DISCERNMENT

The King’s Poverty

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          Since the tumble of hard days in weeks past, a gent~ling came to my days, a respite I was much thankful for. Things that needed to get done – did, and the tightness that bound so many hours before, loosened its grip.

          But not for long, yet again. A storm hit out of nowhere and I lost my footing once more.

          At work, in a workstation reorganization conducted by a junior co-worker not overly endowed with much commonsense, I lost the space I had had for many years. Granted, it was not the most comfortable of crannies to begin with, but it had given me some measure of privacy and I had made the most out of it, over the years, creating a workspace that worked for me.

          But within a single day, despite all precautions taken, I got pushed out into the open. If before this, I was on the sidewalk, now I was right in the middle of office traffic. Gone was my little crook of privacy, gone was the little bit of sky I had. People brushed right against my desk and happily trotted back and forth right behind me. The light behind me gifted me with its shadow as well as its glare, not to mention the heat from the open doors people can never remember to shut.

          In my younger days, I might have been able to take this in stride. But the day this happened, it was just one thing too much, and I keeled right over.

          My kids stared at me dumbfounded as I stormed and raged and then, cried into my soup at dinner that night. I couldn’t bear the look in their eyes but I couldn’t rise above my anger and frustration either.

          Later, in an ill-timed phone conversation with a friend from work who was also upset over the changes, I let my anger get ahead of me again. I spoke ill of that co-worker and my words were harsh.

          All through the journey to church for Mass the next day, I sure had God by His ear. The year was already proving to be so much harder than I felt I could bear, and here, was yet another avalanche I was ill-prepared for. I felt God was unfair and I let Him know it. Why? Why? Why? I asked Him.

          By the time I got to the church, I had a prayer~cart filled to the brim with hurt and recriminations and bewilderment. This time, there was no one else’s need in my heart; it was filled with me. I went before the Divine Mercy image and tipped my prayer~cart over.

          Then, almost as a grudging afterthought, I felt I needed to make a stab at humility. But I felt no remorse over my anger. So, I made a clean breast of it to Jesus. I want to repent but I have no remorse, Lord, I said. I’m sorry, I added.

          Sitting back in my seat, I went over my prayer to see if I had left anything out.

          Suddenly, I saw my prayers lifted away, and something new take its place. My heart was suddenly claimed by a strong desire to be punished. I stared dumbfounded at my heart. Nothing else mattered in that instant except that I receive the lash for calumny against my co-worker.

          Closing my eyes shut, I tossed aside every concern. I found myself praying that God give me what I deserved. All I wanted was that my soul be right.

          About to deepen that prayer some more, again, I sensed yet another change – even that prayer was lifted away from my reach! However hard I tried, I could no longer find that prayer, – or even any of the others – I had brought before the Divine Mercy.

          I knew something was at work. I decided to let God take charge. I sat back and opened St. Faustina’s Diary of My Soul, as I always do before Mass, to get my spirit lines in order before the Lord.

          Speak to me, Lord, even if don’t deserve to hear Your voice, I prayed. I need to understand why You allowed this to happen. St. Anthony of the Desert, one of the Desert Fathers, had made me acquaintance a few days before, and I sought his aid as well in those brief minutes before Mass began.

          Then, like so many times before, it happened. My eyes were taken to Entry 532:

          Today, penetrate into the spirit of My poverty and arrange everything in such a way that the most destitute will have no reason to envoy you. I find pleasure, not in large buildings and magnificent structures, but in a pure and humble heart.  ~ Divine Mercy In My Soul, St. Faustina Kowalska.

 

          Spirit of My poverty. My own spirit quietened before those words.

          I next saw St. Faustina’s reflection on Jesus’ words to her:

          I began to reflect on the spirit of poverty. I clearly saw that Jesus, although He is Lord of all things, possessed nothing. From a borrowed manger He went through life doing good to all, but Himself having no place to lay His head. And on the Cross, I see the summit of his poverty, for He does not even have a garment on Himself. ~ Entry 533, Divine Mercy In My Soul, St. Faustina Kowalska.

          Borrowed manger. Not even a garment on the Cross. And here I was, turning the world upside down over a workstation moved 3 feet in the wrong direction.

          But I was not filled with remorse as I anticipated, as I had hoped.

          Instead, my entire being was now flooded with a surge of strength at the words, Penetrate into the spirit of My Poverty. Once more, it was no longer Jesus’ words to St. Faustina. They were Jesus’ words to me. I turned back to my hurt and applied His words to the situation. I grimaced at the uncovering of the wound again. Not surprisingly, the pain still remained. I was not healed of it. But I had a calm certainty that God wanted the pain to remain in place as a misted grace to suffer for Jesus.

          No bargaining did I enter into. No backing away either. I gave my heart over to His poverty of Spirit, every crease and fold of it.

          At work the next day, the pain and anger lay in wait, their traps set in readiness. My triumphant co-worker did not make my adjustment any easier. All through the day, I had to fight myself and bite back words that begged release. I clung to my promise to penetrate into the Poverty of Jesus and I clung with all my might.

          Because all the King had was a borrowed manger and no garment even on the Cross.

 

 

 

 

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Battle

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          When the old year went to its end, I had a feeling I was off to a tough start in 2018 – and how right I was! But nothing could have prepared me for the way the new year unfurled itself. My husband came down with a very severe sinus attack. Out-of-sorts and in pain, the cold evenings and nights were hard on him. I tried to help by taking on his load so he could relax after work each day. That pushed my own load to the brim. Every day was tough. Every day brought new demands. Every day I struggled to clear my to-do list.

          And every single day, although I was cheery and working with a skip in my step, it felt like I was falling behind more and more in my schedule.

