Obedience to God

Until He Comes

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Without a doubt, obedience is more meritorious than any other penance. And what greater penance can there be than keeping one’s will continually submissive and obedient?   ~  St. Catherine of Bologna

 

          When in doubt, when afraid, when the ground beneath heaves and shakes and cracks, even when angered, seek to obey the Will of God, St Catherine is saying to me. In the uncertainty of today’s news, when the mists swirl so thickly that I cannot make out anything, I know one thing: that I should not be out in the open, for the air is changing. I must retreat into the cave once more and stay there till it is time to come out. 

          Still, ever the inveterate busybody and meddler, I remain outside the cave, straining and trying to discern: is the news good? If so, in what way? But even as I ponder, I know I am where I should not be.

Thy Will for me be done, I pray. 

          I think of the cave and that I must retreat into it. How do I go back in, I wonder? Through the gates of obedience, the thought pops into my head as if in answer. Through the obedience of,

Until I arrive, …
Do not neglect the gift you have,
which was conferred on you …
Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them.

Keep your eyes on the Lord

          All the little lessons of the past weeks that make up the leaves on the tree of faith. I must return to them, that is the way back into the cave of waiting on the mountain of the Lord. And if I should imagine myself alone and without comfort nor company, I must only listen out for the wind, for, The wind is my sign, When the wind blows, know that I am with you, says the Mother of my Lord to me. I grip tighter the hand of Our Lady of Sorrows. Today, She has brought me unexpected news through a letter sent to someone in my organization. Knowing I will suffer in the uncertainty its contents bring, Mother lets me know the date of that letter – 15th of September, Her precious feast. Even if I cannot make out what lies ahead beyond this development, Mother is willing me to trust and wait through the obedience of all Her beloved Son, Jesus, has called me to.

          Till the earth stills and He comes.

 

Something Beyond the Bend

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He alone can see what lies beyond the bend.   ~   He by Richard Mullen

 

          At what should have been the start of a cheery week, we heard the sudden announcement that we are going into full lockdown yet again for a month. No dining out. No travelling beyond district lines. For us, that meant no trips to the city, no quiet moments in the church there, no forays to the garden centres – our newfound delight.

          But we comforted ourselves that at least, living in a huge district, we could still stuff everyone into the car and take our sunset drives out of town but still be within district boundaries. We had begun that practice about 2 months ago and all of us enjoyed that hour out of the house, driving along quiet country routes, the big sky purpling, making ready for its night. We’d set out with hearts full of thorns and along the way, drop each one by the wild wayside, returning with our spirits calmed and in order.

          Then, the government hit us with a 3-person cap on the number of people in a car – even if it’s from the same family. So, there went our drives too.

          I could feel my heart drying up around the edges. We had relatively simple needs as a family. With the pandemic worsening by the day in our country plus in a few others as well, we’ve given up all hope of a family holiday for the next 1 to 2 years. But we found that it’s something we could live with. With thanksgiving planted firmly into the soil of our hearts, we found that we could be happy in other ways. There were other joys for every one taken away from us.

          But to come home yesterday after one such happy, country-drive and to hear that even those little replacements had been snatched away is a blow that takes time to recover from. It is cruel because yet again, we are paying the price for the recklessness of others. While we have followed the rules, kept as safe as can be and kept others safe too, too many haven’t done the same.

          In the end, everyone gets punished.

          I retreated into myself to try and come to terms with this development. As I searched for God’s word which I may have missed, I remembered that for the past day or so, snippets of an old hymn had been sung into my inner ear.

He can turn the tides
And calm the angry sea.
He alone decides
Who writes a symphony.
He lights ev’ry star
That makes our darkness bright.
He keeps watch all through
Each long and lonely night.

          So, I sang the hymn in my head, tracing my heart over its lyrics, trying to find God’s voice in it for me.

He’ll always say, “I forgive.”

          I groaned a little. I wanted answers. I wanted comfort. Not another exhortation to forgive heaven knows who. The fact that I wasn’t angry with anyone made it harder to figure out who God wanted me to forgive.

          Maybe I’m just imagining it, I told myself. Maybe, ‘I forgive’ isn’t for me.

          But those 2 little words wouldn’t leave me. Like the tinkle of a distant tiny~bell, they chimed quietly from afar through the following day. So, I sent up a quick prayer to forgive all who had hurt me. I pictured a couple of faces and figured, it must be one of them.

          A little deeper into the morning, my youngest child unexpectedly annoyed me with her schoolwork. I was sick and tired of having to tell her the same thing over and over and I felt that I needed to get really strict with her as it had gone on for too long. Working through the laundry with sharp, angry movements, I sifted through my options for action before I went to her.

          Then, more out of habit than any real obedience or humility, I turned it over to God. Tell me what to do, I shot my arrow in the direction of heaven – and promptly turned away.

I forgive

sang a voice in my ear. Blithely – and a tad cheekily.

          In an instant, in one swift second, all my anger evaporated! God wanted me to forgive her! I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe how fast my anger disappeared – and more so that the hymn in my ear was for something like this, something pretty minor in the grand scheme of things!

          Suddenly, the coming of the hymn, He, made sense. Getting annoyed with my child seemed such a trivial thing against everything else that was happening in our land. Yet, the angels had brought His voice and His word to me early. Because even as our country shook, God clearly didn’t want me drying myself out looking beyond our fence at whatever was beyond my control.

          A short while later, helping my child with her studies again, nary a trace of residual anger remained. Because of that, I had a little girl eager to learn from her mistakes.

          Sometime in the afternoon, on our final day of freedom before the lockdown took effect, I wondered how the year would end. Whatever we built seemed to be crumbling and breaking. Nothing seemed to last.

          Slowly, I became aware of the hymn, He, floating by once more. This time, it didn’t pause but like a lone traveller along a country road, it gently went on its way, leaving it to me to decide to follow it or not.

Who do I have to forgive now, I wondered.

          Curious, I reached out and opened my heart to its lines once more.

          This time, something else was laid upon my heart.

He alone can see
What lies beyond the bend.

Lent 17 ~ Give Me A Sign

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          The bell of the Annunciation has chimed thrice in the last 7 days. My daughter unexpectedly reminded us about it last week. Yesterday, the priest informed the congregation of the special Mass times for the Feast. And this morning, a commenter wished me, Happy Annunciation  Day.

          Since 2016, the Feast of the Annunciation has chimed a special, hidden bell within my soul. That year, in the month of July, I had a strange experience. I was trying to gift Our Lady with a Joyful Mystery Rosary when She put out Her hand and gently restrained me to the First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation.

          And then, She spoke 10 words,

The event of the Warning will begin with the Annunciation

          Will begin with. For the first time then, I was faced with the likelihood that the Warning or the Illumination of Conscience was not merely to be a single, sudden event; it was also to be like a flower bud, going towards its full bloom, petal by petal unfurled. It was clearly imprinted on my heart that this unfurling of the Warning – for me – would begin in 2017. This has led me to believe that many people would have had the same experience – but with different dates.

          Today, on the Feast of the Annunciation, remembering the signs of the Warning I have received, the First Reading stuns me:

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”   ~   Isaiah 7: 10 – 12

Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God

God is commanding Ahaz to ask for a sign. In my simpleton’s understanding of that line, God is actually asking Ahaz to move beyond his fear and tremulous faith, to put out into the deep, and to boldly ask God for His illumination.

let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky

This Illumination which God is commanding Ahaz to ask for will be a paradox. To some, this illumination will be the rainbow of all rainbows, high in the skies, beyond the sight of hope and expectation, an unexpected fire of joy. But to others, the illumination will bring severe pain, piercing to the very depths of all that has been secret thus far.

But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”  

          That was my exact answer when I first read the words of Isaiah 7 this morning, Ask for a sign.

I will not ask!

To ask is to be curious about what is to come.

To ask is to return to what I was before – painting my own picture of hope.

I will not ask!

I will not ask!

I will not ask!

          Then, the words of the Responsorial Psalm came before me,

Sacrifice or oblation You wished not,
but ears open to obedience You gave me.   ~   Psalm 40: 7

God reminded me of the change I have committed to – which includes moving from mere sacrifice to the sacrifice of obedience.

          The obedience of not just asking for a sign – which may return me to who I was before – but to Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God.

          And so, on this Feast of the Annunciation, I seek Mary’s fiat to obedience.

Give me a sign, O Lord,

From You

And You alone.

 

 

 

Lent 2 ~ A Coming Land

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If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
loving Him, and walking in His ways,
and keeping His commandments, statutes and decrees,
the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. ~
   Deuteronomy 30: 16

          There’s something about the times we are in. Susan Skinner of Veil of Veronica wrote about the widely held belief that we are in the end times. She explains simply and clearly why we have not yet arrived. We have a long way to go yet.

          I too believe that the end of the world is not upon us, but that we are coming to the end of something. The violence of the hours so many of us encounter each day speaks to this belief. However bad it was before, these recent years have been far worse. The pain, the frenzy, the struggles.

          The confusion.

          But there’s been something else too, alongside the darkness and drought: wellsprings of hidden graces, surprise oases in the interminable stretches of deserts.

          This year, someone has leading me more often and more quickly to these oases. Now, no matter how much I get torn up, I come upon these hidden healing springs quicker than ever.

          The pessimistic coward in me fears that this too will some day come to an end, that one day I’ll go looking and not find another spring such as this because good times never seem to last for me, why should now be any different?

          Yet, every time fear tries to flavor my time by these springs of hope and healing, I find myself resisting its old claws. Bible verses and parables come to mind, words spoken by prophets and soldiers of this earth gird my faltering steps in strength. And so, I resist fear.

If you obey

the Lord your God

will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

 

          I’ve lived for too long in the shadow of fear. It’s time to find another address.

 

 

 

Unheeded

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“It’s important that we listen for the voice of God.”

          Those were the words of the pilot of the plane that safely took off from Palu Airport on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, minutes before the horrific Sept 28 earthquake and tsunami.

          Pilot Mafela had been feeling uneasy all of that Friday before he landed the plane on that island. He was so troubled that he recited the 23rd psalm and began to loudly sing songs of praise as he taxied the plane to a landing.

          Then, his anxiety unabated, he requested permission to take off 3 minutes ahead of time. He cut short the turnaround time to 20 minutes and didn’t even leave the cockpit during that time. As they were taking off, the pilots saw the runway bend and wave like a curtain blowing in the wind.

          They were 3 minutes ahead of schedule and those 3 minutes saved them.

          But Captain Mafela is more specific. He credits the prompting of the Holy Spirit for this miracle escape.

“It’s important that we listen for the voice of God.”

          That twin tragedy of earthquake and tsunami occurred on the 28th of September. On the 28th of October began a storm devastation like no other in parts of Italy. Flash floods took lives, large swathes of forest land were flattened and hundreds of cars at a port awaiting export caught fire and were destroyed. Long time residents say they have never experienced such a thing in their decades of living in those places. Listening to survivor accounts, from Indonesia to Italy, some adjectives echo.

Apocalyptic

Unexpected

          But I believe that in both countries, there would have been those, like Captain Mafela, who heard a whisper in their spirits. Who heeded that whisper. And escaped. Not all would have heard – some because that whisper never came to them, others because noises dulled its pleading.

          But those that did hear and who obeyed were either saved themselves or the whisper in their spirits was that they warn others whose lives were ultimately saved. People lived because someone had listened and obeyed.

          This year, especially from August, I’ve had one upheaval after another. This is no way compares to the natural disasters experienced the world over. But reading the signs meant for me in Indonesia and in Italy specifically, I suddenly see that the losses I have suffered from August were in fact a removal of noise.

          Chances of career advancement were diminished. I lost a turbulent friendship of 20 years. I am losing my place of belonging at my workplace.

          With each loss, I sink deeper into the earth. It feels like I am leaving the light and being forced into shadows and darkness. But suddenly today, it’s beginning to dawn on me that I am interpreting it all wrong.

          I am being removed from the noise.

          Because noise doesn’t just come from stress, distractions and unnecessary busyness. It is also in initiatives to reach out to those who do not want our help or who demand of us in order to abuse. Noise in found in destructive friendships. In bullies who take over our ears and diminish peace in us. Noise also comes from seemingly good aspirations such as to earn money for the family, to seek a place or position where we can contribute better – but which are not willed by God for us.

          Noise is created when I hold on to what is not willed by God.

          And when God cuts me off from a person or a place or a hope, if I rebel in sorrow over that loss, I create a deafening pandemonium within my spirit.

          It builds up and drowns out what I need to hear.

          And the Spirit’s soft whisper goes unheeded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock the Boat Now

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          This past weekend, at a family get-together, I learned that the will of God is indeed a refuge in storms. My husband and I were confronted  with the choice between standing up for the faith, annoying people with our stand and perhaps creating a rift between family members and choosing to be silent to maintain peace, as well as not to be seen as over-reacting towards seemingly one-off dissents  against the Catholic faith.

          Trust me, it was far easier not to rock the boat. We were a close-knit clan and it didn’t seem wise to stir up unpleasantness – even if a family member was breaking the first Commandment of God – I am the Lord Thy God. Thou shall have no strange gods before Me. Besides, most other members had chosen the more agreeable response of respecting a personal choice than to respect God’s laws. It was all about freedom of choice. As long as we, my husband and I and our children respected God’s Commandments, why did it matter whether others did or did not?

          It did matter. Because, like it or not, we are our brother’s keeper.

          If it was about freedom, it was that I should be free to express without fear, my concerns for a Catholic who was increasingly distancing herself from the faith. And I should also be free to express my concerns about other family members who were choosing to look the other way on this issue just to keep the peace.

          Why shouldn’t I be free to respectfully articulate the Christian perspective on the issue at hand when our stand was questioned? Why shouldn’t I be free to ask someone to take a moment to think about what they were doing? Even if we were not Christians, if a loved one was moving apart from the family, wouldn’t we talk to the person? To ask the questions that needed to be asked? To express our fears, our concerns?

          Wouldn’t we do all that and more – whether within or outside the context of religion?

          And so, when we were faced with the choice either to speak up or to be silent, my husband and I said what we needed to say. Just calm, quiet statements. No badgering. No condemning. I don’t know if any other hearts will be steered to a different response in the days to come. I pray so, but that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Spirit moves my husband and I to speak up again, His Will for us now is that we pray.

          As we drove home from that family gathering, my heart and mind returned to what we had done, to the line we had drawn in the sand, and the lonely side we had chosen to stand on. Even if it were never raised in future gatherings, I am certain that line would forever stay between us, possibly as the first of more of such lines. In every pool of laughter and tender tightness of hugs, there will from now on be a shadow in many hearts because of our stand, because of this first line in the sand. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the sting of regret – not over what I had said – but over the necessary cut to this family I love.

          And yet, as I sifted through the pebbles of sadness, I realized a soft peace had spread over my heart. Even as I probed and prodded it, this gentle peace remained anchored firmly in place.

          That was when I understood. The Will of God is indeed a refuge in storms. We had done His Will this time. There was a price to pay for this obedience, for choosing the Will of God over the will of Man, but even as we paid it and hurt from doing it, He pressed His peace into our hearts.

         It is this peace that sealed the certainty in my heart that there are times when the boat of souls must be rocked. We cannot allow our hearts to be bribed by warmth of relationships and the worldly perception of peace to turn away from the bitter waters of God’s Will. If He stirs our spirits and gives us His words, then we must speak because He wants to speak through us.

          I can already sense a subtle chill in some of the winds as they coast over us. In a family that has always prided itself on maintaining respectful silence when disagreeing over an issue, we have broken ranks by choosing to speak.

          But true love of neighbor means that when the boat has to be rocked, it must be rocked.

 

 

 

 

         

Lent 35 ~ Obey

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As the wax which we place near the fire assumes any form we wish to give it, so the loving soul ought to obey as soon as her Beloved has spoken.   ~   St. Paul of the Cross

 

          This entire week, the word ‘obey’ has been before me. I spoke to my children about it, taught them its meaning, admonished where necessary. I met a friend at church. She was struggling with her marriage, planning to carve out a ‘new life’ for herself through social work that would give her the separation she needed from her husband. As I listened to her, I felt her pain. But I wondered too, What if, in trying to reclaim her life, she is moving away from the Will of God?

Obey.

          I had a brief encounter with a troubled boy who had no need of God in his life. With my sister-in-law who chose to live life on erring terms.

          I was more than troubled by the various disobedience. I was angry. I certainly had a lot to say about it.

          Yet, today, as the rose awakened the slumbering sable veils, St. Paul of the Cross came to tell me, the loving soul ought to obey as soon as her Beloved has spoken. I had been so preoccupied with the disobedience of other people that I forgot to examine my own conscience and check my own disobedience. I have a great decision  before me – amare nesciri to love to be unknown – and I have yet to make a firm commitment to it. It is my obedience to the Will of God that I need to focus on – first and foremost. When I see people around me rebelling, if the Spirit presses me to an action, then to it I must go.

          But that does not exempt me from placing my own obedience beneath His gaze, so that I too may not be found wanting.

          I turn the eyes of my spirit towards amare nesciri. Those are the words that will seal my hermitage. Even if I am not discernibly moved, I know that the moment I say the words, there will be no turning back.

          I feel no resistance within me and yet, I stop at the gates, unable to go on.

          And then, going past myself, I say the words that don’t want to come forth.

Thy Will be done.

 

 

 

 

LENT 38 ~ Not My Sword To Wield

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          Two days ago, my peace was attacked by someone who has caused me grievous pain before, and it sent me out of kilter for a time. I gazed back on the many miles I’ve come since escaping this darkness. I saw the healing and joy my husband, children and I have come to as a family since then, and I felt anger that this person had re-emerged to chain me up again.

          I decided enough was enough, and determined to put an end to this emotional and mental hegemony, once and for all.

          I had it all planned and was on the brink of carrying it out when these words came, borne of Light:

No action undertaken on your own, even though you put much effort into it, pleases Me.  ~ #Entry 659, St Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy In My Soul.

          I was discomfited. Why would the Lord say such a thing to me? He, more than anyone else, knew exactly what my family and I endured for so many long, dark years. And we had been mired in that muck of a maelstrom because I failed to do what was right for my husband and children – I failed to put them first.

          Fear had come first.

          My beautiful family came a distant, inferior second – because I allowed fear to set the terms of life for us all.

          I didn’t deserve to be a mother and a wife if I allowed the past to become our present and future all over again.

          He countered me: 

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

          It is in My Passion …..

          My anger slowed and stilled. At any other time, those words might not have seared as deeply, but to hear them at the beginning of the holiest of journeys, I knew I had been summoned to the presence of God. I was being shown that the road ahead no longer merely curved and crooked as it had before .

          It now forked. Into Life and Death.

          I was being called to decide where my tread would henceforth take me.

          All I wanted was to set right a wrong – protect my family as I never did before. Now, I was being asked to lay down my weapon as danger took another step closer.

Know, My daughter, that although I was raised to the dignity of Mother of God, seven swords of pain pierced My heart. Don’t do anything to defend yourself; bear everything with humility; God Himself will defend you. ~ #Entry 786, St Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy In My Soul.

          My Heavenly Mother reached in and took the fight out of me. I put down my sword as bidden.

          It is not mine to hold and wield.

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LENT 36 ~ Empty Your Cup

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          Empty your cup, said the Lord to me, as I flew headlong into the sullen morning that awaited me in the impatience of a hundred tasks. I arrived at work to the news that some people had made foolish decisions that impacted me. Their actions put paid to the hours of work I had put in.

          The light of justified anger flashed.

          Empty your cup, said the Lord instead.

          Stood a long while staring at what lay broken before me. Tempted to rage, I took a deep breath and sighed, and went on to other matters.

           Soon, I found myself in something else. The stubborn hearts of my subordinates stood like an unyielding wall before me. I was tired of being patient, of putting up with irresponsibility and indifference.

          The light of justified anger beckoned once more. I looked at it.

          Empty your cup, said my Lord yet again.

          So I leaned my heart against His breast and drew from His strength; then, turned back to face that same resistance, but with a gentleness foreign to me. 

           I came home, at the wind down of a sandpaper day, stumbling eagerly into a cool welcome and the gentle embrace of a love long gone. On my table awaited a letter from someone whose only purpose in life was to torment and bully. Red-stained memories and the stench of past pains rose before me.

          Empty your cup, said the voice of my Shepherd, cutting through the rising choke.

          I looked with a longing at the dark arms of sin held out beseechingly towards me.

          I bent instead towards my Lord. Thy will be done, I whispered.