Focus. It’s typical at the beginning of each year that we desire and plan for some sort of refocus, a look at where we’ve been in the past year, an analysis of how we’ve been doing, and what we’d like to tweak moving forward. I was blessed to have a week at this year’s SEEK23 conference to do just that! (As you may know, SEEK is sponsored by FOCUS, Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and we’ve been privileged to have a FOCUS Parish Missionary, Joseph Gruber, right here at St. John for the past 5 years…but more on that later.)
On January 1st, my husband and I started our journey to St. Louis, MO, the site of this year’s (and next year’s) SEEK conference. Arriving early, we visited the stunning Basilica Cathedral of St. Louis. Sitting in prayer in one of the side chapels, I spoke with the Lord about some of my usuals (my family, right order, our parish, etc.); then, I opened it up to the Lord, offering quiet time, asking Him to show me how He would like to move in this coming week, what He desired for me, where He would like me to focus for the next few days…and for this year of 2023.
The Lord Sometimes Speaks in Images…
I don’t always experience vivid images during individual prayer, but I did in this moment. The Lord actually used the poncho I was wearing as a visual guide. In this image from the Lord, the fringes of my poncho were like cords that “tethered” me in some way, and I realized these cords were attitudes, habits, my own desires rather than the Lord’s, all of which bound me, keeping me from fully becoming who the Lord is calling me to be. One by one, as this moment in the chapel continued, the Lord cut or somehow loosened or untied the cords, and eventually I sensed a weightlessness. In it, I felt the level of freedom He longed to provide should I choose to walk with him even more closely, in new ways, this year. I remember praying, “Show me how, Lord! I desire this, too!” The image ended, but I was left with peace and expectation.
The Conference Presentations…
In session after session, the Lord revealed, through amazing Catholic speakers, the various ways I could move closer to Him and the true freedom that He had shown me in prayer at the beginning of the week. The past few years at the parish, in conversations with small groups, I’d talked and shared with fellow parishioners about “freedom from” and “freedom for,” and I was sensing that the Lord was fleshing this out for me just a bit more, wanting to take me to deeper understanding, inviting me to the type of freedom I had experienced in prayer at the beginning of the week.
The Lord extends His invitation of healing, freedom, and beatitude (supreme blessedness) to all of us! So, I’d like to share with you some of the simple but profound truths from two of the speakers.
Dr. Matthew Breuninger quoted Flannery O’Connor: “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” He explained that “we distract ourselves (from our wounds and hurts) so sufficiently” and that often our self-preservation strategies actually cause much of our pain. When we’re trying to keep ourselves “safe,” we’re not free; we’re a slave to the wound. We become exhausted. We go through life trying not to have our “thorns” touched. BUT we are called to freedom, and ultimately not for our own self, but to the love and service of others. Healing offers freedom to go wherever God calls and do what He asks! Dr. Breuninger reminded us of Caravaggio’s famous painting, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, and how Jesus allowed Thomas to touch his wounded side. The Lord asks us to do the same in return…to allow Him to touch our wounds! +++Take away the things that get in my way of serving you, Lord! Bring your freedom if it is your will, but your grace is sufficient for me!+++
+++Freedom & Beatitude
Fr. Josh Johnson shared this paradox: “Freedom is making a complete gift of ourselves…not expecting respect, glory, love, etc.” He urged us to root ourselves in the Beatitudes. How? We cultivate poverty and purity in prayer! Why? Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” When we empty ourselves, when we become “poor”/have a poverty of heart, we see that our only true need is God. And prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament has power: “The fruit of Adoration is imitation.” +++Jesus, make my heart pure like yours!+++
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states right from the beginning, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” (CCC 1)
Thank you, Jesus, for lifting us, inviting us into the freedom of your love and the privilege to become your hands & feet, eyes & heart for others!
And a special thank you to FOCUS and Joseph Gruber…
After 5 years as our St. John Parish FOCUS missionary, Joseph Gruber will be “moving on” to use his gifts in new ways (while still living here in Jackson)! Watch for an upcoming article from him!
What a blessing he, his wife Crystal, and their family have been and will continue to be in our St. John Parish Community! From small group Bible studies to their example of authentic friendship and accompaniment, they have very much inspired the direction of our parish over these last few years, helping us grow as missionary disciples. While we aren’t saying “good-bye” as his tenure as “FOCUS missionary” here at St. John ends, we are saying “thank you” and “best wishes” as he and Crystal continue to move hearts toward deeper conversion and relationship with our Lord! And on a personal note, thank you, Joseph, for inviting me to SEEK23…it was definitely life-changing!
Director of Parish Life