A Thanksgiving Approach

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”
Revelation 7:12

The holiday season is upon us! From now until 2023, we enter into the marathon of holidays. For many of us, this means parties, meals, company, shopping, presents, preparation, and maybe even a little bit (or a lot) of stress.

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season on November 24. This is the day where we gather together with loved ones to express our gratitude for all the blessings we receive, eat a delicious meal, watch the Lions lose, I mean play, maybe take a nap, and possibly even start to think about some Christmas shopping. In all honesty, sometimes that gratitude portion is put on the back-burner or skipped over all together in the hustle and bustle of the day.

It’s not that we AREN’T grateful, of course we are! But, do we take the time to name what we’re grateful for? Do we take time to voice and identify the ways we are blessed? Or do we get caught up in the day—making last minute preparations, watching parades or football, eating so much turkey that we wake up from our post meal nap in a haze?

If that sounds like your day, don’t worry—there’s nothing wrong with making the last minute preparations (someone has to do it!), watching parades and football, or even eating so much turkey that you’re hazy after your nap! Embrace those traditions and whatever other traditions you and your loved ones established for this day because those are important too. However, I challenge you (and myself) to carve out some time on turkey day to sit and reflect on what you’re grateful for, who you’re grateful for, and let God know how thankful you are for them, and let those people who you are grateful for know how much they mean to you.

If we approach Thanksgiving with grateful hearts bursting with the knowledge of how blessed we are and voice those blessings, it will make all the traditions of the day, all the company of the day, all the more special.

So, start today – For what and for whom are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? Name those blessings. Voice those blessings.

Make this holiday season special by approaching it with a grateful heart.

Prayer Before a Thanksgiving Meal

Good and gracious God,

You have blessed us in ways unimaginable and we are grateful!

You have given us people to love and who love us and we are grateful!

We come together today to celebrate you and the ways your have blessed us.

We ask that you bless our Thanksgiving meal and all the hands that prepared it, that it might nourish us.

We ask that you bless our conversations, that they might nourish our relationships with one another.

We ask that you bless our memories, especially of those who have joined you in eternal life, that they might live on in our celebrations.

We pray in a special way for all those who do not have enough to eat or those who are alone today, that they might be comforted.

We rejoice in your abundant goodness and thank you!

We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Synodal Process

The Synodal Process

Catholics around the world are embarking on the synodal process. But what is that? Honestly, it sounds like a medical procedure — probably a diagnostic one at that — full of pain and uncertainty. Actually, that is not a bad analogy for what the global Catholic Church is undertaking.

Pope Francis asks us to reflect on the Church by “journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through her experience which processes can help her to live communion, achieve participation, to herself to mission” (Preparatory Document, no. 1). We are looking at what works, what is not working in the Church– the Body of Christ. The process is absolutely diagnostic, but instead of being physically tested, we’re examining the spirit of the Church through our spirits, our experiences.

Think about our wins and struggles.

The main questions we are asking through this process are “How is the Church journeying with you well?” AND “How has the Church not journeyed with you well?” This requires that we take time to think about our lives. Think about our successes and our failures; our joys and our sorrows; our wins and struggles. This requires that we dive deep into our interior lives. This also requires that we examine these feelings, these experiences with the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Holy Spirit to enter into this process lest we become bitter from the failings of the Church or create a false narrative of the wins of the Church. The Holy Spirit will help us to examine our experiences within the context of the Church.

Where did the Church journey well with us? Well, did we allow the Church to journey with us? Did we feel as if we could allow the Church to journey with us or that the Church wanted to journey with us? These are the hard questions, but coming up with diagnoses and treatment plans is often painful and uncertain.

Guess what the wildest part of this whole process is? Pope Francis asks this of all of us. Not just the bishops, not just the priests, not just me, but my neighbor, my coworker, the person who sits next to me at Mass, the person who has been hurt by the Church, the person who has been ignored by the Church, the person who doesn’t see the point of the Church. We’re all called to this self-examination. The next step is the most important: listen.

Listen to these stories that your neighbors, your sisters and brothers, are sharing. Rejoice with them in their successes. Cry with them in their heartbreak. Sit with them in their disdain for the Church. Be with them in the hurt they carry because of the Church.

