Fearful Yet Overjoyed

Think back on a moment of life where everything changed. One of those crystal moments, where you know things will never be the same. Think of that moment when something you had been looking forward to became real; you were accepted at college, got your dream job, the moment your vocation became clear, the day of your marriage, the birth of your child.

These are such happy spots in our earthly lives! We are overcome with joy and delight. And, often, then reality sinks in. Can I cut it in college? What if I can’t? What if I am not as good at this job as I think I will be? Can I really spend the rest of my earthly life this way? Am I willing to give everything to get this person to heaven? What if I fail as a parent? How does this change tomorrow? Will anything in my life ever be the same?

The same can happen as we experience the joy of Easter. Christ is risen, Alleluia! Something so minor as death cannot overtake our Lord!

But the questions come, what does this mean to me? Is Easter simply the ending of my Lenten penance? Can I now go back to eating chocolate and putting cream in my coffee without giving it another thought? Can I pick up that weekly grande latte again rather than giving to someone in greater need? Do I just pick up where I left off on Mardi Gras like Lent (and Easter) never happened? What has to change in my life because Jesus has risen? How does this change tomorrow? Will anything in my life ever be the same?

The Church, in her infinite motherly wisdom, again provides. Easter is not a single day after which we put away the bunnies and baskets and go back to our daily routine. Easter is a season which begins with the rising of Jesus and ends with the descent of the Holy Spirit as the grand finale! Lent was 40 days. Easter gives us 50 days to soak it all in. We have time to meditate on the reality of Easter, not to be fearful but to let our senses, honed by abstinence and penance, truly consider what it means to serve a risen Lord. Our Lenten penance isn’t a thing of the past, it is now the prepared bedding where our Easter joy takes root. Our hearts and souls are ready to turn back to God for this time of grace and joy.

My prayer for you is that you are able to spend this Easter, all of Easter, not as a “getting back to normal” but as a time to find a new normal. To integrate in new ways, what it means to serve the One who overcame death through love. Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, may your joy at Easter so fill your heart that you run to share the news of Christ’s love with all you meet.

Easter blessings!

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Image Credit: Kelly Sikkema, https://unsplash.com/photos/NXv3XcMyDy0


Sheryl gratefully serves the St. Therese Catholic School community as both the kindergarten teacher and the school principal. When not teaching, she takes the roll of student as she studies with her husband who is in formation to be Deacon in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. Their home is kept lively by their golden retriever, Carlyn and new puppy, Lucy.


St. Lawrence

**Due to server issues, this post was not published on 8/10/21, so we are posting it now.**

“This side is done. Turn me over and take a bite.” 

My amazing husband is an incredible cook. When he used to compete competitively for BBQ, a picture of St. Lawrence always accompanied us. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome who was martyred until the persecution by the Roman Emperor Valerian. It is reported that St. Lawrence was put to death on a gridiron and told his torturers, “This side is done. Turn me over and take a bite.” 

While the odds of any of us being martyred on a gridiron are pretty low. The need for martyrs is no less and today’s Gospel guides us in how to lay down our lives every single day. We may not die a martyr’s death, but we can offer up our daily lives. If we choose daily, to die to ourselves, to move beyond our preferences and the things of this world which bring us a sense of comfort and security, our lives will produce much fruit by drawing others to God and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus tells us straight out, that whoever loves his life will lose it. In Corinthians we hear, “Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” When I offer up my place in line, when I give the driver next to me the right of way, when that parishioner who always sings off key sits behind me at Mass, do I give up my wants and preferences cheerfully? When that one person who drives me nuts at work asks me a favor, do I do it as happily as I would for others? 

“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will also my servant be.” 

We follow St. Lawrence’s example when we offer up all those little irritations and cheerfully say, “Lord, I follow you.” 

This side is done, Lord, turn me over and give me another chance to offer myself up to you! 

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Sheryl O’Connor delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Feature Image Credit: Naassom Azevedo, https://unsplash.com/photos/-2k57MGq4AI

That’s His Job

“To some God and Jesus may appeal in a way other than to us: some may come to faith in God and to love, without a conscious attachment to Jesus. Both nature and good men besides Jesus may lead us to God. They who seek God with all their hearts must, however, some day on their way meet Jesus.” 

