FAMILY

We Leave Thee

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          There is a temptation to write off and stuff this old year into an invisible drawer never to be opened again. But I cannot yield to it, for despite the darkness and the stress endured, there has been much beauty in this mottled, troubled year.

          There is no way I can turn my heart away from His gifts to us because God gave us so much. So very much. He softened the difficulty of studying and working online from home through the consolation of good health and of our jobs being intact at a time when so many lost their livelihoods, when so many fell ill and too many did not return to life. Yes, like so many, we struggled to make adjustments to stay home orders and to unfair and poorly thought out government directives. But He buoyed us on with hope through happy news concerning our children. At the end of each day, we stumbled away from our laptops and phones, mentally drained from work, upset and frustrated with our employers, little wine left in our barrels.

          And God changed water into wine through the miraculous renewal of our family life. He taught us how to lock our gates against trespassers and instead, to turn the gaze of our hearts towards the gem of family, of time spent together.

God gifted us with laughter. Precious laughter.

This year, for every day of anger and hurt, there were ten times more of mirth and joy.

          Then, the sky of Advent dawned quietly in the frenzied churn of life. For years, the road to Christmas has been dark for me. Even when the sun began to slowly pierce the winter, the cold and dark hovered too close by. Even as I built fires for everyone else, my own hearth remained unlit.

The light would not come.

          Year after year, I would ache in hidden disappointment that God had passed me by yet again, my outstretched heart left empty, my seeking bereft.

          This year, not wanting to hope for a miracle (yet going ahead and hoping all the same), I took to heart the words of my friend, Linda Raha, – Make every day Christmas. I decided then and there that my Christmas would be that.

That the Light of Christmas in my hearth would be the Light of Christmas let in for others.

          That I would stand by the windows of other hearts and rejoice as the sacred Light of a newborn Babe warmed and healed those spaces. That even when I had to return to my own empty and wind-chilled heart, it would only be to resolutely light and stoke to life fires of thanksgiving and gratitude.

          And not forgetting – to gather up more wood to make more Christmas fires for others. Prayers for friends braving so many unsurmountables yet forging forwards in love. Love for those who hate the Jesus they do not know. For those who need Christmas in order to love. For poor muslim friends hiding their poverty behind brave smiles. For the old and the sick in our family, separated from loves by Covid.

That would be my Christmas and that would suffice, I schooled my heart firmly.

Heaven must have smothered a smile at my efforts, and angels surely clapped back their mirth. For they knew what I did not.

On Christmas Day, Heaven spilled Light into my heart.

          Not bright, joy-giddy Light, but a different Light. Many Lights. Gentle and playful Lights, little lamps loved and released yet cherished in secret. Lights wan yet so sweet, passed through hearts gone before us. Lights lit from love old and worn from waiting, yet firmly steadfast in the quiet of Hope Eternal.

          Today, as the winds blow their last notes among plump, white clouds and sun-drenched swaying boughs, my heart traces the whorls and lines of the old year once more.

          It is then that I see something. Strangely, today, none of the old anguish, those dark sentinels which have jealously guarded bitter memories, charge towards me. They are gone. Even as the memory of difficult days remain, the stain of pain is no more.

          Pondering this, I recall the words of my pastor in his Christmas Vigil sermon, his heartfelt exhortation to each one of us to pray for a miracle at the Crib of the Wee Child. Taking his words to heart, I had obeyed promptly that night. In spirit at the Crib’s edge, my plea had been direct,

Please Lord,

Miracle

Miracle,

Miracle.

And a miracle it was!

          Through the power of the Crib, the old shadows have gone, mysteriously brushed away from my spirit’s sight.

          The night grows old now, the last rains of the year fall in final benediction. Poised for flight into the new year, one last look at all that was,

Farewell!–we leave thee to Heaven’s peaceful care…

Gentle Roads

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          Today, I read an old post from my friend, Ann’s blog, Muddling Through My Middle Age. She was reminiscing about Halloween as a child and how things changed for her over the years. Like so many of Ann’s posts, this one made me reflect on my life, specifically on what I yearn for: a slower, gentler life.

          While Halloween is not part of life in my country except maybe in expatriate enclaves, what catches my heart each time Halloween comes around would be the beautiful photos of carved pumpkins adorning rural front porches as the waning orange of sunset reaches its twilight slumber. To me, those photos speak to a time of gentling. Of slowing down. Of savouring the ineffable sweetness of littleness and simplicity. A time to rest and to chuckle, to do things different to the daily dictates of regimented life.

