Packaging and Engineering Faith
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in this sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. “ - Job 12:7-10
This is part of Job’s response when being asked about his suffering.
During this present, frustrating, and uncertain time, many people, like me may be wondering, when will this end? A lot of people are suffering of sickness, or grief from lost loved ones.
During this pandemic, both Satan and the Lord are at play. Satan is glad people are suffering, however, the Lord can bring good from this seemingly evil, and certainly difficult pandemic. Do you trust God to do this? Do you place your hope in him? It is simple to approach God in the same way that Job did. It takes faith to trust and accept whatever God brings our way.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. “
- Romans 8:28
Through all this uncertainty and confusion, we can be sure that the Lord does love and care for us. Even when, like Job, we don’t understand our circumstances. God's plan is not always our plan. But, Saint Paul reminds us that we are "called to (God's) purposes" and to trust in that love. If we trust in God then we do not need to concern ourselves with worry as "tomorrow will care for itself". (Mathew 6:34).
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
- Matthew 6:26-27
Dear Lord, your hand holds the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Help us to trust in you now and always. We ask you end this virus and all the suffering. Help us as your followers to bring people closer to you during this time of stress and suffering. Help us to point others to the comfort found in trusting you. Give the health care workers strength. Give our government wisdom. And give encouragement to essential workers. Give everyone, working or not, hope and bring us all closer to you. In Jesus name, Amen.
"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me." - Matthew 18:3-5
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, and the above Gospel quotation helps focus our attention on our responsibility to act mercifully. This reflection speaks to my response to my child-like merciful love on continuous offer.
Growing up, I thought about being a mom like many of my friends but had a stronger calling to live a single life. When I was 14, I knew I would be an aunt for the very first time. I never knew the outcome. I just thought, as a teenager, "great a baby cramping my style." I never really thought of being an aunt as a calling, but after 25+ years of living this vocation, I realized it helped my "style" and grew my faith. I love this quote by an Irish poet Robert Lynd.
"There is something in the relationship between aunts and their nephews and nieces that is quite unlike any other. In the company of their aunts, nephews and nieces know that they are privileged persons. The bonds of duty are somehow relaxed: they have no obligations but to be happy."
As long as I can remember, that's what I wanted growing up — to be the person in kids' lives whose sole ministry is to make them feel loved and safe.
Kids are incredible little human beings. Endlessly strange, honest, fun, surprising. They rule, right? I'm extra thankful for my role as Aunt to many children of many cultures.
Recall your own Aunt(s). Aunts, as a people, have a unique charm. They're the women who act silly with you. They're the ones to take you to Chucky Cheese and played endless games with you and never yelled at you for leaning back in your chair. They're the ones that took you on adventures and inspired you with their own.
My own nieces and nephews are a mix of traditional and adopted: 4 came from my sister, 4 from my brother, 6 great neices and nephews, the other three from my two BFFs and countless others from my church family. That's one of the many fantastic parts of aunthood: the bond is thicker than blood. If there's anything better in this world than tiny, adorable humans to whom you are biologically or socially obligated love and serve forever and ever, I have not found it. As an aunt, there's so much to enjoy, including opportunities for love, mercy, and service.
Aunt Amy in action.
You get to feel a lot cooler than you actually are.
I mean, when it comes to looking cool as an aunt, it's not like you have a lot of competition. A little kid really only knows their parents, some adults who yeah, can reach stuff on high shelves, but also are the ones doing less savory offerings like broccoli and discipline. Even if you live in the same town, you retain some belonging status, which lends a cool mystery. You have the option to be the first adult to award this small human their first bottle of nail polish, their first taste of pop music, their first glimpse of (gasp!) a bedtime past 8 p.m.
You're allowed to be super weird. In fact, it's a requirement. As an aunt, I can be the crazy "Kid" to all these nieces and nephews! That's the point, right? God calls children a blessing and a gift! Their spirits are filled with innocence, joy and laughter.
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth."
- 2 Eph 5:8-9
Childlikeness isn't something we can acquire on our own. It's a grace we must ask for, and one that the Father is most willing to give us. While acting in service toward children, an overall quirkiness is not only tolerated but actually welcomed. It is super fun to let the floodgates loose, relax, and be present to them and for them. I could make a habit of wearing blue eye-shadow on my cheeks, forgetting about it when you go thru the drive-thru line, and the Starbucks employee points it out to the great enjoyment of a niece or nephew. I am encouraged to sing and play weirdly to Jingle bells laughing and smiling at ourselves.
