Where’s My Map?

When I was twenty, I knew exactly what the rest of my life would look like. I had it all mapped out. I’d created goals and lists for the steps it would take to attain them. And now, decades later, I can tell you that it all came to pass exactly as I’d imagined.

Okay, just kidding. My life has resembled what I thought it would be in the same way a turtle resembles a quiche. It has been filled with detours, surprises, and a whole lot of recalibrating the goals and the lists. I suspect yours has, too.

The difficult lesson to learn here is that we’re not in control. We can map out the simplest journey and have our plans come off the rails; there are too many factors that can change everything, whether in a split second or in a long, gradual way. We create our goals and make our lists in an attempt to tame the chaos of the world around us. We really, really want to know where a journey is taking us before we set off on it.

Jesus understood our need to look at the road ahead, to know where we’re going, to visualize the future. In today’s Gospel passage, on the night before the crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon be leaving them. Thomas—always one to try and clarify things—says, in essence, “we have no idea where you’re going, so how do you expect us to know the way?” The disciples are confused. Remember, they haven’t yet grasped that Jesus was not the Messiah who would throw off the tyranny of the Occupation, but rather the Messiah who would bring them eternal life. They’re struggling to understand the next step along the path to freedom. If he’s going somewhere, they need to know where that is and how it fits into the master plan. They’re willing to follow him; they just need to know how.

So where’s the map? Where’s the list? How do we follow you if we can’t see into the future?

Jesus responds, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We’ve heard this verse so many times, we probably don’t realize how startling it must have been to the twelve Jewish men assembled that night in the Upper Room. They had been taught that the way to God, the truth of God, the life in God, all came to them through the Torah, through keeping the law. And now Jesus is opening up an invitation to the world: it isn’t only the high priest who can stand in the presence of God. Through Jesus, all people can access that presence.

The disciples loved the Torah; they kept the law. The Torah was their touchstone. It provided a roadmap. It’s filled with what are, in essence, a lot of lists and goals. Follow this way, keep the law, be faithful, and salvation will be yours.

Jesus knew the world can be a difficult and ambiguous place. He knew that plans go awry, that we often have to stop and recalibrate and set ourselves once more upon our path. He wanted to give humanity a different way to God: through love, rather than law. But love, as we’ve all discovered, has no roadmap. Love takes us down winding roads and along hidden footpaths; it takes us to places we never imagined existed. Love isn’t susceptible to plans or goals or lists.

Following Jesus means trusting in love. It means leaving our internal satellite navigation system off. It means not always seeing the road ahead. It means accepting the ambiguity and unknowns of a journey through a foreign land. It means trusting that he will be our guide, instead of all the maps and GPS systems and lists we cling to.

It means, at the end of the day, accepting that we can’t control our lives, our world, our future. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; God is the one in control. If we put our trust in that promise, if we let go of our fears, then we will have a future we could never have imagined for ourselves. Stepping into that future only requires one thing: faith. Letting go of our lists and goals and letting Jesus lead us instead.

Sometimes, when there’s heavy cloud cover, our satellite navigation systems stop working, and we feel stranded, lost, even afraid. The beginning of today’s reading assures us that we don’t have to feel that way: don’t let your heart be troubled. I am going to take care of you. I’m going to prepare a place for you, and I’ll be back to guide you there.

There’s no amount of cloud cover that can separate us from the guide who will help us navigate life and live forever in the Father. And that trumps lists and GPS systems any day!

Contact the Author

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.

Disappointed? Remind Yourself of this Instead

One of the aphorisms with which we try to reassure ourselves when we’re feeling things we don’t want to feel is this: “into every life some rain shall fall.” In other words, at some point, you’re going to feel disappointed.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that any too amazingly comforting. I don’t want rain to fall in my life! I don’t want to feel hurt, or anger, or disappointment. Reminding me that those feelings are part of the human condition is about as helpful as telling someone who’s upset to calm down. Never in the history of calming down has the injunction to “calm down!” worked.

