Cave Darkness

This past spring our family was on vacation in Colorado. We had never been in a cave before with our kids and decided this would be a fun excursion during our stay. We went to Cave of the Winds near Colorado Springs. It was fascinating to hear the history of the cave and learn how people would have explored before modern excavation equipment and safety measures. Crawling on your belly for most of the way, people went nearly 3 hours into the cave only by candlelight. If that’s not enough, there wasn’t a convenient loop or exit at the other end. After your grueling 3 hours, you had to turn around and go back the way you came.

One of the highlights of any cave tour is the moment when the tour guide extinguishes the lights, thrusting you into what is called “cave darkness.” The last time I was in a cave of this size I was a kid, and as I said, this was our kids’ first experience. We did not prep them at all for cave darkness. One minute we were all in a fairly well lit cavern, the next the lights dimmed and our tour guide was holding a candle with a metal shield behind it to focus the light forward. As I realized what was going to happen next, I had no time to tell any of our kids it was about to get dark. It just did. 

Cave darkness is a special kind of darkness. If every single light goes out, you cannot even see your own hand in front of your face. If you think you can, it’s your brain trying to compensate for the utter lack of light. There is dark, then there is cave dark.

“We are cut off from the guidance of the stars, from the sun and the moon. Even the horizon vanishes—if not for gravity, we’d scarcely know up from down. All of the subtle cues that might orient us on the surface—cloud formations, plant-growth patterns, animal tracks, wind direction—disappear. Underground, we lose even the guide of our own shadow”

Hunt, Will. “Getting Lost Makes the Brain Go Haywire.” The Atlantic.

While I’m sure the tour guide’s planned relighting of the candle would have been a dramatic moment, bringing us back to the light and such, it was completely ruined by our 3-year old, Gabriel. By not accounting for the whole cave darkness experience, we didn’t think twice about the light up shoes he was wearing. And so, even in that darkest dark, we had Gabriel’s little green light up gym shoes to show us what was up and down.

Our other kids panicked in the dark. They stood shock still in the moment, but it was all they could talk about for days and days. I’m so thankful for Gabe’s shoes. They gave us the opportunity to remind everyone, again and again, that Jesus is the light of the world, just like Gabe’s shoes were a light in the darkness. Jesus was unexpected and what everyone was looking for, all at once. 

Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel that “There is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). There is no where on earth His light fails to reach. The blackest soul, the darkest night, the deepest depth, the highest mountain peak. No one and nothing is hidden from His glorious light. How wonderfully comforting, that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, from the light of the Son. The next time you see a little kids’ light up shoes, I hope it makes you remember that even those little shoes light can make all the difference in the world. 

Daily Graces.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter 2023

While our Gospel passage doesn’t include the specific phrase of Jesus’, “I am the Good Shepherd,” I decided to run with it anyway. It is the immediate next verse following the Gospel for this Sunday and it is so much more than a nice pastoral picture. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then we are His sheep. And, unless you have had experience with sheep in a field, it might be surprising that this isn’t the most flattering of descriptions.

Sheep just aren’t smart. They don’t seek out quality food, they eat whatever is under their noses, even if it’s the roots of the plants they ate yesterday. If they fall or roll over onto their back they can’t get back up. Literally, if they end up on their backs with all 4 feet in the air the gases in their stomach will redistribute and they will die within 24 hours. If they are threatened by a predator, they have no defensive capabilities except to attempt to run away.

While sheep aren’t smart, they aren’t without good qualities (thank goodness!). Some of these qualities are highlighted in the Gospel today. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They are very good at distinguishing between their shepherd and a stranger. Perhaps even more importantly, they won’t willingly follow a stranger. Sheep are very obedient, provided they are in the shepherd’s presence. They will go wherever he leads them, even if it is somewhere they wouldn’t normally travel along that path in their own ramblings.

Sheep, as you can see, are not able to take care of themselves very well. They need a shepherd. We, when left to our own devices, are often not all that great at taking care of ourselves either. We need a shepherd. Jesus knew this about us which is why He calls Himself the Good Shepherd.

Jesus isn’t just any shepherd. That adjective “Good” is important. He is the Good Shepherd because, as He says:

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11

No one expects an ordinary shepherd to sacrifice his very life for his sheep. The sheep can’t defend themselves, so whatever killed the shepherd would surely take the rest of the flock as well. Not so with Jesus. By laying down His life for us, He protects the whole flock, removing forever the threat of death which terrorized us. Jesus isn’t any old shepherd, He is the Good Shepherd.

This isn’t just a description, this is part of Jesus’ identity and therefore God’s identity. Jesus says: “I am the Good Shepherd.”

I am.

When Moses asked God who was sending him to the Israelites, God said, “God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). The name of God we are able to perceive, I AM. We know Jesus is God, and we know Jesus was a good Jew. He doesn’t use this phrase lightly. Jesus is revealing to us something intimate about who He is as God. This isn’t the only time Jesus uses this specific phrase in the Gospel of John. In fact, there are 7 which have a description that follows.

I am the Bread of Life

I am the Light of the World

I am the Gate of the Sheep

I am the Good Shepherd

I am the Resurrection and the Life

I am the Way and the Truth and the Life

I am the True Vine

We don’t have time to go into each of these at present, perhaps someday each in turn. There are also a few places where Jesus simply states: I AM. One example is when He stands before the soldiers in the Garden. Jesus says, “I am” when they ask if He is Jesus of Nazareth. At the sound of this phrase, they all fall to the ground. “I am” is no ordinary phrase when spoken by Jesus in John’s Gospel and we would do well to pay attention when He uses it.

Though Jesus is human, He is God. We will never fully comprehend Him. I think that is one of the reasons why He used so many of these “I AM” statements. He is revealing more of Himself to us using metaphors we are able to grasp, even if only a little.

There are many, many titles for Jesus. King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Door, Redeemer, Savior, Friend, Brother, the Good Shepherd. In the appendix of my Walking With Purpose Bible Study book from this year there was included the Litany of Praise. If you haven’t heard of it before, I highly encourage you to take some time (you will need some time, it’s long but it’s so good) to pray it. If you are able, this litany in adoration is powerful.

I’ll include a portion here, but do click on the link for the full litany.

I praise You,Lord Jesus! You are the Christ.
I praise You,Lord Jesus! You are Christ, the King.
I praise You,Lord Jesus! You are the Lamb of God.
I praise You,Lord Jesus! You are the Lion of Judah.
I praise You,Lord Jesus! You are the Bright Morning Star.
I praise You,Lord Jesus! You are our Champion and Shield.
I praise You,Lord Jesus! you are our Strength and our Song.
I praise You,Lord Jesus! you are our Way of our life.
Daily Graces.

Third Sunday of Easter 2023 – Road to Emmaus

I’ll be honest, I was a little stumped by this week’s Gospel reading. Maybe not stumped, but unable to hone in on a single idea for the brief video reflection that I wanted to create. So, I ended up merging two ideas, more or less successfully.

First, I mentioned the invitation of the disciples to Jesus into the house where they were going to spend the evening. More on that in a moment. Secondly, I spent the rest of the video talking about how this story is a type of analogy for the Mass. I was inspired by a homily given by Bishop Robert Barron, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share it in full for anyone interested. You can find it here.

For this accompanying blog post, I think I want to spend a little more time with the first point I made. Jesus is the master of the invitation. He calls, He doesn’t command, His disciples to come follow Him. In the Gospel of John, two of John the Baptist’s disciples begin to follow Jesus. He asks them, “What are you looking for?” They ask Him where He is staying. In the perfect one-liner, Jesus responds: “Come and see” (John 1:38-39).

Again and again, Jesus invites people into His circle. In the Gospel today, the disciples do not recognize Jesus on the road. Even as He opens their eyes to the Scriptures He fulfilled, and as they reflected afterward they realized their hearts were burning within them in Jesus’ presence, still they do not recognize Him. They would have missed Him entirely if they hadn’t extended the simple offer of hospitality. Jesus made to go on, but they stopped Him.

But they urged him, “Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”

Luke 24:29

They led Jesus inside, and it was in the breaking of the bread that they finally recognized who He was.

We have the same choice before us every single day. Do we invite Jesus in, or do we go about our day without opening the door of our hearts to Him?

Here are a few ideas for consciously and concretely inviting Jesus into your daily life:

  • Morning Offering Prayer – there are many versions of this prayer, some are short and simple, others more complex. The basic structure of this prayer is to offer your day to Jesus, in all it’s ups and downs, to unite yourself with Jesus throughout the day, to seek His assistance in your day, and to proclaim your love for Him. When we homeschooled, we began each day with this prayer: Dear Jesus, I offer you this day, my works, my joys, my sorrows, and my play. Please help me to be good today. I love you Jesus, Amen. That’s it, it doesn’t need to be fancy. This site has a whole bunch of Morning Offerings if this one isn’t a good fit for you.
  • Setting daily check in prayer times – maybe you pray an Angelus at noon. Maybe you say a rosary while you walk every day. Setting up specific, routine, prayer times is a great way to reconnect with Jesus throughout your day. The Hallow app is great for this. You can set reminders within the app and have the prayers or reflections you want to utilize queued up and ready to go. (The link provided will give you a 3-month free trial of the full version of the app if you haven’t made an account already. This works best on a computer. I do not gain anything monetary or otherwise if you choose to use my link).
  • Frequent the sacraments. When was the last time you went to a daily Mass? What about Adoration, Confession, or other liturgical celebration offered by your parish? Invite Jesus into your schedule by prioritizing these opportunities.
  • Coming from Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement, be intentional about recognizing Jesus in your neighbor. When you are in the presence of others, see Jesus in them. Jesus can be encountered in every single person you come in contact with each day. Even if they aren’t your favorite person, Jesus invites us to love them as He does. For more on this, check out my post about the Cube of Love.
  • Find some inspirational saint quotes and Scripture verses. I have a friend who loves to be reminded of the things she has read, so she puts post-it notes everywhere. One over the kitchen sink, one or two on the bathroom mirror, the visor of her car. Anyplace that catches her eye or where she spends a lot of time. She changes them up also, which I think is so wise. We can start to glaze over things we see on a highly regular basis. Either changing the quotes around, or switching up the color of paper they are written on, can help avoid this.
  • Add your own ideas in the comments. It would be great to hear your ideas about how to invite Jesus into your everyday life. What works for you? What do you want to try?
Daily Graces.