Lent 3 ~ The Fast of Consoling

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This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.   ~   Isaiah 58: 6 – 7

          I must have read these verses many times before but not seen them – until today. Today, still clueless on how to order my Lent this year, my answer comes:

Fast

Not in the way I envisioned it but to fast as the Lord wills it for me.

          Yet, something in Isaiah’s verses puzzle me. Why are they set that way?

          Releasing those bound unjustly comes before untying the thongs of the yoke;

Setting free the oppressed, comes before breaking every yoke;

How do you release those bound? You untie the thongs of the yoke. How do you set free the oppressed? Break the yoke that imprisons them. To my mind, it would have made more sense to reverse the order:

Untie the thongs of the yoke to release those bound unjustly.

Break every yoke to set free the oppressed

          The call to action, followed by the objective, the effect.

          And yet, it isn’t ordered that way.

          But why does the order even matter to me? Something niggles at me and refuses to go away.

          Slowly and quietly, a tiny vine uncurls its tendril in my mind.

That is the order of consoling.

          My Lent this year is to battle hidden in the Heart of Jesus, each day, answering the call to console Him – for His sorrow over those bound unjustly, freeing the oppressed, sheltering them, the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, despising not my own even as I busy myself with these calls. To console Him each and every day as He calls me to. To console Him in prayer, in willful silence carved out of my busy days, in uniting my small sufferings to His. Even as each one of those consolations becomes increasingly difficult for me as the winds make wild their feral tempests, trying to drag me into the confusion that encircles our days now, nothing must withhold me from the hidden offering.

          For this is the fast my Jesus asks of me this year. Console Me for the suffering of this world. On a Friday, when I’ve set aside my Fridays of this year for consoling Jesus, I receive the understanding of why Isaiah’s verses are ordered in the way they are.

I must focus on the consoling,

not on the fighting and slaying.

          For it is only when I console my wounded Saviour, that thongs are untied, and yokes broken.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Lent 1 ~ Voice from Lourdes

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          From a few weeks back I’ve been praying about Lent this year. For some sign, for direction. A prayer maybe, or better still, a book. But nothing came. I went to bed the night before Ash Wednesday with a mound of prayers left by God’s door. Well, not really prayers, but just one, said over and over:

Give me a Word at least.

And just before sleep claimed me, Our Lady of Lourdes, let me hear Your voice.

          No book, no discourse. No soft, sweet voice either. So, one single word for Lent, it wasn’t much that I was asking for.

          A busy day came and went. I received no Word from God on this 1st of Lent – although I did have a far quieter heart and strength not mine for a long and difficult day.

          Then, late in the evening, despite prayers and attempts at hope, we received news of a setback. I tried to bravely accept this setback involving my son, and live out my faith as I should, but I faltered after a few hours of make-believe.

          Rather than hide my tottering column of faith and compound matters further, I took my disappointment, the whole cart of it, and dumped it before God.

          Why, I demanded angrily, why did You not answer our prayers in the way we wanted? What was so wrong with our prayer that You chose to answer it in the negative? I thought of my boy, his long struggle, and now, trying so hard to be strong in the face of defeat.

How do I mend his broken heart? I hurled my anger and sorrow at God.

          Heaven did what it does best – it remained silent.

          Some hours later, still hurting and confused but trying to surrender and accept, I told God through gritted teeth,

Let my hurt be, but hold my son close to You. Do not forsake him. Bind his heart to Yours.

          I had some minutes to myself. Wanting to take my mind off things, I reached for the book I am reading now. But my gaze strayed to another – Diary – Divine Mercy in My Soul by St. Faustina Kowalska. I had no intention whatsoever of choosing Divine Mercy in My Soul – I wanted cheering up and that was sure not the book to get the lark singing in my heart.

          However, something began to pull and tug at my conscience. It’s Lent, you know, hissed an exasperated voice from within me. Choose the Diary – for the sake of Lent.

          Still at war with God, I thought of my Ash Wednesday. It had been a day like any other, filled to the brim with endless work and another round of hurt. I didn’t have anything for my Lord, not even on this day when He asks to be consoled. No Lent prayer. No Lent meditation. Now, the day was drawing to its close. Clouds clustered together in the purple night skies, softly weeping. What was a few last minutes given to Jesus?

          I dropped my book and picked up Diary – Divine Mercy in My Soul. Give me a Word, Lord. You speak so much to the saints, why won’t You say just one Word to me? I threw one last dart of a grumble in God’s direction.

          Opening the book to a folded page, a bookmark fell out from elsewhere. It was a prayer card someone had left in our pew after the blessing of the sick on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes back in February.

A Message to the Sick

Cheer up,

God is with you

You suffer

it is true,

But He is near you.

