Happy Hearts Day Part 2: Litany of Courage

I have so many dreams as a writer. This post fulfills a dream that for so long seemed too wonderful to even hope for. This is my first piece in post-Roe America.

How beautiful is it that the first day of this new period in American history falls on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary? As people fear that women’s rights are being trampled, the heart of a woman is honored throughout the world.

Although yesterday was the day for which I’ve been longing and praying for as long as I can remember, it was also a day that I had frankly been anticipating with some cowardice. There are lots of angry people in the U.S. right now and I honestly don’t know what the headlines will be by the time this post shows up in your inbox.

But lately I’ve been deeply moved by Mary’s identity as warrior maiden. At Fatima, she promised, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” The battle for the end to abortion is far from over, but we know that our mother will lead us to victory.

As we rejoice in the triumph of yesterday’s decision and press forward in advocating for total protection for the unborn and their mothers, I want to present a Litany of Courage that asks the intercession of the Immaculate Heart. Come, Holy Spirit!

Lord, have mercy on us……..Lord, have mercy on us

Christ, have mercy on us…….Christ, have mercy on us

Lord, have mercy on Us……Lord, have mercy on us

Father, Author of all life…..we adore you

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus…….we adore you

Holy Spirit whose Love casts out fear….we adore you

Response: Give us your heart

Mary, whose immaculate heart was free from sin…Give us your heart

Mary, whose heart reflected the beauty of the Triune God…

Mary, whose heart was radiant with purity…

Mary, whose heart was fearfully and wonderfully made…

Mary, whose heart began to beat at six weeks in Ann’s womb…

Mary, whose heart obeyed when the angel said, “Do not be afraid…”

Mary, whose heart said yes to an unplanned pregnancy…

Mary, who crushed Satan’s head with her “Yes”…

Mary, whose heart is a warrior heart…

Mary, whose heart pumped blood to the unborn Jesus…

Mary, whose heart believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled…

Mary, whose heart did not waver as she gave birth in abject poverty…

Mary, whose heart broke at the screams of the Holy Innocents and at their mother’s wails…

Mary, whose heart trusted when its piercing was foretold…

Mary, whose heart remained at peace even when she did not understand…

Mary, whose heart sacrificed everything for love of her neighbor at Cana…

Mary, whose heart rejoiced in the Eucharist…

Mary, whose heart remained united to Jesus in His agony…

Mary, whose heart consoled Jesus during His Passion…

Mary, whose heart felt every scourge, thorn, and nail…

Mary, whose heart forgave those who taunted her…

Mary, whose heart forgave her child’s executioners…

Mary, whose heart was pierced, yet unwavering as she cradled her son’s dead body…

 Mary, whose heart overflowed with unspeakable joy when she beheld her risen Son…

Mary, whose heart received and nurtured the Apostles…

Mary, whose heart beats in heaven…

Response: Immaculate Heart, triumph

Over all American hearts…Immaculate Heart, triumph

Over all fearful hearts…

Over hearts fearing persecution…

Over hearts fearing their safety…

Over hearts of Supreme Court Justices and their families…

Over hearts of pregnancy resource center employees and all who work in the pro-life movement…

Over hearts of clergy and religious…

Over hearts who are called to defend the Eucharist…

Over hearts that are lukewarm or complacent about abortion…

Over hearts who have been led to fear an America without abortion…

Over hearts who do not know the sacredness of human life…

Over hearts of abortionists…

Over hearts of mothers who have suffered abortion…

Over hearts of fathers who have suffered abortion…

Over hearts of the young pro-life generation…

Over hearts of the generation who fought and continues to fight…

Over hearts of all legislators…

Oh Blazing Heart…lead us into battle.

Oh Pierced Heart…break our hearts for all that has been lost through legalized abortion.

Oh Crowned Heart…lead us to victory.


Happy Hearts Day Part 1: Hidden in the Rupture

Does anyone actually like Valentine’s Day?

To quote Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that every single or taken man or woman, regardless of fortune, age, or creed, does not actually enjoy corporate exploitation of one of the deepest mysteries of the universe for the sake of jacked up prices for flavorless chocolate, in the name of a Saint who is no longer even listed in the Roman Missal.”

That’s how Pride and Prejudice starts, right?

I don’t actually hate Valentine’s Day.1 It truthfully gives the Catholic Church a unique platform to share the good news of Christ’s love and the Christian call to total self-gift with a secular world. Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for puns, so Valentine cards are a pretty sweet deal.