We're all some version of that "Crazy Kid" called Aunt: embrace the strange, express the outpouring of love you feel as Aunt or Uncle, and entertain the nieces and nephews.
Where else do you get the opportunity to play with soccer ball weirdly in public? What about icing-eating contests? Pope Pius XI described St. Dominic Savio as "small in size, but a towering giant in spirit." It is our job to perform the merciful act of meeting the child where they are and being with them in that moment. For example: sitting in my 1 1/2-year-old niece's little chair next to her knowing it will make her smile, laugh and giggle; that you are acting like a silly crazy kid with her. You get the chance to revisit your own carefree childhood without anyone thinking you're weird.
Children are remarkably truthful but also kind and loving. All my traditional nieces and nephews are all grown now. Two of my adopted nieces are teenagers. I've known them since they were born. Now the 16-year-old and I have had insightful conversations. She had grown old enough to recall all the silly stuff we did when I babysat her when we were younger. We sang and danced, holding Christmas trees. I smile back at this memory and remember one of my own. I recall learning a song in Second grade called, "Smile! Don't you know God loves you? Come to think of it, I love you too. Take the time to smile at someone, and before you're through, someone will be smiling back at you" by Unknown artist. My niece told me she remembers that memory. I begin to smile (like I always do) and think that is my vocation, my purpose. Now, she asks questions about her faith, wants to talk about her struggles and her love for others.
"But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that through this belief you may have life in his name".
- Jn 20:31
I get to be that child-like Aunt even when it comes to her faith and belief. To be an example like Jesus and all his followers, or to seek the "Little Way" of Saint Therese.
Watching another human grow in size, grammar, interests, and profoundly off-color sense of humor is so exciting. You get to experience it in real-time and later taunt them for things like that phase they'll go through as teenagers. God continues to guide our lives, and changes only continue to happen. And with all that change, your relationship warps into a lasting friendship. One that, once everyone is an adult, may lead to a merciful and faith-filled relationship full of grace, joy, and laughter.
Just remember, we need to laugh, smile, giggle, and be humble. Jesus wants us to be child-like to ensure we are together at HIS right hand. Be small, express mercy, and meet the "kids" where they are. Don't you know God loves you? Let us share that Gospel with child-like wonder and love.
If you know me, you probably know I’m a pretty open person. I’m willing to talk about almost anything including some major hardships in my life. Perfectionism is probably something that I try to avoid talking about. Most likely because when I speak, I want to be understood perfectly. Perfectionism may seem like an interesting topic to choose for this particular prayerful reflection, but I think it aligned perfectly with what I’m going through currently and what the Lord is putting on my heart. Self-oriented perfectionism is having unrealistic expectations and standards for oneself that lead to perfectionistic motivation and behavior. This, is the perfectionism that I am speaking of.
Ever since I was a child, I have always had the desire to be perfect in everything that I did. In kindergarten, I even got sent out in the hallway because I was crying over a family picture that I didn’t want to mess up. In high school, I really started to care what people thought of me. I even ended up in an abusive relationship, and was worried what people would think or say about me if they found out what really happened in that relationship. Around this time, I started to see the true damage that the idea of forced self-oriented perfectionism could have on a person. I wanted everyone to think that my life was going great even when it was horrible. I think that everyone goes through some sort of struggle with this due to the pressure the world puts on your life through social media and social comparison. If you work hard enough to display an image of self-oriented perfection to everyone in your life, they won’t question whether or not your life is going well. They will just start to compare their life to yours based on the small snippet they see.
The more that I start to understand, self-oriented perfectionism, the more honest I want to be with people about the struggles that I deal with. Self-oriented perfectionists have high personal standards, expect to be perfect, and are very self-critical if they fail to meet these high expectations. I think it’s easy to put ourselves on a pedestal and forget the human element and the Christ-element. We need to always remember that we cannot compare our lives to others as we all have our own unique burdens to carry with us on our spiritual journey. Christ helps carry those burdens. Christ promised to help carry those burdens, and without him, we will fail carry them on our own.
Today, on this Easter Sunday, our second reading is as follows:
"Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory."
