CATHOLIC SAINT

Saints of Red

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          Today, I want to go into an old, old church, nestled among silence and watching. I want to go where human eyes cannot follow. To be alone and not be strong. To be weak and broken, with only holy stones to witness, unjudging.

          In the still company of angels, I want to lie on the cold stone floors, before the sacred altar, caring not for the shadows of trespassers nor the curious. I want to curl and weep for men and women, children and babies, big and little saints of red. Those known and unknown, who loved Him but who were not loved by some. All who died loving Jesus, bleeding and pleading, at the hands of those who knew Him not.

          It is my time to weep for these little ones with great souls. Unlikely warriors who stood for Jesus against a faith tree-d from violence and hate. Martyrs mocked for being the lambs reviled by the strong. Gentle and meek, faithful and tender, yet blessed with a strength hidden from the sight of the proud, to love their God to the end of ends.

          What worth has tears from one as sinful and fallen as I, I do not know. What value in gold can my weeps measure against prayers? On this sad day when the sun holds court away from the mists that mourn among the sorrowing boughs, no prayer comes to rest on my heart. On this day when I want so much to touch heaven to make sense of the will to kill in the name of God, the words do not come.

          So, I gather my tears and join them now to my Mother’s, for a reason that will light someday.

Heeding the Confessor

  

Parable of the rich man, by Rembrandt

The Rich Fool by Rembrandt

         Early this morning, the angels brought me God’s Will for the day, through the Litany of the Precious Blood of Christ. For some reason, of all the lines in the litany, today, only one glowed brighter than the rest and beamed its light into my heart:

Blood of Christ, strength of confessors, save us.

          Looking long and hard at the line, one little word lit up more than others: confessors.

          I knew what it meant, but what did it mean for me? Whatever explanation I came up with felt like blunted message board pins, which kept falling from the board. Nothing stuck.

          I didn’t have much time to ponder that because within the hour, I was at work and my superior called to see me. I generally go to great lengths to avoid a conversation with this man. Deeply insecure, he lived by the codes of self-pride and revenge. He was easily threatened by the efforts and achievements of others. To earn his favour, one had to either learn the art of mincing around him or that of apple-polishing. If you stocked his barn with the necessary plaudits, it kept him appeased and smug, and you were out of his crosshairs for a time. Blessed with none of those talents, I found it much easier to keep a low profile and stay well away from him. Despite all this, upon getting his call, I placidly trotted into his office like an unsuspecting cow.

          And was led to the slaughter of the spirit.

          He had my cooperation on a project, but it wasn’t enough. He wanted my cheering and fawning too.  I believed in obedience to my superiors as long as it did not put God second.  I was not in the business of shoring up a fool’s barn with the worldly gold of flattery and adulation. Irritated, he sought to bend me to his will. With a few swift strokes, he rent to nothing my years of toil.

         I stumbled out of the office, fiercely concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other because suddenly, it seemed I had forgotten how to walk.

          The hours of the working day suddenly seemed interminably long.

          I made it home late in the evening. Resolved to being stoic, I tried to shrug off the incident. Bravado lasted all of two minutes. And then, it all came out.

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          Later, emptied, I went in search of comfort and enlightenment. Nancy Shuman’s pearl for the day in the Breadbox Letters was Philippians 4:13 ~ In Christ who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything. I stared numbly at the verse. Strength to do what? I felt the verse stare back at me, willing me to dig deeper.

          In Victor Moubarak’s I’m Running Out Of Priests, this lit up – “..do not judge … too harshly. Indeed, we are all sinners; some of us perhaps deserving more forgiveness than others.”

          Forgiveness. I felt a tug this time. And a weariness. I hadn’t even gone an inch past my hurt, but there was God already asking me to scale the Everest of my weaknesses.

          I looked at the picture of the Divine Mercy on my wall. In Christ who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything.

          I forgive. It sounded false and tinny even to my ears. The words meant little. It wasn’t too hard to say them then, but I knew well enough that in the coming days, when I would single-handedly whip up a bitter storm within me with a rehashing of the hurt and the clever rebuttals I didn’t think of, forgiveness would not come as easily.

          How am I to forgive him? I asked heaven. Give me the words to pin me to Your will so I cannot run from it.

          I went to seek the words in the quotes of saints on forgiveness. At first, nothing stuck. Then, one caught my heart and wouldn’t let go:

To the extent that you pray with all your soul for the person who slanders you, God will make the truth known to those who have been scandalized by the slander.

          I flailed, I don’t care what he or anyone else thinks about me. I have been asked by Heaven to forgive him and I need the words for that. I determinedly resumed my seeking.