Trust in Him.

If He has let you suffer,

It is because He sees something good in it,

which today you do not know.

Your peace of mind is in your

“Trust in God”

Who can never let you down.

          I went still reading those words. Not a prayer, but a message to the sick. Message – as if fully expecting that I’d likely dismiss it if it said ‘prayer’.

          Message – as in words sent by someone.

          For Ash Wednesday, I had asked for a Word from God. He gave me Words.

          I asked to hear Our Lady’s voice. She answered me through the healing message of Lourdes.

          The moment I heard Her voice, my spirit ceased its struggle. I saw what I could not accept in the earlier hours when the dry branches of winter tore at our hearts. I saw that the setback we experienced today was God’s answer to our prayers – as well as His answer to my son’s toil and struggle. Strange and unfair as it appears to our earthly sight on this side of heaven, while I cannot yet see how this disappointment is good for us, God certainly can and He knows the hidden value of a great and good gift.

Trust in God.

          I lay down my sword. And with it, my heart.

 

 

 

Month of Little Things

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          February. My month of little things. Something – every other day. Seemingly insignificant. Insufficient. I am tempted to dismiss them, to turn away and seek sustenance elsewhere.

          And yet, in a strange way, these little things follow me. In their own tongues, twittering secrets I cannot yet understand, their presence speaks a message to endure in hope.

          Because they have not been randomly scattered into the days and weeks.  These littles have been woven into the tapestry of February for a reason.

 

 

 

When Every Bird Sings

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          Today was a golden, sunny Sunday when it seemed like every bird on our little property was singing. It was lovely to be able to sleep in a bit and then wake up to a chirpy morn, complete with dancing sunbeams and the bluest of skies painted over in white~windbroom  clouds. We had come from a very exhausting week, capped by 2 consecutive days of long distance travelling on Friday as well as Saturday. This was the new normal for the year of 2019. It took a lot out of us and I feared we’d all get crabby and start carping at one another as we so often do.

          But it didn’t happen this time.

          Because Someone was ahead of us before we arrived at any one point.

          He filled us up with patience and wisdom and gentleness for every situation. He gave us the remedy for every challenge we faced. He gave us the energy we didn’t have, and a larger-than-usual capacity for laughs and jokes.

          He smoothed our tiredness and helped us to take the Mass Readings and the Gospel to heart and to find gentle direction in the priest’s sermon. He cleared so much of our hearts of ourselves, allowing us to savour and enjoy dew~pearl moments that might otherwise have slid off us – the priest’s serene and solemn blessing of water in the Holy Water receptacle in the corner of church just before Mass, the blessing of a couple and their 5 children on the occasion of their 15th wedding anniversary. The red and pink roses from an earlier wedding, adorning the bases of the altar and the Divine Mercy image, fulfilling my Saturday longing for Guadalupe roses that day. The brief joining of hearts as we shared in parish happenings, under twilight orange skies wreathed in aging winds calling their goodbyes.

          He pressed His finger to my lips when I would have made unfair demands on my family, when I would have given in to my tiredness and snapped at them, forgetting they too were as tired as I was – if not more. He cleared our hearts of every angry twig and leaf of inconsequential-s, things that took on a shadow of importance only because tiredness distorted them to appear so.

          This Unseen Light brought us safely through dangerous roads and difficult night time driving, right to our front door. Then, He closed all our eyes to sleep and watched over our dreams till the sun rose to its throne today.

          On a day when every bird sings, you know you have been  blessed, and blessed in abundance. With that knowing, comes a chagrin too, that there’s so little you’ve done to deserve any of this.

          And when your heart is pierced this way, you want nothing but to give God everything you have in your offering basket. I had nothing of value in mine except a heart humbled and quietened for once by the abundance of blessings He had gifted us unasked.

          So, as every bird sang, I entwined into that sweet avian garland my own notes of praise,

Blessed be God,

Blessed be God,

Blessed be God.

 

 

 

 

But Pray

Mouro Island Lighthouse (Built In 1860), Spain, by Jokin Romero

But pray, my children. God will hear you in a little while. My Son allows Himself to be moved.   ~   Apparition of Our Lady of Pontmain, 17 January 1871

          Something came up at work today. These past weeks, my husband and I have been putting in extremely long hours at work, day after day, coming home worn to the bone, to another round of work and cares. Some of our children are facing the same as well and the effects were evident. Despite our almost manic schedules, we have tried to do our best, especially for the younger ones; yet, there’s no hiding the fact that we aren’t giving them as much as they need from us. Still, I was deeply grateful  for the hidden stream that has been flowing though us, quietly and gently, giving us the strength and endurance for each day, taking us from hour to hour.

