From my Heart

Sunday evening I spoke to a priest about my non-profit. His name is Father Bob Connor, he is an Opus Dei priest from New York City. I use to go to confession to him when I was a child and have very fond memories of his advice. Father Bob radiates the essence of humility and use to live with Saint Josemaria Escriva. He was telling me some stories about St. Josemaria and it was so amazing to talk with someone who not only knew him, but lived with him. As I was talking to him I thought to myself, Man, I am so blessed. I know some really saintly priests. Father Bob lived with Saint Josemaria and Msgr. Essef knew Saint Pio. What is going on here? This is such a gift from God. Father Bob told me to call Father Benedict Groeschel to get a clear answer on the question I asked him and to mention that “Father Bob Connor sent you.”

In closing the conversion I asked Father Bob a personal question about forgiveness. His reply penetrated my very being as he said, “The greatest way to imitate Christ is to forgive. It is higher than any other virtue. The core of Christ’s mission was forgiveness and mercy. The hardest thing you can do in life is to forgive your enemy, to not only forgive, but to love someone who has hurt you. Forgiveness is the essence of the Catholic Faith.”

My right hand, which held my blackberry started to shake and millions of thoughts raced through my head. What if I don’t live that out? What if I just thought I was choosing to forgive, but I really wasn’t? What if I was all talk?What if didn’t love enough? What if I didn’t pray enough for the grace to forgive? 

I asked God for the grace to calm the heck down and rest in His peace. And was instantly reminded that someone I admire very much is praying a prayer to Saint Michael daily for me not to be so judgmental and scrupulous of myself.

Before saying our goodbyes, I asked Father Bob what his favorite saint was. He had been in a car accident and I wanted to pray for him through the intercession of his favorite saint. He is so self-giving and changed the conversation to me and said he would be the one praying for my non-profit through the intercession of St. Josemaria.

Father Bob helped me to see that I really need to work on being less prideful and to allow God to use me as He wishes. He reminded me of how everything we have is a gift. Nothing in life is earned through good behavior, nothing is deserved, but instead every breath is a blessing and one that we often take for granted. He told me some of the injuries from his car accident and said that while they are very painful, being able to sit down in a chair, stand up without assistance is not something that we have “earned.” God can take away those gifts at any moment. And if we are truly alined with Christ we would understand this and accept it without complaining.

Lately I have been sick a lot and it’s really draining. Sometimes I feel like I’m 80 years old, instead of 25. The doctor isn’t sure what is wrong yet and Father Bob helped me see the beauty in embracing God’s will.

“We are at Jesus’ disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim His work in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that’s all right, everything is all right. We must say, “I belong to you. You can do whatever you like.” And this is our strength. This is the joy of the Lord.” – Blessed Mother Teresa

The plaque outside the Mother House in Kolkata, India where Mother Teresa use to live. Her Sisters still live there today.

Wednesday’s Inspiration

“My best defense against all the plots and tricks of the enemy is still the spirit of joy. The devil is never so happy as when he has succeeded in robbing one of God’s servants of the joy in his or her soul. The devil always has some dust on hold that he blows into someone’s conscience through a small basement window so as to make opaque what is pure. But in a heart that is filled with joy, he tries in vain to introduce his deadly poison. The demons can do nothing against a servant of Christ whom they find filled with holy gladness; whereas a dejected, morose and depressed soul easily lets itself be submerged in sorrow or captured by false pleasures.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Saints Joachim and Anne: The Icon Of Marital Love

I have a confession to make. When I was little I strongly disliked my middle name – Anne. What a horrible thing not to like the name of the grandmother of Jesus. I have since then apologized profusely to Saint Anne and am ashamed of my behavior. It came to me one day when I was in college that I’m blessed to have her as one of my patron saints. Jesus has said that he could never refuse a favor asked of Him by His Mother and considering all the times that Saint Anne has interceded for me I am guessing the same is true for His grandmother.

Yesterday was the feast day of Saints Joachim and Anne, so this post is a day late in their honor. I really enjoyed reading this article by Christopher West that my roommate Tala sent me and thought you might like it too.

Saints Joachim and Anne: The Icon of Marital Love

By Christopher West

Several years ago, while a Byzantine Catholic priest was giving me a tour of his church, I spotted a large, prominent icon of a couple embracing. Looking closer, I realized there was a marriage bed behind them. It was clear that this was a beautifully chaste portrayal of marital love and union. Of course, with my keen interest in the Theology of the Body and the history of “spousal symbolism” in the Church, I wanted to know the story behind this “icon of marital love” in Eastern theology.

“You know who they are, don’t you?” asked the priest. “No, I don’t.” “That’s Joachim and Anne,” he said. “Do you know what we call this icon?” “No, I don’t,” I replied, with interest in learning. “The Immaculate Conception.” I was filled with a sense of wonder and also with deep gratitude for the “holy daring” often found in the Eastern theological tradition.

To be honest, I had never given any thought to the reality of Joachim and Anne’s loving union. If I thought at all about the “coming to be” of Mary in her Immaculate Conception, the word “conception” made me think in terms of that miraculous event in the womb of Anne when the full merits of Christ’s death and resurrection were applied “in advance” to Mary from the first moment of her existence (see CCC 491-492). But in terms of the union of Joachim and Anne that preceded the biological and theological event of Mary’s conception, I never really considered it. I may have even thought one shouldn’t consider it. Yet here, in this sacred icon – unbeknownst to most of us in the West – the tradition of the Eastern Church holds up the chaste, loving union of Joachim and Anne as the main symbol for contemplation in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.

What are we to make of this? It goes without saying, of course, that we must respect the important veil that surrounds the mystery of Joachim and Anne’s embrace, as this icon does. With that respect as our starting point, at least one thing I think this icon leads us to consider is the possibility of real holiness and virtue in the marital embrace, not only as an intellectual idea, but as a lived experience. The marital embrace of Joachim and Anne, as chastely portrayed in the sacred icon of the Immaculate Conception, should help all married couples to aspire to an intimate life that is “full of grace.” The conjugal act itself, John Paul tells us, as the consummate expression of the sacrament of marriage, is meant to be an expression of and participation in the “life ‘according to the Spirit’” (see TOB 101:6), that is, in the very life of the Holy Trinity.

Of course, if this “grace-filled” reality is to become a lived experience for couples and not just an intellectual idea, we must be willing to undergo a “full purification,” as Blessed John Paul II put it (see TOB 116:3). And this involves ongoing and often very painful trials. We are purified by fire, and that fire can “burn” in various seasons of our life with great intensity. Certainly, Joachim and Anne were no strangers to that journey of purification.

Since I first discovered it, the sacred icon of the Immaculate Conception has become one of my favorite treasures of the East. Contemplating the chaste love of Joachim and Anne has led me all the more, to use Blessed John Paul II’s words, to be “full of veneration for the essential values of conjugal union…. of the conjugal act.” It has led me to appreciate more deeply the fact that the conjugal act “bears in itself the sign of the divine mystery of creation and redemption” (TOB 131:5).

This July 26th, as we celebrate the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, may we be filled with great veneration for their marriage, and may we not fear the “full purification” required in following their example. Amen.