OPPRESSOR

Waters of Grace

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          Yesterday, I came across a prayer by Pope Francis:

Lord, roll back the stone in my heart

          It’s Easter now. The time of fasting and sorrowing over our sins is supposedly over. The Lord has risen, and by right we are to be all light and joy.

          But here I was, stuck in an unbeliever’s world – not because I do not believe – but because something was holding me outside the circle of Light.

          The Lord has risen but I was still in the tomb.

          I went ahead and (unenthusiastically) said the prayer, Lord, roll back the stone in my heart. Frankly, I was unhappy to pray the prayer. I didn’t like to admit that stones might still be stacked up God knows how high in my heart. It’s as if Lent didn’t work out for me. Everyone else has done their spiritual cleaning and de-stoning during Lent; here I was, wondering if I was only just beginning!!

          Maybe it’s because of the Roll back the stone prayer, but last night, my thoughts returned to the hymn, He, and the refrain,

Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live,

He will always say, I forgive.

          In the last week of Lent, seeing no hope of change in my place of work, I opened my heart and asked God if it were not possible for just a little kindness. I wasn’t asking for much, I reasoned, because before, I had asked for much more. Before this, I had asked to be allowed to leave this town due to its rejection of me and my family for our Christian values. I asked to leave because it’s been 20 plus years of trying to live out our witness to our faith. More than 2 decades of welcoming the people of this town into our hearts. Of suffering with them. Of journeying with them, respectfully, in the ecumenism of different faiths.

          Yet, the long and bitter years to love as Jesus asked have not  changed this place nor its people for the better. If anything, this town and its inhabitants are becoming increasingly radicalized. They have begun turning on us for refusing to cross over to their side, for steadfastly choosing Jesus. Exhausted from navigating upheaval after upheaval, I asked to leave.

          But this year, God made His voice heard on that petition. He told me that if we left, this town would never know Jesus again.

          It broke my heart to hear that. It was not what I wanted. But I never prayed that prayer again because disappointed or not, some part of me bowed in obedience to God’s will.

          Suddenly, last night, hours after the prayer of Roll back the stone in my heart, I decided that the next new day, every time someone hurt me, every time a situation made me want to run and hide, I would face it in silence and allow it to pierce me instead.

          And I would pray, Jesus, forgive me. Even if I had done no discernible wrong, that would be my prayer for the next day.

          No prizes for guessing how the day worked out.

          I tripped the very minute I stepped into my work place. I came face to face with the colleague who’s made my life a misery for years. I don’t normally see her so early in the day but there she was, bright and early, primed for malice.

          The second I saw her, I didn’t remember anything about rolling back any stone. I didn’t remember the purposing of my day for atonement. Instead, I distinctly felt my heart inflame and harden remembering the injustices she has meted out.

          Scant minutes later, I belatedly remembered the response I had planned. Fed up with myself, I honestly wanted to bin the intention of the previous night. What was the point anyway, I never seemed to move beyond the biggest rocks in my life.

          But a promise to God was a promise. So, I bowed my heart and listlessly prayed,

Jesus, forgive me

          Although I knew I had done this colleague no wrong, although I had loved her with all my heart for more than 20 years and didn’t deserve this bulling and abuse of our friendship, once more I forced myself, as self-inflicted penance, to repeat,

Jesus, forgive me

          Then something strange began to happen.

          Kindness began to trickle my way – not from this colleague, but from others. It may not have seemed like much, but it was a lot to me. I had prayed for kindness the week before, just enough to be able to go on. Then, I had shushed myself, fearing that prayer was a rejection of my Cross.

          But strangely, unexpectedly, a pure spring now gently silvered into my day and my burdens lifted. Although almost every day before this had been difficult, now it seemed as if the walls of the day no longer bore nails to hurt.

          For some moments, I struggle to understand what I did to deserve this reprieve. And then, I realise that it’s not about what I’ve done. This is grace. Jesus was pierced as He hung on the Cross. Blood and water had flowed from that pierced side.

          The miracle of kindness I experienced today was that water of grace that came from the piercing of my Jesus’ body. As often as I pray with heart and soul, Jesus, forgive me, not the easy prayer in idle moments free of pain and hurt, BUT praying each time I face piercing, the stone in my heart rolls back further and further.

