A Rose in Winter: An Invitation to Grace

 

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A big part of the story is the roses in winter – Juan Diego brought the roses to the bishop as the miraculous sign that it was Mary who appeared to him. Our Lady of Guadalupe is Patronness of the Americas, her miraculous image on the tilma can still be seen today, and there is much rich symbolism in that image.

I don’t feel much of a connection with Our Lady of Guadalupe, but I do have a connection to Mary and roses in winter. As I was reading a reflection this morning on the roses, my mind was drawn to the winter I spent studying abroad. Before the semester in Austria began that January, a few of my friends and I travelled to France for a week. One of our stops was to Lourdes. As we were visiting the grotto, I noticed a single rose growing out of the side of the grotto. In January, I found it unusual, so I took a picture of it:

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Excuse my terrible photography skills, but trust me, it was a rose.

I wrote in my journal on the third and last day we were in Lourdes:
“We prayed at the Grotto and that pink rose was still there on the hill. That spoke volumes to me. A single rose in the winter, alone in the midst of stunted growth and the death of winter. “

For me, it was a rose of hope. That no matter how dead our souls are, or the world seems to be, there is hope. Mary, our star and our guide, leads us to the grace found in her son, Jesus.

I wrote this about the miraculous water at Lourdes: “There are so many spigots of water I could hardly believe it! The millions of people who come by to drink, with no limit on how much, and there’s an abundance!

To me, that’s grace. There is no limit to God’s grace, love, and mercy that he pours out on us each day. “Living in God’s grace, there will be trials, but God’s grace is more than enough. Jesus came for the sick and needy, not for the strong and hearty. I came here to Lourdes for the deeper conversion of my heart, and I placed Mary in charge. Mary, the Grotto, and the spring only point me toward the Mass and the Sacraments. Drink at the fountain and discover where the richness of grace truly lies. It’s a simple call to conversion, a purifying call, a cleansing time here in winter.”

So, maybe I have a connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe after all, as her message to Juan Diego was announcing the love and mercy of God, hearing our weeping and sufferings and loving us as a merciful mother. And in her message at Lourdes that winter, I heard the same thing. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us to receive the grace and mercy of God, especially in this Year of Mercy!

 

Do You Believe In Grace- Marriage Edition

I haven’t been intensely following the synod on the families, because I think I’d rather wait to hear the conclusions at the end instead of getting all worked up along the way. I pray for our spiritual leaders, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide them just like He’s done the last two thousand years or so. I did, though, read the text of one of Archbishop Chaput’s interventions today: http://aleteia.org/2015/10/10/archbishop-chaput-to-synod-fathers-we-need-to-call-people-to-perseverance-in-grace-not-confirm-them-in-their-errors/

The part that really struck me was when he wrote that “The work of this Synod needs to show much more confidence in…the transformative power of grace…..we need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them…Marriage embodies Christian hope.”

I have wanted to write a blog on my thoughts on grace for some time now, but I couldn’t figure out how to formulate it, and then the good Archbishop summed it up for me. Let me explain how I got here.imgresOver the summer, I began to work for CatholicMarriagePrep.com, an online, self-paced, instructor-led marriage prep program. There are essentially 7 topics that couples think about, answer worksheets on, and then an online instructor such as myself answers and expounds upon them. It is amazing and I highly recommend this preparation to engaged couples getting married in the Catholic Church! It is adaptable to older couples, convalidations, and everyone in between.

What has really struck me as an instructor is the third worksheet on the Sacraments. Being able to express their form and the grace attached – even though I basically have a theology degree – was somewhat challenging! And then, we had to give a short testimony on the transforming grace of our marriage, and that’s what opened my eyes to really ask myself if I believe in grace. Because if I did, wouldn’t I be open to it, asking for it, and seeing it work in my life? I had to really think.

Without getting too technical about the types of grace, let’s focus on the big picture: grace is a gift. A free, undeserved help that God gives to His children (CCC 1997). It allows us to participate in the life of God, to attain the divine for which our soul yearns. The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion. (CCC 1989).