          So with that, I felt I might just make it; that endure just might be possible until God answered our fervent prayers for change.

          That was how I felt until today. Today, everything came crashing down over my ears – an even more severe schedule was assigned to us. I wanted to put my head on my desk and weep in exhaustion. I could manage a few weeks of such scheduling but not months and months of it. Months and months of grueling hours at work, then going home, staggering around, trying to see to meals and laundry and homework and everything else. Trying to stay calm and cheery. Trying to stay faithful to prayers.

          I stood at the edge. Mother of Lourdes, I cried in my heart, help me. Help me to endure. I have to but I don’t know how. The office was crowded and busy and there was no privacy to let some of the hurt out. In desperation to keep my tears inside, I reached for the site I had bookmarked for February, the Month of Lourdes. It was the live feed to the actual Grotto of Lourdes in France, where Our Lady stood high amongst rocks,  solemnly illuminated. I ran before Her, and fell at Her feet, begging for help. Please save us, I prayed, over and over.

          But I couldn’t stay long. As I hurried back to work, I remembered that I hadn’t had time to do my daily Bible reading that morning, nor pick up my prayer for the day. Later, when I had a few free minutes, quickly, I turned to the readings.

God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between Me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: I set My bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. I will remember my covenant between Me and you and every living creature—every mortal being—so that the waters will never again become a flood to destroy every mortal being   Genesis 9: 12 – 13, 15

It was the very same reading as the day of the December rainbow. The day when it seemed as if the iron had bitten deep into my soul. To see Genesis 9 once again, at such a difficult hour, it could only be Mother Mary’s arms around me. She had come swiftly in response to my cry, bidding me remember God’s old promise to me,

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise.

          I didn’t feel joy or relief flood me. But I immediately straightened up. Repeating my prayer for the day, I humbly place my heart between the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, I returned to my day and its calls. And once more, I made it through.

          Hours later, God’s grace of strength for the day gratefully used for love, Mother Mary quietly came once more. I read of an old, old apparition, in Pontmain, France. One wintry night, to a tiny hamlet shaking in fear of an inevitable, impending enemy invasion, Our Lady of Hope had come, bearing the message,

But pray, My children.

God will hear you in a little while.

My Son allows Himself to be moved.  

          But pray. The prayer will be answered. A strange fire caught and lit my soul at the words of the Mother of God. I hastened to share the good news with my husband and children.

          In the final hour of this Thursday night of the Luminous Mysteries, I stopped by our altar to anoint myself in prayer for the priests, the shepherds and the Pope. By our statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, sat little green Cross, gifted to us by a priest. At the moment I anointed myself, the Cross with the emblem of praying hands at its heart, glowed brightly, yet gently, in a pulse of light, like never before.

          On this night of the snow moon, Mother Mary’s final words were,

But pray

 

 

 

Straying Beyond the Sheepfold

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          Yesterday, a lady shared about an awful family situation spanning many years. Listening, it seemed to me to bear all the hallmarks of Narcissistic  Personality Disorder. The woman was at her wits’ end, didn’t know what else to do with her husband and how to go on. Being intimately acquainted with that same disorder, I felt sorry for her. Even if it wasn’t NPD, it was clearly emotional and mental abuse that she was enduring on a daily basis. And decades of it was, well, a long time to suffer the way she had. In my case, I received church counselling to create a firm boundary. It saved my sanity as well as the sanity of my husband and children. However, I didn’t know how a boundary was going to help this woman’s situation without destroying what was left of her marriage.

          Nevertheless, I felt I needed to do something before this poor soul crossed the line of no return. So, without giving her any details about my situation so as not to unduly influence her, I told her I’d pray for her to receive a special enlightenment – because what she needed was a very special light for her extremely difficult journey.

          I’m now on a small prayer mission using my newly received St. Raphael’s healing oil. I first prayed using the blessed oil for a friend suffering from addictions and other attacks but never told her exactly how I was praying for her. This friend’s subsequent communication to me bore strong indications that the prayers were having effect on her. That strengthened my faith in Archangel Raphael as well as I’ve never really invoked him in this way.

          A short time later, speaking to a priest, I heard about his immense struggles with his family as well as with the parish he was assigned to. There was also his acrimonious relationship with a fellow priest and its spillover effects. That troubled me more than anything. If our priests were falling out with each other, what hope did we have for ourselves? Nonetheless, it wasn’t something I dared advise him about, mainly because of the distinct possibility that it was above my paygrade.

          Nonetheless, a strong urge took hold of my heart. So, I began the same prayer I had said for my friend with the addictions, for the 2 priests, using the St. Raphael’s healing oil, so kindly and generously sent to me by the Healing Oil Ministry of South Grafton, MA. I have no idea how long I am supposed to pray for this intention but I’m confident the Archangel will let me know.