          2 years ago, at Christmas, I had dreamt of water filling a room in my home right to the ceiling. I had opened my door and the powerful rush of that clear water had knocked me down. I had then felt the words,

Momentarily overwhelmed

          I now know what it means. Opening the door means to roll back the stone in my heart. And I will be knocked down by the in-rushing waters of grace when my spirit bends in humility as I pray,

Jesus, forgive me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 34 ~ Two Roses

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          This morning, I returned to an old garden, hidden from the busy walkways of life. There, I plucked two blooms and carried them back with me in my heart ~ my two children returned to Heaven through miscarriage.

          Later, a struggle with anger against oppressors attacking my kids, anger worsening with every mile to church. All through Mass. Wanting to protect my children. Planning. Then, not sure if anything I do will work. Twenty years of this, worse now because of the kids and the danger they face.

          I tried saying the Rosary during our drive to church but I couldn’t focus on a single Mystery then. So, I resorted to simple Hail Marys, little roses for my Mother. I couldn’t seem to offer anything else.

          I just wished She would say just one word to me.

          Just before Mass began, I was with my Diary – Divine Mercy in My Soul. Speak to me, please, I begged. The entries I read were to do with Confession. I read them carefully, searching for His voice. I couldn’t hear anything clearly. So, I moved on.

          Then, I remembered that we were planning for Confession. I went back to the Confession entries.

Concerning Holy Confession.

We should derive two kinds of profit from Holy Confession:
1. We come to confession to be healed;
2. We come to be educated-like a small child, our soul has constant need of education.   ~   #Entry 376

          I understood the words. But I still could not access the direction and comfort I was desperate for. Then, somehow, I lost my place in the book. Searching, I stumbled upon something else – O Blessed Host… Despite my inner turmoil, I was drawn to those words.

O Blessed Host, our only hope in the toil and monotony of everyday life.

O Blessed Host, our only hope amid the ruin of our hopes and endeavors.

O Blessed Host, our only hope in the midst of the ravages of the enemy and the efforts of hell.

The efforts of hell. Yes. That aptly described what I was facing, what the kids and my husband were facing.

          As the Host was raised, I cried out with heart and soul,

Save us, Jesus!

Save us, Jesus!

          Later, during Confession, listening intently to my pastor’s words, quiet and gentle, unhesitating in his counsel, my soul was educated, and directed towards hope.

And towards the seeking of angels.

          Just before his final prayer, this gentle priest who has known much suffering, told me to offer Heaven a gift. Two Hail Marys. Roses for my Mother. A softness stole into my heart.

          I knelt to pray. Heart and soul, I offered up the Hail Marys. I begged Mother Mary to keep my children safe.

          Then, I remembered my two wee babies returned to Heaven through miscarriage.

Two children

Two Hail Marys

          Two roses. One for each child, for our Mother. Gift of angels.

 

 

 

Lent 33 ~ Unexpected

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They who aspire to reform the morals of others lose their time and their pains, by not preaching by example, in correcting themselves first.   ~   St. Ignatius of Loyola

          Yesterday, the quote above touched me. When surrounded by so much negativity and wrong, and we’re trying to survive and thrive, it’s easy to forget to look within ourselves for the solution. When I read the quote, its gentle urge to work on myself filled me with unexpected light, and that light – to preach by example – I took to the day,

          For cruelty, compassion

          For self-seeking, generosity

          For pride, humility

          Towards the end of the work day, preparing for my final appointment, I reflected that, despite my best intentions, I didn’t really get the chance to press compassion, generosity and humility into the widening cracks of my workplace. There’ll be another day, I reassured myself.

          Only the angels could have known what was waiting for me at that final session. We strayed slightly away from our discussion and I stumbled upon pain territory. I heard of truly heartless bullying by those tasked with protecting their charges. I heard the unspoken, deepening resentment. I heard voices stretch and crack from hurt. The blow was unexpected, but paled beside the rawness of the wounds suffered by those victims.

          For a while, I couldn’t find words, anything to make it hurt less for them. As I struggled to wrest control over my emotions, I heard myself speak. I spoke about not rebelling – as I sensed it would worsen the situation. I told the group, all Muslims, that there is a God who sees and feels their tears. I found myself telling them about our natural reflex towards revenge – which is so entrenched in their religion – then gently steered them to rest that revenge in God’s heart, clearing the path in their own hearts to receive His powerful strength.