          The all too brief months of sheltering at home due to Covid gave us that gift of time to live along gentle roads for once. Although often the hours at home seemed impossibly shorter, it was only because while they were filled with stressful formal work, they were also interspersed with the happiest hours for home and family.

          I miss that deeply now. We’re almost back to full work mode, and I’m not too thrilled about it. Yet, I’m also determined not to shut all those gates leading to those gently winding roads. Some aspects of that brief interlude God gifted us with must be brought into this new weave of roads beyond the gate. Since I am surrounded by people who now barely remember, much less treasure, the good of those slower days, it’s left to me to craft and fashion my present hours from the lessons I learned during sheltering. I can’t change people but I sure can cut the fabric of my now’s a little differently.

          This insight didn’t come quickly, though. But God was patient with me and took me to one lake of realisation after another, where I could review and contemplate how I had lived each day since the return to full time work.

          Slowly, my heart began to see things. Even more slowly but surely, I allowed myself to be released from old habits of behaviours.

          I’ve always been a workaholic. Coupled with guilt and a few other  burdens, my formal work has always followed me home, often forcing me to work well past midnight.

          But since June, when I returned to work, I’ve noticed a loathing to bring work home beyond the few times it was absolutely necessary. It suddenly felt as if I was sullying the purity of my hours at home by doing work that could wait. This reaction isn’t exactly new; but every time I’ve tried to stop working on reports and projects before, guilt has always won me over to the wrong side.

          Till now. If something from work needs to get done even at home, I do slog at it. But if it can wait, it certainly does, and I don’t quite have to fight myself to step away.

          That is not willpower. That is grace.

          Another emerging tint to my days is the spirit of thanksgiving and thankfulness that sits a little more securely over my heart now than it did before. Some time ago, I had an epiphany. Since we reopened, I struggled to get to work each day because it meant returning to the old, much of it detested. Before each new work day, I got myself into a twist thinking about all the sorry and sodden things waiting for me. Unfortunately, despite my penchant for imagining things, my work struggles weren’t pops out of my imagination; they were real and there was no escaping them.

          But slowly, my ingratitude towards the many gifts God tucked into my days, became clearer and clearer. I realisee that no matter how hard the return to the old was, it didn’t exempt me from thanksgiving.

          So, each time there was something to wince about, I tried to find something to be grateful for instead. It wasn’t always easy – not because the good and sweet were few and far between – but because I had gotten into the habit of casting about for greater and brighter jewels.

          Still, I’ve kept at it, and with my angel’s guiding heart, I think I’m getting to be a more thankful person.

          A long time ago, a good and holy priest had looked deep into my soul and saw well beyond what I was struggling to make sense of. He quietly told me that it was people’s jealousy that was souring so much that should have been sweet. When I asked him if there was hope of a miracle, Father had looked at me and nodded, saying, Yes, miracles will come  – but slowly.

          What he might have seen but didn’t explain at that time was also that those miracles would take a form different to what I envisioned.

          I believe that despite the disappointment and sadness which surround us, the time of miracles has begun – but not in the manner and magnitude akin to earthquakes, fires and wild winds. These miracles are beginning to unfold just like the soft, still sound Elijah heard from the depths of his cave of sorrow and pain. Through the protecting of our time at home, sacred to those we hold dear in our hearts. Through our little acts of thanksgiving throughout the day. And many more.

          All miracles are wrought by God, but their seeds begin first with us. I yearn so much for a slower, kinder, gentler life, the very one God showed me a glimpse of this year. But it is not His way to merely shake and break this earth to form a new home for us all.

          For miracles to grow and live, we must first seek gentle roads for ourselves. For every storm, earthquake and fire that we encounter, we ourselves must stand firm along the quiet paths of thanksgiving, charity and holy obedience.

          The world might have us believe otherwise, that a kinder world must begin with bending others into submission through force, fire and violence. But it doesn’t.

          This sweetly gentle life begins first with us. As we incline our hearts more and more towards the Spirit’s leading, we will begin to build new homes along the very roads we seek, formed from the soft, still sounds of God.

Lent 37 ~ Our Arrows

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He made me a polished arrow,
in His quiver He hid me.   ~   Isaiah 49: 2

 

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.   ~   Kahlil Gibran, On Children

 

 

          This time of sheltering has been, more than anything, my time with the family, with my husband, with my children. For the first time, despite working from home, I can truly say family has come the absolute first for me. For the first time, my front gate has kept out most of the unsavoury elements of my working life. For the first time, I am minimally aware of my immediate boss’ dark and negative aura.

