Month: March 2017

Lent 27 ~ Curses and Stones

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          I saw the Holy Father in a very large house, kneeling before a table, with his face in his hands, crying. Outside the house were many people, some of whom cast stones at him, others cursed him and said many ugly words. Poor Holy Father! We have to pray a lot for him. – Blessed Jacinta Marto, Fatima seer

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Lent 26 ~ Fighting the Weeds

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          I went to bed last night, dead inside and tired. I had heeded a call to share a verse from Isaiah with one of my children who had come home with poor grades. I was reluctant to – initially. The verse was They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant ~ Isaiah 65:21,  and it came after I had breathed a prayer for heavenly illumination to handle this escalating problem. Nonetheless, answer or not, I was not sure if I had heard heaven right. In all times past, whenever I was hurt or upset over something, my prayers had always taken me to God’s gentle rebuke or comfort or strength.

          If I had read Isaiah 65 at any other time, the verses in the chapter would surely have comforted and lifted drooping spirits. But this time, all I saw in They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant – was a warning.

          A warning to my child.

          I had come from a life where my mother had liberally used the Bible and God to cow me into submission. I didn’t want to be my mother; I wanted none of her in the way I mothered my own brood. So, naturally, I was more than a little unwilling to take Isaiah 65:21  – as a warning – to my child. There had to be another way.

          Everything then went dead inside. No whisper, no murmur. However insistently I troubled the depths of me in search, my spirit stubbornly yielded nothing.

          It folded in on itself. And I found myself locked out. All I had with me was Isaiah 65:21.

          It was as if by asking God for an alternative, He was answering me by giving me none.

          Breathing a silent prayer, I shared the verse with my child.

          It was not the most pleasant or easy of encounters.

          I had been raised to fear God. My children had thus far been raised to love and trust Him. When they do wrong, we teach them to see the hurt they had caused God. Negative fear of God had damaged my relationship with God for so many, many years, and I swore I would never allow that in our lives now.

          Yet, what I sensed in the call of yesterday was that I was not to water down or strip the words of Isaiah of its sternness. I was to give them as they were.

          Deeply unhappy, I obeyed, all the while hoping I had read the call right.

          As feared, in sharing the verse as it was, I hurt my child – which in turn, hurt me. I was not rewarded with flooding joy to tell me all would be well. All I carried away with me was the wounded look in clear, jovial eyes over the message that if change was not willed and adhered to, there would be consequences to live with.

          It was deeply unpleasant to see my hurting child, and worse, to know I was the perpetrator.

          This morning, dulled in spirit upon rousing, in the cold stillness of a day still caught in the dark of slumber, I heard the unmistakable strains of Ave Maria, Ave Maria, Ave Maria, in my heart. They followed the tune of a hymn I heard sung in a Fatima apparition video, The 13th Day, that we had watched as a family on Annunciation Day. Most mornings, I say the Rosary of Atonement – the Divine Mercy chaplet, and I had intended to do just that today.

          But the Ave Maria strummed stronger than ever against my heart. It blocked out every other hymn I tried to play against it. It was odd, something I had never before experienced.

          Hours after I had obeyed, joy began to trickle into my heart and into the heart of my child. This made me ponder the chain of events, the connection between points.

          Isaiah. Obedience. Repentance. Fatima. Rosary.

          Did this mean the sun would never retreat from this point on? That is not possible, I think. Raising children is rarely a perpetually happy jaunt through flowering meadows. The weeds of challenges and struggles is a constant presence in every family life.

         These challenges are not to be made light of. Not to be watered down, plastered over, just to protect our beloved children from the unpleasantness of God’s judgment. Sister Lucia of the Fatima apparitions has said: “The final confrontation between the Lord and satan will be over Family and Marriage.” And she is right. What had happened to our family was not just a simple matter of exams or school. Our child’s problem had its roots in spiritual disinterest. A dangerous spiraling that starts out innocuous, but can see likely ending in spiritual death as it slowly chokes and leeches life out.

          And when one life is affected, it hurts the entire family. That is the insidious power of spiritual lethargy. If we step aside and simply allow our lives and hopes to unravel by making excuses for it, by refusing to face it for what it is, then what happens to a single child can extend death to the marriage as well.

          A year ago, I had a deeply upsetting dream that satan was hunting our children as recruits for his evil army. Since the dream, my husband and I have assumed the watchman’s post at every plausible point of entry.

          But I think we made one mistake. We expected satan to come with a burst and a bang. We were on guard for the inevitable commotion and ruckus that would have heralded his attempt to enter our children’s lives.

          But he is not called serpent and wily for nothing. He came to our children alright. But he came in the deadliest of silences – spiritual lethargy. He came in small and light and quietly. Like weeds in the flowerbeds. A prayer missed here and another missed there. Mild disinterest in Mass, lapses in attention. Typically adolescent, we assured ourselves even as we did reprimand and do the necessary pulling back.

          We failed to go into battle. Because I came from endless chaos in my growing up years, I wasn’t about to overreact and resurrect that same tumult now. That was my priority. Not God. And that was where we tripped. Satan had come in some distance before the poor exam scores led to some soul-searching.

          It was then that we realized we had left one of the gates wide open…..

          We will not go meekly. Every child given is to be returned in holiness to God some day. We must go to battle against this darkness as it seeks our children to build its own dark army. We needn’t fear bereftness. Through humility, obedience and the Holy Rosary, we have the power of an army beyond compare.

          Any gardener with a heart and will, will fight to save his flowers from weeds. 

          Even more so, parents. For what we have is far, far more precious.

Lent 25 ~ Harvest of Toil

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          My children’s first test results are in. Some are okay, some not. Of course, I’m bothered by the not’s. I’m trying to not let it get to me, but I’ve already lost interest in the day. It’s not worry; it’s weariness. Deep, born of years of labour and sacrifices; there’s nothing we’ve not given the children. All we have asked them is to always give their best for Jesus.

         A string of B’s from an A-student who stubbornly spent more time in fun and tv watching cannot be deemed the best fruits offered at the altar of God. One who rushed through or slept through prayers and was casual about Mass and the Sacraments certainly did not bear the best of gifts for the Lord.

          The harvest is what it is because the toil was flawed from the start.

          For a while, I ponder my helplessness, this strange melancholic stupor that has me in a curled heap. What can I say to this child of mine? What can I say to reverse this dark tide?

          What can I do that hasn’t already been done?

          Idly sifting through the past readings, Isaiah stills my wanderings.

They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant. ~  Isaiah 65:21

          If the toil is flawed, so will the harvest be. We have said the same, in a hundred different ways. How will it make a difference now?

          A tiny bell tinkles in the still wind. Take Isaiah’s words. Take them as they are.

          I take Isaiah to this child. I pray he be received.

They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.

          Words of hope. Words of warning.

 

 

 

 

Lent 23 ~ All Alone

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          We returned to my husband’s hometown parish for Mass this Sunday.

          When I had first married him, this Our Lady of Perpetual Help church was where we worshipped every Sunday. And it couldn’t have been more different from the churches I was used to.

          I had come from rather snooty ‘upper class’ parishes in the towns I grew up in and where I first worked before marriage, hundreds of miles from where I would eventually end up after marriage. Those churches I attended as a child and later, as a university student and working woman, were affluent churches where the rich and influential held every position of power in the church, and Sunday was the day to feel down and dowdy next to the stylish and exquisitely dressed womenfolk.

          Not being endowed with beauty or style of any sort, I never fit in. So, at every available opportunity, I opted to travel long distances to inner city parishes where the poor were more likely to be found, and no one gave you the eye for the simple clothes you wore.

          But the poor here were a distant and withdrawn lot. They were not unfriendly; they were just weighed down by money troubles and every other heartache under the sun. Being young, holding down a good job and with my whole life ahead of me, it never occurred to me to reach out, even with a smile, to tell those parishioners that they were loved.

          The parish priest too kept to his own corner. A troubled parish that was struggling with their faith and with their life couldn’t have been all that welcoming of the pastor’s advices and occasional admonishments delivered with a firmness through his weekly sermons. So, priest and people warily kept their distance from one another. Always being late to Mass, I too fled the church immediately after Mass, not wanting to risk a hello to Fr, only to receive a likely rebuke about my tardiness from the good priest.