- Reading 2 - COL 3:1-4
I know full well that I will never be perfect by the world's definition. No one, but Christ and his Mother, can be that definition of perfect, and that is okay. The world will tell you that if you’re not perfect, that you’re not worthy, and that is where discouragement sets in. In today's second reading, St. Paul tells us that if we "seek what is above...then (we) too will appear with him in Glory". That is the paradox. If we die to self, put Christ and his will before all else, then we will receive the perfection we seek here on earth. We will be in glory with the Lord, if we move through life, taking up our cross like Christ and seek him and his Father’s will constantly. Instead of self-oriented perfectionism, we are Christians and we must seek Christ-oriented perfectionism. This is the perfectionism found in the appearance of the Risen Lord.
If we seek the perfectionism found in Christ's glorified body, then we will be in glory with the Lord. If we faithfully move through life, taking up our cross like Christ, and seek him and his Father’s will constantly we will be perfected. If we continue to let the world's definition of perfect and other people’s definition of perfect define us, instead of seeking perfection in Christ, then we will never feel worthy enough in our lifetime. God's plan includes your eventually glorified and perfected body. The question becomes: Can we push away worldly discouragement found in self-oriented perfectionism and instead live the gospel of Christ-oriented perfectionism. God repeatedly tells us that we are perfect in his eyes. We are perfect to him because we are unique individuals that he created, and God doesn’t create anything that’s imperfect.
"He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself."
- Philippians 3:21
ASHLIE O'BRIEN Physical Therapist in the Making...
I woke up Sunday morning, two hours later than I usually would. I am still trying to keep my Lenten practice of refraining from listening to music. But, a song came on during a commercial. This song is often heard when we go without, and sometimes when used in context, we shrug and snicker at the corniness. Well, today, it rang true and profoundly hit me with its lyrics, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone." Many of us woke up this morning, loaded our computers, gathered on couches instead of pews, and watched Mass over the internet. I, however, was given the unique opportunity to go to Mass and serve for my Parish's live stream. It made me realize that some Sundays, I drag my feet to Mass and go through the motions. I may physically be present, but I am not present. Sometimes we may take the gift of the Eucharist for granted, may not fully grasp the real presence of Christ, and fullness of the Graces we receive week after week. It is easy for us to allow the Eucharist to become "normalized." But, when it is not readily available, we long to receive, and we realize what we have had, and now miss it when it is gone. The COVID-19 situation has taught me this lesson, not to take anything for granted, and not just go through the motions. The grandeur of the gift of the Eucharist is beyond me, and sometimes I find myself approaching the Blessed Sacrament with this in mind. I do not believe that I am alone in this. However, the greatest gift was given to me this morning, more than anything I could ever ask for, and it came to me via what was once a simple piece of bread but was then transubstantiated into the Body of Christ Jesus. As I sat in the Sanctuary, staring at endless rows of empty pews, my heart longed to be unified again with my Catholic Community. Mass was not the same. It was odd only hearing my voice respond to Mass parts. But then I remembered there is more than just physical community, we are all connected spiritually, and though we aren't present physically, we are all connected spiritually through the Eucharist. We are all apart of the Mystical Body of Christ. I find no coincidence that this health crisis occurred during Lent. As we now enter fully into the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil, I invite all of you all during this time of self-quarantine to be present in the Desert with Jesus for the remaining few days of Lent. Reflect with me. When was the last time you were "cognitively present," not just going through the motions when you received Jesus in the Eucharist? Do we truly realize that the moment we receive the Eucharist, we instantly become a living Tabernacle; Jesus is alive within us, and we take him with us on life's journey. On this Holy Thursday, Rejoice with the Gift of the Eucharist, and when the opportunity arises again to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, fully realize the Grandness of the love Jesus poured out for us on the Cross. Never let consuming the Blessed Sacrament become sterile, thoughtless, or bland. We truly never know what we have until it's gone.
Mary ann Etling Medical Student and Missionary for Christ
Photo/Image courtesy of Mary Ann Etling
“Your scholarship to learn at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya this summer has been canceled due to COVID-19. We’re so sorry.”
My heart sank. Logically, I completely understood. I was a first-year medical student, so we were learning about the highly contagious and potentially dangerous nature of the novel coronavirus. Emotionally, l I felt robbed. I slipped on my sneakers, opened the door to my apartment, and started running into the cold, rainy March morning.
