“Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except
through a sincere gift of himself.” Gaudium et Spes 24
One of the core truths of the Theology of the Body is that there is a “spousal” meaning of our bodies, that we are all called to make a gift of ourselves and in this act of giving we truly find ourselves. Gifts come in different shapes and sizes, just as people do. As a unique, unrepeatable human being, the gift I give to the world of my authentic self is completely unique to me and has a unique shape. But what is that shape?
You may have heard it said that there is a God-shaped hole in each one of us that we try and fill with other things but only God can truly satisfy and fill. Most of the cheesy Christian pictures show a heart with a hole in the shape of a cross or something similar. But what if there was a deeper truth to this sentiment? What if there was a unique God-shaped hole in each of us that also denoted the shape of the gift that God has called us to be for the world?
Episode 4 of "Encourage Each Other", a weekly encouragement from Willwoods Community and Dumb Ox Ministries.
The following is a companion blog post to T.J. Capaldi's Spoken Word piece, "The First and the Last," which was one of twelve semi-finalists in our Virtual Talent Show FUNdraiser. You can view the piece HERE.
There's a thin line between comedy and reality.
You know you're on that line when you're not sure if you're laughing because something is absurd or because it is true. Sometimes the laughter comes from recognition of the harmony between the absurd and the true.
Just like the man described in the piece "didn't know the first thing," I didn't know that I would stumble on this kind of harmony when I set out to write something for the 2020 ECHO Virtual Talent Show FUNdraiser Extravaganza.
If you've watched/listened to the piece already, then you know the backstory. I have been reflecting on two new experiences: (1) using dating apps on my phone, and (2) extreme "social distancing."
Something about using a swipe-style dating app where you have to "check yes or no" so to speak on one person at a time is very exciting. It's also rather disconcerting, or at least it was to me. That's not to say these apps are immoral in and of themselves or that no one should use them. I definitely would NOT say that. To be honest, I see a lot of good in some of them, and quite a bit of redeemable value in the whole concept.
Still, I couldn't shake this feeling. Was it the weight of the decisions? The possible implications? The missed opportunities? Yes, it was and is all of that and more. In the moments when I began to lose sight of the humanity behind the profile, fear came to the surface. I was afraid of myself and what I knew I could become.
Episode 3 of "Encourage Each Other", a weekly encouragement from Willwoods Community and Dumb Ox Ministries.
John 20: 1-9
He is risen! Alleluia! Happy Easter, everyone!
A few years ago, I had a very good friend share a quick story with me one time that still resonates with me today, and it’s one that I continue to go back to over and over again. My friend had been praying to experience God’s power and glory in a tangible way in her life. She wanted to see signs and wonders that would undeniably reveal God working in her and through her. One day, while attending a conference, she had the opportunity to pray with a woman who was known to have many spiritual gifts. This was her chance! What would God do? What would he reveal? While praying together, the woman, in broken English, yet very clear words, told my friend: “You want the Fourth of July, but God wants to give you Easter morning.” My friend knew exactly what the Lord was telling her.
The Fourth of July is filled with lights, sounds, and smells…a day filled with sensory experiences…yet it comes and goes quickly. Contrast that with Easter morning. The resurrection on Easter morning happened in secret, and it was revealed slowly over time. Why was the greatest moment in all of human history hidden from human eyes? Why was that moment not big, loud, and flashy for all the world to see? Why did Jesus choose to reveal the glory of His resurrection slowly? Maybe…just maybe…this is the way of things.
I really believe that our hearts, minds, and bodies are not attuned to real power and real glory. We have been conditioned to want God to work like Google. We want an immediate answer, immediate healing, immediate freedom, and immediate peace. We often aren’t willing to cooperate with the process of God’s powerful work in our lives. Where did we get the idea that loudness is more powerful than the quiet, that being fast is more glorious than what happens slowly, or that being seen and heard has more impact on the world than being hidden?
Several years ago, I went with a group of guys to the Grand Canyon. I really wasn’t prepared for what I would see. I had seen it in photos and captured in movies a million times, but when I saw it in person, I was absolutely awestruck. Consider for a moment the processes that created the canyon: It took millions of years for the Colorado River to cut through the rock - inch by inch, and year by year. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t flashy, but look at the end result. We are moved to awe and wonder.
Here’s the deal: God wants to do deep work for you, in you, and through you. Deep healing, deep freedom, and deep intimacy with God isn’t usually forged in a solitary moment accompanied by signs and wonders. Could he do it that way? Yes. Has he done it this way? Yes. Is this always the best way? Only God knows. What we do know is that God is constantly laboring for us. Just like the waters of the Colorado River, God’s persistent movement in your life cuts and reshapes you, and smooths your rough edges to make you the man or woman he has created you to be. God wants to heal you, he wants you to share in His resurrected life, and he wants you to experience his power and glory in a real, tangible, and undeniable way. There is no doubt about this. However, it takes radical trust to surrender to the way He wants to do this in your life. Our task is to surrender to God’s work and not to resist it, to open our hands and hour hearts to Him and resist the temptation to grasp for what, perhaps, isn’t ours…yet.
Maybe there are moments in your life when God feels distant. Perhaps even today, on Easter morning, the resurrection of Christ feels far away from you. Maybe your life doesn’t look very glorious. Take heart in the fact that God is working in you right now. If you are open to Him today, the river of grace made available to you by Christ’s resurrection will flow over your dry bones and bring you new life. There is glory and power in His slow, hidden, and quiet work in you.
On behalf of our entire team, we wish you and your family a GLORIOUS Easter Sunday!