          Again, it never occurred to me to accept whatever earful I might have gotten, just to spend short minutes lifting a tired priest’s spirits. I never thought that even a priest would need to be told he was loved.

          Short years later, I learned that Fr had been suffering from renal failure. Yet, he had pastored a difficult parish, with no assistant priest to depend on.

          Fr died soon after.

          When I married my husband, his parish gave me the shock of my life.

          It was a noisy, vibrant Catholic congregation that took a lively interest in everyone else’s affairs. Everyone knew the cheery and dynamic parish priest’s diary of meetings and movements. They knew his birth date and even news of his siblings. His family was theirs too. In fact, everyone was family to everyone else! No birth or marriage or illness amongst them escaped anyone’s notice.

          No chance for anyone to skip Mass either – they’d have to run the gauntlet of embarrassing inquisitions from every church member.

          It was a shock alright for an uptight me hailing from cold churches where no one really knew one another.

          For many years, we enjoyed the warmth of worship in Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The young resident priest was soon posted elsewhere, and his place taken by another, who, in his own powerful way, continued to light a fire of holy seeking in his parishioners’ hearts.

          But then, came a third, priest, troubled and lost, and something began to die in the most beautiful of parishes on the east of the country. Times were changing. Fortunes were changing. As Fr struggled with himself, his people lost a shepherd they needed. Personal problems, struggling marriages, wayward children and job issues began to darken the skies here. Soon, love for one another took a beating, and more and more often, I’d hear of squabbles and infighting among the members.

          Where life once thrived, death crept in stealthily.

          I was a witness to all this. I clucked and shook my head in disappointment. I was no longer a member of the parish there, because by then, with a growing family, my husband and I had to join a parish closer to our marital home. But on monthly visits home, I saw and learned anew of this dying. For a time, I prayed for the troubled priest. Soon however, I gave up.

          I wasn’t too fond of the priest; I didn’t like that he was not being the priest I expected him to be. And it grew to be more satisfying to take the lower road and condemn the man for his failings.

          For some years, that was how it was.

          Three years ago, yet another priest was sent to replace the troubled one, and what was left of the dwindling parish warily eyed the new aging but resolute pastor, anchored in calm and quiet steel. By then, many of the parish stalwarts who had tried to keep the congregation together, had either died or aged to illness or moved away. What remained was a disparate remnant, angry with the world.

          Condescending towards the new man of cloth.

          Fr struggled mightily with his people.

          They didn’t come to meetings, they bickered among themselves. They held back their children from being altar servers and from playing the organ for Masses. They ignored Fr when he tried to gather them together, they were greatly inclined to educate the humble, quiet priest on parish matters, believing themselves the wiser on church affairs.

          Again, none of this escaped me. Yet, not once did I turn to God to ask, What would You have me do?

          Today, three years on, returning home, sitting in the tired, old pew, I sensed a shifting. Something had changed. There was an undercurrent of life among the living tombs. A deep, deep peace permeated the church. I didn’t see outright love yet, but I saw smiles. In some eyes, joy had returned.

          In a sudden moment, I looked at the old and worn priest, delivering his sermon with an inner strength that belied appearances. And I knew then that Father had won the battle. I whooped with joy inside me.

          Later, as we were driving home, I reflected happily on the priest’s victory and the courage and faith it must have taken to win this.

          About to snuggle into my seat in contentment, I began to feel a strange inner sadness. A gentle, feather-light Hand traced grey lines across my joy. I held my breath and waited.

          Gently, the Unseen Hand lifted, and I felt the soft, sad words It had left behind,

You left him to do it all alone.

Lent 22 ~ Chime of the Annunciation

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          I wasn’t sure of the date today, so I checked, and saw that it was March 25.

          And it tugged on my heart.

          I ran the date through my head to see if it was a birthday or a deadline I had forgotten, but there didn’t seem to be anything.

          I continued my work. And the date continued to chime quietly and gently, like the tiniest of bells. Little baby-tugs on my heart. About two hours later, it had gone on long enough that I could no longer ignore it, so I looked up the date to see if there was a church feast of some significance.

          March 25 2017 was the Feast of the Annunciation. It hit me like a slap of water.

          In July last year, we were to travel back to my husband’s hometown, to visit a grave. We always take flowers when we go, but that day, it was special, and I wanted roses, and the best of them too. In my heart, I envisioned pink roses; I yearned for the beautiful Guadalupe Roses. They do not grow here, but I prayed we’d find something close enough.

          However, during my Morning Holy Hour that blue~gold July day, I received three tugs in a single, different direction.

          The first came through a painting I had never before seen – of a young girl pinning a rose to a statue of Mother Mary.

          And the second tug was by St Padre Pio. I cannot remember how it came about, but it was willed by God that morning,  that I should find a link to a website that was all about St. Pio and the Rosary.

          Finally, as we were leaving the house to begin our long journey, I casually looked around the tangle that is our garden, and amongst the busyness there, a lone flower caught my hurrying gaze.

          A tiny, tiny pink tea~rose.

          As we travelled, my thoughts inevitably went back to my hope that we’d find roses.

          In a quiet light burst, I recalled the events of the morning – the picture, the words and the baby bloom of rose. And immediately, I knew.

          I had wanted roses for this beloved one gone Home.

          But instead, Beloved wanted Roses for our MotherThe most beautiful of Guadalupe roses – the Rosary.

          I yielded to the gentle but insistent request.

          It being a Monday, I began to recite the Joyful Mysteries. The 1st Mystery, the Annunciation, went fine, and I proceeded to the 2nd. But from a sharp and sure determination to recite the Rosary, I suddenly began to struggle with the 2nd decade of the Rosary. The words kept evaporating, I kept forgetting them.

          Over and over and over, I went back to the 2nd, then to the 3rd decades of the Rosary. 

          Over and over, each time, the Rosary header for each decade dissipated. I would begin to recite the Mystery for the decade, and I would be transported right back to the first mystery.

          The Annunciation.

          Soon, I began to feel drowsy. It was warm day, and one of beauty. Blue mists still hid and peeked out from amongst branches and grass dancing in the merry~yellow of the morning sunshine. The perky joy of the day drizzled its blessings into my spirit.

          Lulled into a deep peace, as I savoured the gold of that beautiful day, my thoughts drowsily went back to my struggle with the Rosary. My recitation kept going back to the Annunciation.

          Why did I keep returning to that? Was something holding me back? What was it about the Annunciation?

          And at that moment, I heard a clear, female voice write these words on my heart ~

The event of the Warning will begin with the Annunciation

          That was last year. I had forgotten all that. But the memory returned today, in the earliest hours of the 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, 2017. Despite the initial shock of remembering, there is no fear, no worry whatever may come. That day last year, I was not told the year to look out for.

          But I now know it is this year, 2017. Because the Rose~bell chimed just after midnight of the old day.

          To remind me of the great day when the Archangel Gabriel announced the coming of a Miracle to change the tide of the times.

Lent 21 ~ Words on the Heart

Take with you words, and return to the LORD ~ Hosea 14:3

          Yesterday, in the story about St John Vianney and his mystical response to a woman whose husband had taken his own life, the saint said that the deceased had been spiritually saved because of the last prayer he had uttered: the Act of Contrition.

          For some reason, I felt I needed to give the words of that prayer to others contemplating various deaths. Not to physically send the prayer, nor to tell them to pray it. But to pray the words for them who cannot. To say the prayer on their behalf.

          To write the words of contrition on hearts that would otherwise never contemplate them.

          As ever the Doubting Thomas, I did wonder if what I was doing was right.

          But there was no time to be lost. I went ahead anyway, due to the exigency – I was saying the Act of Contrition to stop deaths by human will.

          Today, the verse from Hosea 14:3 holds my spirit as I drift by.

Take with you words, and return to the LORD

          I know it refers to my own penitence.

          But could it mean too the prayers we pray in the waters of love and mercy – which give the words of contrition to be written on dying hearts?