          And now, I fully intended to invoke Archangel Raphael’s intercession for the lady struggling with her Cross.

          I tried to pray Hail Marys for the woman all Saturday morning. It was a very busy morning, and rushing to and from errands and duties, I couldn’t manage more than a few Hail Marys, recited distractedly. But I was undeterred. We had to travel long distance to Mass later, so there’d be lots of time for prayers.

          I planned to pray using the oil before the drive. I remembered – about 15 minutes into the drive, it didn’t make sense to turn back.

          Then, I tried to pray Hail Marys again for the lady. Again, I got distracted after the first few.

          Arriving at church, I hurried inside to lay down my prayer cart before the Divine Mercy image. Fixing my gaze upon the image, I offered every prayer – except the one for the lady. Clean forgot.

          I had a few minutes before Mass began so I opened my battered copy of St. Faustina Kowalska’s Divine Mercy in My Soul. Jesus speaks very clearly to me through lines in this book, different lines in each reading. I needed to hear God’s voice and I prayed to hear it through the book, if it was willed.

          It came. But it was not what I expected.

A priest who is not at peace with himself will not be able to inspire peace in another soul.   ~   Entry 74, Divine Mercy in My Soul, St. Faustina Kowalska

          I stared at the line for a good few seconds. What?

          It was just before Holy Communion that I suddenly remembered my intention to pray for the woman. So, I did but it was harried and hurried. It had been that way the whole day – but it didn’t affect other prayers; only the prayer for this lady. 

          Something began to disturb me lightly. Don’t you want me to pray for her, for her enlightenment? I grumbled to Jesus. What do I pray for? I directed my exasperated asking towards St. Faustina, assuming there was some other prayer needed for this lady.

A priest who is not at peace with himself will not be able to inspire peace in another soul, came the calm, quiet reply.

          I decided to stop my prayers or rather, my attempt at prayer, for the troubled lady. I was learning again the lesson I have learned many times before: that just because I had sympathy for someone, it didn’t mean that I could get ahead of God, even in prayer. What prayer, how we are to pray, if we are called to it – is all governed by God. We get nothing done by straying ahead of Him. To pray outside of His Will, never mind whatever good intentions, was to leave the sheepfold. I had tried enough. It was clear that this was not the prayer – for now or perhaps, ever. I knew God would let me know if and when anything was needed. If I said I loved God, then it was His will that I had obey, even in something like what to pray for, who to pray for or when to pray.

          And so, I retreated from that prayer, but focused on the prayer for peace in priests.

          This morning, I met this lady once more. Imagine my utter surprise when she made it clear that she wasn’t looking for enlightenment for herself. If anyone needed it, it was her husband, she said. She was grateful for support, for comfort. For listening, for the prayers for her husband even. But she didn’t need God’s direction because her husband was the problem, not her. God needed to speak to her husband and her husband needed to listen to Him.

          That was the kind of prayer she was looking for.

          I suddenly understood why the wind had stolen my every prayer for her.

 

 

 

By Faith

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1   Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.

2   Because of it (faith) the ancients were well attested.

3   By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible.

4   By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s. Through this he was attested to be righteous, God bearing witness to his gifts, and through this, though dead, he still speaks.

5   By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and “he was found no more because God had taken him.” Before he was taken up, he was attested to have pleased God.

6   But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

7   By faith Noah, warned about what was not yet seen, with reverence built an ark for the salvation of his household. Through this he condemned the world and inherited the righteousness that comes through faith.

8   By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.

9   By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;

10   for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.

11   By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age—and Sarah herself was sterile—for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.

12   So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

13   All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth.

14   for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.

15   If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.

16   But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

17   By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son,

18   of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”

19   He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

20   By faith regarding things still to come Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau.

21   By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and “bowed in worship, leaning on the top of his staff.”

22   By faith Joseph, near the end of his life, spoke of the Exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his bones.

23   By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that he was a beautiful child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24   By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;

25   chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin.

26   He considered the reproach of the Anointed greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the recompense.

27   By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s fury, for he persevered as if seeing the one who is invisible.

28   By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

29   By faith they crossed the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted it they were drowned.

30   By faith the walls of Jericho fell after being encircled for seven days.

31   By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the disobedient, for she had received the spies in peace.

32   What more shall I say? I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,

33   who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions,

34   put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders.

35   Women received back their dead through resurrection. Some were tortured and would not accept deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection.

36   Others endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment.

37   They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented.

38   The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, in caves and in crevices in the earth.

39   Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised.

40   God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect.