MARRIAGE

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. 

 

 

 

         

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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.

 

         

 

 

The Fatima Way

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          It has been a blessed and joyous two weeks lived well and loved well. But a few days ago, I learned anew the truth of Sr Lucia’s Dos Santos’ prophetic words:

The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about

marriage and the family.

I have some issues with my beloved husband, and they boiled over yet again this week. As a result of that, I lived some long moments with sand in my eyes and a storm in my heart.

          One day later, late at night, I stayed up reading about the Fatima Apparitions. I came to the heartrending part where little Jacinta lived her last days, and finally, passed into eternal life. I was so glad for the late hour because it meant no one would witness my own reaction to the enduring courage of a wee child to love her Cross till the end – to offer her terrible sufferings for the salvation of souls. The lateness also meant on no ears would the sound of my own grief fall as my heart traced the path of two simple Fatima parents humbly answering God’s call to bury their own child.

          That part of the Fatima book also took me back to memories of old wounds I’d rather not see. It took me back to what we had lost as a family. It took me back to black hours that we lived through, unknowing that even darker hours awaited us in coming years.

          My pillow was wet that night, and I prayed that there’d be no sign of it in my eyes in the morning, for my grief is private and I wanted it to stay that way.

          I awakened to two miracles the next day.

          There was no sign of the night in my eyes.

          And a greater one – those tears had washed away the grit of old hours of my marital and family related grievance. With the sand washed away, I saw with fresh eyes what the storms had clouded over:

I had not carried my Cross in the Will of God; I had not walked the Fatima Way. 

          Marriage and family struggles come to one and all, some more bitterly and more devastating than others. Some we bring upon ourselves through the choices we make. Some are allowed because it is through the splinters of the Cross that we are emptied for Heaven. In my specific reaction to my frustrations with my husband over his parenting methods and his some of his spousal attitudes, I saw that I had left my Cross. I did not carry it, neither did I ask for God’s help with it. I chose to do it my way, and it was as self-serving as the life of the man of Frank Sinatra’s song (even if the world disagrees with me!)

          My way was not the Fatima Way. My way was the serpent’s way. Seemingly harmless and justified, but winding resolutely and stealthily towards the desolation of Me. I was going in the wrong direction – not towards Heaven, but towards Myself.

          My compass had to be reset. If little Jacinta and Lucia could push past walls rock solid with pain, to love and carry their crosses as God willed of them, then so could I.

          Fresh and cleansed, I got up from the ground. A new day was before me – to be lived the Fatima Way.

          And live it thus, I did. Despite my sinfulness and smallness, I lived it in love as best as I could. Despite the fact that the issues which upset me still remain, and will surely resurrect itself yet again, I held nothing back from my husband and family but gave all I had in love and joyful service.

          This morning, ambling through online highways searching for prayer meditations by saints, I came across a website. Browsing through the prayers, I read each one and waited for the one that would ‘fall into my heart’.

          Just then, I caught sight of a line at the end of the webpage – What if God chose a prayer for you?

          For some reason, that little line stuck its burr into my heart.

          Quickly, I responded, God give me my prayer, then. And resumed searching.

          It was the very next prayer. It was by St Ignatius of Loyola, and it was his Prayer of Generosity ~

Prayer for Generosity
of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous,
teach me to serve You as I should,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labour and ask not for reward,
Save that of knowing that I do Your most holy will. 

          Every line, every word of it – the Fatima Way.

 

 

Pearls of Little Holies

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

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

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

The infinitesimal sings its small song for You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          And then, the bead slid into its pod.

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

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

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