          They were not empty words, not out of a book, or some preacher’s mouth. They were my journey, my struggles. But I didn’t tell them that because what mattered was their suffering and that they leave the room in hope.

          Did I give them that? Was it enough? As I fretted about it hours later, someone softly spread this over my heart,

          For cruelty, compassion

          For self-seeking, generosity

          For pride, humility.

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 31 ~ I Will Not

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King Nebuchadnezzar said:
“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
that you will not serve my god,
or worship the golden statue that I set up?
Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made,
whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet,
flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe,
and all the other musical instruments;
otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace;
and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar,
“There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you
in this matter.
If our God, whom we serve,
can save us from the white-hot furnace
and from your hands, O king, may He save us!
But even if He will not, know, O king,
that we will not serve your god
or worship the golden statue that you set up.”   ~   Daniel 3: 14 – 18

 

          Today, this brings me strength. This story ends with a miraculous  vindication and not fiery death. King Nebuchadnezzar realizes that God sent His angel to protect the 3 Jewish boys who refused to bow down to the king’s false god. But this is not the part that makes me strong; I receive hidden strength from the heartfelt witness of

But even if He will not (save us), know, O king,
that we will not serve your god

          Despite how far I’ve come on this journey of Christian discovery, when I suffer at the hands of others, I always want to be vindicated. When God prefers not to answer my prayer in the way I seek, naturally, it hurts. But as Jesus has shown me this Lent, my hurt is always over the unfulfillment of my plans, not God’s.

          Today, 3 young boys teach me what true faith looks like. True faith does not hold God hostage to earthly desires and tainted hopes. True faith allows God to be God and focuses on what I need to do to live my faith in my God.

          So, in my hours of today, my heart’s response to those who delight in hurting me, is simply,

I will not serve your god.

 

 

 

 

Lent 28 ~ Another Name

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          I’ve barely given St. Thomas much thought, despite worshipping for decades at a church named after him. The prayers to him that we sometimes recite as a congregation have never touched me before. He was just not someone who moved me. And that’s a little strange. He is commonly associated with his unfortunate moniker – Doubting Thomas – which should have made him my spiritual kin, as I too often struggle with doubts. Yet, I’ve never sought his company.

          And I’m not sure he sought mine, either!

          But then came Susan Skinner’s post, The Weight of St. Thomas. And her story of her dog and the Pay Attention to the Dogs message. I certainly paid attention because dogs have recently become a ‘stronger’ presence in my life as never before, leading me to wonder from 2 years back if dogs were to be some sort of sign for me, a warning sign. After Susan’s post, I went over our own latest experiences with dogs.

          As I began to literally pay attention to the dogs, something began to reveal itself – but from the side of my consciousness.

China

The question I had asked myself very recently, of why Pope Francis had crushed the hopes of Vatican ordained Chinese Catholic bishops by ceding to the corrupt power of the Chinese Communist Party under whose power the church in China will now come.

The headline I had read just minutes before, Chinese Muslims Ordered To Hand Over All Copies Of The Quran Or Face Punishment.

Why China all of a sudden? I wondered.

          Heaven remained silent. Won’t You tell me? I prodded once more.

          The air would not stir. So, I returned once more to the dogs. What did they mean for me? Why was I sensing something there that I needed to understand and yet could not see?

          The line in the next article I had picked at random, We were ordered to take down the Crosses on our churches, wrote a Chinese priest.

China. Again.

Banning of the faith.

Decimation of religion.

          I didn’t know what God was asking of me. But we were going for Mass, to our parish of St. Thomas. I figured I’d ask Him then.

          However, in church later, I completely forgot to ask God about dogs and China. Sitting in a pew, at a side we have never sat, after praying, I opened my battered copy of Diary of A Soul. I had been feeling empty all of that day and while I accepted it as consolation for Mother Mary, I didn’t feel there was any harm in knocking on heaven’s door. I said a quick prayer asking God to speak to me through St. Faustina and Jesus’ words to her. Give me something, Lord, I prayed.

