God Broke My Heart

 

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezekiel 36:26

Throughout my whole life, I wanted the flesh heart that Ezekiel talked about.  I remember this verse and being intrigued by the idea of a real heart in terms of the interior life.  I knew that I had a physically real heart beating within my chest, but in terms of my spiritual life, the landscape of my heart looked more like a stone mountain range instead of a fertile planting ground for God to take root in.

So I took my desires to adoration and prayer and began to ask God to give me this real, fleshed out spiritual heart for His plan and will in my life – even though it would mean having to daily, if not hourly, combat the pride that stood in the way of the destruction of my cold, dead heart.

Yet instead of giving the hammer to God and asking Him to do exactly as He said He could, I pridefully took control of the hammer and began to chip away at my own heart.

Chipping away was probably an optimistic overstatement.  It was like I had a huge boulder to break down inside of my soul, but instead of pulling out a jackhammer and dedicating every waking moment that I had into smashing that stone encasement to smithereens, I was scratching at it with my fingernails in my spare time.

It wasn’t working.  The stone was still there and but I was hurting, aching, longing for anything different.  Although it was cold and hard, the stone was at least familiar and comfortable.  Having a flesh heart would hurt – the vulnerability and lack of control of a tender heart scared me to death and I was content with my stone.

“Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”
– Fulton Sheen.

God had the incredible ability to, if he so desired, simply glance at my stone heart and do the shatter-and-replacement mission in a split second.  Yet He, out of complete love for me and the desiring of my good, chose to break my heart first so it would mend and bind to His heart in the healing process.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, the character of Eustace, an English school boy, is turned into a dragon because of his selfish desires and hardened heart to his role in the Narnia quest.  There is a beautiful scene that resonated with my own story within the pages of the book.  Eustace returns to camp, transformed back into a boy, and tells his cousins the story of his transformation.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sorts of things and snakes can cast of their skin.  Oh of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means.  So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place….

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you.  I was afraid of His claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now.  So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right through my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I had ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure feeling the stuff peel off.

Well he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only even so much thicker, and darker and more knobbly looking than the others had been.  And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.  Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water.  It smarted like anything but only for a moment.  After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.  And then I saw why, I’d turned into a boy again.

When Eustace tried to scratch away his dragon scales himself, he readily admitted that it hadn’t hurt.  It was only when he lay vulnerable to Aslan’s claws, although they terrified him, that the transformation back into His real self was possible.

The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it is the only religion that makes sense out of suffering.  In light of the cross, the suffering that we have is transformed and redeemed into a beauty from ashes.  Because Christ’s death is outside of the limits of time, each time trials or hardships are placed in our spiritual journey, we have the unique opportunity to unite those sufferings with those of Christ crucified.

My heart isn’t all the way transformed into it’s best-version-of-itself flesh state.  There are still many areas along it’s surface that are rough with calloused, hardened stone that God is still ripping off and breaking off in front of my eyes.  And, like Eustace’s transformation, I look at the pieces of my stone heart that lie in front of me, knowing that those are chunks of stone that would have taken me decades to smash myself.

God is good.  

I feel like I say that everyday, but it is the only phrase that my simple heart can utter in light of the incredible mercy and grace He has shown me.

The process still stings, but when I’m thrown into the waters of grace through confession, the pain is but moment and the joy is life-long.  And the tender heart that God is slowly transplanting into my chest is one of the most beautiful things that I have seen – tender and vulnerable, but protected by His hand and heart in ways I could have never imagined.

 

 

 

 

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What an Orchid taught me about Christ

I don’t have a green thumb.  In my life, I can count the times I have gotten flowers on one hand, and the times I have killed them on the same hand.  My rose from Dad on Valentines’ day is always the first one to die in the vase – even though I swear I do nothing different to it than anyone else’s.  Each year at the bank I work at, our boss gives us Poinsettias about a week before Christmas.  Mine is dead by Christmas Eve.  The plant that lived in a pottery vase that I was given for my graduation is now just a pottery vase that holds my pencils, because the plant has not been with us for over two years.  The little potted plant my best friend gave me is dead (sorry Mary) because I didn’t think it needed water.  Don’t ask me why.  I just don’t have a green thumb.  And that’s ok – to each his own, everyone has a set of talents and gifts.  Plant care is not one of mine.