-Heinrich Weinel and Alban G. Widgery, Jesus in the Nineteenth Century and After

Last Sunday, in the Old Testament reading, we heard God’s promise to a suffering people that he would take care of them. God’s fulfillment of that promise is Jesus, his very Son. 

Today, we hear the parable of the Sower of the Good Seed. It was a smack-my-head moment, one of those, why didn’t I ever see this before moments of clarity. I spend way too much time focusing on the wrong part of the job. We love to see the fruits of our labors. Our society values those who complete a process, those who “bring home the bacon”, who reap what they sow.  But the reaping, bringing in the crops, just plain isn’t my job. I don’t get to decide what (or who) is good and truly beautiful. I don’t make the call as to what (or who) is worthy of the Kingdom of God. I am not called to harvest the crop and everytime I become more concerned with how it all turns out, I am off task. I am not called to harvest the crop, I am called to sow the crop. Jesus will handle the harvesting, that’s His job, that is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise. 

It isn’t my job to worry about what people do after they meet Jesus. My job is to live my life in such a way, that each and every action I take is a sowing of good seed. The more good seed I sow, the more likely the people I encounter will have the opportunity of encountering Jesus through me. Jesus doesn’t deal with people the way we do. When Jesus encounters someone, he leaves them changed forever. But before that can happen, the seeds have to be planted. They have to blossom and be like the sunflower gardens that invite you to get lost in the beauty and eventually to look up beyond the flowers and see the sun itself.

So for today, I am going to let go of my vision of what things should be like, and I am going to put my effort into the part of the Kingdom God has placed in my care. I am going to sow seeds of love and acceptance. I am going to stand for those who have no one else to stand for them. I am going to go outside of what makes me comfortable to give comfort to others. Then, just maybe, they will get lost in the beauty and look beyond this world and see the Son himself.

He’ll bring them home, that’s His job. I just need to sow the seeds. 

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Sheryl O’Connor delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

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Proclaim His Wondrous Deeds

To proclaim something, we have to know it. To know something, we need to give it our attention. 

Recently, I was asked how God was working in my life. And I went blank. I mean, absolutely blank. I could have listed all the things I was doing, how school was going, what we were doing to keep life busy, but when it came to how God was working in my life, I didn’t have one single thing to say. 

I was horrified. I am still embarrassed. 

There isn’t one thing in my life that isn’t an incredible gift from God, yet in that moment I couldn’t come up with anything. 

My days are filled with a multitude of tiny and wondrous ways God is active in my life. I have a husband I love. I have a job I love. I have a wonderful home with a wren who comes and sings on my deck as I drink my morning coffee. I have a dog who snuggles extra tight during thunderstorms. It wasn’t that God isn’t present and active for me, it was that I hadn’t stayed present to God. I had not been giving God my attention. I had not maintained a sense of gratitude or kept a vigilant eye for all the miracles that surround me everyday. 

This is when I need to go to confession; when I become so busy, so sure of myself that I forget I am only capable of taking my next breath because God purposefully holds me in the palm of His hand. All that I do and all that I have is gift, freely given.

I am not called to do great public acts but I am called to keep my mind and heart open to all the daily ways God’s grace is present in my life. When I give God’s actions my attention, I can come to know Him and His will for me. When I know God well, I am able to proclaim all his wondrous deeds, not just when I am asked, but through all that I do each and every day, so each and every act becomes a prayer of praise to Him. 

Today, my prayer is that you are able to stop and become more aware of how God is working in your life so that with the Psalmist, we can proclaim God’s wondrous deeds together! 

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Sheryl O’Connor delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Feature Image Credit: Gabrielle Henderson, https://unsplash.com/photos/M4lve6jR26E

Joy in His Presence

John the Baptist was in such anticipation of his relationship with Jesus that he lept within his mother’s womb. 

Today, we celebrate the birth of this man who was so excited about being with Jesus, that he couldn’t even wait to be born before turning cartwheels out of the joy of being close to Jesus. 

This is a man who as an adult lived in the wilderness, wore “camel’s hair” garments, and preached repentance. He ate locusts and wild honey. You have to think John the Baptist kind of stood out in a crowd, and not always in a good way. 

