We’re Not Alone On This Journey

Before I begin, I ask that you all join me in praying for those who lost their lives yesterday in the terror attacks in Paris:

In your hands, O Lord,
we humbly entrust our brothers and sisters.
In this life you embraced them with your tender love;
deliver them now from every evil
and bid them eternal rest.

The old order has passed away:
welcome them into paradise,
where there will be no sorrow, no weeping or pain,
but fullness of peace and joy
with your Son and the Holy Spirit
forever and ever.

Amen.

Last week, we studied the end of Acts Chapter 4 through Chapter 5. It covered the selfless and not so selfless giving of the early Christian community and the continuing civil disobedience of the apostles. Here you have a community which has quickly become self sufficient, carrying for those in any need. It was interesting to me that the Sanhedrin didn’t see how the growing sect of Christians must have been relieving some of the existing burden those same needy people placed on them. Instead, they became defensive, not wanting to see themselves as they were. They needed to save face for Rome in order to keep their position in society. Despite the fear and jealousy of the Sanhedrin, God has big plans in mind for his apostles. It is none of God’s concern that the apostles were jailed. He simply sent one of His angels to release them and bid them to continue spreading the Good News. Throughout this discussion, Jeff Cavins talked about sacramentals and how we are not alone here on this journey.

Sacramentals, such as rosaries, holy cards, medals, and crucifixes, are things that many Protestants will point to when speaking out against Catholics. They see them as superstitious, but they are truly reminders of who God is and the faith that we hold dear. They are not unique to us today. There are stories in the Gospels and now in Acts where people sought only to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment or to stand in the shadow of the apostles for healing. It makes sense to me that I’ve always been drawn to them, even when I was farthest from God. Even then, God used them to keep a connection to me. Isn’t it amazing all the ways God tries to draw us near?

At some point or another, every one feels alone in this world. Even as Christians who have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit fall victim to it. Footprints in the Sand is a story I’ve been familiar with from a very early age. We need reminders that God hasn’t sent us out on this mission alone. Angels, like the one who freed the apostles from prison, are still with us today, clearing barriers we didn’t even know were in our way. Jeff shared Hebrews 12:3, which says:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

This reminded me of an experience I had with members of St. Mary Magdalen in Kentwood, Michigan, my childhood parish. We sent a group to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993. One of the youth, Andi, was also selected to attend a special Papal Mass. Our contact and transportation to the Mass was a distracted priest. I’m not sure how we became connected to him. We didn’t know this until we arrived and were turned away from the church that this priest confused the arrival time with the time the Mass began. There were two of us chaperons who came with the Andi and we were all devastated that she missed out on this opportunity. The three of us sobbing drew the attention of media, but we refused to talk to them because we didn’t want there to be any negative publicity as a result. After we calmed down, we walked up to the Secret Service and tried to get the youth into the Mass. We got nothing but firm shakes of the head. As we walked away, a nondescript middle age woman walked up to us and asked us what was wrong. She asked nothing different than the press did earlier, but we opened up to her and told her what had happened. After listening to us, she walked up to the same Secret Service, spoke to them, and moments later Andi was escorted in the church. After the Mass, we learned that she was seated just as the Gospel was being read and she was there for (now Saint) Pope John Paul II’s homily.  What a huge blessing! When we turned around to thank the woman, she was no where to be seen. Whether that average woman was an angel or not, I won’t know for certain in this lifetime. Regardless, she worked a wonder and miracle for us that morning. I need to keep those experiences closer to my heart.

Now I have some questions for you:

  • Do you have a favorite sacramental? How does it make a difference in your life and to your faith?
  • Have you ever had an experience that made you wonder if you’d entertained an angel? I’d love to hear about it.
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Power in the Name

Growing up, I was familiar with some Christian music. Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith I remember being particularly popular, at least among my Protestant friends. Even my less religious friends were familiar with and liked Smith’s “Friends are Friends Forever.” My preference was pop music, but most Contemporary Christian songs worked as well for me as a Catholic. There was one song in particular that puzzled me, “El-Shaddai” by Amy Grant. She has a beautiful voice, but that song, especially the “weird language,” made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t understand it, so I labeled it Protestant and skipped over that song on her CD thereafter.

It must have left a mark on me somewhere, because 25+ years later, as I sat listening to the fourth session of Jeff Cavin’s study of The Acts of the Apostles, that long forgotten song came back to me and was the silent soundtrack to Jeff’s message. Chapter Three began with Peter healing a lame beggar in the name of Jesus. The beggar was so grateful for his healing that he entered the temple with Peter and John, leaping and praising God. This, as prophesied by Isaiah and Malachi was a sign of Messianic times and showed that Jesus continues to heal through his people.

