The Scandal of God's Love

The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pompeo Batoni, 1767/Public Domain

I sat at the dinner table of a friend recently and asked: “Do you believe that God loves you? Have you had a personal encounter with the love of God?” Much to his obvious dismay, he answered no. But his eyes, heart and voice were full of hunger to know God’s love. I want that, he communicated with ardent longing.

I shared with him my own story of “waking up” to the love of God. Much like what St. Augustine described in his famous Confessions, God literally shattered my darkness and unbelief with His majestic presence and personal love. I was agnostic at the time, and in painful desperation, I begged God to show me if He was real.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.

St. Augustine, Confessions 

My life has never been the same. God’s love changed and transformed me, and I have hungered and thirsted for more of Him ever since. He has brought me along a continual path of conversion these past thirty years, wherein He has given me the grace to love Him and the desire to do His will.

This is precisely the Good News we are meant share with others when we evangelize: I have encountered the gracious love of God and so can you! God’s love will change your life! Yet so often, we communicate the opposite message, saying something that’s more like: Get your life straight! Then God will love you!

Sadly, it practically creates a scandal to suggest that God loves each and every one of us infinitely and unconditionally—and that nothing we think, say or do can make Him love us more or less. Do we really believe that deep down? Yet, this is the incredible truth of who God is: God is love, and we if we do love Him, it is only because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).

There is an urgent need in the Church today to proclaim the love, kindness and mercy of God, because it is the personal experience of God’s love and kindness that leads us to change. We see this over and over in the Gospels, where sinners meet Christ and change in response to His love. But tragically, it seems that so many people—even in the Church—have never encountered the tender love of God, hence the profoundly wounded condition of both the Church and the world.

I believe this is the message Pope Francis is trying to convey as He speaks constantly of God’s love and mercy, proclaiming love to a world bleeding to death from open wounds caused by an alienation from God that has led to numerous personal and social evils. “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds... And you have to start from the ground up.”*

How do we heal the wounds of the world? With the same remedy that Jesus applied to the wounded of the world. With Love.  Love that goes out of itself to meet sinners right where they are. Love that eats with prostitutes and tax collectors and is not afraid to mix with the lost, the unrighteous, and the hurting. Love that is willing to proclaim liberty to captives and a recovery of sight to the blind.

This is only possible when we, ourselves, “have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16); when we, ourselves, have encountered the medicine of God’s love. When we do, we will want to share “the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to an even greater love of him.” It is then that we will “feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known.”*

This is the new evangelization to which we are being called. For it is only a heartfelt witness of the experience of God’s love that will awaken us once more to the goodness this world so sorely needs.

*From “A Big Heart Open to God,” America magazine Sept. 19, 2013.

*From Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, Par. 264.

A Catholic Girl's Litany of Humility

This was too good not to share!  Enjoy this guest blog by my daughter, Kara Klein.  Happy Easter! Photo Credit: Judy Klein

Oh, to be female, single and Catholic! A state of great ambivalence (or may we say, distress!) for all too many in today’s world. With the feminine desire to make a gift of herself through marriage in a society where people flee commitment, and with deep longings to bring forth life amidst a culture of death, the future for the devout Catholic female can sometimes look a little grim. While the problem of prolonged singlehood is deep, multi-faceted, and cannot be blamed on (nor solved with) one sex, race, or generation, what do we single Catholic women do while we wait for the desire of our hearts?

Like Mary, we say “yes” with a whole heart to Jesus Christ, who is Love itself, hope with joyful expectation, and learn to love right where we are.

We long for love, but sometimes we’re more focused on being the recipients. We want to be pursued, romanced, courted and carried off into the sunset—which is only natural, as it’s how God made us. But as women, we are called not only to receive love, but also to give it freely. Even now as we wait.

Perhaps this time of waiting for so many is a time of purification, as God refashions our hearts to seek to love rather than seeking to be loved by those around us. We need women today in our world who are willing to love sacrificially without counting the cost—for the sake of the other, and not for what that person gives them.

Can we young singles lay down the desire to be on pedestal for the desire to serve? Can we dare to put others before us? Dare to put Christ first? Dare to be content right where we are, to embrace our lives with gratitude as they are today, trusting that we are in God’s will? Can we dare to be humble?

My roommates and I recently wondered what a Catholic single girl’s Litany of Humility would look like. We came up with this:

From the desire of being stared at…

From the desire of being called, messaged, emailed, tweeted, Facebook stalked or Instagramed…

From the desire of being told I’m gorgeous…

From the desire of hearing there isn’t, never was, and never will be anyone else quite like me…

From the desire of a four-carat diamond ring…

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being alone…

From the fear forever being a bridesmaid…

From the fear of gaining 5 more pounds…

From the fear of my ticking biological clock…

From the fear of the single life being my permanent vocation…

Deliver me, Jesus.