          … I have pressed my lips to the bitterness of the cup   Entry 385, Diary of A Soul

          I hastily shut the book. Yet, a soundless voice followed me into my heart, Drink of the cup of bitterness. I looked up the large Crucifix at the front of the church. I gazed awhile at the Divine Mercy image to the left of the church. Drink of the cup of bitterness, intoned that same voice.

          At that very moment, I spied someone staring squarely at me. It was a statue outside the church, placed in the peaceful side gardens, seen now  through the long glass windows, very far from my new place in this pew. For a few seconds, I wasn’t even sure who it was. And then, I knew.

St. Thomas

          Of course, it being the Church of St. Thomas, this shouldn’t have come as any surprise. It’s also a statue which I’ve seen so many times from my quick stops at the quiet parish gardens.

          But at that moment, just before the start of Mass, St. Thomas had firmly placed my eyes on him.

          Why?

          After Mass, I forgot about St. Thomas for a while. Wanting to write out Mass intentions for a beloved soul who had just passed away, I moved to the side of the church closest to the statue of St. Thomas just a few feet away outside the church. Once I had slipped the Mass envelope into the Intentions box, I moved to leave. Genuflecting, I looked up and saw the words mounted on the wall behind the sanctuary, My Lord and my God. They had been there for some years.

          But now, for the first time, I said the words aloud, My Lord and My God.

          During the journey home, my thoughts happily darting from one earthly port to the other, a soundless voice broke through,

Thomas the Twin

Didymus

          I was mildly taken aback. I had forgotten about St. Thomas, what more, Thomas the Twin and Didymus. I suddenly realized that St Thomas was rapping insistently on the window of my consciousness.

          Once home, I immediately looked up the saint to learn about him, and received my next surprise of the day.

          My Lord and my God was attributed to none other than St. Thomas, who spoke them in shock and awe at the moment the eyes of his soul were opened to the miracle of Christ’s Resurrection.

          It was clear that St. Thomas was not some random saint passing through the desert of my Lent. For some reason, St. Thomas wanted my eyes on him. Every time I turned my attention somewhere else, he seemed to be coming and tugging at my eyes.

          Why? I asked yet again.

          A whole night passed.

          This morning, before he came, I went to him. I didn’t try to read up some more on this saint. I merely sat and waited for him to speak.

          Two words from Susan’s post drifted in like a soft breeze,

Thomas. Atheism.

          In the hours after his beloved Jesus’ Crucifixion, Thomas had suffered immensely as his world crumbled. He who had been so sure of his belief in Jesus’ words, he who had been willing to follow Jesus to possible death in Bethany when the Jews were seeking to kill Him, was now broken and crushed at the death of the Jesus he had loved. All that Thomas had fought and worked for seemed to be for nothing.

          Perhaps, in his deep anguish and grief, he even doubted God. If so, then, in those pain – wracked hours, Thomas had entered into the suffering of an atheist’s soul. If before he knew of it, after the Crucifixion, he had been immersed into and was burned by the cold flames of atheism.

          As the morning winds sing a soundless hymn, I slowly begin to understand.

China. Crushing of the flame of faith.

The seer’s words,

When Communism comes again, everything will happen. The rise of atheism.

          That was why St. Thomas had come to me. To warn me of the rise of atheism. The hell he had once known and lived.

          The spirit of atheism is an oppressor’s spirit. This Lent, I have been called to pray for oppressors. I had assumed it was confined to those in our family’s lives.

          Now, St Thomas has come to lay another name on my spirit. 

          That of the oppressor known as Atheism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 26 ~ Immerse

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         Two days ago, when I had very little genuine and unforced compassion and charity for my superiors and co-workers, I asked God the question, How long more till the promised help comes?

          God answered me early the next day with, God will help it at the break of dawn   ~   Psalm 46: 6.

          While it gave me deep consolation, it didn’t tell me how I was to bridge the gap between the now and the fulfilment. So, assuming this ‘how’ was hidden in the petals of a bloom I had once known, I returned to prayers I had prayed in the past.

          Then, a small hand pushed a wreath of words towards me. Words I had read, believed and prayed as a prayer 3 years ago.

Today bring to Me ALL MANKIND, ESPECIALLY ALL SINNERS, and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me.   ~   Chaplet of the Divine Mercy novena, 1st day.