In my mind, I was running through the hospital wards in Uganda. Before beginning medical school, I received a research grant and moved to the small country in Eastern Africa. Years prior, I had traveled to a Catholic hospital in the northern region, and I was determined to return to do public health research in partnership with the local leaders I had met.
Photo/Image courtesy of Mary Ann Etling
Each day, I would wake up in the Catholic hospital with more purpose than I had ever experienced in my life. I spent my days traveling by motorcycle with my translator to villages, interviewing caregivers of children with disabilities. I spent my nights in the hospital wards, shadowing, and learning from the young Ugandan doctors. The whole hospital community, physicians, and patients alike would gather together daily for mass in the early morning and rosary in the late evening. I would joke to my family and friends back in the US that if you chose a random 5-6 Spiritual or Corporal Works of Mercy plus 1-2 Holy Sacraments, you would have my “typical schedule” for the day. For the first time, it felt like I was no longer living for myself, but rather, for the good of another. My missionary spirit was finally home.
"Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
- Isaiah 40:31
After my year-long project ended, I struggled to leave the hospital in Uganda, but there was peace for two reasons: I knew I needed medical training, and I knew I would be back soon. Upon my return, my life quickly turned into long hours studying in the medical school library. Still, I was determined to learn everything I could for the patients and caregivers I had met in northern Uganda.
As I reached the vacant parking lot outside the adoration chapel down the road from my apartment, I stopped running. I knew that it was closed due to the pandemic, but at least I could stand outside and be near Christ.
I pleaded, “Jesus, this is the one thing I cannot wait for. If I can’t go back to Uganda, why am I in medical school? My heart is made to be there. I don’t belong here. That is my vocation. I just want to serve. That’s the whole purpose for all of this.”
And in that moment, I realized that the foundation of my faith was no longer in my relationship with Christ. I was startled. Over the last year, I had slowly replaced my identity as a beloved daughter with my identity as an aspiring physician. My future vocation, while good and holy, had become an idol that I had placed even above the Lord. When my plans crumbled, so did my entire identity.
We are embarking on Holy Week in the midst of a pandemic. Today, on Palm Sunday, we place last year’s palms on the makeshift altar that is our coffee table and we listen from our living rooms to the Passion of Christ on our television. I have found myself meditating on the 10th Station of the Cross, where Jesus is stripped naked (Matthew 27:28-30). I always used to focus on humiliation and shame, but there is more. In “An Examination of the Medical Evidence for the Physical Death of Christ”, Dr. Bret Thompson and Dr. Brad Harrub describe each moment of Christ’s Passion from a medical perspective. They explain, “Each time Jesus was stripped or made to wear this robe, the fresh wounds would reopen and bleed, inflicting still more pain.” As they ripped the garment from his tender skin, his healing wounds would be reopened. His cloak would have been his very last earthly possession, stripped away. In these last few weeks, it feels like some of the things we hold the dearest here on Earth have been stripped from us. These are things we would never want to surrender on our own, for it would be too painful. Christ knows this excruciating pain more than anyone. Dr. Thompson and Dr. Harrub continue, “And yet He continued on towards the cross, even though He had the power to stop the pain and agony at any given second. (John 19:17-18) ” Oh yes, the cross. I am reminded that our journey in this world as Christians may be marked by suffering, but Jesus shows us that it does not have the final say.
Photo/Image courtesy of Mary Ann Etling
I always pick a word for the year. I know it is silly and I typically change it or get sick of it by February, but my word for 2020 is hope. We have hope that even in this season of sickness and isolation, our God is alive and working. We have hope that as we are stripped of the things we hold the most dear, God will enter into our broken hearts. We have hope that even in this sea of cancellations and uncertain futures, God has a plan for us that will bring beauty to the world. We have hope that our suffering is not meaningless, but when united to Christ’s, it can redeem the world.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." - Romans 15:13
I used to dream about the day that I returned to the Catholic hospital in Uganda in my white coat, prepared to serve alongside and learn from my Ugandan colleagues. If I am being honest, I still do. But today, I am dreaming about the morning that cathedrals around the world are opened up again, and we can run to receive the Eucharist. I am dreaming about the day when we can sit before the Eucharist in adoration chapels, face-to-face with Our Beloved. Christ’s body given up for us. Have hope, dear brothers and sisters. The resurrection is coming.