That others be pursued more than I…

That others get asked out more than I…

That others get married before I do…

That others have children even when I don’t…

That others be happier than I, provided that I become as happy I should…

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, unafraid to be single till the day you died, hear us.

It hurts to stop looking for the love we long to have, to stop demanding love, and instead, search every day for ways we can offer it to the world around us. But as a priest once told me, “In becoming a woman, you must be the one to love, to serve, to give, and you will find the joy you are looking for.”

Catching the Faith

Please enjoy this re-post of my last Easter blog.  This Easter, I was busy welcoming my new granddaughter, Rose Grayson, to our family.   She is blessed to have three big brothers and her parents, Gaby and Grayson, to pass the faith to her. Happy Easter!IMG_0440

“Christos Anesti ek nekron, thanato thanaton patisas, kai tis en tis mnimasi zoin harisamenos,” my little grandsons chanted in unison as I watched happily in surprised silence. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, granting life,” the boys rang out in Greek, singing the ancient paschal troparion taught to them by my son-in-law, Grayson. Five-year-old James looked entranced, while two-year-old John-Henry danced around the room, slapping his hips and throwing his hands into the air to provide dramatic effect at just the right moments. Even baby Joseph, who just turned one, chimed in.

“Catholicism is caught, not taught,” I thought as I observed the children singing, remembering the familiar adage from Catholic theology that I’ve quoted numerous times to my students. “We don’t sit a one-week-old infant down and tell him everything he’ll ever need to know about the Catholic faith,” I’ve explained repeatedly when teaching how the truths of our faith are passed down in tact from one generation to the next.   Instead, we start with songs, pictures and simple blessings. We take the kids to Mass, point out statues and stained glass windows, and maybe light a candle for those we love. We read Bible stories, whisper prayers in the dark when bad dreams invade the night, and sing—in Greek if we so desire—the deep mysteries of our faith, learned on an I-phone while riding in the van. That’s how our children catch the faith, and it’s how we, in turn, catch it back from them.

Catholicism has been “caught” for two thousand years the very same way; that is, through the habits of a living Church that hands on its living faith via time-honored practices that grow organically and culturally throughout history. We call these practices “traditions,” and they are meant to embody and express Sacred Tradition--which is the Truth that Jesus deposited into the Church through His life, death and resurrection, and through the relationships and institutions He established.

The concept of living faith comes down to us from our Jewish ancestors, and was embraced by the Christian Church:

“Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

In other words, we are to let our faith in God permeate everything we think and say and do. Which doesn’t mean that we’re on our knees 24/7, or that we escape our broken human condition. It does mean, however, that we invite God into all things, and that we remember that He is with us at all times.

Part of the crisis we are facing in our Christian culture is the direct result of the dichotomy that exists between faith and life, due in large part to a modern world that compartmentalizes and hyper-specializes every aspect of life. Our lives have become neatly divided into measurable functions and categories, reducing the expression of Christian faith to a perfunctory Sunday visit. But it is not meant to be so. Our fathers in faith reminded us that the “split between the faith which many profess and (our) daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.”* Further,  they teach us that harmony should exist between our faith in Christ and all of our earthly activities.

I heard that harmony Monday night in the voices of little children, as they chanted, “Christ is risen from the dead” during a family vacation. Yes indeed, they are catching the faith. And they’re throwing it back to me.

*Par. 43, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Second Vatican Council

God's Love Is The Best Beauty Treatment


“Do you think it’s wrong to have a facelift?” a girlfriend asked as we sat on the beach house sofa in our pajamas, sipping coffee and looking out the window at the boats in the harbor. We were on retreat with a wonderful band of women, and as it frequently happens with women, the subject turned to beauty.

“I had the same conversation with my sister just last week,” I replied. “I’ll tell you what I told her. I don’t think it’s ‘wrong’ to have a facelift, but my desire is to be so full of God’s love that it shines through my face so I don’t NEED a facelift,” I continued.

Our culture’s preoccupation with physical beauty is but one sign that we’re living from the outside in, instead of from the inside out. But as Christians, we’re meant to live from the inside out, letting the love of Christ inhabit us so fully that it radiates within us and shows up on our faces as “glory.”

Think about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She was not “beautiful” by the world’s standards. But she was one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. Why? She was overflowing with the love of God and it showed on her face.   Such beauty is not exclusive to women.