So this little orchid that a fantastic guy gave me may have a short lived life in my house, by no means will it be intentional plant slaughter, it’s just something bound to happen.  Yet during it’s (possibly short) life here, it has already taught me quite a bit.

For starters, let’s just take a moment to appreciate how little gardening work an orchid needs.  You feed it by ice cubes (the water, not the rapper) and sit in a a partly sunny place.  Check.  So this can’t be too much – although I’m sure I’ll forget it’s water supply and pass by it one day as it is breathing its last.  But, on the optimistic side, it’s little purple flowers are nice and bright and death has not cast it’s shadow over the door of this little plant.

Here is the phenomenal, mind blowing part.  Look at this little plant.  Just look at it.  See how straight it is standing, reaching up for the sun? (It’s normally in my room, but it came outside today for a photo shoot).  How neat is that? It knows that it grows best standing up, and so it stands.  Check this out, it gets cooler:

Not so straight, right? Despite all the ice cubes I have fed it and sunshine it has eaten up, this little orchid still likes to slump to the right.  
Let’s use the orchid as an analogy for our faith.  (if you think it’s a stretch, bear with me for a second). I grew up in a super Catholic house.  I’m the oldest of eight, I was homeschooled K-12, I knew about Theology of the Body since eight grade confirmation, and I’ve been schooled in apologetics at the lunch table since my freshman year of high school.  I graduated high school two years ago, went to a non-Catholic college, but got involved in my Catholic Campus Center and have made my best friends there.  I’ve grown in my faith through defending it through classes and interactions with other students, Catholic and non-Catholic.  All in all, if my life is that little orchid, I’ve gotten a really good amount of ice cubes and my sunshine tank is pretty full. 
But I still slump to the right quite a bit.  I don’t have it all together (despite appearances) and sometimes my stress levels hit the roof.  I have a horrible temper (it’s beast) and can be insanely judgmental.  Pride is something I consistently have to confess, and I always have fuel for spiritual direction.  I do not know anything but a teeny-tiny percentage of my faith life, and praise God for friends who are knowledgeable in the faith.   Now, take a look at this little baby alligator clip:
That is the only thing that is keeping the orchid from slumping to the right and growing horizontally instead of vertically.  It’s not incredibly strong on it’s own merit, but it’s grip on the orchid keeps the orchid growing tall and sticking up for itself. 

                       

So despite all the good things that I can surround myself with, I still need a little baby alligator clip to keep me straight.  What is my little baby alligator clip? God’s grace.  Something I don’t have to deserve to receive, something that God is constantly just pouring down on me through the sacraments and grace and the time that I spend just looking at His amazing love in adoration.  Something that I see in the faces of those I interact with, and the love of the friends who reach out and sit me down when they know something is wrong.

An orchid growing horizontal is pretty cool – not something you see everyday.  But an orchid that knows its mission and purpose and loves reaching up to the God who made it? Now that my friends is a sight to see.  So, seriously, if you want to come see it, you better stop by quick. Because it may be reaching for the ground in a couple of days.   But until that day comes, I’m really enjoying the blessing of a good reminder of how it’s ok to not have it all together, and the importance of a little baby alligator clip.

What does Eucharistic Adoration Look Like?

When you get your own adoration hour 

One of my all time favorite forms of prayer is Eucharistic adoration.  It’s there that I first really heard Christ speaking to me during some rough times in senior year, and it’s there that I have been able to work every hard problem that I’ve had out with Jesus.

So just what is Eucharistic adoration?  And what do you do during the hour?

There are many forms that adoration is present around the world.  Perpetual adoration chapels in some churches, nocturnal adoration on the eve of the first Saturday of the month, daily exposition and benediction at some parishes.  There are organizations around the world that promote a holy hour, and also availability of a 24/7 adoration chapel where you can stop in when you have time, even if it’s less than an hour.