          But I hate it that Covid-19 has achieved this. I hate that it has to be this way, at this cost.

          Yet, it is what it is.

          Against the backdrop of sorrow and fear, we live in a joy~blessed cloister with our arrows.

          Carved out of this tragedy of a pandemic, is our foretaste of heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bouquet of Weeds

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          When we come to the end of a path and we part the foliage to discern the next tread, often it is the littlest of blooms that point the way forward. In November, I began to pray for direction for my Advent Home Retreat – one I go on each end of year right in my own home, a different retreat each time. These retreats began years back with the book about Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light. I read that book, bit by bit every day of December, and it took me on a journey with the Saint of the Slums. From that year on, it has been a different book every year or even a particular blog, lighting the way forward all through December.

          This November, I thought I’d nudge God a little in my direction of want. I told God I’d very much like to read the book, A Pathway Under The Gaze of Mary, a biography on the Fatima seer, Sr. Lucia Dos Santos. I’ve wanted it for so long and I felt it would be a great retreat-maker for me this year. So, I winged up my yearning to God. And then, promptly forgot about it.

          Heaven didn’t, though. But the answer came in a way different to my seeking.

          One day at the end of November, Ellen Fassbender’s post, My Advent Preparations for Christmas 2018, reminded me about the Advent retreat I had prayed about and then forgot. The Advent Food Box gift she wrote about stirred a Christmas-sy yearning in my heart.

          But more than that, Ellen’s words finally softened my heart into some semblance of humility. Lifting my spirit, I asked God, What gift would You have me bring my Jesus? As I asked, I stretched my eyes as far as I could see over the busy landscape of the weeks ahead. Holiday or not, two of our children face important exams next year. Hence, against the backdrop of Christmas, was the grey pallor of studies and the long commutes for coaching sessions, alongside the inevitable heavy cleaning and de-cluttering. I knew it would take much out of me. After arduous work months, I wanted to be filled with something powerful and special and holy this Christmas; I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer the baby Jesus – if there was anything worth offering.

          That very evening, I felt a sudden longing for Christmas flowers inside the home. I thought of poinsettias and on a whim, looked them up. Imagine my surprise when I read the Mexican legend about poinsettias and Christmas. The story told of a very poor child, Pepita, who wistfully longed to lay a gift at Baby Jesus’ crib at her church during Christmas Eve service. Some accounts say that it was her angel who then told her to pick some weeds from the roadside and present them to the Child King. When the little girl hesitated, the angel encouraged her, telling her that, Even the smallest gift from a heart that loves would make Jesus happy.

          In obedience, yet, still embarrassed, Pepita made a little bouquet of the weeds which she took into church later that night, shyly laying it at the bottom of the nativity scene.

          Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds no eye would heed burst into bright red flowers known today as poinsettias. It was a miracle seen by all present. The common and the ordinary was transformed into something of luminous beauty by pure, simple love. In that miracle, everyone at that time and over the centuries, and now, I, saw the kiss of heaven on a little urchin’s gift from the heart that sought nothing but to love her Saviour.

          It gave me the will and strength to hold my spirit to loving my Saviour just as Pepita had. When the 1st of December blew in on a blustery, rain-pearled wind, no pigeon flew in with it, bearing a message for me from heaven on how my retreat was to be.

          Yet, no disappointment even whispered by my heart. If my Advent retreat this time was to follow the child Pepita into the virginal bloom of each day, I would.

          If it was to fashion a bouquet, out of the weeds of my simple duties as mother, wife and friend, and then to lay it by my Jesus’ Heart each day’s end, then I would too.

 

 

 

 

 

Go Indoors

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          Sometimes, the most random things we read and shrug off tend to return to us later, more real than before, as if an unseen cloak had been shed. It is then that we realise that it had come earlier to warn, to alert to what was ahead.

          Amidst the wild~yellow weeks when the kingfisher called out in desperation as it raced around my home, I saw the words,

Go indoors.

Over and over and over.

          I knew immediately what it meant.

Storm coming.

Hasten to safety.

Return to family.

Shed the world and its claws. Turn the heart towards the family. Be alert to them and their needs.

          But to know is one thing; to really step back from the world is another. The duties of work these past weeks have been unbelievable, taking almost everything in me. No matter how loudly the blue king pleaded, I could not tear myself away from work. Every time he sounded his warning notes, my heart would look up and I would will him to understand that I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

          This week, one morning, my blue avian prophet fell silent. It was then that the storm hit. A single lightning bolt. I was out in the plains, in the open field of professional work. There was nowhere to shelter. Had I heeded the saint behind the king, St. Francis of Assisi, I might have been beyond the reach of the worst of that hit. But I hadn’t and so, I wasn’t.