We’re so quick to justify, condemn, judge the experiences that aren’t our own, or that are contrary to what we know and believe. When faced with hard questions about difficult topics we think a simple FAQ document regurgitating Church teaching or the thoughts of the Church Fathers is enough. It isn’t. Pope Francis knows this and he wants the rest of us to know it too.

We’ll know it by listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another.

We’ll know it by listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another. In a world that feels more fractured and broken than ever, I think the synodal process is exactly what we need. This is an opportunity to look at ourselves, to listen to our neighbors, and become more fully the Church– the Body of Christ. Whole. Unbroken. Glorified.

Getting Hands-On with Jesus

Getting Hands-On with Jesus

The donkey in the creche of my growing up years has tottered to Bethlehem on three legs for over forty years, the cow’s nose chipped off long ago in a skirmish with a sheep, Mary’s hand has been inexplicably amputated, and the Baby Jesus sleeps cradled on a wad of cotton in a cardboard match box. The Christmas miracle was that my mother, a definitive type A for whom things needed to be perfect, was so happy to see us playing with the Holy Family that she merely glued the porcelain pieces together, shrugged off the lost causes, and found an substitute for the Christ Child’s crib. I love that Nativity Scene—so many happy hours hands-on with Jesus. So, when Mark and I got married, I knew I wanted our Nativity Scene to be child-friendly, just in case.

It was a wise decision.

The Christmas Maddie was a year old, she was enamored with the Nativity Scene, but not the baby Jesus or His parents. Not even the angels with their magical wings. Instead she toddled all over our apartment with the animals making their corresponding sound. The cow mooed in the bathtub, the horse neighed in her crib, the sheep baaed while I prepared dinner. She loved all the animals, except the camel remained undisturbed at the edge of the manger.

But then my husband demonstrated how camels spit.

After that, as soon as we rolled her stroller back into the apartment from an outing, she’d scream bloody murder for her freedom. As quick as we could get the buckle was undone, she’d wobble as fast as she could, still fully layered in her coat, hat, and mittens, to the Nativity Scene to be reunited with the camel. And to start spitting. Which she did endlessly, all over the apartment, and all over the city, anywhere she spotted a camel in a Nativity display. The act always cracked her up, so our abode was extra merry that holiday season.

The Nativity Scene continued to fascinate her, and the year her brother Joseph was born, it took on a new dimension. Suddenly she had a real baby Jesus, even if he did sit in a bouncy seat instead of lie in the manger. Maddie was always Mary, and she usually appointed her dad as Joseph. (On very rare occasions, Mark would be told to just watch and “Joseph Joseph rather than Bible-Joseph” would play the “daddy” from his bouncy seat perch.)

She’d put the miniature donkey from the creche between her knees and hobble to Bethlehem (our living room) with Mark, his head draped in a kitchen towel, by her side. In Bethlehem, Maddie would give birth as a baby doll was midwifed from under her shirt. That baby was immediately tossed into a corner, so her brother could assume the role, kicking in excitement. The six-inch tall shepherds and their tiny sheep would be moved from the pasture (the hallway) to adore the fat baby who kicked so enthusiastically in his bouncy manger. The miniature wisemen and their camels would come from the East (the fireplace), inching slowly across the hearth, always with a stop for their gift of mince pies for the actress who portrayed Mary.

Maddie cried when we packed the Nativity Scene away.

The following year, the Nativity Scene was dusted off as usual, but other wonders of the season had begun to encroach on the magic of the stable. In an actual Nativity Play that year, Maddie’s time that season was spent practicing her wing flapping and belting out Christmas carols. The hard resin wings of our Nativity Scene angel just didn’t hold the same allure as gauzy appendages of her own. Joseph followed his big sister around devotedly, and as she didn’t often pause in front of the manger in our hallway, neither did he.

For a few years, the Baby stayed in His crib the whole of Advent and Christmas, the shepherds didn’t misplace any sheep, and the camels remained silent. It made me a little sad, and I wondered if Joseph would ever be as entranced by the Nativity Scene as his sister had.