The history of adoration is beautiful though –  As early in Church history as the year 325, around the Council of Nicea, there is evidence that the Eucharist would be reserved in churches, monasteries, and convents.  This was mainly for the purpose of having it available for the anointing of the sick and dying.  Yet the place it was kept was considered holy.  As monasteries and community life were established, the Eucharist held a special place in even the architecture of the church building itself. The place was referred to by many names: Pastoforium, Diakonikon, Secetarium and Protehsis to name a few.  Yet it was a separate room from the Church, akin to the modern day Eucharistic adoration chapel.

But there still wasn’t adoration hours or chapels for the community, so when did those come into play? In the late 1000s, there was a movement that stemmed fom Berengarius, a deacon in France, who said Christ wasn’t present in the Eucharist at all.  The heresy became so wide spread that Pope Gregory VII told Berengarius to retract his statement.  Pope Gregory VII himself had a deep love for the Eucharist, which was influenced by his time spent with the Benedictines.  In his writings, he said

 “I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration, there is present the true body of Christ, which was born of the Virgin and offered up for the salvation of the world, hung on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and that there is present the true blood of Christ which flowed from His side.”

Following this statement, and many others like it, the movement of Eucharistic reverence and appreciation began in the Church.  John Hardon, S.J., wrote about what this new found love of the Eucharist looked like.

“The churches in Europe began what can only be described as a Eucharistic Renascence.  Processions of the Blessed Sacrament were instituted; prescribed acts of adoration were legislated; visits to Christ…were encouraged; the cells of anchoressess had windows made into the church to allow the religious to view and adore before the tabernacle.”  

So what does an adoration hour look like?  What are you supposed to do in one?  How do you start?  Here are five quick tips if you’re new to the adoration scene.

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When you get your own adoration hour

1) Start off with silence.

The world we live in is crazy.  Noise comes at us from every corner – from our car radios to the constant alerts coming from our phone.  Eucharistic adoration is an amazing time to just go and sit in silence…with nothing to distract you…and just some alone time with Christ.
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My favorite quote on the Eucharist comes from a story that Saint John Vianney told.  He went into the chapel one day and and someone came up and asked him what he did all day in adoration.  “Nothing,” he replied, “I just look at Him and He looks at me.”  That’s friendship – the time where it’s silent and you don’t need to say anything, but rather experience the joy of being with someone who you have a deep relationship with. 
2) Adoration
Well, it is called Eucharistic adoration, so this seems like an obvious one, but what does that word mean?  This is a time where you get to tell God how amazing He is.  A little while ago I wrote about the Psalms, and how they are God’s love song to Himself that we get to sing to Him.  So take this time to praise Him for who He is.
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3) Contrition
We’ve all messed up, and what a better place to reconcile with the Lord (besides confession of course, which is also recommended) but Eucharistic adoration?  If a friend hurts you, what is the preferred apology – in a text or face to face? Face to face always wins out – there is something about the humility to say you are sorry to a person when you are standing in front of them.  

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4) Thanksgiving 

The word ‘Eucharistario’ means ‘Thanksgiving.’  WHOA.  Can you think of a better time to give thanks to the Lord for what He has given you than when you are looking at Him in the gift of the Eucharist?  It doesn’t just have to be for the big things in life – like a job interview or a great friendship.  It could be the small things (which I’m notorious for noticing): like how the pothole on your way to work today was filled, or how the wind was blowing while you were sitting outside.  Nothing small goes unnoticed by God – He keeps track of even the smallest of sparrows.  
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5) Supplication

God knows what is on our heart before we speak it, but there is something to be said for laying out your concerns and desires before the Lord in adoration.  Asking for advice on what to do, how to solve a problem, or what decision you should make is a fantastic thing to bring to His feet at adoration.  And after you bring your heart’s desires before Him, pray that your will be conformed to His through prayer.

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“Jesus has made himself the Bread of Life to give us life.  Night and day.  He is there.  If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to Adoration.” Mother Teresa.