We have heard the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder. There is truth to this when we are physically away from someone with whom we are in a relationship with a solid foundation. However, if we are totally disconnected, never thinking of the other because we are also absent mentally and emotionally, rather than making the heart grow fonder, the relationship will erode and then die out. In short, our priorities will have shifted so much that ‘the other’ ceased to be important. This behavior reveals something about the nature of that relationship in the first place, and if it is a recurring pattern, it gives light to the nature of one’s ability to commit to the work of maintaining relationships. As difficult as this is between people when it occurs, it is much more challenging when we behave like this with God. There is no substitute for God, however, and to put someone or something before Him can be disastrous.* There is none more reliable and steadfast in love than God, so the good news is that if we do move away from Him, God will always take us back. He is faithful, resilient, merciful and unchanging in His love.
Unfortunately, a consequence of sin and our brokenness is that our priorities can (and do) get ‘out of whack’ through a gradual movement away which we hardly notice. Inadvertently we fill our time with so much that we do not have time for God or prayer, or we simply become lax, such that our relationship with God suffers. At other times, we become attached to things that we put before God without even realizing it. It is good to continuously examine our relationships and priorities to make sure this is not happening, and if it is, we can take steps to change, asking the Lord to help us to do so. Something that can help is from St. Ignatius of Loyola who taught that our memory is an important tool in our spiritual life. Without memory of the graces and consolations we have previously received, we can literally forget how much we need God, how gratuitous He is, and subsequently lose sight of the great gift of the love and mercy which He freely offers. Memory helps us to better see how much God has done for us, helping us to persevere when we are challenged. St. Ignatius said to also remember the times of desolation when we did not feel God’s presence and how hollow that was; we learn to recognize that whatever we put before God cannot really satisfy our longing.
Ironically, what takes place when we fill our longings with things that fail to satisfy such as putting people, material things, or acclaim first in our lives, is that we really are longing for the only thing that can satisfy us: God. Therefore, our longing is actually a gift if we recognize it as such. A good exercise to help with this is to remember the time when we were not able to attend our churches during the pandemic. We longed to be fed and pined for the fellowship that was previously enjoyed; we longed for our brothers and sisters with whom we share in the faith, and perhaps we realized how much we need each other. Many also longed for a way to serve as they had done previously. We had no communion in any way, neither in the Eucharist nor through being present with our parish families, our worship communities. This type of longing was actually a good thing because it heightened our realization of the greatness of the gift we have been given in our faith, our brothers and sisters in our faith family, the clergy who serve so selflessly and hopefully it deepened our sense of gratitude when we returned. The reality is that longing is actually a grace when it is hope-filled. Yes, our communities here on earth are imperfect, but what we should continue to always long for is the perfected community which is to come, but of which we are already a part. Our communities are meant to be continual reminders of this.
The last thing we hear at the end of Mass is from the deacon, a reminder of Jesus’s commission to make disciples: “Glorify the Lord with your life.” We glorify the Lord when we build the Kingdom, thus we are being reminded that the liturgy is meant to continue through us as we bring Jesus outward in our service. Those words echo Jesus’ commission when He told the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you….” (Matthew 28: 18-20)** That is, the last thing Jesus told His disciples prior to His Ascension is that we are to build the Kingdom by word and deed. Our humble acts of love and mercy will draw others to Him and this, of course, glorifies God. Perhaps we can reflect upon what it means to be such a disciple, asking ourselves whether or in what ways we are glorifying the Lord with our lives. It would also be good to reflect upon the gift of our church families. We have a great gift in our worship communities because we find God in our rituals and in the brothers and sisters who form our extended family. Let us rejoice in this gift as we look forward to the day when we will be gathered together in Heaven.
May we have faith in God and always seek to be united with Him! May we never cease to long with hope for a deeper relationship with the Lord! May we glorify the Lord with our lives! And may we be filled with gratitude for our faith communities in the One Body of Christ! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* When we look for happiness outside of God not only can we get further from Him, but we can come to spiritual and even physical harm. To put nothing before God was given to us as the first of the 10 Commandments given by God out of love and care for His children. God knows that only the power of His mercy and love can save us. All else will tempt us with hollow lies, but they are, in fact, just that: lies. All we have to do is look to the stories in the Old Testament to see how many times the people got in trouble because they tried to find a substitute for God. All those instances ended in disaster. Only when they listened to God did they find peace and prosperity.
** See the entire passage: Jesus told the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This means we are to live the gospel He taught and thereby evangelize in word and deed, building up the Body of Christ. But notice how He prefaced this commission: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore….” This implies that He shares His power with us, that is, the grace to live the commission that He then stated. And after He gave the commission, Jesus concluded by saying “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20) Everything we do includes Him, and He will help us see it through.
1. My photo, sunrise at 39,000 feet, taken from a plane as we were flying into Denmark.
2. Drawing, St. Ignatius at Prayer in Rome, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you would like to purchase a copy of this drawing you can find it at fineartamerica.com/featured/st-ignatius-at-prayer-in-rome-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. My photos, on the banks of a fjord in Norway.
4. Painting, The Ascension of Jesus by James Tissot.
5. My photo, a sunset in my neighborhood.
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Heart Speaks to Heart