I shouldn’t have worried.

The year Joseph was four, the moment the Nativity Scene emerged from its box, he was hooked. He spent hours moving the pieces around and making up stories, just as I had done as a child. The shepherds occasionally parachuted in to the birth, the sheep slid down the steep pitch of the roof to the general vicinity of the crib, and the wisemen were often poised to topple like dominoes, landing at the foot of the Holy Infant. After bedtime every night, I would reassemble the scene into a more traditional tableau. The act satisfied my own type A tendencies and allowed me to track down any missing pieces.

As the excitement of Christmas drew closer, bedtime became increasingly trying. There was just too much fun to be had to waste time sleeping. One night, I poured a much-needed glass of wine and wandered over to the Nativity Scene to begin the nightly cleanup. I had to laugh. Bob the Builder and his sidekick Wendy were gathered with the shepherds to gaze at the Baby, and the digger Scoop was positioned near the cow, his bucket poised high in the air. Taking a sip of wine, I began to remove the colorful cartoon cast while humming Bob’s theme song.

“No, Mommy, no!” rang out behind me. I whirled around. There stood my son, all pj-ed up but no longer in bed, looking very alarmed. His eyes fixated on the characters in my hands.

“Oh,” I said airily, waving Bob and crew around. “I’m just moving Bob and his friends so Jesus can get a good night sleep. You can play with them all tomorrow.”

“But, Mommy,” Joseph said anxiously. “Jesus needs Bob and Scoop!”

I must have looked puzzled, so Joseph elaborated, “to help Him keep the stable clean!”

Whatever words had been on my lips—probably “get back in bed”—died, and I looked at the figurines in my hand and then at the stable in front of me. Joseph was right.

Jesus could use Bob and friends, just as He can use any of us. I turned back to my son and held out my palms.

“I think you’re right, Buddy,” I agreed. “Let’s put these guys back in the manger, and then I’ll tuck you back into bed.”

Solemnly, Joseph took the brightly colored characters from me, walked over to the manger, and carefully placed each one in the location best suited for their job. Then he turned to me and raised his arms. As I picked him up, he nestled his head against my shoulder, and whispered, “Good night, Jesus,” followed by our nightly refrain, “I love you to the moon and back.”

After I tucked Joseph in again, I dimmed the lights in the living room, switched on the Christmas tree, and stood in front of the Nativity Scene. Somehow, even type A me had to admit it looked a little more real with Bob, Wendy, and Scoop there. I thought back to all the varied use the Nativity Scene had gotten and smiled. The characters in the tableau had once been living, breathing creatures. Surely the cow had mooed during the birth, and the horse had kept the Baby awake with its incessant neighing. I bet that toddler Jesus was as delighted as Maddie had been to learn camels spit. He might have even practiced spitting Himself!

Beginning that long-ago night in Bethlehem, God wanted us to be hands-on with Jesus—even if it meant the scene wouldn’t stay picture-perfect. Even if it meant the wisemen brought gifts of mince pies to Mary, the shepherds had to share the stage with cartoon characters of the future, and Jesus wound up sleeping in a cardboard matchbox. That is exactly why He came.

Written by Ansley Dauenhauer



Advent and Christmas are seasons filled with many beautiful traditions. Like most families, ours has several that add richness and meaning to our celebrations. One such tradition in the Pajk house is to set up the Advent wreath and manger scene on the first Sunday of Advent. The Advent wreath sits in the middle of the dinner table with a copy of “The Little Blue Book” next to it, and each evening before dinner, we light the appropriate candles and read the reflection of the day. The manger scene is always the focal point in our family room with all of the figures placed in their designated spots. Mary and Joseph staring at an empty manger with ox and donkey sleeping nearby, the shepherds and sheep on the mantle overlooking the scene below, the magi and camel journeying from a table somewhere to the “east”, and baby Jesus unceremoniously stuffed into the hayloft until Christmas morning.