          By the second week, the home schedule had begun to unravel as well. I forgot to get us fresh vegetables one day, dinner got more and more delayed, and I struggled to put together even simple meals. But as a family, we laughed it off and pushed on.

          I got to the end of the days very exhausted, barely able to keep my eyes open and to think straight. Naturally, I couldn’t make my usual 4.30 a.m. wake up time for Holy Hour and prayed as much for God’s forgiveness as I did for strength just to get through the day, the week.

          Soon, we got to 5 straight days of no night Rosary. I’ve been at this point many times before and I knew I had to dig in deep and halt the slide. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Every time, exhaustion won.

          Then, the dreams began. Messy, troubling dreams. Dreams that took me on draining and confusing journeys I could not afford to go on. I awakened even more tired and spent. But there was a new, unsettling, side to those dreams as well. It came with a negative kind of forcefulness that increased incrementally with each dream, trying to tug me towards a disturbed state of mind.

          In the midst of it all, was a flash of a dream one day. A quick one that softly planted itself in my consciousness, setting itself apart from the others.

          It was of my son, in a state of deep fear and panic, wanting to quit his studies.

          I honestly wasn’t sure what I was to do. I believe my husband and I have a great relationship with all our kids. Despite the crazy schedules we both keep, the kids are always near us and we know every story of their hearts – especially of this son I had dreamed about.

          After the dream, I began to keep an even closer eye on him and his activities, in case I was reading things wrong. But his joy and exuberance, his sincere commitment to his studies and athletics  remained undimmed. The dream might be something for the distant future, I told myself.

          It was mid-week then, and I waited to get to Friday when I could draw in breath and put things in order and get us all back on track, Rosary and all. A few more days, I placated myself.

          But the dark never waits for when you’re prepared and ready, to strike.

          In a matter of a few brief hours, my sunny and cheery son went from light and bright to morose and subdued. The change was extreme. Sudden. Obvious even to the blind, it seemed.

          I thought he was coming down with the flu or something and so, I made him soups and health drinks and insisted on early bed time. Oddly, he remained alert and responsible in his home chores and school assignments.

          Yet, it seemed like in an instant, something had reached in and turned off my child’s inner light. I tried everything but I could not reach him.

          I banged on heaven’s door. My vigilance went into overdrive. But despite my deep concern for my son, I was also aware that I felt no panic. Yet the situation was not something I could turn away from. Some force other than my mother-heart was keeping the eyes in my head and heart riveted on my son and this mysterious shift in temperament.

          And this force was allowing me no panic, but insisting that I keep my eyes on the ball.

          By the second day, and no change for the better, even as I got a better grip on my work and home schedules, concern furrowed deeper. Then, late in the evening, my son got into a minor argument with his siblings, forcing me to step in to rear him back. He went off quietly into his room and I went back to the kitchen to get on with dinner preparations. I was undisturbed and thought the matter was over. Nonetheless, suddenly remembering how St. John Bosco had once helped me to discern an approaching danger  concerning my son, I sent up a quick prayer to him for help.

          It was then that a dewdrop fell on my spirit. I recalled a dream this same son had had just before Christmas this year when we were having some family struggles. He had dreamed that we were going to be under severe and unexpected spiritual attack. He had dreamt that he was being attacked by an entity and that my husband had come to his aid and as he was trying to help my son, he was attacked by the same entity.

          My son had dreamed that it was he who was going to release to freedom something that shouldn’t be free.

          In all the busyness that was Christmas, we had forgotten about that dream. Till now. In that moment, I knew what it was that my boy was facing. A demonic attack of some sort.

          Dropping everything, I traced the sign of the Cross on my forehead and lips, and went swiftly to him. I made him look at me and told him the sudden change that had come about now was unusual and wrong and insisted he tell me what was going on.

          My beloved child broke down and wept. He told me he was struggling with his studies. He told me he didn’t know how he was going to cope.

          My mind went to that flash of a dream. It had indeed been a warning.

          Yet, my spirit turned away from his words. My son wasn’t lying to cover-up something else but this kind of a studies-related panic is gradual; it doesn’t happen over a space of two hours. And not to a boy who had just begun the new academic term, who practically hopped and skipped to classes and who was coping well. This belief didn’t stem from my unwillingness to read the handwriting on the wall, wanting to conveniently blame this on the spiritual. It came because just when I had prayed to St. John Bosco, I had been reminded about the dark dream of a coming attack – incidentally one that would target both my son and his father.

          With an insight even I didn’t know I had, I began to talk to my boy. I took him back to his own dream, walked him through the discernment. I opened up and shared about some struggles my husband and I had been having, which the children had not been aware of.

          Without even thinking about it, I found myself telling him about times we had turned the eyes of our hearts towards work, consequently, neglecting family, not loving the family as we should, as was willed by God.

          Something took hold of my tongue. When we love our family, I told my son, when we stay close to their hearts and be a part of their daily lives, it is like building a wall around our home. A wall that keeps us safe within. But when we stray away, even for a while, it is like making a gaping hole in our fences, and evil will steal in.

          As my son stared at me, I said to him, That was what happened with you in the space of a few hours. You turned away from the family to focus on your studies – even though it seemed like a good thing – that was the hole that let the dark in.

          I didn’t know where that had come from. I hadn’t even thought of it.

          Long minutes later, I left him with a kiss and a hug.

          He did lighten up slightly after that, but it was clear to my eyes that he still remained in the iron grip of that darkness.

          I finally told my husband and insisted he battle with me for our boy. Together we fought. We went into the next day, but the hours did not herald the change we were praying for. Still, my heart lifted when I saw that my son too was battling this dark hold. Even though he clearly didn’t feel like it, I saw him try and be a part of his siblings’ hearts. He listened as we shared about our days and plans and failures. He listened despite what it must have been costing him to. There was still no light in his eyes. Fear still ruled.