          Yet again, like blunted pins, nothing stuck. Finally, I stepped back from all that had been given to me, to discern what had settled on my spirit thus far. The same breeze found me:

To the extent that you pray with all your soul for the person who slanders you, God will make the truth known to those who have been scandalized by the slander.

          There was something there. I peered closely at the quote. Then, I saw who it was attributed to. St. Maximos the Confessor.

Confessor.

          The very word in the Litany that lit up early in the morning. God’s way of telling me to heed the words of the Confessor.

          Wanting to forgive even in the red tide of anger,  I had asked for the prayer I could never wriggle out from, but He gave me something else. He gave me the purpose to the prayer of forgiveness – To the extent that you pray with all your soul …… God will make the truth known. It never crossed my mind that forgiveness could lead to this!

          The veil gently fell back in place. I had been given a glimpse of something ahead. There was more to praying for this person than I might ever know. My forgiving him was the necessary first step, however bitter. But this time, I was not troubled to pursue the mystery of what lay ahead. A dew-wet peace had flooded my soul. My Jesus was before me, holding out His hands to me.

          I placed my wound in them.

          And then, I found the words.

          Blood of Christ upon me. Blood of Christ upon him.

Pearls of Little Holies

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          I made a friend recently. Only I didn’t know it till later. I first found him through a humble entreaty to the Holy Spirit in a Consecration Novena I had said short weeks before. Later, in the hours of dry winds, I met him again in a prayer.

          And still it didn’t clink that these bumpings were not mere coincidences.

          Until I came face-to-face with him yet again in a quote by him, On your exceedingly great mercy, and on that alone, rests all my hope, used as a lead to the exquisite poem, Regarding Love by Cynthia Scodova in her blog, The Mad-Eyed Monk. From that quote, he led me down the poem till my eyes rested on

The infinitesimal sings its small song for You

          Only then, belatedly, did it hit me that St. Augustine was calling out to me to get my attention, and his call had something to do with the way The infinitesimal sings its small song for You curled and settled into my heart .

          I knew very little about him except that he was more than a trunk-load of headache and heartache to his mother, St. Monica. Then, he found God, and left the sordid life he had known and loved, for another of holy deeps that stripped him of all he had held close before.

          Reading about him, getting to know him, I asked him what his reaching out to me meant. Was it to strip myself of more life-sapping petals? Was it to write more, speak more? What?

          He held my eyes, and took me back to the little lamps he had lit as he drew me towards him.

∗   The simple prayer to the Holy Spirit in the Consecration Novena,

∗   The calling to the Holy Spirit to scatter its cheerful beams into my withering soul.

∗   And finally, The infinitesimal sings its small song for You

          And then, the bead slid into its pod.

          St. Augustine, great Doctor of the Church who occupied the highest of echelons of spiritual greatness, was calling me to the littles of life. To pare down life to what was truly important – the little calls heaven presses into my spirit. The ones I sadly, often forsake, seeking instead the heights of greatness in pastures not meant for me. The calls were the sacred duties of wife and mother which God had entrusted to me.

          Every day since I found his prayer I had been praying for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Now, St. Augustine was willing me to understand that for the Spirit to permeate every pore of my soul, I needed to return in cheerful obedience and humility, to tend to every one of the little holies of my life – the sacred calls woven into my marriage and motherhood. To attend to the littles of life was to allow a scattering of the Spirit’s cheerful beams, within every fold and crease of my walk on this earth.

          St. Augustine had come in Mercy, to call me to return to the holiness of the littles. To fill with love and tenderness the golden cups set out for me in the Divine Will. He had come to teach me that every little act of love, every tiny sacrifice hidden for the Love of the Most High, would be like simple grains of sand the world might scoff at, but when  purified, be transformed into pearls of little holies, woven one into another, to form the necklace of Eternal Life.

Unfurling the Mercy of the Eucharist

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St Germaine Cousin, Patroness of Abused Children

 

          Today brought me learning about a young saint, St Germaine Cousin (1579 – 1601), who lived at the heart of terrible physical, mental and emotional abuse by the very people who should have loved, sheltered and cherished her, but who instead showed her what an earthly hell was.

          After her birth mother died prematurely, her father remarried. Soon, the sight of the young, pitiable girl with a withered hand and scrofula – a tuberculosis infection of the lymph nodes, which, in her case, resulted in unsightly abscesses in her neck, drove her stepmother into a frenzy of hatred. Fearing the risk of contagion to her step-siblings, Germaine was isolated and banished to a narrow space in the stables, shared with the animals she had to tend to during the day. I cannot help but wonder if the deformed hand, and the fact that scrofula was then known as the King’s Evil, might have worsened the abuse. Did her stepmother, who made a habit out of severely beating, scalding the child with hot water, and administering other abuses, delude herself into thinking she was ridding the child of demons through her mistreatment?