I often think of Moses, who enjoyed such personal intimacy with God that he spoke with God “face to face” (Ex. 33:11). Moses’ face became so radiant when he conversed with the Lord that he had to veil his face to come into the presence of the Israelites. That manifestation of glory foreshadowed the glory of Christ, who is the very “imprint” of God’s being, and who reveals to us in flesh and blood the face of God (Hebrews 1:3-4). If we want to see God, we are to look at Christ. And if we want to look like God, we are to become like Christ. How? St. Augustine gave us the secret: we become what we contemplate.

We contemplate Christ by spending time with Him in prayer, and by meditating on His Word and His presence. We contemplate Christ by making Him our best friend and top priority in life, and by learning all we can about who He is. We contemplate Christ by serving others, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta demonstrated so wonderfully through her life’s work, wherein she saw the face of Christ in the “poorest of the poor.”

When we contemplate Christ, we become Christ-like, and we take on His beautiful countenance. Nowhere have I seen this truth manifested more evidently than on the faces of the recovering drug addicts of Communita Cenacolo, a lay Catholic Community that ministers to those in bondage to addiction. The residents of the Community usually arrive there looking beat up, strung out, and exhausted. And indeed they are. Their faces bear witness to the hell they’ve lived in the grip of drugs, which has become their main preoccupation.

I have pictures of my own son the day he arrived at Cenacolo, wearing black circles under his eyes and an almost palpable shadow of darkness on his face. His face looked markedly different when I saw him months later, not because he was being “rehabbed,” but because he was being “restored.” He was returning to the truth that he is a beloved child of God—a child in whom God delights—in large part by spending hours a day before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He was becoming what he meditated upon, and his face told the tale. Over the years, I’ve heard many parents echo the same amazement when they see their children’s faces for the first time after they enter the Community, because the change in their faces is nothing short of remarkable.

Do you want to be beautiful? Unveil your face and gaze upon the face of the Lord, that He may transform you from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:13). His love is a beauty treatment that’s not only free—it has lasting benefits.

Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame.   Psalm 34:6

Poverty Is My Greatest Gift

As we continue to rejoice in Christmas, I am delighted to offer this beautiful guest post by my Christmas Eve-born daughter, Kara.  She has some wonderful insights into the gift of poverty.  May the Lord bless you and yours this Christmas and coming year, and may your New Year be holy and filled with the love and awe of God. get-attachment-1.aspx

Last Christmas Eve, on my 28th birthday, in a little chapel in New Orleans, Louisiana, I sat before Jesus in the Eucharist and wept. Having been on a journey with the Lord for so many years I felt exceedingly frustrated that I still struggled with so many of the same issues, poverties, faults, and that I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life.

I wanted to be strong and have it all together. I wanted to be valiant, virtuous, beautiful and saintly. And there I was, weak, dependent, fragile and in a nutshell, poor.

Crying out to the Lord, I asked Him bitterly, “Why did you make me like this? Why did you make so frail and needy, with so much brokenness? Why did you make me so dependent on you for every breath that I breathe? Why didn’t you make me strong and capable and beautiful in the ways I want to be? Why?”

Immediately with such tenderness and love I heard the voice of God the Father say to me in reply:

“Kara, I made you a Christmas child, and the gift of Christmas is poverty. And poverty is your greatest gift.”

Jesus was born into a dark, cold, empty cave. Into the barren blackness of the night. A King born for the poor, of the poor, as the poor. And how easy it is for we followers of Christ to hate poverty.

By poverty I don’t just mean the hungry in the soup kitchens, the homeless in the shelters, or the beggar on the street—I mean the beggar within our very own families, and most of all, the beggar within ourselves. We want to escape our emptiness, deny our addictions, shun our weaknesses and mask our faults. But as my mother always told me, “Kara, if you were perfect, why would you need a Savior?”

I think St. Therese was made a Doctor of the Church specifically in this time of history because in a society where we truly believe it is our job to be perfect, independent, need no one, and save ourselves, she reminds us that the way to the Lord is not a growing up but a growing down; that the way to freedom is not a figuring out but a letting go.

“What pleases God is to see me love my littleness and my poverty. It is the blind hope I have in His mercy. There is my only treasure,” she tells us.

All of our weakness and frailty, all of our poverty—yes, even our sin if we lay it at the foot of the manger—become that empty cave into which the Christ child may be born. To ransom the captive chained within our souls. To free us from the bondage of ourselves. To die and rise for us, and make us truly rich, that we might rejoice! All because we are poor.