But if we really want a day to celebrate love and give chocolate to loved ones, there is no denying that today and tomorrow are the true Hearts Days.2 Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

For starters, this Solemnity always falls on a Friday. So today, you can eat bacon on a Friday. This has been your PSA. Bacon for Jesus.

But all joking aside, today is when we ask the terrifying question: Where would we be without the Sacred Heart? Today’s Solemnity is really a liturgical immersion in the mystery of the Incarnation: God has a human body, and that changes everything.

The heart that we adore today first began to beat after Jesus was in Mary’s womb for about six weeks. Could Mary see its gentle patter as she gazed on her newborn in a manger of straw?

That little heart beat wildly as He ran through the streets of Nazareth at play. Joseph felt it against his chest as the little boy squeezed His arms around him. Divine love throbbed in Nazareth, veiled by the ribs of a tiny child.

When did the Sacred Heart first break? Was He shoved to the ground by friends? Did He witness Roman soldiers abducting a child? Perhaps that first heartbreak was at Joseph’s death. Did Jesus lay His head on His foster father’s chest, listening to Joseph’s heartbeat until it ceased?

Where would we be without the Sacred Heart, without a God who has taken on human emotion? Of course Jesus was perfect, and this means that His emotions were never disordered like ours so frequently are. But we know that Jesus rejoiced as he praised the Father. He wept before the tomb of Lazarus. Before His death, he said, “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death.” When Jesus offers His Sacred Heart to us, He offers His whole human and divine self. He offers the sweet little moments that we can only imagine on this side of heaven: the lullabies from Mary, the inside joke with a neighbor friend. He offers the little heartbreaks: the rejection, the name-calling, the loneliness.

He offers the unspeakable joys as well: the moment Jairus’ daughter opened her eyes, the moment John’s net dropped, the beauty of the repentant woman’s tears. But He also offers the horrific anguish. To follow Christ, we must embrace all of Him and all of His Cross.

I recently received a beautiful penance in Confession: “Go and ask Jesus for Him to give you His heart.”

I know I should have been skipping out of the Confessional with excitement. But that prayer revealed so much of my poverty and fear. To receive Jesus’ heart, which many scientists believe ruptured on the Cross? A heart that is completely selfless and only pours itself out in total surrender? A heart that knows and has felt the abyss of agony within the human experience?

I am a member of the Body of Christ. It is not enough to have His heart. I must become His heart.

For the last couple years the Lord has invited me to imagine myself crawling into His dead, lifeless heart that ruptured on the Cross. So often we feel like Sam Gamgee at the end of The Return of the King, torn in two. But the King Himself has had His heart torn in two. He invites us to place ourselves and all of our heartache, laughter, and faith between those ruptured pieces.

But Sam is assured, “You will be healed. You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.” At the Resurrection God mended His own heart and made it solid and whole. In that moment when Christ’s perfect heart, Love Itself, beat once more, all of the wounds and heartbreak of the human race were glorified and made new.

In heaven today, a human heart beats for you. That heart is often depicted with the spear wound still present. This glorified wound, this cleft in a heart that was anything but rock, is your eternal home.3

Sweet heart of Jesus, may we hold nothing back from the fire of your love.

1 – I do, however, tend to hate raspberry and cherry flavoring, and the way it just descends on dreary February America like the 11th plague simply because we fell for a marketing scheme is just twisted.

2 – Married couples, can you make this a trend? Move however y’all would usually celebrate Valentine’s Day to the Feast of the Sacred Heart? #justiceforCyrilandMethodius

3 – Song of Songs 2:14

When Words Fail: Abortion, Dante, and Corpus Christi

O reader, do not ask of me how I
grew faint and frozen then - I cannot write it:
all words would fall far short of what it is. (Dante, Inferno 33.22-24)

With these words, Dante the Poet begins to recollect his encounter with Satan, frozen in ice at the bottom of Hell. Dante’s Satan is a mockery of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful: He has three faces in mockery of the Trinity, large wings that parody the Holy Spirit, and from his six eyes, “tears gus[h] together with a bloody froth” reminiscent of the Blood and Water which flowed from Christ’s side on the Cross (33.54).