          Did her stepmother see demons where there were none? Did young Germaine’s purity of spirit agitate the darkness within the stepmother’s soul, worsening the whippings, food deprivations and humiliations? Driving the woman to a madness of violence, that perhaps, even she could not understand, much less contain?

          Germaine’s father, by some accounts, was said to be a weak-willed man.

          I think that’s too mild a word for someone who lived near such horrific abuse, but never suffered it himself, yet did nothing to halt it. 

          I cannot place him in a kinder light. I think he loved and cared much for his own self-preservation – to the point of excluding love for anyone else. Blood could pour out of his daughter, but nothing could be allowed to threaten the comfort of his position in that family. His entire heart must have been filled with himself; nothing left over for anyone else, not even his very own daughter. It must have been – to have deafened and blinded himself to his little girl’s tears and sobs and sufferings; not to have been moved by the even the sight of his own flesh-and-blood, living amongst animals, like an animal, dressed in rags, feet blistered and bloodied because she was deprived of shoes, rising before dawn to slave in servitude for him, her step-siblings and stepmother, and then shepherding in meadows bordered by wolf-infested forests.

          What heart of stone was this, un-softened by even a whisper of love for his own child?

          It is the heart of an abuse-enabler.

          That which belongs to one who looks the other way when abuse is being perpetuated. Who, like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands off Jesus, distancing himself from his duty. Who holds up the evening papers and huddles behind it to separate himself from the injustice when the child is being beaten and humiliated, convinced the child brought it upon herself.

          Did this man, to whom a child of God was given, over time, begin to nurse a secret dislike of his own child, by justifying to himself that Germaine must have been doing something to stir the nest of tempests in his tenuous household? And by that conjecture, hold her accountable for all that befell her?

          When the line was drawn, I wonder if he ever joined in the abuse – just to show on whose side he stood. Did he add to the slaps and kicks, on his wife’s demand, perhaps? Or join in the family chorus of vitriol against the defenseless child- just to ensure that he remained one of the others?

          Did this man, Laurent Cousin, find suffering in the second marriage of his choosing? And failing to find the courage to carry his cross, blame this daughter of his for necessitating this marriage of woes?

          And mercilessly hurl her to the wolves in his own household?

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          The little Germaine grew up and wore out the rutted paths of violence at the hands of her abusers – her entire family. But with each lash endured in silence and meekness, the angels buried her deeper into the Wounds of Christ. While she lived Calvary at the hands of her family, the young shepherdess’ soul was drawn into a deeper union with her Heavenly Shepherd, and some were privileged enough to witness this through the miracles of the parting waters as she went determinedly to mass, and the changing of bread in her apron to winter blooms never seen.

          But the far greater miracle borne of this pain, was the holy magnificence of a spirit that never yielded to the saddest consequences of abuse – the hardening of heart and the inward centering of the victim’s gaze. The more Germaine was abused, the more she loved others – through her teaching of what little catechism she knew to children, through her sharing of scraps, through her Rosaries. Her own suffering didn’t take hostage her sense of charity. It didn’t mottle her loving kindness. Nothing veered her from that steadfast adherence to her Shepherd’s call in her spirit. Germaine was given a paltry daily ration of black bread by her stepmother, but even of this paucity, she saved to share with others she deemed more deprived. The fate she was enduring was never foremost in her mind; mercy was.

          By the sharing of her rations with others, she gave them Jesus. 

          By humbly submitting to the breaking of her body, Germaine sent the Eucharist where mercy was most needed.

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          All through my Friday Rosary of the Sorrowful Mysteries, I met the pensive gaze of the holy shepherdess as I wove my prayers for abusers and the abused through the Holy Passion of Christ.

          And yet, the weave didn’t remain in place. I had the faintest sense it was  not the prayer I was called to that day. 

          In the hours that followed,  I probed my discerning. Slowly I felt the abuse that St Germaine suffered recede from my spirit. I struggled to hold on to it through prayerful probing, because that is the common thread she and I share. But it slipped through my fingers.

          I had the vaguest feeling, it hadn’t ‘slipped away’ as much as it was taken.

          In its place lay a little bud the shepherdess placed on my soul. 

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          It is in My Passion that you must seek light and strength. ~ #654, St Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy In My Soul.

In My Passion…..seek Light…

          I rested my mind in the Passion of my Saviour.

          And the bud began to unfurl its petals of red. I began to see that the breaking of Germaine’s body healed and nourished other souls, to go forth themselves, to multiply mercy through the same giving – the breaking of their own bodies for others.

          Going back to my own life, and petal by petal, my spirit saw each year lived. Every tear, every storm, every uprooting – converged on a single point of Light: the Holy Eucharist.

          I have slowly begun the journey to comprehend the purpose of the gnarls and twists and ruts in my life. Every nail endured through the loving of others is the unfurling of the mercy of the Eucharist in the pain of need, to be multiplied in a succession of other lives, one soul after another.

          .

         

Leaning Against My Father

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Dearest Padre Pio,

I’ve come today, to lean against you for others. A son in jail, a son fighting to live. Their mothers bravely and valiantly loving others, carrying their crosses and others’, through every shade of sorrow. Their pain bites deep, my father. No healing balm, no comfort do I have for their wounds, but keep their weeps in you I will, St. Pio, for you dried mine years ago.

 

 

 

CALL OF THE BLUE KING

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One August day, in the violet predawn hours, I was insistently awakened from a deep sleep by the hymn, Canticle of the Sun, the original lyrics of which were attributed to St Francis of Assisi. It was a puzzling experience for me, being one who neither walks through life with a hymn in my heart nor a prayer on my lips. If anything, there’s too often some worldly form of caterwauling in my heart and in my mind – certainly not a hymn.

Hence, to hear strains of hymns, often old hymns, from a place within me, is not something I am overly familiar with. And yet, in recent months, stumbling through the mists of sleep, I have been hearing hymns being sung. Hymns almost forgotten. They haven’t come from any music source. No other Christians here. Just a hushed chorus of unseen voices singing a hymn. And every hymn has had a special meaning, been another signpost in my faith journey.

Sunrise through flowers, Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi

So, I looked up the lyrics to Canticle of the Sun. An ode of praise to God for His gift of nature. As I sang the hymn quietly, Sir Brother Sun lighted up for me, pulsing with an invisible life of its own.

I was being asked to look at the sun. The sun is the sign.

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Week knit into week, and again, I was led to St Francis of Assisi. Led to read nuggets of his life, sampled his teachings some. But I sensed an air of waiting too. Like I had crossed the threshold into someone’s home and had begun to look around, while my host stood off to one side, waiting patiently and in quiet, for me to finish taking in the sights.

I was soon done with my cursory acquainting with this saint, and I too waited, but my silent host made no move. No word. No hand reached out to me.

Unlike other journeys into other lives I felt compelled to learn about. In those, there was always a tangible leading. And in me, an inner expectancy and anticipation to proceed to the next part of the journey. To delve further, unlock mysteries, find common threads that tie me to someone, something. But not this time. I liked what I had read about St Francis. I pondered some of his words. I liked that he had a friend called Juniper, and that St Teresa had called Juniper ‘Toy of God’. But beyond all that, there was no thirst to know more. No inner agitation to part the veil.

Yet, I knew, St Francis was no passing lantern along a darkened street. He was a light that stood in still, silent wait, illuminating a little of the space around him that I may see. Angels had taken me to him, and they had taken me for a reason. He didn’t beckon that my heart follow him. Perhaps, he wanted me to make even that initial move.

Stairway to Heaven, Assisi

Stairway to Heaven, Assisi

So, I prayed a puzzled prayer twice. St Francis, teach me what I need to know.

And promptly forgot about it in the mayhem of daily busyness.

It came back to me soon enough, this seemingly unanswered prayer. And the moment I recalled the prayer I had winged up, heaven told me it had been answered:

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Some days before, up for my dawn Holy Hour, a tiny blue kingfisher on a nearby branch had warbled out an avian melody of joyous welcome. In the hushed stillness of a world still in the last vestiges of sleep, no other sound competed with the little bird of blue as he bade me come to share his dawn. I put down my meditation book, let the prayers slide away. My feather-friend’s serenade to the awakening sun was a gentle chiding that I was not to mute God’s voice through blind adherence to a prayer routine. Through the bell-clear chime of his lilting call, God sent a little blue creature of His to remind me that the morning Holy Hour was not mine to direct but His grace for me. And so, no impediment must I erect to the outpouring of His mercies.

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In the blend of the following days, my blue feathered joy came to visit often, but only in the still silence of gray peach dawns did I hear his call to revere my Lord before his other differently feathered mates joined in the morning chorus to set the grind of the new day in motion.

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I had asked, St Francis, teach me what I need to know, and the saint had answered me through the call of the blue king with the rise of the sun, sent forth to fish for my soul, that it may always be free of fetters to worship in freedom the King of Kings.

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