The Ecstasy of the Cross, Caroline Papa
Over the past few years, I have been drawn into the immense beauty of the Cross. Its beauty was something that at first left me second guessing my judgement of beauty. I thought, “Lord, this is pain. This is suffering, and quite frankly a bit gory. How can I be attracted to your wounds?” After stepping into these questions, I came to understand that yes, there is pain and suffering on the cross. In addition to this, covered in the blood of redemption, there is also a Bridegroom. A Bridegroom fully exposed for his beloved. His vulnerability showed the church what a sincere gift looks like.
As I continued to pray about the cross and what this longing was to be near to him, I became inspired to express my prayer artistically. This led to the painting which the Lord prompted me to name, “Ecstasy of the Cross.” When I first felt him whisper the painting’s name I was honestly in shock. I thought, “Lord, that is so intimate!” I felt him tenderly remind me that the reality of the cross is indeed very intimate. It is a place of total self-giving. A sanctuary of love that pours forth openly, without reserve, in gift for the beloved. I began to see at last! “Yes!” I thought. It is no wonder I am so drawn to your wounds. They are the very source of love. The very fountain of mercy, goodness, beauty, truth, and all that is love.
There is still so much mystery to it all, as there always is with Christ, but I think the greatest shock for me was that I came to understand that he too wants me close to his wounds. He too desires my love, my vulnerability, my gift of intimacy with him. That he is longing far greater than I am.
During this crazy time in the world I invite you to enter into the mystery of the cross. See what beauty you might find in the midst of suffering. What gift of love is waiting for you. Meditate with his passion. Ponder what is looks like to comfort Jesus on his cross. Ponder what is looks like for Jesus to help you with your own cross! Step into the immense opportunity for love that we have this lent. He is indeed thirsting for you.
“After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said, “I thirst.” John 19:28
Episode 2 of "Encourage Each Other", a weekly encouragement from Willwoods Community and Dumb Ox Ministries.
Titian, Christ Carrying the Cross, C. 1565
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” I believe there's a lot of wisdom here. What makes deep impressions on us must take some form of expression in our lives, especially when it comes to suffering. For many of us, this season of Lent has been a painful one, and here we are entering into Holy Week still with uncertainty about what the future may hold. We may feel cut off from friends and loved ones, lonely, and isolated. Many of us are struggling with financial insecurity, and to top it all off, the space where many of us found security and consolation (the church, the sacraments, the Eucharist) feels very distant. Perhaps we are even feeling numb to it all, and that unsettles us a bit. Many of us don't know what to do and feel powerless. Wherever you are is the spot where God wants to meet you. One thing can be sure - this Holy Week is going to be a Holy Week like no other if we understand there is deep meaning in it all.
We often get Christianity very wrong. There’s a tendency to reduce discipleship to following a set of moral teachings. While not erroneous, if we reduce our faith to simply following a set of teachings, we are missing the bigger picture. Being Christian means being joined to Jesus Christ in the most radical and intimate way possible. What does this mean? This means that whatever happened to Him, we must also endure. Where he goes, we must also go. When you and I were baptized, we were joined to Christ in his death and resurrection. The rite of baptism is meant to “speak” through visible signs the reality that is taking place. In the early Church, the person to be baptized was stripped of his or her garments and literally walked down into the baptistry and was submerged into the depths. Then they would come up out of the water on the other side and be clothed in white garments while the minister of the sacrament spoke the words of baptism over them. The old self was stripped away, the person entered into Christ’s death and rose to new life clothed in a new garment: Christ, himself. The visible signs showed the reality of going where he went, being joined to him in his passion, death, and resurrection.
Being a disciple means that the mystery of his death and resurrection must take on a real shape in our own lives. This isn’t a pious platitude…this is at the very heart of Christ’s invitation when he says to you and I: “Follow me.” This means that the cross must have its place in our lives. Whenever we let go of the false piety we sometimes carry around, we begin to carry the true piety that comes with the cross and we realize just how difficult this demand of love really is.
But… “the cross” …what is it? I heard a friend say once that the cross you and I carry takes shape in our lives in two ways. It is the place of our unfulfilled desires that we have deep in our hearts that hurts as well as that place in our lives where we come to terms with our radical need for God. It is the place where we come to say, “I can’t do this, Lord. I need you.” What are the unfulfilled desires deep in your heart? What are the circumstances in your life that give you the raw realization of your utter and absolute dependance on him? What makes you cry out in need of a savior? There is your cross.
When we carry our cross - we do not do it alone. Remember, we are joined to him: where he goes, we must go. The cross is meant to draw us into intimacy with him. This is why carrying our cross is redemptive. It brings us close to him, and it makes us like him. It purifies our ability to love like him - to offer ourselves as a pure and authentic gift. For your gift of self to mature, it must weather the storm. Christ’s gift of self on the cross brought life to the world, and so will ours as long as we are with him in it.
Here is the very Good News: Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house. The cross, if we say yes, will give way to the new life we were created to experience that is joy and fulfillment beyond our wildest imagination. Where he goes, we will go.
Episode 1 of "Encourage Each Other", a weekly encouragement from Willwoods Community and Dumb Ox Ministries.
John 11: 1-45
In today’s Gospel we hear the story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps, like me, you thought you knew the story of Lazarus already and succumbed to the temptation to just glaze over it. When I challenged myself to actually sit with the Gospel and allow God’s word to encounter me, my eyes were opened to my own story laid out in front of me. Your story is there, too, by the way. Did you catch it?
We are beyond blessed with an amazing community of teens, young adults, priests, consecrated men and women, and families who are striving to live out Christ's invitation to authentic love and who have gifts to share their journeys through writing.