But perhaps the most famous detail about the depiction of Satan in Inferno is the fact that he eternally chews on and “t[ears] to bits” Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (33.56). This act of gnashing and grinding human flesh is Satan’s horrific replication of the Eucharist and of Christ’s summons to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Through this depiction of Satan, Dante the Poet reveals that Satan is not capable of creating anything new. His most diabolical features are only crude illustrations of the divine mysteries. Satan cannot create; he can only twist truth and beauty. But he is a master of deception and his lies are so ugly that the Poet cannot even put them in words: “all words would fall short of what it is” (33.24).

Why on earth did I just make you read about Dante’s Commedia in June, 2022? Because I’ve spent over an hour now trying to find words to share just a little bit of what my heart is feeling as we anticipate the likely overturning of Roe vs Wade. The theme of inexpressibility, or adyneton, is a crucial theme throughout Dante’s Commedia. How do we little humans try to express the beauty, sorrow, and wonder for which we have no words, but only a gasp or tremor of the heart?

There are so many thoughts and emotions flying about our country right now. I teared up with joy last semester when my professor shared the news about the likely overturning of Roe. But I have also broken down over the atrocities committed against pro-lifers, pregnancy resource centers, and Catholic churches. The reality is that we don’t know what is going to happen for the rest of the Summer. And while this is SUCH an exciting time, the moment for which we have been waiting, working, and praying, it’s also a very uncertain and tense time.

And so, like any writer, I want to find words. I want to expose the way Satan has twisted the beauty of women and lied to them that they need abortion to succeed. I want to cry out again and again that abortion brutally murders an innocent baby. I want to reassure women who have had abortions that the Catholic Church does not hate them, but instead invites them to rest in the arms of an infinitely merciful Father. I want to do anything possible to protect the Eucharist and to make reparation for the sacrileges that have been committed in the last couple months.

But words often feel rather useless. So I turn to the Author of Life, to the Word Himself. What is His response to this dark, broken world, so twisted by the lies of Satan?

“This is my body.”

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. As Catholics, we believe that the host consecrated by the priest is Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity. But I don’t think it’s an accident that the original name of the feast day is merely Corpus Christi – the body of Christ.

The world claims that the Catholic Church hates women and wants to control their bodies. But today the entire Church celebrates that God Himself has a body, even to this day. Through His life and death, Jesus revealed the gift of the human body. He comes to us at every Mass by touching our bodies with His own divine flesh.

At every Mass, He says, “This is my body,” and gives completely of Himself to every soul and every body of communicants. He holds nothing back because He loves you, the one reading this right now. He allows Himself to become completely weak, utterly helpless. To reach you, He must be carried down from the altar, placed by another on your hands or tongue. In the Eucharist, the almighty God is completely dependent on His creation. Because He loves you.

He has gazed on you with an everlasting love and chosen to be locked in a tabernacle until the end of time. Because He desires intimacy with you now, because He thirsts for you and the love that only you can offer. He is completely immobile so that in your moments of paralyzing fear or anxiety, you are not paralyzed alone. He is completely silent so that when you felt utterly alone and voiceless, He can be voiceless alongside you.

Even in their final excruciating moments on this earth, the silent, abandoned aborted are not abandoned. Because He is here.

Come what may this Summer, He will be here on the altar, in the tabernacle, in the monstrance. As the Church, the Body of Christ, is persecuted throughout the world, He is still here. He knew that He would be strewn over the altar by the thieves who stole the Brooklyn tabernacle. He knew that He would be horrifically mocked and abused by those who desecrate the Eucharist. He knew that so many would ignore Him during Communion, deny His true presence, leave Him alone and unloved. And yet He chose to give Himself to you in the Eucharist. He will never cease choosing to hand Himself over for you.

Satan can mock the Eucharist all he wants to. Peter Kreeft writes, “Abortion is the Antichrist’s demonic parody of the eucharist. That’s why it uses the same holy words, ‘This is my body,’ with the blasphemous opposite meaning.” Satan can lead people to hate the Church, to commit atrocities against men, women, and children, to desecrate the Eucharist. But Christ assures us that “the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:11).

Dante does not only experience adyneton before Satan, but before the vision of God Himself in Paradise. As he recounts the act of beholding “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso 33.145), the Poet sighs, “How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set / against my thought!” (Paradiso 33.145, 33.121-122). I believe that this inexpressible awe is Christ’s invitation to us on the Feast of Corpus Christi. He calls us to shift our gaze from the horrors of Satan and onto the Beauty of the little white host. He calls us to fall on our knees before the Prime Mover made immobile in the Sacrament of Love.