          So much prayers and all for naught, came a voice close to my ear. But we ploughed on undeterred. We returned to the Rosary.

          Later, stopping by my prayer nook for the prayer for the day, I found an unknown saint waiting for me:

Do not grieve if you do not at once receive from God that which you ask. He wishes to benefit you still more by making you persist longer in your patient prayer before Him. For what can be higher than to address one’s converse to God and be in communion with Him? ~ St. Nilus of Sinai

          I chiseled the words to my heart, new strength flooding me.

          Later, about to doze off in the afternoon, I latched my spirit to prayer. I called upon the saints who had come to help me with my son in the past, St. John Bosco, St. Francis of Assisi.

          Then, a vague image of Our Lady with a scepter in hand passed through my mind. I lightly sensed the words,

She will lead in battle.

          Mother, St. John Bosco, St. Francis, fight for my son. Save him, I prayed with calm and faith.

          I awakened about an hour later and immediately went in search of my son. He had been reading. When he saw me, he jumped up and bouncily announced that the rains that day seemed to have eased up.

          My spirit saw it even before my eyes perceived. The old joy was back! He had come out of it. It had lifted. Still, I put the hours that followed to the test.

          No trace of the dark remained, not even the vaguest stain of it.

          It was clear: we had indeed won.

          This time.

 

 

 

 

 

Hard~Flowers

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May Christ support us all the day long,
till the shadows lengthen,
and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over
and our work is done.
Then in His mercy
may He give us a safe lodging,
and holy rest.
and peace at the last. Amen.

          This is the world and life I long for. This living where hard work and faith are entwined, and honest fulfilment of the day’s duties is met with holy rest and night’s peace when the sun goes to its crimson rest. This is what life should be, pure, sweet and simple, tenderly nourishing the listening soul, beauty lived in the heart of God.

          But as I learned anew yet again yesterday, this is not the life sought by enough people. All through the hours of yesterday’s Sunday, there was an unsettledness in spirits that even the clouds in the skies reflected, shifting from dense to wispy to rain~bellied. There were smiles which didn’t touch the eyes, and eyes that refused to meet. There were hearts that refused to care and still more that supported this wrong. While people didn’t quite rush about in the madness they were usually addicted to, there was something else in the air, in hearts, in Christian spirits mostly, that troubled my own spirit. What is it? I asked God.

          But I just couldn’t reach the heart of this troubling to understand it. I couldn’t touch it in order to pray about it. I couldn’t even pray! As soon as I began my attempt, the airs swirled even faster around me, clouding and blinding. Little things riled me and I slid into traps of petty annoyances. The more I justified my irritation, the redder I got, and the less I was able to be thankful for the little purses of beauty God had embroidered into my hours.

          Finally, fed up with myself, I hauled myself out of the cages I had willingly trotted into. I still couldn’t pray properly but I held on to my Rosary beads for the Christmas Wreath for as long as I could. I forced myself to sink my spirit into gratitude, for the merry laughter of my children as they helped with baking, for the shared stove as my husband and I cooked together.

          There was no miracle lifting of the cloak of thorns that had formed from my early Sunday hours. Yet, slowly and surely, the pricking dissipated, taking with it any happiness I had within me but also leaving my spirit in an undisturbed stillness.

          It was then that an old question welled up in me again, What is the sin that can never be forgiven, that which is called Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

          And with it, formed a sobering reply:

The hardened conscience.

A hardening that is neither sudden nor forced, but which begins with a personal, willful deafening and blindness to the Call of God to love and to obey. One turning away followed by the next. Slowly, stealthily, relentlessly.

          I looked back over the old, gone hours of the day, this time seeing what I had not comprehended. I saw the people I had met. The old woman who always had compliments for my husband and I, but whose sugared tongue and carved smile served as a front for a begging to feed a hidden habit. The relative with the cheerful words and hard eyes who now hastened to get away from us because we once chose our marriage and family over him. The woman who sneered at her husband’s simplicity, honesty and gentle love over the years and who refused to care for him in his declining years because she believed he had no right to be ill and to visit that suffering upon her. Who led her daughter by silent example to do the same to her own husband decades later.

          I thought of parents who chose their children over Jesus. And of children, now adults, returning that teaching by choosing loves over Jesus.

          I saw what was not obvious before. Every one of it was the hardening of the conscience. The killing of the Light.

          And God had allowed me to be touched by air stained by that hardening.

          As a warning to me that all sin begins with a single No, and that neither I nor anybody is exempt from the danger of losing our souls. And through this warning and personal repentance, that I would be pierced with His sorrow and seek to console Him.

          The Christmas Rosary~Wreath beckons for its next bloom. Gone are the schmaltzy ideas for it that I had entertained, for the antidote for the hardening of the conscience is not pretty or whimsical. The Wreath calls for blooms of perseverance, humility and obedience. To suffer loving when it is hardest.

          Hard~flowers as a gift for the King.

 

 

 

Day of the Sun

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Prayer for Protection from Despair
by St. Claude de la Colombiere

Lord, I am in this world to show Your mercy to others.
Other people will glorify You
by making visible the power of Your grace
by their fidelity and constancy to You.
For my part I will glorify You
by making known how good You are to sinners,
that Your mercy is boundless
and that no sinner no matter how great his offences
should have reason to despair of pardon.
If I have grievously offended You, My Redeemer,
let me not offend You even more
by thinking that You are not kind enough to pardon Me.

          On this morning which night rains have rendered green and silver, the last three lines of the prayer settle gently but deeply, pressed by an Unseen hand into my spirit. The lines go beyond a nudge towards humility. They hold a meaning deeper than caution.