Probably sixteen years or so ago, when the three Pajk boys (our own version of the three “wise” men) were young, we decided to add a twist to the tradition. Instead of stuffing poor baby Jesus in the hayloft, we thought it might be fun for the kids to take turns hiding him around the house, searching for him, and hiding him in a new location until Christmas morning when he would be found and placed in the manger under Mary and Joseph’s expectant and loving gazes. It was a game of hide-and-seek and hide again, in which the boys were eager to participate because whomever found Jesus had the fun of hiding him for the next round with the only rule being that he had to be hidden on the first floor of the house.

Jesus went MIA…

For the first week or so, Jesus was hidden and found with regularity until one day, Jesus went MIA. It had been our 5 year old, Luke’s, turn to hide Jesus, and his two big brothers, and Mom and Dad, couldn’t find him anywhere! Only Luke knew the secret spot and he certainly wasn’t going to divulge the location to those of us searching. After a few days, we mostly gave up looking, hoping that Luke would just make sure that we had Jesus for the manger on Christmas morning. Yes, I realize, that is a lot of hope and trust to place in the reliability of a Kindergartner’s memory, but what’s a busy mom to do?

Sometime, though, during the third week of Advent, while I was lighting the candles on the Advent wreath before dinner, I noticed something tucked inside the edge of the wreath that I hadn’t previously noticed. Was it a pinecone from the wreath or a bit of leftover dinner from the night before? NOPE, it was the elusive BABY JESUS! For over a week, Jesus was right there in the middle of our dinner table where we gathered every night as a family and somehow we overlooked him. Jesus was in our midst, and in our busyness, we failed to recognize his presence.

During Advent, we prepare our hearts to celebrate three different “comings” of Jesus…

During Advent, we prepare our hearts to celebrate three different “comings” of Jesus; when God first came to dwell among us as one of us, the second coming of Jesus at the end of time, and all of the ways, big and small that God reveals himself to us every day. When Luke hid that figurine in the Advent wreath, he didn’t realize that he would be teaching us an important lesson: Slow down. Open your eyes. Jesus is in your midst, even when you aren’t looking for him!  It’s not just GOOD NEWS, but the BEST kind of news, that the One who created us and loves us is present to us in our families, friends and strangers, and is dwelling within our very hearts. Do we take the time to recognize that presence within us, within those we know and love as well as those we don’t yet know and love? Truly, Christmas is the powerful reminder of EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US, but God isn’t just with us on this day or during this season, but in every moment of every day! Merry Christmas!

Winter… Advent… Christmas… – it’s a season of simplicity.  

Winter… Advent… Christmas… – it’s a season of simplicity.

Ha! Really? Then why are we so busy, busy, busy, like the magician in Frosty the Snowman?

Is it because we have so many expectations of what we need to do for Christmas?  But aren’t these also the expectations of family and society? I think a disillusioned Charlie Brown asks a very pertinent question,  “What is Christmas all about?”.  Every year that simple show never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  The Incarnation, in all its incredible, stupendous, marvelous, awesome simplicity: God became one of us, born of a simple young woman, in a quiet little town, in an unadorned barn.  Only the angels knew enough to sing Alleluia and Glory to God in the Highest.

Advent really is about simplicity.

It is hard to uncomplicate what we have complicated – we have our expectations of what ‘the perfect Christmas’ should look like.  And it’s gotten far worse with social media and Pinterest, because obviously everyone else is having a perfect Christmas.   But deep inside are we longing for the simple, peaceful  beauty of a Currier and Ives Christmas scene?   I am reminded of a quote by Eddie Cantor: “Slow down and enjoy life.  It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”  Advent really is about simplicity: a time of expectant, hopeful and joyful waiting. Nothing complicated about waiting.  While we wait, we prepare.  Okay, certainly more strenuous, tiring, but there is time to be still, time for quiet contemplation –  if we choose to take it.

What are our hearts really yearning for?  What makes us smile and sigh with contentment?  The simple things: cooking with family and friends, the sounds of laughter and talking, sitting by the fire and watching the flames*, going out on a cold, starry night for Evening Prayer, sitting by the window watching the snow fall and the birds in the shrubs, soup and bread by candlelight, stopping by a friend’s house for a cup of tea and a chat, little acts of love we give or receive, stopping for a moment to look out the window before you head to bed for a moment of silence and a prayer of thanksgiving to close the day.  And all those expectations of perfection?  Well, Jesus was born into our imperfect world to leave us one simple command: love one another as He loves us.  It’s the blanket of sparkling snow that covers all the imperfections of our lives.

Take time to savor the simple, beautiful moments.

Don’t let the simple beauty of this season go unnoticed, unappreciated, or unexperienced.  Take time to savor the simple, beautiful moments.  Hold the Christ-child in the rocking chair of your hearts and soak in the love, breathe in the peace, feel the joy settling in your soul.  We wish you a simple, peaceful and very merry Christmas!

*If you need a fireplace this is an open invitation to come over any time and we’ll make the fire, put on the hot tea/chocolate or pop a cork!

Advent: Prepare, Plan, Dream

Advent: Prepare, Plan, Dream

Today, we begin the four weeks of Advent. Four weeks of preparation. Four weeks of hopeful anticipation of the birth of Christ. It would be so easy to breeze right through these four weeks and keep our focus solely on Christmas. Yet, Advent has something special to offer us.

What are the things that you wait for with hopeful anticipation? Maybe the birth of a child or grandchild? A college acceptance letter? A job offer? The return of your college student or adult children for the holidays? I think most of us are waiting in hopeful anticipation of the end of the pandemic. While we’re waiting is the perfect time to enter into the spirit of Advent.

Think of things you do while you wait in any of those situations mentioned above. You prepare. You plan. You dream. What do we do during Advent? We plan. We prepare. We dream.

Just as we prepare our homes for our loved ones coming for Christmas, we must prepare our souls for the birth of Christ!

We prepare a place in our hearts and minds for Christ. We release those things that we’ve been holding on to that prevent us from loving God, from loving others, from loving ourselves. Just as we prepare our homes for our loved ones coming for Christmas, we must prepare our souls for the birth of Christ!

We plan our lives around this preparation. We create lists (and some folks check them twice, looking at you Santa). We make sure nothing is overlooked so the meals, the family gatherings, the baking, all go smoothly. The same should be true for our spiritual lives too. We plan out our prayer time. We make our lists: who to pray for, what to pray for. When we plan even in our spiritual lives, we can be sure to have room for the special person who is coming.

What is greater than God incarnate?! 

We dream of family gatherings. We yearn for our loved ones we haven’t seen in a while. This time of Advent is a time for dreaming. We dream of the Savior. We dream of Emmanuel – God with us. These dreams stem from that hopeful anticipation. Pope Francis said Do not be afraid to dream great things! What is greater than God incarnate?!

If we enter into Advent- the preparing, the planning, the dreaming- with the same fervor that we enter into our nonspiritual Christmas preparations, how much more special will Christmas day be when we celebrate the Savior!?

So over the four weeks of Advent, I encourage you to prepare, plan, and dream as you await in hopeful anticipation the birth of Jesus.

Written by Kristyn Russell Kristyn Russell is a Midland-native who attended St. Brigid Catholic School before heading to Jefferson and Dow High School. She holds a Master's degree in Theology from Villanova University, as well as a Bachelor's degree in Theology with a minor in Communication from Aquinas College. When she's not at work, she's usually with her dog, Caspian, kayaking a new river, hiking through the woods, or sitting by a campfire reading a book.

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Preparing for Jesus

Mark 13:24-32 | 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Preparing for Jesus

This week’s gospel focus on the end times is an interesting read for the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next week, we start preparing for Christ’s initial coming with the season of Advent. But this Sunday, we are given the bookend to Advent in all the “signs” that will occur when Jesus returns.

But, do those signs matter? It’s only human to want to know the future, but the future doesn’t really matter. What matters is right now, who we are right at this moment. And that, I believe, is what Scripture is telling us: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels…nor the Son, but only the Father” (v. 32). If we spend all our time looking for signs, which only God knows, we miss the opportunity to be the person God wants us to be right now.

It has taken me a long time to understand this.

Not that I looked for end-of-the-world signs, but I have looked endlessly for the “path” God wants me on, the “plan He has for me” (paraphrased from Jeremiah 29:11). In this search, I wonder if I have squandered opportunities to be the person He wants me to be in the moment.

If we work to be the people God wants us to be in this moment, then we’ll be ready whenever Jesus comes—whether He comes as a Baby in a manger or descends on a cloud. The people we know who were “ready” when Jesus came the first time were Mary and Joseph, the poor shepherds, the wealthy pagan wise men from the East, Elizabeth, and the baby John. I’d even say the innkeeper was ready. After making room in the stable, that innkeeper, whether he or she ever understood the identity of the Baby, was the face of God to an unknown pregnant woman about to give birth.

Making space for people is what gets us ready for Jesus, whenever and however He returns.

Everything Jesus did was to make space for people. Healing them so they could function as a part of society. Understanding them so they could grasp their value being made in the image of God. Teaching them so they could have a place in God’s Kingdom. Dying on the cross so they could understand the true meaning of the Messiah. That’s what Jesus wants from us—to make room for all His children.

In some cases, that’s a tall order, and we won’t always be successful. But we will certainly miss the people God has put in our path if we spend our time staring up to see if the sun has “darkened” or if “the stars [are] falling from the sky” (v. 24-25).

When we’re instructed to “Be watchful!” (v. 33), what God wants is for us to be alert to our fellow humans. None of us know when Jesus will come again; we can only know what God has put right in front of us. That’s what He wants us to be “alert” to, so when Jesus does return, we can be as ready as humanly possible.

Written by Ansley Dauenhauer

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Shiny Motivations

Mark 12:38-44 | 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Shiny Motivations

My initial reaction after reading the story of the Widow’s Contribution in Mark was “God knows our heart.” The widow had an excuse not to give. She needed the few coins she had for food. But she wanted to give so badly that she gave it all, even at risk of starvation. The rich also gave, but they hadn’t been pushed to the edge of survival so their gifts didn’t reveal their hearts in the same way. God pulls off the wrapping on our motivations so He sees the real us (even when we don’t).

That is an important perspective in this story. But, when I did a little research, I came across a different point of view: whatever gifts (monetary, abilities, skills, resources) we’ve been given, given for the right reason, they are enough.

At first, I squirmed a little thinking about this. I want my gifts to grow and expand. I hope I want that to happen so they will glorify God, but sometimes I wonder if I haven’t just wrapped my motivations in shiny paper.

The widow wasn’t trying to save her gifts so she could expand them—perhaps thinking when she did, she could give more. Instead, she trusted God enough to know He’d take care of her, so she shared her meager stores. Talk about faith.

When we hoard our gifts, they stagnate. When we trust God with the gifts He has given us, they multiply. The story doesn’t tell us how the widow’s gift multiplied, but I am certain that it did.

But, we do know how the boy’s gift in the Feeding of the 5,000 multiplied. Rather than hoard his five loaves of bread and two fish, thinking it was such a little amount of food it couldn’t make a dent in feeding the massive crowd, the boy gave all his food for the entire day. As we know, not only was it enough, there were twelve baskets of leftovers. When we give unselfishly, God takes our offerings and works miracles. The boy himself didn’t feed the 5,000, but he allowed Jesus to work through him, and the miracle happened.

It’s when we allow God to work through us that the miracle happens. Mary said “yes” and Jesus was born. Jesus said “yes” to baptism and the cross, and death was defeated. In story after story in the scriptures, someone says “yes” to God and a miracle occurs. That “yes” is a surrender—a giving up of something, a long-held hope or desire or a hard-fought sense of control.

Our surrender allows God the space to do His work, which circles back to His gift of free will. When we surrender our desires, we use our gift of free will to choose God over ourselves. It’s not easy, and it runs contrary to our human-ness, but it’s the only way that our hearts are truly with Him—by our choice not His force.

Written by Ansley Dauenhauer

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time – Self- Love: The Basis of a Good and Godly Life

Mark 12:28b-34 | 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Self- Love: The Basis of a Good and Godly Life

For some reason, when I read The Greatest Commandment in Mark this time, it struck me in a new way. I suppose I’ve always thought Jesus’s gist was, “Of course you love yourself—now love others that way.” But what if we don’t love ourselves? Loving ourselves doesn’t mean we think we’re perfect, but it does mean we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. But if we don’t think of ourselves as people who deserve love, we can’t begin to know how to treat others as God wants us to. Perhaps self-love isn’t selfish. Perhaps it’s the basis of a good and Godly life.