Jesus invites us to listen for His voice and then gasp at the symphony of silence emanating from the tabernacle. For His Eucharistic love is so unfathomable that audible words cannot express it.

2021 in Literary Review

2021 has been an insane year. I started out as a trainee with Cincinnati Ballet, went through a major transformation and healing through Totus Tuus, and threw myself into the intellectual world at University of Dallas. Oh, and I’m minoring in political philosophy now, so that’s just one example of how many weird things Jesus has brought into my life.

But whether I was a dancer, missionary, or student, there was always a book nearby. Below is a list and short review of most of the books I read for fun over the last year. Hopefully this list will provide you with at least one new literary friend for 2022! Enjoy and be sure to comment with any book recommendations you have for me!


  1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

I still own the copy that I annotated in my literary analysis class when I was in eighth grade. Something that makes this novel such a joy is the way that my relationship with the book changes as I grow older. This is a dramatic yet sincere story of a young woman maturing in life, love, and spirituality, all of which are informed by the educational forces in her life.

2. Turtles All the Way Down, John Green

It’s definitely a step down from Jane Eyre, but I devoured this teen mystery and drama in approximately 24 hours. Set in my corner of Indianapolis, the novel depicts suffering in a raw, yet redemptive way that leaves the reader feeling both seen and hopeful.

3. Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

This book. Any time I’m suffering or feel lost, I open to a page in this book and the Lord finds a way to speak to me. This was my second time through Till We Have Faces from cover to cover and it’s incredible to begin to realize the depth that lies in this seemingly simple fairy tale. Dedicated to his wife who passed away from cancer shortly after their marriage, C.S. Lewis uses the myth of Cupid and Psyche to delve into the pain of the human condition that we’re too frightened to explore for ourselves. He ultimately reveals that Love Himself makes all things new.

4. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

This Russian tragedy’s chaotic structure mirrors the chaos of fallen human nature. Following the sickly but pure-hearted Prince Myshkin, the novel explores the ways that people combat against and succumb to the vices in society. It is filled with political and religious commentary, conveyed through moving characters in whom you see yourself, both to your delight and dismay.

There are layers to The Idiot that went way over my head and will require many re-readings. But I picked up this novel because it’s where we get the famous quote, “Beauty will save the world.” And if that quote is true, this haunting and clever story is certainly helping to save the world.

5. Island of the World, Michael D. O’Brien

Where to even begin? If you’ve read Island of the World, you know exactly what I mean. Perhaps the best way to describe this 815-page emotional rollercoaster is through an excerpt from the author’s afterword:

“Wherever you may be in this world, please know that I presumed to write about your memory, your blood, your loss, as if it were my own. . .In eternity, we will know fully; in Him, we will see face to face. Then we shall understand even as we are understood, and love even as we are loved.”

O’Brien seeks to depict the entirety of human suffering in a single volume. This novel, which begins in the Balkans in 1933, depicts the atrocity of war and Communism with painfully graphic violence and devastating emotional agony. But it also portrays the miraculous qualities of love and grace, the way that our first human love brings hope and spurs us on to an encounter with the merciful One who has first loved us. While memory can be traumatic, it also has a healing power. Island of the World reveals that in a culture of dehumanization and demonic evil, the most effective revolution lies in beauty and forgiveness.

6. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

I haven’t picked up this classic in about four years, but it’s just as earth-shattering now as it was then. As the name might suggest, this short book is a series of letters written from the demon Screwtape to his nephew and apprentice Wormwood. As our little habits and daily vices are scrutinized by the enemy, Lewis unapologetically calls out the reader. But his description of our heavenly Father’s compassion renders impotent any attempts of our tempters to draw us into discouragement or despair.

7. Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien

Pairing this short story with The Screwtape Letters would make for a powerful examination of conscience. Tolkien’s allegorical autobiography depicts the untimely trip of an eccentric and in many ways mediocre man and artist. This story captures the power of the arts with piercing beauty and honesty. But it’s that second voice in the hospital room that makes all the difference.

8. The Song at the Scaffold, Gertrud von Le Fort

I’m rarely so quick to re-read a book (My first time through The Song at the Scaffold was in Spring, 2020). But in my politics class this past semester, we spent a lot of time discussing the concepts of revolution, anxiety, and dying while singing. So I couldn’t help but re-read this novella as part of my Advent reading. Le Fort’s simple writing style startles you into absorbing the complex themes of the story. From the Nativity, to fearful people, to the Agony in the Garden, to a rioting mob, The Song at the Scaffold causes the reader to never quite see the mysteries of Christ’s life, and therefore all human life, in the same way.