          The last three lines tell me the little trees have meaning. Wee trees, always hidden before, that have suddenly, and oddly, stood out in the forests of my every days. As I coursed through the busy hours of each day, these little trees caught my attention, but when pursued, misted out of discernment’s reach.

          These trees were sometimes random words. Words that caught my heart in a fleeting vice of cold. Pines. Palms. Bridge. Snake. Flood. Hills. Wedding garments. Wedding feast. They were colours. Bright orange. Red. Black. Numbers. 370. 10. 2017. They were certain birdcalls. Warm, robust winds that occasionally rendered my heart and spirit still and watchful.

          The smell of roses when there were none. Bits and bites of dreams becoming reality.

          Sudden, unexpected occasions of contrition.

If I have grievously offended You, My Redeemer,
let me not offend You even more
by thinking that You are not kind enough to pardon Me.

          These last words press into my faltering spirit the urgency of repentance and conversion and the grace of unwavering faith. They tell me I have not misinterpreted the speed of events unfolding, that I have not overreacted.

          The Day of the Sun is indeed coming. The winds of that Sun are already here. I have begun to pray a prayer I have never before prayed.

           That our lamps be trimmed in readiness. That I and everyone I hold in my heart be not taken by surprise.

          And finally, that in the aftermath of the Illumination of Conscience, love prevails over despair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

His Wounds Be Mine

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          Almost a year ago, a family member upset me so deeply with some news that I struggled mightily with prayer afterwards. Prayer seemed so very difficult.

          It was then, that by some inspiration, my heart found a prayer to Mother Mary, a prayer born of my helplessness ~

I bind my heart to Yours

          Since that day, that prayer has become like an old friend. I’ve gone ever so often to it whenever I am overwhelmed by anger or despair. I’ve ‘given’ it away to those in need as well, because in those six words is a Hand held out to us as we are tossed madly about in the heart of the sea, breakers and billows passing over us.

          This year, just recently, Susan Skinner wrote a blog post, Trinity of Hearts and it brought back memories of I bind my heart to Thee. She wrote of a vision of a trinity of Three hearts that she had been given in prayer – Jesus’, Mary’s and ours – and of God’s words to her.

          When I read that post, the words swirled before me. I understood the words and yet, did not understand their meaning. But that image of the three hearts stayed with me. A short time later, my spirit in the desert, I recalled Susan’s vision. And I figured perhaps that was what I needed to pray: that my heart be placed between the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to form a trinity, to glorify God. I felt that I could do nothing till I did that.

          I’d be lying if I said I understood what I was about to do; I understood nothing.

          So, I said the prayer one time. Listlessly. I press my heart to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Then, maybe a few days later, the prayer ‘came before me’ again, and I said it and it felt different. My spirit no longer felt dead, unresponsive. Buoyed by hope of coming alive again, I not only pressed my heart to form that Trinity but that of others too – family, co-workers, superiors at work.

          Almost immediately, I was rewarded with a piercing, a thorn through my heart, by someone whose heart I had pressed into Jesus’ and Mary’s.

          The pain was not severe but enough to dim the joy~light in my heart.

          I recovered soon enough. And today, during my morning prayers, I once more pressed hearts into Jesus’ and Mary’s.

          Once more, immediately, a new piercing.

          That was when I made the connection. I was being wounded every time I placed hearts into the blessed Chalice. With each wounding, I was having to fight myself and my inclinations to cut others just as they had done to me. Each time, I saw my soul as God might see it. Not a pretty sight.

          I wish I could say that what I saw humbled me. That the illumination  drove me back to God with a renewed vigour born of repentance.

          It didn’t. I wasn’t afraid of the prayer but I did shrink from it. No one wants to be hurt. We want to go out into the world and conquer it for Christ. We want to emerge triumphant. Not hurt and wounded, cast aside and in need of binding. That doesn’t fit the portrait of a Christian warrior in a Lepanto battle.

          But it does a broken reed. And Jesus was that reed.

          So, who was I to reject the call of the Broken Reed?

          God knew the very minute my spirit was bending to His Divine Will. He brought me another prayer, to ask if I would trust in Him ~

Holy Mother, grant this of yours,
that the wounds of the Crucified be well-formed
in my heart.

Grant that the punishment of Your wounded Son,
so worthily suffered for me,
may be shared with me.

Let me sincerely weep with You,
bemoan the Crucified,
for as long as I live.
To stand beside the cross with You,
and for me to join You
in mourning, this I desire.

When my body dies,
grant that to my soul is given
the glory of paradise.

          I didn’t want this wounding. I was sick of this suffering. There never seemed to be an end in sight. I was fed up of being hurt, of seeing my family being stoned. Fed up of being misunderstood and maligned. Fed up of fighting myself. Fed up of living in joylessness of what tomorrow held.

          I wanted the glory of paradise and I wanted it now. To savour it alive on this earth – not in the life to come.

          But who was I to reject the call of the Reed?

          Once more, God knew the second I accepted the Wounds of Christ in my heart. He took me back to Susan’s post, Trinity of Hearts. And the mists that were there before were no more.

          The broken hearts of the faithful will be repaired with the thorns of suffering.

          I understood what I hadn’t before. That I will see Heaven only when I am pierced by the very same thorns that pierced my Lord.

          Wounds of the Crucified

          Be well-formed in my heart.

 

 

 

Gambler

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          On Sunday, the 1st of October, I think I sensed a slight tug towards an 8 day Jesuit retreat. By way of spiritual tugs, this must rate as one of the lightest yet for me. Nevertheless, I followed it, researched Jesuit retreats online and all because I thought I needed to begin that day or at the very latest, the next day.

          But I came up empty. I saw things, I read up but the prompts dried up immediately. Then, I prayed to St Francis of Assisi for help as I sensed this retreat was in some way linked to this saint.

          Because in recent days he had come very strongly to tell me to Quieten Down, Listen Up.