To the people of his day, John’s clothing would have evoked thoughts of the prophets, most notably Elijah. His diet would have been that of the poorest of the poor and would have been in stark contrast to the wealthier of the Jews; the ones who found success in cooperating with the Romans. John didn’t seek out crowds, he lived an ascetic lifestyle so severe that some thought he may have been possessed by a demon. (Mt 11:18)

Yet for all his roughness and anti-establishment lifestyle, multitudes of people sought him out. They listened to his message and were baptized. John’s message of preparing for the coming messiah spoke to the emptiness in the hearts of people and they believed the truth.

The truth speaks to the hidden parts of people. It fills them up and the joy just bubbles out and attracts others. Joy isn’t brought about by the stuff of this word, the trappings of our earthly lives. Joy comes from being near the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

How can we be a little more like John the Baptist? When John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, Jesus was hidden in the womb of Mary. Every time we approach the altar, we are near Jesus hidden in the bread and wine. I am not suggesting anyone do cartwheels down the aisle at Mass, but do we approach Jesus with joy and anticipation? Do we take the time to prepare our hearts and minds to fully be present to Jesus as he comes to us? Do we go away from our encounter with him changed in heart and mind? Do we live the truth of the Eucharist with so much joy that others are drawn to us, so that like John the Baptist, we too can point them to Jesus and say, “Behold the Lamb of God”?

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Sheryl O’Connor delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Pray, Hope, Don’t Worry

When I taught preschool, we put this phrase to the tune of “Old MacDonald’s Farm.” When I run into the parents of my former students, I often hear about how they are still singing, “Pray, Hope, Don’t Worry.” 

What a great way to live! 

This famous phrase of Padre Pio can ground us in such uncertain times. 

There is so much happening around us which is beyond our control, we need to get real with ourselves about what we can control, and the answer to ”What can I really control?” is very often, “Not much.” We don’t control the world around us, we don’t control much of what happens to us. What we do control is how we respond. 

In today’s readings, Jesus sends out the Twelve to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He tells them to take nothing for the journey. Stay where you are welcomed and if you aren’t welcomed, shake the dust from your feet. In other words, go out and pray, hope, and don’t worry. You are doing my work and that is enough, I will take care of everything else. 

How different my life might be if I could be like the Twelve and focus so firmly on proclaiming the Kingdom of God with my life that even if rebuffed, I could rest in God, shake the dust from my feet and move on? What would happen if I stopped worrying about all the things I can’t change and focused on what I could? What would happen if I let God be God and I just worried about being Sheryl? He created me, and just like the Twelve, he knows how I fit into His plan for His kingdom.

What can I do today to help in building the Kingdom of God? 

Padre Pio had the answer and for that. He is a great modern Saint. Pray, hope, Don’t worry. God’s got this. 

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Sheryl O’Connor delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Authentic Love

Me: “Hi, Sweetie, can I help you find a spot?”

Second Grade Sweetie: “I know why you call me Sweetie.”

Me: (feeling slightly panicked) “Why?”

Second Grade Sweetie: “You can’t remember my name.”

As a teacher, I hang with kids. A lot. I am very familiar with the awkward moments when children, from the purity and authenticity of their hearts, call us adults out. We think we are being polite or socially smart, and they call us right out. They can take one look at us and know if that smile on our face is genuine. And they don’t mind telling us.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies. My husband and I have an oft repeated conversation about the relationship between love and like. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. He doesn’t say one word about liking them. Liking someone relies on our emotions. It is how we feel about them. St. Thomas Aquinas defines love as willing the best for the other. Love is an act of our will. It isn’t simply happy-smilely hearts and flowers, it is a choice, a decision to act in the best interest of another.

Jesus takes us outside our fickle emotions. It is easy to love those who love us first. It is easy to want the good for those who want the good for us. What is much, much harder is to will the good for those with whom we disagree, those who act in ways we don’t choose to act.

We can’t simply be nice either. It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment to love by only imitating the divine model. (CCC 2842) Although initiating the actions of Jesus is a good first step, love isn’t simply what we do on the outside. There has to be a vital participation from the depth of the heart. We aren’t just called to do the right thing. We are called to allow ourselves to be molded into the image of the one who is goodness, truth, and beauty. That means our hearts of stone have to become living hearts formed “in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God”. We have to be authentic in our love.