That Sunday morning I was not at my best. I thought my recent diet and exercise program had kicked my seasonal depression to the curb, but it was creeping back and sapping my energy. We had just returned from a long, but fantastic day trip to Richmond with the Middle School Youth Group. Allison wasn’t feeling well when we got home and by the time both kids were in bed, I was exhausted and realized I hadn’t prepared at all for the class the next day. I was tempted not to attend the class at all. I didn’t set my alarm, but naturally woke up on time and, leaving the kids in bed, I drove to class. When I arrived, I discovered I wasn’t alone in being unprepared. This set me at ease and opened me up to Jeff’s message. To date, it was the most powerful class that hit me right where my heart needed it.

What especially struck me about Jeff’s message about Chapter Three of Acts was his message about the deepening relationship between God and His people that took place through Jesus. To Moses, God revealed part of His name, “I Am.” This made Him accessible to the Jewish people. Through Jesus, God’s name is completed and means “God saves.” His name was revealed to Mary, the new burning bush. Because of this revelation, we are His Church. We can say His name. We can pray in His name. In making the Sign of the Cross, we bring the presence of the Trinity. Because of God’s love and accessibility to us, we can change the atmosphere simply by calling on His name.

As soon as I got into my car after class, I found “El-Shaddai” on my phone and played it on repeat the entire drive home. As I sang along to the song with my whole heart, I could feel the everyday concerns of my heart lift away. As I praised El-Shaddai, I had the best cleansing cry I’ve had in a very long time. I didn’t want to leave that car and go back home to laundry. I just wanted to praise my Almighty God, but those 30 minutes lifted my spirits and gave me the energy and the urging to return to my home and take care of my family.

Who would have thought that a song I rejected at 11 as being “funny” would, 33 years later, become part of one of my most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had? Well, I guess the answer to that question is pretty clear. God was preparing the adolescent Jennifer for what He knew she would need on a then far off Sunday afternoon in her middle age. This realization of God’s love for me, one little sheep among millions, brings tears to my eyes two weeks later as I write this post.

There is power in the name of the Lord, Most High, and I will praise Him until I die.

New Beginnings

Although I’ve been out of school for more years than I care to remember, autumn still feels like a new beginning to me. This year the changing of the season is even more powerful. Pope Francis has arrived in the United States for the first time in his Papacy and today canonized the first saint on American soil. News of his arrival and his message are overtaking the all too prevalent sarcasm and cynicism I usually find on social media. It is a time of hope and renewal. God is most certainly doing something new.

I was born into a loving Catholic home. A very big part of my early life revolved around my local parish and the faith our community shared. While I have always felt drawn to Christ and those people who love Him, my late 20s and 30s were a desert time for my faith. Without the support of my parents and the connection with my home parish, I fell away from the Church. My husband and I had our daughters baptized, but I did not attend Mass regularly. When I half-heartedly became a parishioner, my motivation was to make sure that my children experience their First Communion. I wanted to keep up Catholic appearances.

As I entered my 40s, I began to see how God used even my desire to “save face” with my parents to bring me back home. I will never forget the day that this Pope was elected. When I checked my phone and saw for the first time that he took the name Francis, it gave me chills. From that moment I’ve steadily grown closer to the Church. Last fall, the final puzzle piece fell into place. After praying to be a better example to my children, I walked out of the sanctuary and found the sign up sheet for Catholic Café. It made my heart start pounding and I knew that attending this study of the Gospel of Matthew was where God wanted me.

All throughout Faith Formation last year felt like a new beginning to me. In one of the first lessons, Jeff Cavins discussed of Jesus’ genealogy and the “shady ladies” who helped make up Jesus’ family tree. His lesson brought me to tears and when he prayed at the end of the lesson, it was Jesus talking directly to my heart. He loved his ancestors. He was not ashamed of them and He was not ashamed of me. My daughters and I began attending Mass regularly and, after not a little bit of fear and anxiety, I had my first good confession in many, many years. I met many wonderful people through Catholic Café, began assisting Jeanne with the Prayers of the Faithful, and, for the first time since I moved to Virginia, I feel like I finally had a Church family again. What a blessing!

Father Sal often says, every day is an invitation from God to begin anew. Beginning this Sunday at 9:15 in McNally Hall, Faith Formation for adults begins through the Catholic Café. We will be studying the Acts of the Apostles with Jeff Cavins, where we will be walking through the story of the Church’s earliest days. No matter where you are in your faith journey, we invite you to join us. I’m excited to see what new things God has in store for us and I look forward to sharing our experiences on this blog.