as the days become darker? Candles have long been used in history as reminders in the midst of Winter that the light and warmth of Spring will return. Christians adopted and the adapted this tradition in the Advent wreath – which is now used in spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus the Christ.

The devil’s name is Lucifer, which means light bearer. He was once the highest of the angels and he was once the bringer of light. When he turned from God and tempted mankind, he brought forth only the darkness of sin and death.

Jesus came to earth to dispel the darkness which ruptured the relationship between God and man. Jesus came to light the world with the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Triune God who wants to be in relationship with us. The Advent season, filled with light, directs us to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas, but this season also exhorts us to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. It is crucial for us to prepare for both.

In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet says,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2) 

Man walked in darkness for thousands of years. The Word of God became flesh to dwell among us and so brought back the light to mankind. Jesus is the Light of the World. Lights dispel the surrounding darkness to show the way so that the traveler does not have to stumble blindly around. Christ our Light is the Way. He is the candle to dispel the surrounding darkness of the world, the darkness of mankind, and the darkness within each of us.

My favorite verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” goes like this:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

There is nothing quite so cheerful as the warmth of a flame. The word advent means “coming.” The Advent of Christ ignites our wearied souls with the fire of God’s love for us. Brothers and sisters, I ask that you allow the warmth of Christ’s light penetrate you to the depths of your soul especially during this Advent and Christmas season. May God bless you on your way! 

The Pilgrim

“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray/from the straight road and woke to find myself/alone in a dark wood.” ~Dante, The Inferno

“The world is thy ship and not thy home.” ~ St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

“To be a ‘viator’ means to be ‘on the way’. The status viatoris is, then, the ‘condition or state of being on the way.'” ~ Josef Pieper, treatise on Hope.

The above are words of pilgrimage. Pieper’s words truly capture what it means to be a pilgrim. A pilgrim is one who is on the way. A destination is in the mind of the pilgrim. The way there, however, may not always be so clear. Nor is the pilgrim assured of reaching his destination. The pilgrim is simply on the way, trying to reach the destination his heart yearns for.

I am a pilgrim on the way to several different destinations. I have already reached several of my pilgrimage-sites in this life. The primary place my pilgrim’s heart seeks will take a lifetime to reach, God willing. I am, first and foremost, a pilgrim on the way to the home Dante, St. Thérèse, and Josef Pieper more explicitly address in their works – Heaven. My life is a journey to return to God, to join the Church Triumphant. I live in hope that I will reach this destination.

In the meantime, there are somewhat shorter pilgrimages I have embarked on.

This semester I have made the pilgrimage through Hell with Dante (twice!), as well as journeying along the way with the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I have read the pilgrim songs of the recurring pilgrim people, the ancient Israelites. The Songs of Ascents found from Psalm 120 to Psalm 134 are the ‘on the way’ songs of a people constantly ‘on the way.’ My classes themselves have been a pilgrimage from the first day to the upcoming final exams.

I have been on an interior pilgrimage since Pentecost Sunday. This interior pilgrimage has been somewhat of a ‘journey of self-discovery’ you could say. The pilgrimage ends on December 8 – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Though I didn’t reach the destination I originally had in mind, I realize now that I have arrived at the destination that I needed to reach.

World Youth Day. Krakow, Poland in 2016. This is a destination near and dear to my heart. In the summer of 2016, I will journey with a group of young adults from the U.S. to Poland to participate in pilgrimage with millions of God’s children. This event gathers together the faithful from all over the globe to celebrate the universality and joy of the Church. This pilgrimage will not begin in July of 2016. Rather, the pilgrimage began the moment I said ‘yes’ to the journey. Before participating in the World Youth Day events, my pilgrimage group will see and experience the vast religious richness Poland has to offer. We will see St. Faustina’s original Divine Mercy painting. We will visit Auschwitz. We will visit the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Together, we will experience a beautiful journey, a spectacular pilgrimage on the way to World Youth Day and the celebration of the pope and the saint who began World Youth Day in the 80’s: Pope St. John Paul II. If you are able, please help me make this pilgrimage here: www.gofundme.com/kenzietopoland.

Today, the universal Church begins the pilgrimage of Advent. We journey together towards the day that we celebrate the birth of our Savior. During the next 24 days, the faithful are called to prepare their hearts for the coming day of joy. Along the way there will be songs, feasts, prayers, and breathless anticipation. Although I have celebrated 19 Christmases, each year I still experience the anxious anticipation of what we are about to fully celebrate. Did the Savior really come to earth? Is He really the one my soul yearns for? Could it be that so great a King humbled himself for me? Earnest reflections upon the Incarnation and birth of Christ are quite mind-boggling.

When going on a pilgrimage, the pilgrim usually takes supplies for the way. Fold out maps have been replaced for the most part by smart phones and electronic GPSes, but paper maps give a more all-encompassing view of the surroundings. Maps offer myriads of paths and roads and stopping places. They provide different options for reaching the same destination. Some routes are more scenic and others are more straightforward. When lost, a map can be used to get back to the road you want to be on, or to find a better route. Keys are also good to carry on the way. Keys unlock treasure chests, castles, and prison doors. Possession of a key could be the difference between indefinite confusion and turmoil or mysteries answered. Maps and keys ought to be taken by the pilgrim on the journey.

Along the way, the pilgrim will very likely experience uncertainty, indecision, roadblocks, forks in the road, dangerous beasts, and dead ends. Journeys are frequently fraught with dangers. Like Dante in the Inferno, the pilgrim can become lost in a dark wood despairing and far from the true way. But this can NOT be how the pilgrim continues the pilgrimage! Virgil was sent to Dante to be his guide away from the dark wood and through the horrors of Hell. Virgil gave Dante advice, encouraged or chastised Dante’s reactions, and directed him along the path.

Jesus Christ came to be the ultimate Guide for every human person. He came to give his pilgrim people hope for the journey. He gives us advice, encourages and chastises us when needed, and directs us along the path. For Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is our Way to the ultimate pilgrimage destination: Heaven. As I said above, the pilgrim is not certain that he will reach his destination, but he yearns for and strains towards it. St. Paul says to in his epistle to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

(Phil. 3:12-14)

We have not yet attained the prize! We are still on the way, as Josef Pieper pointed out. But be not afraid of what lies ahead! Jesus Christ has provided us with supplies for the journey. By map and key, Jesus Christ provided the Church the supplies to make the pilgrimage. These blessed maps are the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the wisdom shared by the people of God throughout the ages. These keys are the keys of St. Peter and the Sacraments. By map and key, the pilgrim will journey with hope towards the home his whole being cries out for.

Brothers and sisters, I am praying for you as you experience the many and various pilgrimages that the world has to offer. I ask that you pray for me, too. Do not lose sight of the ultimate pilgrimage destination. In this season of Advent, may the hopeful pilgrim spirit be on your mind and in your heart. May God bless you on your way!