What is the heart of self-love? I think it has to start with our relationship with God.

In authoritarian families, children’s behavior is considered a direct reflection on the parents. Self-image is important and punishment can be swift. Authoritarian parents need their children to behave a certain way for their own egos. But that is not how our Father parents—His self-image is just fine. God doesn’t need us. God wants us—God loves us and wants us to be in full communion with Him because then we will have true contentment.

God’s rules aren’t there so He can look good. He doesn’t need us to make Him look good. He is good. The rules are there to bring us closer to Him, to give us the gift of the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

In very primitive strokes, the old Covenant required following a set of established rules (over 700 of them!). Disobedience meant punishment that originated with either God or the community. But Jesus ushered in the new Covenant. He knew that its impossible for imperfect people to follow all those rules, and just as importantly, He also wanted to demonstrate that God is Love and Love desires relationship.

When we truly believe that God is on our “side,” we finally understand we are valuable just as we are, warts and all. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to work on our warts, but it does mean that the warts don’t make us less human or less loved. When we are able to let ourselves be fully loved, warts and all, how can we not extend that grace to others?

I think this is the essence of The Great Commandment: to understand that the love of God is total and all-encompassing, that we are loved just as we are, and moreover, He doesn’t demand that we be different. How can we not love a Being who loves us like that? Once we truly grasp the personal and reciprocal nature of God’s love, then we feel compelled to share it, on the same terms, and love others just as they are without demanding change. When we fully comprehend the freedom inherent in God’s love, anything becomes possible for us, for others, and for the world.

Written by Ansley Dauenhauer

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time – A Loaded Question

Mark 10:46-52 | 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

A Loaded Question

Every time I read the story of Bartimaeus, I am struck by the fact that Jesus asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” Unsurprisingly, Bartimaeus answers, “Master, I want to see.” (v. 51). So why does Jesus pose the question? Don’t all blind men want to see?

My dad is very hard of hearing. Not long ago, he got very sensitive hearing aids. But they weren’t the instant fix he’d hoped. They amplified everything, and his brain had to relearn to let background noise recede. Over the years, Daddy had also become used to silence. But we live in a noisy world, all of which was amplified by hearing aids. In short, the hearing aids put him in a sensory overload. My dad discovered he wanted to hear some things—conversation in particular—but not everything.

“What do you want me to do for you?” is actually a loaded question.

Life is complicated. There are no easy answers, and, unfortunately, there’s a bad side to everything. When Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He wants us to think deeply about the whys behind our desires. A Jew answering this question in the early first century might have answered they wanted the Messiah to lead them to victory. And Jesus did that—He brought about victory over death, though, not over the Romans. Had this person delved deep to articulate why they wanted this victory, they might have realized they really sought personal glory and revenge.

With this question, Jesus asks us to delve deep into our motivations, to discover the reason behind what we ask of Him. Held to the light of day, does that reason reflect Jesus’s mission? Bartimaeus could answer that question with a resounding “yes”—Jesus saw his heart and not only gave Bartimaeus his sight but also bestowed on him the highest of praise, “your faith has saved you” (v. 52). Bartimaeus responded by following Jesus, presumably straight to Jerusalem to witness the crucifixion.

This was the final recorded healing miracle before Jesus gets to Jerusalem. Maybe Bartimaeus was a final metaphor for Jesus’s message: “Ask and you shall receive” (Matthew 7:7), not carte blanche to write a letter to Santa, but a promise. If we have the faith to ask, God will give us what we need. Bartimaeus had the faith.

One last time, Jesus was making it clear that God has given us free will. We choose whether to participate in the plan. Jesus didn’t just wave His healing hands to give Bartimaeus sight. Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted, and Bartimaeus had to respond. Further, this miracle underscores the personal relationship God wants to have with each of us. He wants to be in conversation with each of us. May each of us one day hear, “Your faith has made you well.”

Written by Ansley Dauenhauer