The first reading guides us in what this looks and sounds like. The Corinthians had become caught up in worrying about the right and wrong way of doing things. Among the debates was whether or not it was acceptable to eat the meat offered to the pagan idols. Paul’s response doesn’t worry too much about the idols, false gods are no god at all, so what does it matter? What matters is the result of their actions. If eating the meat leads another into sin, therein lies the problem. Paul is incredibly blunt, if eating the meat causes another to sin, then he won’t just give up the meat offered to the idols, he will give up all meat. Loving those who believe differently from us, acting for the good of another is that important.

Sacrificing meat to idols isn’t an issue we see today, but we see many other idols in our society. It is easy to find examples of the idols of fame, wealth, and worldly success. We see around us those who sacrifice their families, their sense of self, their time, their bodies. There are plenty of divisions in our world. There is plenty of pressure to be part of “us” and not “them”. First Jesus and then St. Paul, guide us to act outside of all that. If our actions lead another to sin, then it is time we change how we act. We are called to allow the Holy Spirit to work on us from the inside out so that when we love, it is authentic. It is a love which wills the good of the other, and is willing to work for that good.

My prayer for us today is that we may love like little children so our smiles reflect our hearts, and our insides and outsides may both be formed by the Holy Spirit in the holiness, mercy, and love of God. May God bless you.

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Sheryl O’Connor delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Living and Effective

“The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”

Today’s Gospel is part of a succession of statements from Jesus which begin, “Woe to you!”

Woe to you, who think you are all set because you tithe, but you neglect the things of real importance, judgment, mercy and fidelity. Jesus even clarifies, it is good to tithe, but tithing alone doesn’t make up for neglecting how we live.

Woe to you, who worry about how things look on the outside but carry around ill-will and selfishness on the inside.

It isn’t about how things appear on the outside. It isn’t about going through the motions because we think it is what we should do. The Gospel is living and effective because it lives in us when we live as Jesus did.

And that is the bottom line, the life we are all called to is about living as Jesus lived. We are called to live with mercy and grace in all the private moments of our life as well as our public ones.

Those moments when we want to give up and instead, we take a deep breath and keep going. That is living as Jesus did.

When we see someone struggling and take a moment to ease their path. That is living as Jesus did.

When we get frustrated and want to throw a fit, but instead say a prayer and do the next right thing. That is living as Jesus did.

When we swallow our pride and act out of concern for others over our own comfort. That is living as Jesus did.

When we are tired and stressed and still smile and speak kindly to those we meet, that is living as Jesus did.

Jesus doesn’t call us all to great big public acts of heroism. But he does call each of us to follow his example and he gives us the opportunity to be his disciple in a multitude of small ways every day. He calls us to be his apostle carrying not just a message, but his mercy and grace everywhere we go. The Gospel is living, because Jesus makes it come to life in us. The Gospel is effective because it is our guide to living as Jesus did. When we tend to that, it has the power to change everything.

My prayer for you today is that you find yourself living out his grace in all the moments of your life, no matter how big or small.

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Sheryl delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Letting Go

A colleague and I were discussing the age-old dilemma of finding new people to step up and share leadership in an organization. It doesn’t matter what type of organization you are in, the same people seem to make sure that birthdays are remembered, bake sales happen, and holiday functions get planned. We were realizing how even though it seems counter intuitive, sometimes, you just have to let go in order to have things start anew. Sometimes there has to be a vacuum, something has to not happen for people to become conscious again of how much these little events build community and bring us closer together. 

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” 

(I don’t know about you, but I have “Circle of Life” from The Lion King playing in my head right now.)

There is a cycle to all the things of this world, a time to sow and a time to reap. We tend to focus on the sowing and the reaping we do on a daily basis. The first reading today reminds us of “the one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food.” It is so easy to get so caught up in making things happen, that we forget the source of those things. We talk about providing for our families and getting what we need, as if it all relied only on our own efforts. Of course, we work to be able to fulfill our obligations and take care of our families but the source of all we have really comes from God. The food we make, we may grow it, but we don’t make it grow. When we use our talents to produce goods to sell or share, we always start with raw material that comes only from the Creator. 