Lent 20 ~ Between the Parapet and the Water

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From the book, Cure Of Ars

There was a woman who told St. John Vianney that she was devastated because her husband had committed suicide. She wanted to approach the great priest but his line often lasted for hours and she could not reach him.

          She was ready to give up and in a moment of mystical insight that only a great saint can receive, John Vianney exclaimed through the crowd, “He is saved!”

          The woman was incredulous so the saint repeated, stressing each word, “I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition.”

          It is the morning after Westminster. I don’t know how many lifebooks will close this day through human will – those who don’t want others to live; those who themselves don’t want to live.

          But I am alive and living and wanting to live.

          And I want others to live as well. In this life and in the next.

          So, for the remaining hours of the day, I offer the Act of Contrition for the world. For all those contemplating ending lives – theirs or others’.

          It saved that man in the story. It will save others too.

ACT OF CONTRITION

My God,
I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong
and failing to do good,
I have sinned against You
whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with Your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ
suffered and died for us.
In His name, my God, have mercy.

Lent 19 ~ The Stars of Past

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          In our family, the past lives with us like another family member. Almost every day, the past is resurrected. And yet, we are a family that revels in the present. My husband and I have hearts somewhat worn down by hurts and loss, so when our gaze goes beyond the horizon of what is before us, we are understandably more reticent in our hopes. But our children, growing up and facing life’s curves and dips with their hearts firmly in ours, see no clouds beyond the repose of the sun.

          The past comes alive each day when the kids awaken, and some are still young enough to want their morning kisses and cuddles. My husband and I have pet names for each, and while the older ones might look a tad askance when we use them, the younger ones sometimes refuse to answer to their given names, preferring their pet names. I think it’s like a security blanket for them. Or perhaps those funny little names comfort them that they are something special to us that they are not to others.

          I believe my children have grown ‘watching movies’ of their childhood because of the constant airing that childhood narratives get in our home. Not a day goes by without someone purposefully steering the dinner conversation towards tender reminiscences of  growing-up tickles and mischief.

          Is it any wonder that our dinners can go on to close to two hours?

          These precious conversations have become the soul of the family. As we chat and listen and sometimes, argue with one another, the past sits with us, like an unseen guest. He listens in earnest as my husband and I weave for our kids our sharings and teachings about present day issues, from the harbor of the days and lives gone by. Being very much people people,  we are a storehouse of endless family anecdotes.

          Indeed, we have rich earth to draw life lessons from.

          The words from yesterday’s 1st reading is gentle entreaty for a preservation of these ways of ours ~

However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children. ~ Deuteronomy 4:9

          Those verses tell us that the past must always be allowed its living. Not to haunt or torment and to take life away, but to burnish the life now and that which is to come.

          For just as it has the capacity to bring death, the starlight of history and memories bear also the supreme grace to heal, to nurture, and to light the way ahead.

 

Lent 18 ~ Never

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          Yesterday, I read of someone’s silent aching that took her from sleep. When the pain got too deep, she reached out for God’s Hand, and He came to her through Isaiah 41:13 ~ For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, Fear not, I will help you.

          A True Father’s Love.

          I learned of that love, for the first time, close to ten years ago when I had reached a point of brokenness I could not depart from. I had given all I had in me, but it didn’t satisfy some. I was derided, blamed and hurt for the loss I seemed to have brought down on others. I had loved to emptiness. But to the vulture-hearts gathered around me, I hadn’t done enough; my sins had caused the troubles.

         They said my misfortune was God’s punishment for my sins.

          And I believed them.

          For a whole year, I struggled. For a whole year, I sought God.

          But every time I came near, I hid from Him.

          Because they said I was to blame.

          And I believed them.

          One night, it was time for another farewell. So, I went to the only Treasure Chest there is for the gem of the greatest value to be bequeathed as a final gift.

          The page fell open to Isaiah 54:10 ~

The mountains may depart and the hills be moved,

but never will My love depart from you

          I wept and wept at the words. Every mountain and hill in my life had been levelled. I had come to know a tearing so great and deep, I felt I could never again love.

          But in the nighttime of my deepest emptying, through the words, never will My love depart from you, my God told me He loved me.

          And for the first time, I believed Him.