A Better Plan

On Sunday, I put my Jesse tree ornaments on my Christmas tree. My flatmate is Lutheran, and I didn’t want to put the ornaments on the tree until Advent had properly begun for all of us.

As I put the ornaments on the tree, I found myself thinking about the people depicted on the ornaments. They are the great heroes of the Old Testament-David, Abraham, Samuel, Miriam, Moses, Elijah etc. They are people who lived their lives with great faith in a God whom they could not see. They were given a promise, but the promise was not fulfilled in any of their lifetimes. But that did not keep them from faith.

As I put up the ornaments, I found myself thinking about Hebrews 12 saying “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…run to Jesus.” Ordinarily, I think of this in terms of the Saints of the Church-St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Cecilia, etc. But as I looked at the ornaments, I realized that these Old Testament figures are just as much a part of that cloud of witnesses. Samuel is no less a member of that great cloud than St. Nicholas. They had a different vision of holiness, but they each lived a life of holiness and sanctity according to the knowledge that they had in their day and age.

And as I kept thinking about that, I found my mind traveling to the end of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) On this side of paradise, I have a limited understanding of the Divine Plan. I don’t know why exactly the Messiah had to come when and where he came. I only know that it happened because it was God’s plan.

While the timing or the place might not make sense to me, the reason is simple. God had a plan. It was a better plan than a plan to send the Messiah at the time of Samuel or Nehemiah or the Maccabees. It was a plan that somehow included us in a way that another plan would not.

And that’s a really beautiful thing. God sent the Messiah into the world at time that would benefit us. He thought of us. From all eternity, he chose to send the Messiah into the world at a time that would be the best time not only for the people of that time but for the all people in all times. The Incarnation was not for one time or one place. It was for all times and all places. It happened in one time and one place, but it happened in such a way as to impact all that had come before it and all that would come after it. The time was perfectly chosen from all eternity.

I find a great deal of hope and encouragement in this. Like any normal person, I struggle with understanding God’s plan at times. I don’t get why things do or don’t happen. I don’t always understand his timing. I know that his ways are perfect and his times are perfect. But that perfection does not automatically mean that I understand what is happening. A few years ago, I went through a very bitter and confusing season of life. In the moment, I could not understand it. Even now, I occasionally look back on it and wonder why that had to be a chapter of my life. I know that I’ve come out the other side, and I believe that both my life and myself as a person are better for that season. But I don’t fully understand why it happened. Regardless, I know that God had a plan for that season as for all of my seasons.

I don’t have to understand that plan today. I don’t have to understand it next week or next year. I may never know on this side of paradise. But I do know that I was guided through that season by a good and loving God. I know that I came out the other side because of God. I know that while I have plans for my life he has a better plan.

As I’ve been meditating on St. Joseph this Advent, I’ve been struck by that thought. Joseph, a humble carpenter from Nazareth, had some plans. He probably figured that he was going to marry a nice girl. They’d have a few children and grow old together. Instead, he married the Theotokos, the Mother of God. The only child he ever raised was not his biological child but rather the Son of the Living God.

God interrupted St. Joseph’s plans in order to bring about a more perfect plan. He spent much of the Old Testament interrupting Moses’s and David’s plans for a quiet life and elevating them to greatness. God interrupted the Israelites’ plans for a warlike king as Messiah with a humble servant crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. God will interrupt our plans whether or not we want him to. The great saints throughout history teach us that our only real option is to get out of the way and allow him to act.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2

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An Inconvenient Blessing

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

-G.K. Chesterton

On Saturday, I had the great blessing of attending the Beatification Mass for Blessed Solanus Casey. The Mass was celebrated at Ford Field in Detroit. Because of the stadium’s security guidelines, I didn’t take my purse in with me, but I just stuck my cell phone and drivers license in my coat pocket. (In retrospect, I should have put my drivers license in my pants pocket. Oh well!) When I got back to the car, I discovered that I’d lost my drivers license at some point during the day.

My natural high maintenance inclination is to panic, but for some reason (probably because I’d just left Mass) I found myself with an overwhelming sense of peace. I tried to call Ford Field, but I quickly learned that path would be useless until 10am on Monday. So I said a quick prayer asking St. Anthony, the finder of lost things, to help me. And then I asked Blessed Solanus to pray for me.

Thank God ahead of time.

-Blessed Solanus Casey

And then I did something that was decidedly of divine inspiration. I took a piece of advice from Blessed Solanus. I took a minute to thank God for however he was going to work through this situation. I then took advantage of a few methods of social media to contact Ford Field since I couldn’t leave a message via phone. (They responded this morning; they don’t have it but they’ll let me know if they find it.) And I prayed a bit more.

The weekend continued on, and no one seemed to have any idea where my license was. But I just found myself feeling calm and entirely unlike my usual self. To be fair, every time I found myself thinking about the missing drivers license I asked the intercession of Blessed Solanus and then thanked God for however he was going to use this inconvenience in my life.

This afternoon, I left work a little early and went to the Secretary of State (or as I told a kid, the worst place in the world) to get a new drivers license. Again, it’s a place and situation that should have stressed me out, and I found myself feeling remarkably calm about the whole thing. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, but I found myself feeling really grateful for the peace I was experiencing.

Ultimately, the situation was easily resolved. I filled out a form, sat quietly in a waiting room for an hour, dealt with some paperwork, paid $9, allowed someone to take a bad picture of me, and replaced my drivers license. But I’m also well aware that smoothness of the situation was largely due to my prayers. It was a good reminder of the importance of prayer and the importance of seeking the intercession of other members of the Communion of Saints.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

And let me tell you. I’m now convinced of the great value of thanking God ahead of time. I’ll be doing it much more often. Thanks, Blessed Solanus!

And Blessed Solanus, pray for us!

Looking to St. Joseph

Every year, I try to find a focus for my Advent. Because Eastern Advent (or the Fast of St. Philip) begins on November 15, I start looking for something at the beginning of November. This year, something fell into my lap.

When I lived in Spain, I developed an odd but strong connection to Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. The chorus particularly struck me. On a recent November day, I was driving home from work feeling frustrated with life and I found myself listening to that song again. And again, the chorus struck me.

Father, show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. How can a man be father to the Son of God? Lord, for all my life, I’ve been a simple carpenter. How can I raise a King?

Show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. I have not been called to raise a king, but I have been called to a life that I don’t always understand. As I thought about that line and prayed into a bit, I found myself thinking of a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva:

“It is not given to everyone to imitate Teresa of Avila or Vincent de Paul, but each of us can easily follow St. Joseph.”

St. Joseph’s life has lessons for each of us. Joseph was called to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. And as I drove, I felt called to spend the Fast leading up to the Nativity focusing on St. Joseph and his lessons. A dear friend wrote a book about St. Joseph that I plan to reread.

My hope is that by focusing on St. Joseph I can learn to better live out the call to holiness in daily life. I believe that the Good Saint will pray for me to grow in this area, and I hope that by focusing on him, the Lord will guide me to a better understanding of living out the call to holiness in the midst of the challenges of daily life in the world.

Praying for Unfulfilled Desires

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine recommended that I begin praying once a week for women struggling with unfulfilled desires. I took the challenge thinking primarily about women who aren’t married but want to be and women who are struggling with infertility. This intention has challenged me and has shown me that struggling with unfulfilled desires is far more than just those two desires.

There are so many types of desires, and so many women struggle with unfulfilled desires. While one friend might struggle with unfulfilled desires for a child, another friend struggles with unfulfilled desires for a better job. To someone who is longing for a child, the desire for a job (especially coming from a woman who does have a job) might seem petty. But to the one seeking the job, the unfulfilled dream or hope causes an immense ache.

The reality is that each of these aches is real and intense to the one struggling with the longing. My longing to be married may seem selfish to someone seeking a job that better allows the woman to serve the Body of Christ. But that doesn’t mean either of our longings is any less real to us or any less present to the Father. We as women feel the pain of our unfulfilled longings, and the Father knows that pain intimately. He knows that we suffer, and he longs to use that suffering to act in our lives.

As I’ve prayed for this intention, I’ve found myself led to pray for comfort and peace for these women. I ask the Lord to fulfill these desires according to His Will. But primarily, I pray for the peace of the women struggling. If I’m to be a good wife to my maybe-possibly-someday husband or another woman is to be a good mother to a longed-for child, we need grace. We need peace abiding in our hearts. Before anything else, I need to surrender my dreams and desires and goals to the Lord and trust in His perfect plan. (Am I good at this? No. I pray “God, make me good and do it now” often. I pray for a husband to come “soon because I just can’t do this anymore” but who said that I was ever supposed to do this alone?) Unfulfilled desires are not easy to bear. They just aren’t.

We have only to look to the Bible for examples and role models. Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth each longed for a child. Leah longed for the love of her husband. Ruth longed for stability. Esther wanted to save her nation. Deborah wanted to lead her people well. Abigail wanted to be loved. Did Leah ever really get what she wanted? Rachel died when Benjamin was young; she gave birth to two sons but didn’t live to see them grow to adulthood. God’s will doesn’t always line up with our plans. I may never get married. Or if I marry, I may never have children. Esther saved her nation, but that didn’t permanently eliminate suffering from the lives of her people.

Mary washes the feet of Jesus

Ultimately, the biggest thing that I’ve learn is that when I’m praying for women struggling with unfulfilled desires, I’m really praying for all women. We all have unfulfilled desires. We all feel empty or abandoned at times. But we have a God who sees and knows our desires. He loves us, and he longs to give us good things. Sometimes the things we desire are not right for us. (I’d like to thank the Lord for saying no to some prayers that my younger self prayed.) Sometimes the season isn’t right even if we don’t know why it isn’t. (Some questions will never be answered on this side of Paradise.) But at no time will we be unloved or unwanted by the Lord.

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6

For YOU Are GOD

Over the past several months, I’ve been struck time and again by one prayer during the Divine Liturgy. It’s a prayer prayed by the priest. It’s intended to be spoken softly. It falls at the beginning of the Anaphora, and I suspect that it is easy to overlook. But of late, I’ve found myself hearing it time and again. The prayer becomes clearer and clearer each time that I hear it. (All added emphasis is mine.)

It is proper and just to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in every place of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and ever the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your all Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for the manifest and hidden blessings that have been poured out upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though there stand before You thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings…

For You are GOD…as I prayed through Liturgy one day, I just found my mind hooking onto that phrase. This is God who has brought us to this Liturgy, to this Altar. We are here to worship Him. And what kind of a God is this whom we worship? A God who is invisible and incomprehensible. We can’t see him. We can’t fathom the depths of His very Being. He’s ever-existing and ever the same. He is boundless, eternal, and changeless-all claims that no mortal could ever make. You and Your Only-Begotten Son and Your All-Holy Spirit: We worship the Trinity, one in essence. We are drawn to this Altar, to this Supper by that God.

And what has this God done for us? He called us out of nothingness into being. He didn’t need us. He chose to make us. He chose to want us. When we had fallen, He raised us up. Heck, He created us knowing that we could fall. He called us into existence at a total risk to himself. And then he kept going-the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Church, and the promise of the Kingdom to Come. He has done so much for us out of an absolute love for us.

And what is our response? Boredom, frustration, anger, and so on; we humans too often ignore and neglect these amazing gifts. We have so many blessings manifest and hidden, as the prayer says, and we choose to overlook them in favor of our own desires or our own emotions.

But what is God’s response to our rejection? He continually seeks after us. He continually loves us. He pours out His love upon us so richly, and we ignore it. But He continues to love us. He continues to seek us. We may forget that He is God, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and ever the same. But He will not forget us. He will not abandon us.

We must return to Him from wherever we choose to wander. We must give Him right worship for all that He has done for us both manifest and hidden. For He is God. He is inconceivable, incomprehensible, ever-existing, and ever the same. He is also the Lover of our souls, and the One who desires and deserves nothing but the sacrifice of our humbled, contrite hearts in His service.