We see the same thing socially, whether it is in our parishes, schools, families, workplaces or other groups. There is a cycle to events and happenings and sometimes the worst thing we can do is try to stop the cycle to continue something that we think is serving a need, but has outlived its purpose. By experiencing the ebb and flow of events, happenings, and even people in our life, we can reflect and come to truly value those things which are ultimately most valuable. We can step back from the things of creation and refocus on the Creator who calls all things into being. 

“Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am, there also my servant will be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” 

My prayer for you today, is to allow the natural ebb and flow of nature, the transitions of daylight and darkness, of sowing and reaping to help whatever grain of wheat you are still holding tight to fall so that it may bear fruit and bring you closer to the one we serve, no matter what the season. 

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Sheryl delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

What’s the Point?

It is so easy to lose our focus. Like the mother of James and John, it is so-so easy to become infatuated with the world’s definition of success and to completely miss the point.

We are familiar with today’s Gospel reading and we find the story, not only in Matthew’s Gospel but also in Mark’s Gospel. The placement of the story of James and John in Mark is interesting as well. In Mark, the story of the brothers’ ambition to sit in positions of power, comes after the story of the workers in the vineyard, in which all workers are paid according to their value and dignity as persons rather than what they could do for the owner for the vineyard. 

It is easy to get caught up in all that is happening around us. We are given all the tips and keys for “getting ahead” (which implies leaving others behind), for learning how to “win friends and influence people” (which implies that the reason for befriending someone is to be able to influence them), how to “think and grow rich” (which implies that getting rich is the goal to which we all should strive). All this ends up with us being unhappy with what we have and desiring to be in a position to get what we think we need. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the success the world is selling and to forget that Jesus turned all that on its head. 

The world is a mess around you? You feel like everything is out of control and there is nothing you can do? You feel like others are leaving you behind on the ladder of success? Jesus has the answer. 

But Jesus summoned them and said,

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave…”

The world is a mess? St. Paul told us, we will be constricted by not constrained. Jesus has the answer. Serve the person next to you. You feel like it’s all out of control? St. Paul told us we will be perplexed but not driven to despair. The answer? Love the person next to you. You feel like you are being left behind on the ladder of success? St. Paul told us we would be persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. The answer? Serve the neighbor closest to you. 

Find some small act of love, some small gift of charity, some tiny act of humility that you can practice today. When we seek to serve first, we realize that Jesus doesn’t just have the answer, He is the answer. 

“Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Holy Spirit, guide us today in seeking first how we can be a blessing and source of love for others, confident that when we put others first, we are only imitating what you did for us.

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Sheryl delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Form and Function

In the study of science, form and function refers to the relationship between the structure of a thing and the way it functions. Today’s Gospel reading gives us a beautiful opportunity to look at both the form and function of one of Jesus’s prayers. 

“At that time, Jesus exclaimed…”

Can you imagine what it would be like to hear Jesus praying in person? Mind-blowing, even to imagine, isn’t it? In today’s Gospel, Jesus’s prayer functions to bring glory and praise to the Father. He names God as Father and Lord of heaven and earth, teaching us about who God is and who we are in relationship to God. God has hidden this understanding from those who consider themselves wise and learned and has instead chosen to reveal himself to the childlike. Coming on the heels of the Beatitudes, the childlike are the poor of the Beatitudes and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus’s “Yes, Father,” echoes Mary’s Fiat which teaches us about the relationship between mother and son, joined in their dedication to the Father’s will. (CCC 2603) 

But let’s think about the form for a minute. Why would Jesus, one and consubstantial with the Father, bother to speak his prayers out loud? Notice the term used in the English translation, “exclaimed”. 

Not “Jesus said” or “Jesus whispered” or “mumbled”, the word chosen is “exclaimed”. 

Exclaimed (past tense verb) to cry out or speak in sudden, strong emotion (Mirriam Webster Dictionary) 

When was the last time a prayer came out as a cry in sudden, strong emotion? 