Who doesn’t want free gifts? If someone offers me free food, free baby clothes, etc, I never say no. Then why is it so easy to ignore the free gift of grace? I know that sin has something to do with that, but I want to focus here on the grace. Because, like Chaput said, marriage embodies hope. Hope of what? Hope that the grace of the sacrament can transform us into the true image of God, who is Love. Marriage has the ability to take us beyond our humanity and into the realm of divine. Love is hard work, made easier with grace, but still requires sacrifice. And I think because the goal of marriage is so transcendental, and so divine, that it is easily attacked, misunderstood, and given up on.

So here’s the challenge to couples married in the Church, who have the sacramental grace of marriage: Live it. Ask for the grace to love your spouse better, to lay down your life more willingly, to love your children more purely. But above all, to be transformed by that grace into Divine Love itself. With grace, our marriages will be a witness the world cannot ignore. With grace, we won’t give up on the hope of the greatness God intended for us.

Want to support the mission and ministry of CatholicMarriagePrep.com? Or, do you love your husband/wife? You can buy shirts here: https://www.agapecatholicministries.com/shop/

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Home Remodeling and Whitewashed Tombs

(Warning: Graphic Content. Do not read while you are eating.)

A little over a year ago we bought a new home! (see: St. Joseph answers prayers). We knew it was going to be a bit of a fixer upper, but we had no idea how bad it was going to be until the smells starting getting worse and we started to tear down walls.

One of the first things we did was gut the basement bedroom where the kids were to sleep. The walls weren’t even made out of drywall but some smelly cardboard material and the insides were filled with spiderwebs galore – like out of a Halloween movie. Then we found water pooling in our laundry room because a hose wasn’t connecting to the drain, but just squirting water into the wall where we found black mold.

Recently we remodeled our upstairs main/master bath. It was the second most disgusting bath Nathan has ever remodeled, due to the leaky pipes behind the shower wall. See more black mold (and rotting subfloor) here:

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Then we started to gut the basement. This is where the majority of the smells come from. Dead mice. Actually, at least 3 dead mice, 2 rotting mice nests, and thousands of tiny turds line all the studs and ceiling of our basement living room. I’m sure they’ve been here for years. It is so disgusting I want to vomit just writing about it, but here are a few pics in case you are morbidly curious.

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this nest fell from the ceiling and smelled the worst because it actually had a dead mouse in it, discernible only by the long, black tail…

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mmm, yummy. All the studs looked like this.

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this nest is still in the ceiling and has treasures waiting to behold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before we looked at the house in person, the pictures online made it seem not too bad. Before we bought the house, we knew from seeing it in person that it needed a little bit of work, but as we lived here the signs became more noticeable that something was wrong. It had made me think of what Jesus has to say about whitewashed tombstones:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” Matthew 23:27-28

The previous owners of the house knew about the smell because they kept the basement doors closed and had no furniture in there. Instead of gutting it, they slapped some paint on the walls and called it “remodeled.” But there was no life in that room; nothing could survive in there with dead mice rotting in the walls.

So many times it seems easier to try and cover up our sins and wounds instead of trying to get to the root of the problem and deal with them. What we really need to do is tear down the drywall around our hearts and get to the smell, to the rotting wounds of sin and go to Confession! Perhaps an apology or forgiveness are also in order to bring healing.

And now, by tearing it out and rebuilding, we’ve built something way more beautiful than what was there before. That’s what grace does to our souls.

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bathroom before*

bathroom after*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So whatever you do, don’t let the smell of your sins turn you into a whitewashed tomb full of dead bones and filth. Let our house be a lesson for your interior house life.

“So many people come up to me and say, ‘But I’m a good person.’ Sin doesn’t make us bad. The wages of sin is death. Sin makes us dead. Only God can bring the dead to life.” -Louie Giglio, pastor, quoted from our worship night at Red Rocks.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

*you can see all of the bathroom before and after photos at: www.facebook.com/SuperiorHomeRemodel