9. The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh

You may think that you have a twisted sense of humor, but do you have a rom-com-turned-tragedy-set-in-a-mortuary-and-pet-cemetery-where-people-flirt-by-sending-smiling-corpses twisted sense of humor? Regardless of how you answered that question, this novella is a bizarrely delightful read.

It’s hard to believe that this is the same author who penned Brideshead Revisited, but Waugh’s dry humor and elegant prose gives him away. Subtitled An Anglo-American Tragedy, this movie makes fun of Americans and British alike, offering social commentary in a sobering and unforgettable way. Be warned, you will never read The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats through the same lens.


10. Happy Are You Poor, Thomas Dubay

I love Dubay precisely because of his radical pursuit of Christ’s command to surrender everything for the sake of divine intimacy. But that doesn’t make his writing easy or comfortable to read. This book takes an honest look at Christ’s commands and warnings about material wealth. I don’t agree with everything Dubay writes in Happy Are You Poor, but for the most part I have had to acknowledge that it’s not the writer who needs to change. It’s me.

This book is a game-changer. It’s one you want to wrestle with, take to prayer, and discuss with others who can offer advice about how to apply Dubay’s advice to your life. Ultimately though, this book’s message is one of deep joy. You don’t want to miss out on that.

11. Unplanned, Abby Johnson

I’ve been involved in the pro-life movement pretty much since birth. But it can be easy to forget the horror story that comes to life every day in abortion clinics. This book was a powerful, painful reminder of the atrocity of abortion and I was sobbing within the first couple pages. But it also reminds the reader of the humanity of those in the abortion industry. So many people on the other side of the fence honestly desire to help women – they’ve just fatally deluded themselves. Abby’s testimony portrays humanity at its worst and best, as well as the compassionate God who works all things for good and is always ready to forgive the most grievous sins.

12. Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge

Every time I see this book for a low price, I buy it so I can give it to as many people as possible. I KNOW I call so many things life-changing, but I really, really do mean it! Captivating provides a beautiful, entertaining, personal exposition of the Christian understanding of femininity. The writers combine testimonies, classic fiction, and Scriptural exegesis to “unveil the mystery of a woman’s soul.” It’s written in such a way that regardless of your age, there is something to gain from it. I don’t endorse every sentence or concept in the book, but overall, this book is one that every Christian woman really ought to read (and then re-read).

13. The Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena

This Lent was all about the Father, so I decided to read St. Catherine’s transcript of her conversations with the Father. This work has everything in it: the call to repentance and self-denial, the stages of prayer and the spiritual life, divine justice, and unfathomable divine love for every soul. It can be a little hefty and hard to get through at times, but this spiritual classic is a truly beautiful source of grace.

“The love of Christ embraces all without exception. Fire of love, crazy over what You have made. Oh, divine Madman.”

14. The Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisieux

Y’all know I could write an entire book about this book. I actually already wrote about my reflections on this most recent read of Therese’s autobiography, so I’ll keep it short. Therese has honestly been the champion of my 2021 and I love her so much. I know parts of the book can be difficult to get through and maybe y’all aren’t besties yet. But just wait. She’ll sneak her way into your heart, one way or another.

15. Belonging, Nora Krug

This multi-media book combines text, collage, photography, and drawing to depict the author’s journey to discover her German family’s history and involvement in WWII. Krug’s collection of various physical objects to convey a deeply personal story is captivating, as is her poetic writing style and inquisitive, honest heart. It led to many questions for me about home, history, family, and how it all combines to create the person I am today.

Short Stories (One sentence summaries)

16. Parker’s Back, Flannery O’Connor

In a matter of pages, O’Connor uses a story about a man who would qualify for a My Strange Addiction episode on tattoos to confront the reader with questions about beauty, art, the thirst of the human heart, and the undeniable presence of the only One who can quench that thirst.

17. The Red Masque of Death, Edgar Allan Poe

Very awkward to read during a pandemic, but it’s so good it’s worth it.

18. The Black Cat

It’s amazing and I love Poe, but don’t read it right after your family buys a cat who is obsessed with you even though you don’t like him.

Silent Light: O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

God is with us.

Infinity invisible: He is asleep in the dark waters of a virgin’s womb, so small that His presence is only given away by a swelling belly.