We can learn from the function of this prayer to acknowledge God and who we are before him. We can humble ourselves to become like the poor of the Beatitudes so that we too may enter into the kingdom of heaven. We can learn from the form of the prayer, that our prayers should not be mere words, but should spill from the depths of our hearts. Jesus is tapping into our human nature, the way we were created. We are body and spirit and we have a need to translate our interior feelings externally. CCC (2702)

This all has a very practical application. When we are distracted in prayer, the distraction reveals to us the stuff to which we have attached ourselves. Instead of denying distraction, we can embrace it and allow it to humble us before God, asking him to set fire to our hearts and awaken our preferential love for him. Distraction is the call to make a choice of which master we serve. By turning into the distraction and offering it to God, we put ourselves in a position so that God can work in us. (CCC 2729) We need to pay attention to both the form and the function of our prayer.

In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls.”

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Sheryl delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.

Shrewdly Simple

“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” 

Similes are very specific types of metaphors. (English teacher moment; all similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.) Metaphors allow us to express the nuances of emotions, experiences and images when we don’t have a shared vocabulary to explain. Similes deepen our understanding by drawing a connection between something we don’t have the words to understand and something which can be understood through our standard vocabulary.

Certainly, there was no standard vocabulary to explain Jesus or his mission. He was here to take everything that people thought they knew and show them they had only scratched the surface. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17) 

The first half of this verse from today’s reading seems pretty clear. When we go out to live as Christians in the world, we are heading out looking like prey in the midst of a world full of predators. This passage comes after the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus was sending out his disciples to be apostles spreading the word of the kingdom of God. It is the same message for us. When we preach love in a world structured on competition and topping one another, in a culture where making sure that our needs are met and no one infringes on our rights, we Christians are looked at as if we have sprouted a third arm from the middle of our forehead and treated as if we are incapable of understanding “the real world”. What we as Christians know, is this isn’t the real world. This world is where we pray, “to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” This world is our valley of tears! We are not to be in search of comfort and happiness (big difference between happiness and joy, but that is the stuff of another reflection), we recognize this world is where we suffer so that we can join our suffering to that of Christ. 

Which brings us to needing to be “shrewd as serpents”. I grew up terrified of snakes. My dad (who in reality was more frightened than I was) always told me, “They are more afraid of you than you are of them.” As a general rule, snakes avoid humans. Science confirms they are wary of men and strike only as a last-ditch effort to defend themselves. Being wary is pretty good advice for us too. We have a mission. We are here to further God’s kingdom, to live and love as Jesus. We need to be cunning as serpents and be wary of the agenda’s and plans of men and focus on God. Jesus confirms this latter in the Gospel passage, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22) Being shrewd as a serpent allows us to be as simple as doves and stay focused on being who Jesus calls us to be, fulfilling the mission he has set before us, living a life of faith. 

Faith is a theological virtue, infused in us at our baptism. It isn’t something we conjure up on our own, it is an entirely free gift from God to man. (CCC 162) We can lose this gift, as St. Paul told Timothy, through rejecting our conscience. (1 Tim 1:18-19) When we lose our focus, we lose our faith. Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision. (CCC 163). It gives us hope in the midst of this valley of tears. Faith shows itself through works of charity, actively loving all we meet. 

So let us embrace this simile and bravely venture forth as sheep among the wolves, grounded in the gift of faith, strong in the hope of the world to come. We can be cunning as serpents and be wary of the ways of men so that we maintain the simplicity of doves and remain focused on God. In doing this, we give back to God the gifts we have received, we give our very selves in service of the Kingdom. 

In the words of Dorothy Day, “It is a hard doctrine, this loving your enemies, this being as simple as doves, wise as serpents… It is hard to love Pharisees and scribes, the hypocrites, and cynics too. O God take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh!” (1951)

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Sheryl delights in being the number 1 cheerleader and supporter for her husband, Tom who is a candidate for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. They are so grateful for the opportunity to grow together in this process whether it is studying for classes, deepening their prayer life or discovering new ways to serve together. Sheryl’s day job is serving her community as the principal for St. Therese Catholic School in Wayland, Michigan. Since every time she thinks she gets life all figured out, she realizes just how far she has to go, St. Rita of Cascia is her go-to Saint for intercession and help. Home includes Brea, a Bernese Mountain dog and Carlyn, a very, very goofy Golden Retriever.