Rublev’s Trinity via Wikipedia

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

-John 14: 18-20

Happy Pentecost!

Behold, How Good!

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.

-Psalm 133

As someone who belongs to a minority group within the Catholic Church, I often see room for improvement or the negative side of things. However, I recently had a few really positive encounters, and I think it’s important to highlight those.

I’m going to Pittsburgh for the weekend. Pittsburgh is kind of like Mecca for Ruthenian Catholics in the United States. Our Metropolitan Archbishop is in Pittsburgh, and we Rusyns have deep ethnic roots in the greater Pittsburgh area. So, there are at least a few Ruthenian parishes in Pittsburgh.

But I’m not going for Rusyn-related reasons; I’m going to visit a Roman Catholic friend. I asked her if it would be possible for me to attend a Byzantine parish on Sunday. I’ve gone to Roman churches in Pittsburgh before, and my friend is a part of a really cool church community. But it’s the Sunday of the Fathers of the Nicene Council, and I’d like to embrace that. Plus…I like going to Divine Liturgy whenever possible. My friend responded to my message by saying that it should work and sent a link to the website to a parish that’s near her home.

Now, that might not seem like a big deal, but she knows how much being Eastern Catholic means to me. She knows that I love going to Liturgy. So she put forth a bit of effort to let me know that I could attend Liturgy in my own tradition. I could celebrate the Lord’s Supper with my people.

To me, that’s an act of love. It’s an act in favor of unity. It’s an act that seeks to support a sister in the Lord in worshipping according to her tradition. I believe that the Lord is pleased when we support one another in our faith traditions. I believe that He wants us to love one another because of our differences. He finds it to be good and pleasant when we embrace our differences and support one another.

The second thing that struck me might seem a bit odd. I was perusing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s website because I wanted to know if they’d moved Ascension to a Sunday. (Spoiler Alert: The website didn’t help me, BUT they didn’t move Ascension because they’re cool beans like that.) While exploring the site, I found this:

That link takes you to a list of all of the Eastern Catholic parishes within the geographic boundaries of the R.C. Diocese of Pittsburgh. It gives you addresses and phone numbers for those parishes. It even gives you links to parish websites.

That’s a great resource if you ask me. I happen to know the website for the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. But if you’re visiting the greater Pittsburgh area and you don’t know how to find an Eastern Catholic parish for your particular flavor of Eastern Catholic, the Roman Catholic diocese has a list for you. Or if you’re Roman Catholic and you’re interested in visiting an Eastern Catholic parish but you don’t know how to find one, here’s a list.

That, to me, is beautiful. It’s a really cool act of love and unity. I’d love to see more acts like it.

Paschal Joy

In the Eastern Churches, we spend the forty days between the Feast of the Resurrection and that of the Ascension greeting each other with “Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!” It is my favorite of all of our liturgical greetings because it is the most joy-filled. No matter how you say it (Christos Voskros! Christos Anesti! al-Masīḥ qām!) it is a message of enormous joy. Christ is Risen. He has become the first fruits of the dead. The grave has been despoiled. Hades is in chains. Christ is Risen!

I think that after the first few days of the Easter season, it’s easy to forget that we are still in the midst of the season. It is easy to get on with our lives and forget to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. To me, this is a mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make and one that I easily find myself falling into. But it’s still a mistake. We need to embrace the joy of the Resurrection.

Yes we have to go on with our lives. Yes, we have to go to work and school. We have to do the dishes and clean the bathroom. But Christ is Risen. We live in the world, and we must face the mundane realities of that. But we cannot allow cleaning a cat’s litter box or changing diapers to distract us from the fact that the Eternal Word of God is Risen from the dead. Death has been annihilated. Hades is in chains. Yes, we will still fall asleep in the flesh. But oh what joy awaits us after that!

And now, during these last days of the Easter season, embrace the joy of the Resurrection. For Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages.
Amen!

-St. John Chrysostom