         It’s been some days and the wind has remained silent. Another round of poking through the Internet earlier today came up empty as well. When I tried to force the discernment, I could feel an instant inner drying. So, I backed off.

         Until a short while ago. I was watching the news reports on the Las Vegas shootings and heard the word ‘Gambler’ used to describe the shooter.

         Gambler.

          My heart went still. It would be the second time I was hearing that since that incident after Mass 2 weeks ago with my relative. Right after that unpleasantness, an unseen hand began to press that word into my spirit. I didn’t catch on initially but the minute I did, the anger and shock over what had happened retreated into the background. My feelings no longer mattered as much because I knew I was beholding something far worse.

         I turn the word over in my mind. What do I do with this discernment? Pray? Meditate? What? Again, the winds retreat and I am left without an answer.

           If I am meant to be on some retreat, maybe a silent retreat, if Gambler is somehow meant to flag off the start, then I must receive it even if mists cloud the discernment. I can think of no better way than to load up my prayer cart and go before the Miraculous Image.

          Today is the Feast day of St Francis of Assisi. Tomorrow will be St Faustina’s. I’ve called on both recently. I feel both close by today, yet they are not coming any closer. I turn my heart towards them and ask them to accompany me, to stay by my side, to intercede with me as I lay down my prayer cart and its sorrowful contents before the Lord.

         Gambler. Victims. Madness. Death. I press all into the Heart of Mercy.

Broken To Save

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          “And make sure you forgive.” Those were my friend, Susan Skinner’s firm words to me in her comments to my previous post, Unbeliever. I had written about a hurtful experience with a relative on the day of my child’s First Holy Communion. Our child had received Jesus for the first time. During Mass, we saw something we hadn’t expected to experience and we were deeply affected by what had happened. While this man surely did not know of our experience, for sure he saw how preoccupied we were with our little one on such a meaningful day, but instead of rejoicing with us and heaven, used it to his advantage and backed us into a corner.

          When I saw Susan’s words later, And make sure you forgive, my instant self-assured reaction was, Sure I can, nothing to it.

          But the very next second, I wasn’t so sure. I no longer heard Susan’s voice; a Supreme Being was speaking through my friend. Still trying to believe that I didn’t have a problem forgiving this man, I imagined seeing him again at church and set up the scene in my mind.

          I found myself running into the church to hide from him. And after Mass, I saw myself running into the car to escape bumping into him.

          I knew then that I had a problem forgiving this relative.

          So, I plunged headlong into prayer. I tried to fashion the words for it. I came up short. Later, in Susan’s post, Dreams and Preparation, I saw this prayer:

Lord, send your Holy Spirit to convict …. repent of their sins,…..confessing them to their priest.

          Is that for me? I gave it a go.

          Truth be told, I could say the prayer only once before I fell from the weight of it. Even the prayer for the grace to forgive seemed lighter than this. This other prayer was heavy. I’ve never experienced this. It was not due to reluctance on my part. It was not because I wanted to say another prayer. It oddly felt like a heavy door.

          And that it was not my place to push it open.

          Yet, I didn’t sense it was the wrong prayer.

          So, I did the next best thing. I did what I could do: I loaded this relative onto my prayer cart. Then, I loaded in my sinfulness and every difficulty I had in dealing with this situation, especially the struggle to forgive. I asked for His Mercy (I loaded that too). All weekend, I filled up the prayer cart because I didn’t have the words. I couldn’t come up with a simple prayer sentence; I couldn’t even read one with my heart even if I saw it.

          But I was not troubled. I knew it was in Good Hands.

          Arriving at Mass the next Sunday, I forced myself to look out for this person – as a way of fighting my real desire to run and hide from him. But I didn’t see him. I must say I entered church with more than a little relief.

          There, I dropped to my knees. Fixing my gaze on the Miraculous Image, I told my Lord,

Lord, I set down my prayer cart before Thee.

          Then, I sat back and waited for Mass to begin.

          Our parish priest had never been even a minute late for Mass but this time he was. Minutes ticked by and the congregation became slightly restless, with many turning to the back to see if Fr had entered. My thoughts still on my prayer cart contents, I kept my gaze forwards but I heard the distinct bang of the confessional doors. I knew then what had delayed the priest.

          Soon, the Mass began.

          Right after Mass, the relative who had hurt us sought out my husband. Uh oh, I thought.

          “My mother had a fall last Sunday after Mass,” he announced and went on to describe his 90 year old mother’s condition. She was unhurt but shaken.

          I wish I could say that my concern immediately shifted to the poor woman. It didn’t. Too full of myself, I instead held my breath, waiting for the axe to fall. But nothing of that sort happened. We soon parted. There was no apology but neither did he make any attempt to twist us back to where he had us the previous Sunday.

          Genuine thankfulness filled me over this conclusion; I had merely tried to forgive him as best as I could. God had done the rest. That was enough for me. It didn’t matter that our relationship would forever be marked by the wound of caution. I didn’t feel like asking for more, because my thoughts were now on something else the wind had rested on my ears.

          And what I heard troubled me.

          Deep in my pots later that night, my husband sauntered into the kitchen. We chatted about the day again. After a short pause, he asked me if I had noticed that our priest that day had been late in starting the Mass. When I nodded absently, I sensed him hesitate. Then, he asked me if I knew why.

          Someone had gone to him for Confession, I replied.

          Do you know who? my husband pressed, watching me carefully.

          I shook my head, puzzled over the line of questioning. My husband is the last person on earth to keep tabs on others, much less take attendance at the Confessional doors, so I didn’t know where he was going with this.

          It was him, said hubby.