So quiet, so still: The valley is loud with voices, animal hooves, and the creak of carts as the caravan journeys to Bethlehem. But the Word who spoke this valley into existence practices breaths that cannot be heard.

Love is fragile: The Prime Mover of Creation kicks His tiny legs and moves His little arms. But that kick sends His mother into raptures of love.

Yes, God is with us. The Creator has stepped into creation. The lover is encircled by the beloved. His son and foster father guides him to Bethlehem, where human eyes will behold God and not die.

The shepherds are in the fields like they are every day, barely noticing the clear blue sky that overshadows them. They have no idea that tomorrow night, that sky will be ablaze with light and their own hearts will leap like lambs.

Herod is pacing in his palace, his mind overcome with fear of how he could be overthrown. He does not know that nearby, the King of Kings is carried on a donkey with an immaculate womb for a chariot.

Inside Bethlehem, a woman sobs as she prepares her dead baby for burial. A man stands on a roof, his hope caving in. A slave child weeps for the parents she has not seen in years. They cannot see it, but God is with them. He comes to open heaven so that mother and child can embrace again. He is here to strengthen the quivering heart and tell the despairing soul that his life is necessary. He is here to weep with the abused and to promise justice and mercy.

He is here in this dark, grief-stricken world. He is here in the world that will seek His life from its very beginning. He is here, with closed eyes that will cry, with hands that will be pierced, with a heart that will burst.

And He is here with infinite love that shatters death’s darkest schemes. He is here with a quiet presence that cannot be feared, only received. He is here as a fragile member of the human race – perfection enclosed in vulnerable skin. He is Emmanuel.

Tomorrow, He will come. Regardless of the lies you have believed, the sin you have committed, the poverty of your life, He will come. He will come into the ugliness of a cave, redeeming the darkest night with His purifying fire. Tomorrow, He will be too weak to speak – but He will tell you that you are unimaginably loved. His presence will cry out that in this world, you will have trouble. You will suffer, you will be sick, your heart will break. But take courage, dear heart. For tomorrow He comes to suffer with you, to be sick with you, to weep with you. And He also comes to bind up your wounds, to heal your illness, to wipe away your tears. Tomorrow, Love will conquer the world. He is here.

Dancing in Prison: O King of Nations

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

If there were any two who understood that Jesus is “the only joy of every human heart,” it was the Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist. For the last two days, the Gospel has proclaimed the Visitation, recounting John’s dance within Elizabeth’s womb and Mary’s victorious song of exultation.

But thirty years later, after John has prepared the way for the Messiah, he finds himself in prison. The one who sang so faithfully of the liberation Jesus would bring is behind bars. Upon hearing the mighty deeds Jesus is working, John sends his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”1

I think so much of our lives are spent like John, looking at Jesus in our poverty and desolation, saying, “Jesus, I know that you are the only joy of my heart, the only thing that brings meaning to life. I know that you are faithful, I know that nothing is impossible for you. So why am I still imprisoned? Why haven’t you kept your promise?”

Jesus’ response to John’s disciples is one of conviction and compassion: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

John, the “voice of one crying out in the desert,” knows Isaiah through and through. In this response, Jesus synthesizes four different passages from Isaiah prophesying the deeds of the Savior who is to come. One of these passages is the first part of Isaiah 61:1, “He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted.” But he doesn’t finish the verse which promises that the Messiah is sent “to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to prisoners.” Instead, Jesus says, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”2

Jesus is the Messiah who releases prisoners. But His ways are not our ways. John would not meet the one to whom he had dedicated his whole life until the two met in the Kingdom of heaven – one released from pain by a sword and the other on a cross.

When Jesus comes in a few days, he comes as the Messiah and Savior for whom our hearts so desperately long. But His plan for our liberation and healing is too marvelous for our little, fickle minds to comprehend. Sometimes He comes miraculously as He did for St. Therese’s “grace of Christmas.” But more often than not, He comes with the reminder that this world is not our home and that the holidays do not begin until heaven.

But regardless of the way that He answers our prayers, He will come. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross writes, “And when he tells me through the mouth of the prophet that he stands more faithfully at my side than my father and my mother, yea that he is love itself, then I begin to understand how rational is my trust in the arm that carries me and how foolish is my fear.” This is the radical trust to which John was invited by His savior. I think that upon hearing Jesus’ words, John danced in prison. For the only joy of his heart was here. The King’s presence makes all things bearable.

1 – This story is found in Matthew 11:2-6

2 – I learned about this from one of Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s Advent podcasts. Go give the Hobo for Christ podcast a listen!

Spiritual Canticle in Irregular Verse: O Radiant Dawn

Out of the darkness of this life
the wasteland held captive by gloom's shadow
where there dwell frustrated hopes and dreams dashed against flint
the unwearied Father places upon the weary dust
the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.

The small white Sun ablaze with love
whose radiant joy springs over the hills,
bathing the valley in undimmed light,
wakes the lover asleep with grief:

"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one and come!
Forget your people, come to my Father's house.
I, the King, desire your beauty -
Come swiftly, my friend.

"See the beams I pour as ointment on your wounds,
my light which is poison to the foxes in your yard.
Come, dear heart, they can harm you no more -
So long as you abide in my arms.

"Awake, sweet dove, let me dry your teary eyes.
Let me show you the garden prepared for our paradise.
The winter chill has burnt you, left your heart exposed and raw -
But see the lily springing from my open, bled-out side.

"Arise, my lover, see how my dawn 
has thawed your rigid heart.
My light has banished wet and dark -
The rains are over and gone.

"The flowers appear on the earth
to crown our thorn-pierced heads.
Did you forget, sweet daughter of Eve
as you waited in the rain,
that I promised, "I make all things new?"
Come, lose your life -
You've the Sun to gain."

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Wreck My Life: O Key of David

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

Today’s antiphon reminds me of the bridge to the popular worship song, “Reckless Love:”

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

I love my Jesse tree and candles and Blessed is She Advent wallpaper. But sometimes we use the physical manifestations of our Advent devotion as a facade over the chains shackling our heart. I’m all for cozy candlelit meditations on “holy infant, so tender and mild.” But the unspeakable power and jealous love of the King of Kings is also central to the mystery of the Incarnation. The feast we are about to enter isn’t just the celebration of a birth. It’s the celebration of a prison heist and rescue mission of the greatest proportions.

There’s an interesting contrast within the imagery of the antiphon. Christ’s title is “Key of David.” But rather than ask Him to unlock a door, we beg Him to tear down a wall. By Christ’s Incarnation and bestowal of grace through the Sacraments, He has unlocked the prison in which we were trapped by original sin. But the gift of our free will is still intact. We can still choose to sit in prison. Maybe we’re in a state of grace, congratulating ourselves that we’re not like those tax collectors. But Christ didn’t come just to make sure that with one confession per year, we can slide our way into heaven. He “came so that [we] might have life and have it more abundantly.”1

We are too weak to leave our cells. So we ask the “royal Power of Israel” to break down the prison walls and to flood the shadow of death with His luminous light. We ask Him to do whatever it takes to drag us from captivity and run into His joyful Kingdom.

It’s going to require sacrifice. It’s going to require an intense openness in prayer and the courage to let the Lord bring those wounds into the open so that He can tend to them. The Lord delights in your hand-painted Jesse Tree ornaments2 and faithful recitation of the St. Andrew Christmas novena and organization of the St. Nick’s party for the homeschool group. But He’s asking you to go deeper, to press into the messy beauty that each of these traditions holds. The Jesse Tree tells the story of mankind’s adultery and ingratitude against an infinitely faithful Spouse and Father. The St. Andrew novena is a prayer of desperation before an impoverished God. We give gifts in honor of St. Nicholas because he preserved women from the horror of prostitution.

In these last days of Advent, we are asking the Key of David to unlock the doors in our soul that we are too afraid to enter. We are asking Him to smash and burn the idols to which we offer our love. We are asking Him to come with His power and preserve us from every stain of sin, not just mortal sin. “Do whatever it takes,” we whisper to the Messiah. “Open the enclosure in our hearts so that we can enter into intimate communion with you.”

My life changed when I prayed, “Jesus, I give you permission to wreck my life.” The joy and heartbreak that has flowed from that prayer has been confusing, painful, and unexpected. But it has changed everything. Christmas changes everything. Let Him break down the walls.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never
shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

-John Donne, Holy Sonnet XIV

1 – John 10:10

2 – Yours, not mine. Heaven knows I’m not the crafty type.

Beauty Incarnate: Flower of Jesse

O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

You are made for beauty.