          On the 16th of July, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This year that day, I read a prayer that asked for Her mantle of protection. I’ve read those same words many times before. But this time, they glowed differently. And so, I prayed it with a caution I lacked before. I asked Mother to wrap Her mantle around my family and I.

          Then, I took up my tools and left for the fields.

          Short weeks later, this hit.

          However, this time, I tottered but did not fall. I would have had it not been for the Mantle that held me safe in its securing confines. Careless as I have been in my devotions these past weeks, my heavenly Mother kept Her Mother’s-promise to me. She protected me from a worse wounding.

          The hurt has driven me right into where I should have been – the refuge the blue king has urging me to hasten to.

          Into the heart of family.

 

 

 

 

 

Communion of Hearts

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          Late in the evening, the waning sun closed each of its burning hot rays. We had come to this day after passing through portals of thorns and hot coals in the days and weeks past. We were expecting guests: a beloved priest and a friend, from hundreds of miles away. After a day of frantic housecleaning, I rose early again, to get a head start on cooking preparations. My back was sore. My husband and I were more than a little tired from work and the awful weather and its high temperatures.

          But we kept our minds and hearts fixed on the light ahead: Father’s visit. We hadn’t seen him in some years, and we looked forwards to time with him. We weren’t sure how we’d manage the visit. Cooking for our large family was tough enough; cooking for guests,  even only two, after a work week of endless hills and gullies, was reason enough to hold on the counter top and draw in a huge steadying breath.

          Nonetheless, I prayed that God would bless this visit and the two souls coming to us. So often, we ask and expect a lot of our priests, but we tend to forget that, like us, they too require food for their spirits and strength for their journeys, through bonding and companionship. Priests have sacrificed family life for the love of Jesus. Many minister in parishes very far away from their own loved ones. We take this love-gift for granted. We shrug and say, well this is what priesthood is about, and we expect our priests to accept it, be cheery about it and not burden us with the loneliness this great sacrifice entails.

          Some years ago, I remember reading Fr Joe Jenkins’ blog where someone asked him how his Christmas would be. His reply told of saying the Christmas Mass, of standing at the door to the church later, in the winter’s cold, wishing each parishioner Merry Christmas, then locking up the church, and going to the stillness and loneliness of an empty quarters. Fr Joe wrote simply and without seeking sympathy. But his words pierced my heart.

          For it never occurred to me until then that a priest could experience loneliness. That he and his brethren stifle this deep ache and go about their priestly duties every single day in joy of poverty, bringing Jesus to us as best as they can.

          It was this image that I kept before me as my husband and I chopped and pounded and raced from corner to corner today. I prayed that our family and our home be the blessing Fr and his friend needed.

          We might never know what wounds or needs they came with as they drove in with cheery waves and bouncy laughter. Yet, for the hours they graced our home with their quiet and their cheer and their oneness with us and our life, not a shadow crossed their sunny visages. Before us were two people who loved and respected family and in their own ways, sacrificed and worked to save family life.

          Because we said Yes to this visit, because we begrudged not our love and whatever strength we had, the fire-hot hours brought us together in this beautiful, tender communion of hearts. Priest, young man waiting for the right girl, married couple and their bouncy brood. We heard the words we needed for our own journey ahead. And in return, we hope we offered simple witness to the beauty of marriage and family life.

          As my husband and I looked up at the solemn orange moon and its muted gold aura later at night, peace settled gently into the folds of our hearts. I whispered my thanks.

          This was no random visit. Jesus had indeed come to us today.

 

 

 

 

Lent 3 ~ While the Candles Are Lit

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          A long time ago, I saw these words on a sticker, Did you hug your child today? Although I didn’t heed them that very moment, I did later that night, but it was no longer the same. About two years ago, a fellow blogger saw something over the horizon. For a very brief moment, the veil was lifted for him, and his impassioned plea to me was, Hug and kiss your children.

          Sad days ago, in Parkland, Florida, a grieving Fred Guttenberg  reminds the world yet again, Hold your children tight, because in the school shooting, his daughter numbers among those who will never again hear their parents tell them how much they are loved.

          I hug and kiss my children a lot now. I tell them how much I love them. Some of the older ones squirm in understandable embarrassment, but that only gets a giggle out of me; it doesn’t stop me. Even if they don’t realize it or value it, every child, young or adult, needs to know they are loved. And they need to hear it now because the shadows of tomorrow will not always be made known to us.

          And the candles bequeathed to the world will not always remain lit.

 

 

 

Words for the Red

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          From the joyful red~shine of Advent days here, rose a red of a different kind, one far removed from joy and hope. It is an insidious thorn that rears its head at the end of almost every year since my husband and I started a family life moons ago. I had assumed that with the deep, illuminating spiritual journey that this year was, my husband and I would be in a better place in this largely lively and joyful marriage. Then came the morning and a thoughtless, dismissive statement and we were right back where I thought we had left for good. Granted, my grievance is nothing in comparison to what many people  are facing. Many would even consider it laughably trivial and so might I some distant day, but that reasoning fails to stamp out the red flames today.

          I try to turn away from the hurt. I try to shrug it off and fill the sun~dappled morning hours with home chores and yard work. But the red follows in waves and dips. As soon as I have crested one, as soon as I dare to think the hurt has gone, the next rise comes.

          But there’s a difference to my anger. It is not rage. There is no wild slant to it. The sadness it evokes in my heart burrows deep. It brings to life old disappointments and frustrations that I had assumed were in our past.

          As hour spills into hour, I struggle with myself. I struggle to not return to twisted ruts of old. Nonetheless, numerous retorts, rebuttals and accusations march steadily and stormily though my mind.  Snatches of speeches and choice words I conjure.

          The very second they form, I force myself fight them off, to turn my back on them. And then I realize, they need to come out. They are all reactions to my hurt that must have some place to go. So, I give them to Jesus, saying, I chose You, Jesus.

          On and on I battle until I am overwhelmed. I tell God I cannot do it anymore. I cannot pretend, neither can I overlook. I place my husband in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You take over, Lord. I can’t.

          Hours later, the flames have died. In their place an odd quietness – which I put to the test immediately. No, it is not of wanting to forget and make up. Yet, the stillness within me tells me that I am no longer in control of my spirit. I am no longer in control of anything or anyone.

          Someone else is now in charge. I am content to let that be. For once, I do not want to lead. I am tired. I can barely make out the path in front of me.

          My chores for the day done, I cautiously open my door to God. Although my injury is real, in my struggle to overcome my hurt and in my inability to pray in humility for my husband, I am not sure that I am walking in the will of God.

          Timidly, yet with a strange certitude, I ask my God, Lord, give me my prayer. 

          The Almighty’s response is swift, as if He has been waiting for me to ask. His prayer for me is unexpected.

          Prayer of St. Anthony of Padua

          O Light of the world, Infinite God, Father of eternity, giver of wisdom and knowledge, and ineffable Dispenser of every spiritual grace; who knowest all things before they are made, who makest the darkness and the light: put forth Thy hand and touch my mouth, and make it as a sharp sword to utter eloquently Thy words. Make my tongue, O Lord, as a chosen arrow, to declare faithfully Thy wonders. 

          Put Thy spirit, O Lord, in my heart, that I may perceive; in my soul, that I may retain; and in my conscience, that I may meditate.

          Do thou lovingly, holily, mercifully, clemently and gently inspire me with Thy grace. 

          Do Thou teach, guide and strengthen the comings in and goings out of my senses and my thoughts. And let Thy discipline instruct me even to the end, and the counsel of the Most High help me through Thine infinite wisdom and mercy.

 

          Oh no, I groan. The last thing I want is to speak. Words have had no effect on this situation that arises without fail every year end holidays. Same fight. Different words. Same failure. Year after year. And now God asks me to pray, put forth Thy hand and touch my mouth, and make it as a sharp sword to utter eloquently Thy words?

          I begin to think that I may have been mistaken about the prayer being for me. That’s when St Anthony, a saint close to my heart, steps in swiftly and takes my eyes directly to the line,

Do Thou teach, guide and strengthen the comings in and goings out of my senses and my thoughts.

          That closes the door on my doubts. That prayer line directly addressed my struggles with my emotions since the morning. It told me God saw the back-and-forth, the tug-and-push, and that He was with me. He understood my hurt. He saw my struggle to contain it and cope.

          I was not alone. That realization suffices.

          I raise my eyes to heaven. Give me Thy words, I pray.

          Not mine but Yours. 

 

 

 

         

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.

 

         

 

 

Thank. Listen. Love. Pray.

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Appreciate what you have. Listen to the warnings, hug your children, and thank God for today and yesterday, and pray for a better tomorrow.

~ Natali Rojas, Corpus Christi, whose statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the only item to withstand a devastating fire that destroyed three Corpus Christi-area homes during Hurricane Harvey, August 2017.