          I almost leapt at my husband, pot, scrub pad and all, so great was my shock and excitement and incredulity. So many go for Confession, yet I could not name a single person despite years of being a parishioner here because it is simply not something I keep a look out for, much less brand into my memory. But that day, both my husband and I had been alerted in different ways to a stirring behind the door – the greatness of someone’s hidden humility to seek Jesus’ healing love.

          It matters not to me what had passed between our relative and the priest, if our matter had even been mentioned. For some reason, our unpleasant experience has diminished in its importance. The mere fact that that he had run to Jesus, considering all that had happened in the space of that week, both stunned and touched me deeply.

          And it placed the eyes of my heart squarely on the whispers the wind had brought me about this poor man’s hidden struggle. It told me why my husband and I had to suffer for that wee while.

        My relative’s problem(s) was the bigger rock, hitherto hidden. Our trouble with him was the light that fell on it and unmasked it. This time we were not called to pray this person to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That was why that prayer was so heavy. All that was asked of us was that we forgive him.

          I’ve heard many times that forgiveness frees both sides. However, till this time, all I knew personally was the healing and freedom I received when I forgave someone. This was the first time I saw the power of forgiveness at work on the other side away from me.

          For the first time, I learned with my heart that when I forgive, even wordlessly, in secret, or as part of an ongoing struggle, my forgiving becomes a key that unlocks the jail cell of the prisoner who has hurt me. Forgiving leads to healing – of forgiver and forgiven. And healing leads to conversion.

          I cannot see the wind of road ahead for this person. That sight is not afforded to me. But what I do see is that my husband and I had to suffer shock and hurt to save a soul, possibly that of a secret gambler.

          We were called to suffer briefly, to be bread broken, that through our forgiveness, a lost sheep might return to its rightful fold.

 

 

 

Unbeliever

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         Preparing for a moving and joyous family celebration this past Sunday, ‘something’ wasn’t happy. So, it sent its emissary – a relative – to trouble us, distract us from the miracle of the Eucharist. The person was successful in a sense, managing to upset my husband and I terribly, bringing us close to an argument on a Sunday of golden breezes, stilled spirits  and tickled hearts.

          It was a clear and direct attack on the family.

          We fought back. And our weapon was family too. We made it very, very clear that no one, not even relatives, could force us to put marriage and family on a lower rung of priorities just to accommodate the will of others.

          Given our response, this person will likely hesitate in future to go to where he had. I hope he does. Because despite being Catholic, a Communion minister at that, by what he did to us, he chose to kick Jesus into the gutter – right after Mass.

          It’s been a few days and I’m still not over it. It’s not the hurt so much as it is the utter shock of it. We never saw it coming, not from this friendly, cheery man who always had a sunny word and a stomach-in-a-stitch joke for everyone.

          Last night, the word ‘unbeliever’ popped into my mind.

          Seven years ago, after enduring years of a fun but very, very tumultuous friendship, I awakened to days and days of an unseen chorus of voices relentlessly chanting a caution to me:

Do not be yoked with unbelievers.

          Day and night, hour after hour, there was no escaping the ceaseless chant. The fold of hours into days did nothing to diminish the urgency and insistence of this unseen clamour. I went to sleep and I awakened with those voices in my ear.

Do not be yoked with unbelievers.

Do not be yoked with unbelievers.

Do not be yoked with unbelievers.

          Just as it is now, so it was then. A staunch, church-going Catholic friend from my university days had fallen into a pattern of abusing our friendship. Only when the blade of her knife came too close to my family did I realize this was not how someone who loved Jesus treated others. True love does not begrudge someone her closeness to her family.

          True love will never allow one to stealthily usurp the first place marriage and family occupies in another’s life.

          I left that friendship once it sunk into me that there was nothing to go back to.

          But I did not completely understand the word unbeliever, never liked it even. In the community I work and live in, I am often referred to as an unbeliever simply because I am Christian and no one else is. Yet, seven years ago, this word was brought to my spirit as a warning.

          Now, seven years since, unbeliever has returned like mist, the reminder at once gentle and sorrowful. As if someone knows I have need to reacquaint myself with it despite the pain and bewilderment it will once more bring. 

          This time I did not sidestep the teaching.

          An unbeliever is a Christian who bears the mark of the beast. Because he has rejected Truth. I do not know if the unfortunate soul is spiritually dead, but I know with a deep certainty it means he is on his way there.

          Because he once chose Jesus and lived Christ’s life but has now disowned the Lord. Something else has entered the heart where Jesus once lived. The human will has embraced this entity but disowned our Lord and His teachings. It is not about the occasional lapses of conscience, of the random missing of the moral mark that almost everyone is guilty of. It is much, much more than that.

          It concerns a deliberate and calculated casting aside of Christ’s teachings – either through a dilution, a misrepresentation or a distortion. There’s a first time, then a second. One dismissal leading to the next distortion. And finally a rapid spiraling away from Truth towards death.

          A hardened conscience. Spiritual death.

          I believe that God has bade me understand through this connivance of our family member, that the unbeliever can be anyone who claims to be a Christian. He can even  be a pillar of the Church. He might come across as spiritually superior. Enlightened. Progressive. 

          A face seemingly set in the direction of the sun.

          But in the deepest folds of his spirit, hides the ice he swears allegiance to : that he does not accept Jesus. That Jesus’ teachings hold little true value for him because they contradict the worldly values he lives by.

          He believes himself to be a Christian. In reality, he is a Christian shaped by deceit.

          For the unbeliever, the life Christ lived which He wrote with His Blood on every human heart is no longer relevant in these modern times. Christ’s and His apostles’ lives might only be something to be recalled during Mass, read about in daily readings or an act he emulates to put on display for others his Christian-ness, but those principles are not lived in sincerity in the everydays of his real life.

           I remember a day years back, when we went to this same relative’s home. It was for a quiet get-together after a requiem Mass for his late wife, a beautiful soul, who had passed away a month before. There we caught up with his extended family, and it was a day of subdued cheer for they were a friendly lot.

          And yet, I remember a faint chill in that home. In that company. It was as if behind the smiles and friendliness and Bible-toting, eyes watched us. Eyes not theirs. I remember smiling and going along with the cheery banter, yet wanting to leave and feeling relief when we did. I thought it was just me and my social awkwardness. But it is slowly dawning on me that perhaps it wasn’t. What I had sensed that day in that home where a heart of gold once beat was not solely the chill of grief for the deceased. The pall of death extended beyond the physical. Only now do I see it.

          It was not mere loss that our spirits brushed against. It was the cold of a fading conscience.

          The beginnings of the mark of the unbeliever.

 

         

 

 

Parting the Mists

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         September brought the inevitable drying of my spirit again. I knew it had come when every time a light lit up for me and I went to it, the dry would touch me and what I thought was there would disappear. Over and over, it happened, like the touch-me-nots that close in on themselves the minute they are touched. Every prayer direction, every prayer itself, would close itself away from me just as I reached out to embrace it.

          I didn’t understand what God was trying to tell me. I am more than familiar with the spiritual aridity God has allowed for me for some years now. I know it from the signs. Exactly the desert. Devoid of almost everything.

          But this time it was different. I was being shown signs. Little lights that came and almost immediately receded out of sight. The signs stayed only as long as it took me to notice them, and then, they were gone.

          St Jude. The Illumination of Conscience. St Michael. Pray for protection. St Jude. Seven Sorrows Rosary.

          Nonetheless, I took each one and its call to heart. I followed every light in what little obedience I could summon. I followed them despite doubts. I followed them despite the absence of consolation that it was the right thing to do.

          Yet, I remained troubled at the briefness of each praying period and the quick change to another prayer. I was afraid that I wasn’t discerning the signs right. I was afraid that ‘something else’ might be fooling with me, making me tear down after each light so that I would soon be breathless, frazzled  and distracted.

          But I wasn’t. I wasn’t out of breath. I wasn’t frazzled. I wasn’t distracted. Despite the rapid shifts in spiritual calls I was seeing, alongside the inner aridity, coexisted a strange calm and deep quiet. Dryness and water impossibly together.

          Church matters required that my family be at church on Saturday. There, a complete stranger, a lapsed Catholic married to a non-Christian, sought my company. She was hurting deeply. The kids were a problem. Money was a problem. Intense business rivalry had cost her her business. She had only come to our Catholic parish to send her non-Catholic kids to a free coaching programme.

          She had interrupted me in the midst of my task and I had to force myself to focus fully on this woman pouring her heart out to me. I covertly traced crosses on myself that I say nothing to upset her further, that I add nothing to her already immense burdens and fears. As the words tumbled out of her, I was much aware of the Our Lady of Lourdes statue that loomed high above the grotto behind this woman. Glancing at the statue, I silently prayed that I be emptied of myself. Emptied so that Mother Mary could touch this woman in her sorrows through me. I asked for Mother’s words. I asked for Mother’s touch.

          Desperate to help this poor woman, I gently suggested Holy water. I gently turned the woman towards the Rosary. The sprinkling of Holy Water and the recitation of the Rosary, even just gripping it without the words, were my own, habits formed from pain and sorrow and fears much like this stranger’s. But steering this lady towards them, I felt we were going nowhere. I didn’t feel Mother Mary’s power course through me. I didn’t feel that my words had come from heaven. So, I stopped trying to turn her towards those life-savers. Instead, I said our goodbyes, I gave her my promise: I would pray for her.

          And her aching reply to me was, Don’t forget my name.

          Later, I discovered that the coaching programme this woman had come to church to send her kids to was run by the St. Vincent de Paul society members of our church. I had known of this outreach to the poor, but had forgotten about it.

          Yet, the moment I heard the name St Vincent de Paul, I felt it tug at my spirit.

          Short hours later, I entered the empty church for some quiet time. I looked at the big Divine Mercy image before me and remembered I had a load of prayer needs. So, I went before my Lord and set down my prayer cart filled with the needs and aches – both mine and of others, including the distraught stranger’s. I pressed her name to Jesus’s Heart.

          After a time, I got up to leave. About to go out the church door, I spied a small booklet tucked into one of the pew kneelers. Curious, I picked it up. It was on the various Marian apparitions. There was a brief list of them – Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, Knock and Akita. The Akita apparitions caught my attention. I still had time, so I sat down to read about it.

          Instead of Akita, my searching fingers stopped at the Rue du Bac Marian apparitions experienced by St. Catherine Labouré. She had been a young nun of the order of the Daughters of Charity.

          The order had been started by St. Vincent de Paul.

          Honestly, honestly, had I not heard of the apostolate of the same name earlier, had I not left my work to give my full attention to that distraught and searching stranger, had I not remembered her name to God as I had promised, St. Vincent de Paul wouldn’t have sunk in as deeply, and I would have skipped this read and gone on to the Akita  apparitions.

          But St. Vincent de Paul had felt much like all the other lights of September, perhaps more so. Coming twice in the space of such short hours, there was a firmness to it that my spirit was alerted to. So, I read on about Rue du Bac apparitions which I thought I knew pretty well.

          It turned out I had more to learn. I was surprised when in it I found answers to my most recent queries. I had been asking God for some days if I had discerned the prayer calls right. Prayer wasn’t coming easy and the flitting from one prayer call to another had me in spiritual jitters. I had even wondered if that meant I needed to do something other than just pray, if I needed to stop.

          And there in that little book was a line that caught my heart: …..Mary offered advice to the young woman, including the need to rely on prayer

          It was a commonplace sentence but the way it fell into my heart told me those were no mere words. They were Heaven’s answers to my September seeking. It was waiting for me in that little book on Mother Mary’s appearances to those on earth. 

          I was led to it by St. Vincent de Paul.

          Suddenly, those all those little random lights of before right up to this day didn’t seem disconnected nor so little any more. Every one of those were like the touch-me-nots my lens had caught in August, steering me away from what should not be my focus, towards the vital stones that were set in the footpaths of this September that I was being called to tread.

          Those lights were not distractions. They were not misread. That was why even as I thought I was being rushed from one port of call to another, I didn’t feel torn or stretched, despite the absence of consolation that I was doing what was right.

           I went home a happy woman that day. God had answered me and I was all ready to return to prayer with a renewed and refreshed vigour.

          As the sable breezes of night began to sing their hymns, the Marian apparitions of Rue du Bac appeared once more before me. This time, I was led to Mother Mary’s appearance in the 2nd apparition.

She was standing on top of a white globe, which only the superior area was seen, and she was crushing a green serpent with yellow dots. Her hands where elevated to her hearts height and she was holding another small globe of gold, crown with a cross. The Virgin Mary had a supplicant attitude, as if offering the globe….

…..The (white) globe at Her feet: the sin of the world… The globe in Her hands: the world offered to Jesus through Her hands.        

–       http://www.piercedhearts.org/treasures/shrines/miraculous_medal.htm

          White globe…..superior area…seen…the words settled on my heart and awakened a memory.

          A memory of a dream. A dream of a huge white map in a blue sky.

          A year ago on the 28th of October, on the feast of St Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases, I had a dream of walking on a street. It felt like an old part of some European town. The streets were clean and narrow, the buildings that lined it almost colonial, clean and whitewashed. There was an old feel to the streets.

          Then, I looked up and saw an impossibly huge, startling white map of the world spread out in the bluest of cloudless skies. My attention seemed to be riveted towards Africa. After the initial shock, I rather quickly dismissed the map and continued my walk even as the map remained suspended in the sky. 

          Suddenly I turned to the back and saw a big, equally white statue of Our Lady on the road kerb behind me. Immediately, I looked back up at the white map in the sky.

          And I was now seized with a deep fear of what that map meant.

          The dream continued to a second part.

          I was in the compound of a little, green church. Interiorly, I knew it to be a St Jude parish. It was crammed full of happy, peaceful and charitable people; there seemed to be standing room only. A cousin saw me and smiled at me. It felt like she was trying to tell me all was well. After a while, I moved to leave.

          As I was leaving the church, I felt these words impressed upon me ~

Pray for others.

          Soon after that dream, I sought the counsel of my confessor. He advised me to move on from my present prayers. He told me to pray for Africa since it seemed to hold my attention through the map.

          I obeyed my confessor immediately. I lashed myself to this prayer call and gave it my all. Through the ebb and flow of almost a year, I have forced and forced myself to pray for Africa.

          Yet, every time I prayed this way, I felt an inner resistance. Initially, I put it down to reluctance to go beyond the intercessory borders familiar to me. After months of struggling, I sensed it might not be mere reluctance. It felt like something else was holding me away from the prayer. So I prayed to be guided.

          Today, I think the Rue du Bac apparitions have cleared the mists a little. The white globe in the Rue du Bac apparition is the white map in my dream.

          St Jude is the key to this certainty. St Jude’s coming to me in August through September in the quiet and prompt way he answered the cry of my heart over one of my children, is the tinkle of a silver bell. God could have sent any one of my favourite saints, or even a new one. But He chose St Jude – because he was linked to the white map of my dream. It was his voice I heard in the second half of the dream: Pray for others, telling me all I had prayed for before this were safe in his church, the little green church, and as my confessor discerned – in advance – it was time for me to move on.

          St Jude had come before October to get my attention through my family needs because he had another mission: it was time he heralded the time of the map to me.

          To seal my certainty of the links in this dream to the apparition is Our Lady of Rue du Bac Herself. I had always assumed She had appeared as OL of Fatima in my dream because She had been in white and I didn’t know of any other apparitions where She had appeared attired in this colour. However, in my dream, Her hands were not pressed together. She was in total white and her hands were spread out.

          This was how She had appeared in Her apparition to St Catherine Labouré. I see that only now. A bell is ringing through this little detail.

          At a time when the weather is raging at a world that dared to plunder and steal from Nature, at a time when we seem so broken and divided yet united in wanting to hurt one another, the dream of the white map has returned to the skies of my life. Little lights, one lit by the other, have illumined the footpath that has led to this moment.

           And I need to know what I am to do next.

          One thing is certain: It is not a knowing that I can summon imperiously. This knowledge of the path ahead will only come through obedience to fulfil in perfection the littlest of calls from Heaven.

          Just as before, it will be the depth of my obedience and humility in saying Yes to God that will light the next lamp, to part the mists of whatever lies ahead.

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Time of Littles

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          Towards the end of August, one day I stopped by the small vegetable patch we have on a wee slope at the end of our backyard, intending to take close-ups to be made into bookmarks for the kids. Everything was fresh and crowned with a vibrant green. Taking my time, I snapped two photos of the lushious vegetable plants from different angles, and delightedly went into the house to have a look at them.

          Both pictures barely caught the plants I wanted.

          Instead, staring at me from within the pool of green leaves was a tiny, pink mimosa pudica. From both angles, hardly any of the veggies I sought, but mighty clear shots of that tiny, spunky touch-me-not in its court of green, glaring up at me in all its pink defiance.

          One such picture can be a mistake; but two  – is a message.

Keep your eyes on the littles.

          I knew my interpretation was right when the next line I read was,

          Many spiritual undertones are concealed in little things.   ~   Entry 112, Divine Mercy in My Soul, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.