So I’m not going to write any of those neat little aphorisms here. I don’t have to: today’s readings convey the same message far more eloquently—and more forcefully—than any tidy fortune-cookie message ever could.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is clearly doing something that, these days, we would call venting. He is exasperated, frustrated. He just arrived in Jerusalem, cured a crippled man at a healing pool, and now everyone around him is freaking out—not because he did it, but because he did it on the Sabbath. It must have been very clear to Jesus that people weren’t yet “getting it,” that their minds were still fixated on petty things, that their hearts weren’t yet engaged. He points out—again—as clearly as he ever does, precisely who he is and why he is there. He assures his listeners that anything he does comes from his Father. Imagine him, looking around at the faces surrounding him, faces that are incredulous, baffled, stupid, angry, self-righteous. No wonder he needs to vent! How many miracles does he have to perform before these people understand? How disappointing can they be?

That kind of frustration can’t be encapsulated in a neat saying or a fortune-cookie message. That is real anguish. God sent him to these people because God loved them so very much, and this is how they respond?

The Rev. Martin Luther King wrote, “there can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love,” and that, too, is clear from this passage. Jesus loves these people. He wants them to understand, to respond, to love. He’s feeling a very human emotion that we’re all familiar with. Any parent reading this passage, in particular, is nodding in agreement: if there is one truth every parent shares, it’s that our children will inevitably in some way disappoint us. (The flip side to that, of course, is that it’s just as certain that we as parents will disappoint our children.) Humanity stumbles through life, making mistakes, exhibiting poor judgment, going for the quick win, even when we’re trying to do our best.

As a species, in fact, we’re a pretty disappointing lot.

This is especially clear in today’s first reading. Yahweh has taken the children of Israel out of bondage. He has freed them, given them a home and a life, and what did they do in return? Started worshipping a patently false god, a metal calf of their own creation. How disappointing is that?

Yahweh is apparently ready to do something drastic, but Moses—the consummate diplomat—intervenes. Moses doesn’t pretend there’s nothing disappointing in what is happening. He doesn’t try to justify anyone’s bad behavior. He knows there’s nothing he can say to defend the indefensible. What he does, instead, is remind Yahweh of his love for his people, of the promises made to his people. He reminds Yahweh to remember the bigger picture.

In other words, Moses—who has more reason than others to understand this—knows that, given the opportunity to disappoint, people will do it. That as a species we tend to take the easy way out, to be lazy and self-serving. We coddle ourselves and make excuses for our bad behavior. But just as the parent continues to love the child who isn’t living up to his or her promise, so has God engaged to love us, no matter what. He has promised love to a species intent on self-destruction, on waging wars, on oppressing the weak and glorifying cruelty and greed. Sit with that thought for a moment. What greater love could there be? Jesus didn’t come to earth to live and die because we’re all such perfect people. He came because of the tremendous love his Father has for us.

Martin Luther King was right: we can only be disappointed by those we love. And we can only disappoint those who love us. So instead of clinging to our outrage, our disappointment, our self-righteousness, and judgment of others, perhaps we can remember what Moses reminded Yahweh: that in the end, it is always (and perhaps only) love that matters.


Contact the Author

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.

Who Should Eat?

I work for a Catholic publishing company, and so now in early February, we’re already preparing for Lent. That means, naturally, that it’s on my mind, and so I’ve turned my own attention to the Lenten practices I plan to observe this year. The three “pillars” of the early Church— prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—are always at the center of Lenten observances, and they provide a logical current: prayer flows into fasting, and fasting flows into action.

Well, that was the early Church, wasn’t it? And as the Church grew and changed, fasting became a lost discipline. It may have been standard operating procedure for God’s people in both the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament (in Matthew 6:16, Jesus didn’t say “if you fast”—he said “when you fast”), but because fasting has fallen out of popularity, we don’t recognize it as applicable to our lives. Yet, just like prayer, it can be a powerful tool, comfort, and catalyst for change.

Today’s Gospel is about food: it’s the famous miracle of the loaves and fishes. The disciples were concerned that the crowd of people that had come to hear Jesus had nothing to eat. Were they afraid the crowd would disperse out of hunger? Riot? Or was it just human kindness and compassion that gave rise to their concern? We’re not told that. We’re only told they brought what they had to Jesus—seven loaves and a few small fishes—and Jesus multiplied the food so thousands of people were fed, with seven baskets left over.

It’s an appealing story. An opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate to a crowd that he was more than just another itinerant preacher. A reminder to us that with God, anything is possible.

And yet… and yet.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 815 million of the 7.6 billion people in the world, or ten and a half percent, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016. Almost all hungry people live in lower-middle-income countries, but there are eleven million people undernourished in developed countries—places like the United States.

The irony is this: the world produces enough food to feed everyone. The problem is that many people don’t have sufficient income to purchase—or land to grow—enough food, or to access nutritious food.

So the obvious questions become, why does God allow famine and hunger? Why do children in the wealthiest country on earth go to bed at night hungry? If Jesus could multiply loaves of bread and “a few fishes” to fed multitudes there to hear him speak, why isn’t he concerned about the 815 million undernourished people in the world today?

Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions. Perhaps it’s not a lack of concern on his part, but on ours.

Jesus lives forever in heaven, but it was never part of the plan for him to live forever on earth. He passed his authority to Peter for one reason—so the Church could continue to do God’s work in the world. So that we, the community of faith, could be the presence, the voice, the love of God to all of humanity. It’s true that with God all things are possible, but God expects us to be the instruments of that possibility.

Which brings us back to fasting. Most of us think of it as a passive activity: we don’t eat something. But if we want change to happen, prayer and fasting are our first steps in the process, and if we’re serious about change, then the two are inseparable. Fasting is what enables prayer: it is an incessant reminder of the need for help and the need for action. Fasting is what sets the process in motion; it gives intentionality to our prayer. Growth and change never come from a place of comfort, and fasting keeps us uncomfortable, forcing us to think about consumption and privilege.

Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else. It is a sign of becoming aware of and taking responsibility for injustice and oppression, especially of the poor and the least, and is a sign of the trust we place in God and his providence. (Pope Francis)

We live in a culture of fast food, instant gratification, and self-centeredness. Fasting forces us to think intentionally about the foods we eat, the goods we consume, and the ways in which we are privileged. Fasting forces us to consider what it is like to go without. And, honestly, what better way to understand those who are hungry than by… going hungry?

Perhaps as you consider your own Lenten practice this year, you might include the three pillars of the early Church in it: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Pray to discern what God is calling you to do. Fast—and if you can, make it a real fast, one that leaves you understanding what hunger is about. And then take the money you would have spent on that meal or those meals, and give to an organization fighting hunger.

Jesus didn’t leave the crowds hungry. Neither should we.

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.

Memento Mori

It’s one of those thoughts that occur to you when it’s three o’clock in the morning and it feels like you’re the only person in the world who’s awake and everything that is moderately upsetting during the day turns into something Really Scary. You know those nights.

And you know those thoughts, too: you think about death.

It’s been said that death has replaced sex as the taboo subject of our era. Certainly, it feels that way, even within our own community of faith: our Church’s mission is to bring life and love to the world, and talking about death seems inappropriate somehow, even grotesque. The irony, of course, is that what we’re trying to avoid thinking about—dying—is the one human event guaranteed to happen to every one of us.

Today’s first reading addresses death, and our fear of it, with directness: “Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death have been subject to slavery all their life.”

It’s an intense image: being subject to slavery out of fear of death. Yet death’s hold on us is exactly that—we’re enslaved to fear: the fear of pain, the fear of nothingness, the fear of the unknown. The thought that fifty or a hundred years from now, our name will be forgotten, our life will be unremembered. The knowledge that in the transition moments of death we will be alone, that whatever we’ve accomplished or accumulated during our lives will become meaningless. Those terrible three-o’clock-in-the-morning thoughts.

I’d pretty much call that enslaved, wouldn’t you? Yet it also tells us we’re ignoring the most important part of today’s reading: that Christ has already freed us from that slavery. If we persist in our fear, then the onus is on us—it’s a choice we’ve made. Jesus frees from the fear of death by destroying evil and assuring us we have eternal life beyond death.

So—how do we bridge the gap between our faith and our fear?

One first step might be to put life (and therefore death) in perspective. There’s a story about a young man traveling through the mountains in search of wisdom, and he visits the hut of a famous learned monk. He is disappointed by its austerity. “But where are your books?” he asks. The monk counters, “Where are yours?” The traveler shakes his head. “I don’t have them; I’m just passing through,” he says. “Ah,” responds the monk. “And so am I.”

We are all travelers. Travelers might enjoy the journey, but no matter what adventures happen along the way, the experience takes place with the certainty of eventually arriving at a destination. We can—and should!—enjoy our lives, but keep the perspective that there’s somewhere else we’re going.

The perspective alone isn’t enough: it’s time to start thinking about death, and not at three o’clock in the morning. The wisdom of keeping death always at the forefront of our thoughts has been pointed out by non-Christians: Buddhist Geshe Kelsang writes that “preparing for death is one of the kindest and wisest things we can do both for ourself (sic.) and others,” while the ancient practice of reflection on mortality goes back to Socrates, who said that the proper practice of philosophy is “about nothing else but dying and being dead.” If those who do not have our certainty of eternal life can focus on death so positively, then how much more should we be able to!

The practice in the Roman empire of memento mori—”remember your death”—passed into Christianity and became especially prevalent in the middle ages, when plague and lack of sanitation kept death uppermost in people’s minds. Stories of banquets where skulls were used as mugs might be apocryphal, but the concept of memento mori inspired a whole genre of art and literature that was hugely popular throughout medieval Europe and practically exploded into the Victorian era. And it’s even coming back into usage today.

Christ died to deliver us from fear of death: making the journey from fear to hope is intrinsic to our call as Christians, and it’s a great deal easier if we stop giving death such an influential place in our psyches. It is; that is all. Thinking about it, planning our lives to include it, even following the custom of keeping an imitation skull as a constant reminder—all that strips death of its power and reminds us that, like the traveler, we are only passing through.

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.

It Only Takes A Moment

It’s easy to think, sometimes, that our lives are on a steady and pretty much predictable—even boring—course. That the days are standard-issue: we get out of bed, do our morning routines, go to work, see the same people, come home again. Our lives are punctuated by events—birthdays, moments of career advancement, new relationships, even expected deaths—that are themselves as routine as the contexts in which they nest. We even complain, sometimes, at how unexciting things can seem to be.

And then in a single searing moment that all changes.

I’ve been reminded of that lately when considering the news. Mass shootings at nightclubs, at places of worship, at a yoga studio: normal people living out normal lives that are unexpectedly and forever altered, shattered, even ended. Wildfires in California wiping out entire neighborhoods. The most active and powerful hurricane season ever in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

And it only takes a moment, a second even, for everything to change—forever. Life is inalterably different. Whether it’s a road accident, a shooting, a sudden storm, a wildfire, you find yourself wanting to go back in time, take a different route to the grocery store, decide to not go dancing that evening after all, call in sick to work. How many times have you wished for a do-over, from the simplest of difficulties like biting down on the peanut that chipped your tooth, to the most horrible of scenarios, like the moment you found out your nephew overdosed and died? If I could just go back five minutes….

One of the hallmarks of life is it unpredictability, and part of that deal is we have to behave and think and do as if it weren’t going to happen—because no one can live in constant fear of what “might” be. We all have to get on with our lives; the rest is up to God. That’s what Luke is talking about in today’s Gospel reading. “As it was in the days of Noah,” Jesus says, “so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all.”

That’s a pretty bleak picture, isn’t it? Everything was just fine… until it wasn’t. Eating and drinking, marrying, going about one’s usual everyday activities with no notion that it was all about to end. It’s a little like watching a horror film you’ve seen before: you’re willing the actor to not open that door, because you know what’s behind it.

But it’s not the same as the door in a horror film, is it? Because the second part of the passage tells us that there’s something far more important than the lives we’ve grown so attached to. When Jesus returns, it will be with that same suddenness. You won’t have time to go and pack a bag, or call a friend or relative: it will happen in an instant.

And that’s the real message: knowing as we do that anything can happen at any time—including the return of Christ—we need to be prepared. We might not be able to pack our clothing up, but there are things we can do to be ready. Is there someone you need to apologize to? Do it now; don’t wait. Does someone need to know you love them? Tell them now. Are you feeling angry about something that happened a long time ago? Let it go now.

And do the things that are what will help you be ready for whatever lies ahead. Pray. Go to Mass and confession. Read scripture. Follow the Gospel edicts and take care of the poor, the lonely, the hungry. Do all the things you keep telling yourself that you’ll get to eventually but never really seem to manage.

Because if the current news and the Gospel have one thing in common, it’s this: do it now. You may not be the person who decides at what point you won’t be able to do—or say—whatever you feel is unfinished. Accepting and living that acceptance is the best way to keep regret away and be as ready as possible for whatever the future holds.

Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.

Cleaning The Outside Isn’t Enough

Have you ever seen a surgical team scrub up before an operation? It puts mere handwashing to shame! It’s a good thing, of course, that the team puts so much effort in, and there’s an excellent reason for its rigid cleansing requirements.

Cleansing has also always been important in religious traditions, both for its literal use (becoming clean, avoiding disease) and for the less-literal connections to being clean before God. In fact, some sort of ritual cleansing appears in nearly every world religion.

Rituals are an essential part of religion. They allow the people of God to participate in community life united both historically and geographically—over time and space—in a manner designed to uphold orthodoxy, draw diverse members together, and mark important moments in the life of the Church. But rituals are designed by humans, and therefore can take on a life of their own, to the point where the ritual becomes more important than the reason and goals behind it.

That’s what is happening in today’s Gospel reading: the Pharisee was so caught up in the cleansing ritual that he lost the point of it. Washing one’s hands before eating was a religious obligation, imposed upon people in the name of purity, and ordered by God’s law. And yet even though Jesus accepts the Pharisee’s invitation to dine with him, Jesus doesn’t observe this religious norm.

It must have seemed very odd—and, in fact, a breach of respect. The Pharisee probably thought he was being respectful of Jesus by inviting him in, and Jesus immediately violates the common practice as well as the law to which the Pharisee has dedicated his life.

Jesus’ response is anything but reassuring. “Oh, you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

Observing laws and rituals literally allows us to lose sight of the meaning behind them. Jesus didn’t say it was bad to observe the cleansing ritual; what he said was that the cleansing had to be deeper, had to penetrate words and thoughts and actions. The Pharisee only looked at the letter of the law—so he wasn’t able to perceive the spirit of the law, the point of having the law in the first place.

As far back as Leviticus, we are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. The meaning is reasonably clear, yet Luke tells us that out of that law arose a discussion to determine precisely who our neighbors are—and, perhaps more importantly, to establish who isn’t included as a neighbor. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “The letter kills, the spirit gives life” (2 Co 3, 6). In the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus criticizes those who observe the letter of the law but transgress the spirit (Mt 5, 20).

Washing the outside of the cup while leaving the inside dirty isn’t what we’re called to do. It’s not enough to follow the letter of the law; it’s in observing and internalizing and honoring the spirit of the law that we become pure, that we become new people in Christ. Which means that it has to be about love of other people: it’s in the practice of love that the fullness of the law is attained. “Give alms,” says Jesus, “and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.

Forgiveness Without Conditions

For most people, forgiveness has conditions. I’ll forgive if someone apologizes to me, or if they do something to somehow “make it up” to me. I’ll forgive if they take the first step.

I always find that curious. When you were wronged by the person you’re refusing to forgive, that person had control over you. By waiting for them to make the first move and apologize, you’re allowing them to continue to have control over you. Is that truly what you had in mind? Does that really make any sense?

In 1979, 19-year-old Anne Marie Hagan’s father was murdered. Hagan was consumed with anger, bitterness, vengeance, and self-pity. Almost twenty years later, she was able to meet with the killer, and she forgave him. Her forgiveness wasn’t based on the offender asking for it. “Forgiveness cannot be conditional on remorse,” she says, “because that would mean we can only forgive those who are sorry.”

In 2006, a man walked into an Amish school and shot 10 girls between the ages of nine and 13. The shooter, Charles Roberts, then committed suicide. In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family. That same day, Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain. Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at the Roberts’ funeral.

These are two very different and very striking examples of forgiveness. As long as Anne Marie Hagan held onto her bitterness, she couldn’t live her life fully; it wasn’t until she forgave that she felt free. And the Amish didn’t wait: their automatic reaction was to forgive.

Today’s Gospel reading is at the root of these and many other acts of forgiveness. As Christians, we are called to forgive, not because anyone who has wronged us asks us for it, but because God asks it of us.

Peter, ever the questioning one, always trying to get it right, asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus must have looked at him with compassion–but, perhaps, also with some amusement. Peter was thinking in such small terms! “I say to you,” Jesus replies, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Seventy-seven times! Peter must have been gobsmacked. He probably thought that forgiving someone seven times would make him a pretty fine fellow–but that wasn’t even close. Seventy-seven times might as well be infinite; and that is, of course, the point. God forgives us, over and over and over again. And it’s our responsibility, our calling, to pass that along, as Jesus underlines in the story of the servant forgiven his debt who won’t forgive someone else their debt. How can we stand in the light of God’s unending forgiveness–and not forgive others?

The bonus is that, occasionally, forgiveness isn’t as difficult a task as we make it out to be. In Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer C.S. Lewis writes,

Last week while at prayer, I suddenly discovered—or felt as if I did—that I had really forgiven someone I have been trying to forgive for over thirty years. Trying, and praying that I might. When the things actually happened (sudden as the longed-for cessation of one’s neighbor’s radio), my feeling was, “But it’s so easy. Why didn’t you do it ages ago?”

Sometimes God grants us the grace to forgive easily. More often, it takes effort, and discipline, and faith on our part to get over whatever insult or injury someone has done to us. But in this as in many others lessons, Jesus is wise. Carrying the burden of a grudge, of hatred, of anger isn’t hurting the other person–it’s hurting us. It’s keeping us away from the perfect freedom of life in Christ. It’s erecting a wall between us and God’s grace.

For the Amish of Pennsylvania, forgiveness was as natural as breathing. Forgiveness didn’t negate their pain or grief or loss, but it elevated it, instead, into an offering to God.

We who are forgiven must forgive. It is that simple, and that difficult, and that necessary.

Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.

The Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand

Sometimes that’s hard to believe.

It’s easy to look out over the landscape of what humanity has done to the world and believe that this isn’t what God had in mind for us. We’re constantly at war with each other; we poison the water that feeds us and the air that sustains us; we neglect those who don’t have the political or financial power to “count” in our culture or in our world.

Yet in today’s gospel, Jesus says, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

The early Church took that literally; first-century Christians fervently believed that Jesus would return at any moment, that the world would soon end, and that the Kingdom was quite exactly and physically at hand. For some of them, this assumption made it easier to follow Jesus’ teachings: sell what you own, give it all to the poor, turn the other cheek, feed the hungry… in the shadow of the end of time, this may have seemed more workable than it does to many people living two centuries later who have to pay rent and put food on the table for the next few decades at least.

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand… we just have to live in the uncertainty of not knowing exactly when. And no one likes uncertainty!

All of which makes today’s gospel extremely challenging, because it seems to ask us to put away that uncertainty and behave as if the Kingdom is already here: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.” That feels like even more uncertainty. It’s unclear how we’re to go about carrying out these difficult tasks; we’re being asked not to think about ourselves, our own security, our own comforts, but rather move forward into an unclear future without any of the material goods that make us feel safe. How are we supposed to resolve that command with living lives in the 21st century?

Perhaps the resolution is not in establishing certainty—something we all aspire to and never will attain in this lifetime—but in remembering that we aren’t simply challenged: we are also loved. Today’s reading from Hosea underscores that: even though God’s children didn’t recognize his love, even though they turned away and embraced the worship of other deities, God’s love remained steadfast: “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me,” Hosea says. “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks (…) I will not destroy Ephraim again; For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.”

I will not let the flames consume you. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The promise is there: we are beloved of our God. We shouldn’t behave as if that were not true. We should be living differently from those around us. We should be bravely taking on the gospel’s challenges, knowing that God is behind it all. We don’t have to be afraid: God won’t let us fall. It may not always feel like it—but the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.

The Real Cure for Stress


There cannot be one person reading this who hasn’t experienced it as a major factor in their lives. We’re all stressed, it seems, from the moment we get up in the mornings until we lie down for a troubled sleep at night. Appointments, deadlines, worries, fears all contribute to our levels of stress (and even more so when they’re missed appointments or forgotten deadlines!), and our diets and lack of exercise don’t help. Let’s face it, we’re a stressed-out nation.

That’s proven a goldmine for a plethora of professions and manufacturers who cater to the stressed. The same smartphones that keep us ridiculously connected also offer meditation and mindfulness apps. There are vitamins and supplements that claim to lower anxiety, exercises and yoga and gym memberships to counteract its effects, and promises that the next self-help bestseller will absolutely be the magic bullet to help us find wellness and calm.

As Catholics, we have a slightly different take on the whole question of stress. Oh, of course, we too should be eating more leafy greens and less sugar; we need to go for brisk walks and drag ourselves away from our computer screens like everybody else. But we’re blessed by the fact that Jesus knew all about stress, and gave us the one prescription for it that actually works.

It’s ridiculously simple, which may be why many of us find it hard to put into practice. But today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew could not be clearer; we are called to be different. Followers of Jesus think and behave differently from the pagans. In particular this message can be boiled down to a few points:

  • You can’t love God and money both. Choose.
  • Worrying means that you’re taking life into your own hands instead of giving it to God.
  • God absolutely loves you. All the time, every day.
  • Don’t think about what is unimportant, but focus on heaven. Anything else is secondary.

The things that stress us out the most are generally the least important. What does that deadline have to do with your salvation? Will you get to heaven any faster by worrying about buying that new car?

We live in our culture and it makes some demands on us that we must meet. We have to have a place to sleep. We need to have food to eat. We’d like to have a good education, a decent job, a fun vacation. And these aren’t frivolous or unworthy goals; the problem is that we allow them to become our only goals.

We should have one goal: to be united with God. Everything else is secondary. Love God with all your heart; have faith that he will provide for you; don’t confuse essentials with nonessentials. You cannot serve God and money at the same time. If you spend your time worrying about accumulating money—and all the things that go along with it—then, Jesus tells us, your faith is small. You can do better.

Take a deep breath, trust in God, and… let go. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll de-stress!

Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.

A Life of Prayer

If you’re anything like me, you talk to God a lot, and most of that conversation has to do with something you want. I’ve always taken the adage to ask God for help to heart, often to the point of neglecting the rest—giving thanks, asking forgiveness, praying for others. “Keep me safe,” I say every time I enter my car; whether or not I remember to say thank you when I get out is another thing altogether!

Today’s Gospel reading gives us the promise: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you (…) ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”

Perhaps we take Jesus’ words a little too literally. We ask for a lot of things in Jesus’ name. Safe passage. Good health. World peace. A marriage proposal. Willy-nilly we bring God heaps of requests of what we want. Prayer becomes another to-do list: I want this and that and the other… And somehow God still loves us through our childish self-centered way of reading scripture and applying it to our lives. Jesus said to ask, so we ask. And that’s what we call prayer.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that praying for things is important. In fact, I believe that what the Church needs now, more than anything else, is prayer.

The problem comes when we start defining prayer according to our narrow perceptions and understanding. Praying is what we do, what we say, what we think. It can be scheduled, discussed, planned. And yet our tradition is rich with the shining thread of centuries of understanding prayer as more than simply words. The Catholic Church has, in fact, always maintained a good balance between spirit and form, between how one does things and the reason one does them. Form without spirit is mindless repetition. Spirit without form is undisciplined and self-focused.

That balance is a life of prayer.

What happens, of course, is we say, “I need to spend more time praying.” Or we might lament, “I ought to pray more often.” We don’t need to pray more often. We don’t need to pray for longer periods of time. What we need is a life of prayer, something that allows for that balance between form and spirit, something that is permeated, shot through, with God’s grace and love. Prayer needs to be a life, not an activity.

What does a life of prayer look like? Father Walter Burghardt, SJ, told the story of an old farmer who would stop at a chapel on his way home from the fields. Knowing that the man just sat in the chapel apparently doing nothing, a neighbor asked him, “What goes on when you sit there?” The old man smiled and said, “I look at the good God, and the good God looks at me.”

That experience is consistent with living a life of prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us that prayer is “the encounter of God’s thirst with ours,” and that’s where all prayer comes from, that encounter, that completion we feel when we are in our Father’s presence. “We must remember God,” said St. Gregory of Nazianzus, “more often than we draw breath.”

So perhaps I’m not wrong in stepping into my car and asking God to keep me safe. I don’t think about doing it; it’s as automatic as is fastening my seatbelt. My life is permeated with God’s presence and love, so my everyday actions are infused with an awareness of God as well. Spirit, that intangible presence, is the backdrop to every other act of prayer.

It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t experience prayerful moments, participate in the liturgy, or rediscover the Rosary. Form is the other part of our Church’s balanced life. “Ask,” says Jesus, “so that your joy will be complete.” Asking puts us directly in the presence of God, and that presence is what gives us an unsurpassable joy.

Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.