You are created to experience that thrill when you see the first pink buds peeping out of snowclad Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You are intended to be moved by the radiance of a bride on her wedding day. It is good when you gape at the stars or weep over a symphony or smile at the scent of herbs. It’s not necessary – I’m just a melancholic who has no category for anything other than intense emotion. But there is nothing wrong with letting beauty move you.

In a way, today’s antiphon is a short, but powerful exposition of beauty. Beauty is “raised up as a sign” of the happiness and harmony for which we were created. The most beautiful images or moments leave the beholder “stand[ing] silent in [their] presence.” In the myth of Psyche and Cupid, the ancients who worshipped Psyche for her beauty weren’t entirely misled. Beauty is intended to lead us to worship. If our intellects shrug it off as sentimentality, our souls know that “Beauty will save the world.”1 So we turn to beauty and beg that nothing keeps it from coming to our aid.

Of course, the beauty of a flower or song cannot save us with its own power. But the source of all beauty hears us. The true beauty is “the true light, which…[is] coming into the world.”2

The reason that we love flowers is that we loved the Flower of Jesse first. We are created in the image and likeness of God, for the purpose of knowing, loving, and serving Him. And since God is Beauty, we are made in the image of perfect beauty, for the purpose of pursuing beauty with every fiber of our being.

Through the mystery of the Incarnation, beauty makes a way for us to be united with Him. The beauty for which we long has a name, a face, a voice. St. John Paul the Great writes, “[Jesus] is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

Today’s antiphon assures us that the hope we have been clinging to throughout winter is not in vain. We are created for everlasting delight, “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”3

Not only are we created to delight in beauty, but we are created for beauty’s delight. Zephaniah proclaims, “On that day, it shall be said…The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days.”4 As we pray for an increase in hope as we await Christ, let’s pray for the awareness that the Flower of Jesse comes because He loves us.

1 – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

2 – John 1:9

3 – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

4 – Zephaniah 3:16-18

Our Lady and the Burning Bush: O Adonai

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

We worship a God who turns water to blood and sweeps sea from land. He is so close that He knows our suffering (Ex 3:7) and yet is so beyond creation’s comprehension that even Sinai trembles before His presence. This marvelous Lord is the One who made that first covenant with Adam and Eve in Eden. But our parents bought into the lie that God wasn’t worthy of all their trust. So they ran into the bushes.

In response, God came to Moses in a bush, promising redemption for Israel and affirming that He was worthy of His people’s trust. From this bush, He revealed His name and sent Moses into Egypt as His forerunner. When He came down to Egypt, He put the Egyptian gods to shame, stretching out His mighty hand for the sake of Israel, His firstborn.

In return, all He asked was that Israel remain loyal to Him and that they keep His law. But the same distrust that sent Adam and Eve into hiding had been passed from generation to generation. As soon as Moses was on Sinai for too long, the Israelites turned to a golden calf for security. And oh, how they suffered for breaking the law.

It’s easy to make fun of the way that the Israelites whine in the desert, or to dismiss as historical trivia Israel’s inability to keep the Torah. But you and I are also sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. The same venom blackened our souls when we were conceived. Our first cries at birth joined with the cries of enslaved Israel.

But there was one first breath that was not fouled by the adder. There was one soul whose timing for redemption was magnificently different. The mighty Lord formed from the dust of the earth a daughter. He made her soul so pure that His Spirit could hover over the waters of her womb without any resistance.

In the fullness of time, the daughter mirrored Her Creator’s “Fiat lux” with her own song of “Fiat mihi.”1 The living flame of love rushed upon her whole being, and Mary, conceived without sin, was on fire, but not consumed.

This luminous vessel carried Love Himself inside her body for nine months. Beneath her breast, Love traveled the hill country to a town of Judah, where He entered the house of Zechariah and His Mother greeted Elizabeth. In the silent power of the womb, the divine Flame purified John the Baptist and set Him apart to be His forerunner, to tell Israel that its Savior was coming soon.

But the first time He stretched out His arm was not to send Herod flying into the waves. He stretched His tiny arms as He lay upon straw. The thunder from Sinai was replaced by a wail from a cave.

This is the mystery we will celebrate in just a few days. The Lord who hears our cries comes down to cry with us. And when we fall beneath the burden of our concupiscence, He gives us His mother. She is the burning bush who unveils our vocation with just one word of greeting and carries us back to Christ when we stray from that path. Let’s ask her intercession as we prepare for the birth of her son and Messiah.

1- “Let there be light, (Gen. 1:1)” “Let it be done unto me (Lk 1:38)”