          The words immerse and console pulsed strong. I had been firmly drawn to consoling Jesus through my recent night and early morn offerings of, I seal my heart in Your Tabernacle. Now, in a deeper way, I understood that it was not me; it had been Jesus drawing me closer to Him through that prayer – leading me to the next prayer:

Immerse souls in the sea of my Mercy.

          Later that day, through another person’s sharing of a troubling experience with nightmare neighbours, yet again, Jesus deepened the lesson that the never ending duels with my superiors and co-workers had a purpose:

Only through suffering would I be hurt enough to cry to heaven.

Moreover, I had to cry to heaven not just for myself, but for those oppressors as well.

And the prayer for my oppressors now was to be,

I immerse them in the sea of Your mercy.

          I stepped back from the call of life to meditate on this development. I realized it was no random prayer. I had journeyed to this point from the very early days of this Lent when God told me this was to be a Lent to console Jesus through the fasting for oppressors. I had discerned and obeyed as best as I could and that took me to the next stop and the next prayer for oppressors,

Replace his blood with Yours

          And now, after that, after whatever offerings of sacrifice and obedience of worth, I had come to,

Jesus, I immerse them in the sea of Your mercy.

          Each time, the darts of anger pierced my heart, I prayed,

Jesus, I immerse them in the sea of Your mercy.

          Every time they annoyed me. Every time I observed my oppressors desecrate whatever was good and pure and blessed. Every time I felt that I could not go on another day in this hell.

          Then, my husband shared his sufferings with me. And it was the same  wounding too.

Jesus, I immerse them in the sea of Your mercy.

          And also with our children.

          Each and every time the spirit moves me, I pray that prayer. Through the day. Each awakening in the night. In hope. In brokenness. When I can. When I cannot. When I don’t want to.

Jesus, I immerse them in the sea of Your mercy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 25 ~ At the Break of Dawn

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          My return to work after a short break brought with it the inevitable bite of winter. The oppression of loneliness and religious rejection. I tried everything I had learned on keeping my eyes on God, but I could sense the strength of spring slowly leave me.

          Some hours later, I received a text message of a cousin’s pain. As I reached out to comfort her through my gift of tickles, a healing crept back into my spirit. Within the hour, though nothing at work had changed, I was upright once more.

          I came home late yet determined not to bring winter in with me. I stoked the hearth to keep the fires of hope in spring alive. When bedtime came, I sought it with gladness as the day had been long and tiring.

          Settling down to sleep, I began to feel a strange weight pressing down on my chest. It felt like an iron brick. I went still, trying to figure out what was happening. The ‘brick’ pressed down harder – but oddly, I didn’t have trouble breathing. My thoughts returned to the day and I knew then that it had been harder than I was willing to admit. And it was not just today. Today had been just one day out of many long years of this same suffering. No end seemed to be in sight.

          Jesus, I calmly called out in the silence of my heart, Lay Thy hand upon my heart.

          In a heartbeat, the pain lifted. Just like that, it was gone. I snuggled down in the comfort that God was close by.

          But before I drifted off to sleep, I quietly asked God about my work woes, How long more till the promised help comes?

          Today, I see something that brings to life the tiny embers within me,

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.   ~   Psalm 46: 6

          I recalled the pain in my chest and how it had lifted miraculously.

God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed

          When will help come? I had asked.

          Could this be the answer?

God will help it at the break of dawn.

 

 

 

 

Lent 4 ~ Oppressor Hearts

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I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord,
but rather in his conversion, that he may live.     Ezekiel 33: 11

          After Jesus called me to the Lenten fast of consoling, I happened upon an account by a cancer survivor, detailing not just her struggles with the disease, but also the hurt and unnecessary pain caused by medical professionals through their lack of empathy, lack of compassion and absence of professional thoroughness in helping this woman  navigate the debilitating darkness that is cancer.

          It reminded me of something I had experienced in the past with regards to cancer (I did not have cancer; it was something else). Reading that poor woman’s story this morning brought back the memory of that sudden, piercing aloneness when you’ve just received the diagnosis – made worse upon realizing that no one really cared. No one cared much  about your emotions, your shock, about your fears of what lay ahead. They didn’t care that you were sitting there, blank, yet scrambling for questions… and answers. It mattered nothing to them that you were in shock, that your life had ground to a halt – and that it was simple charity to be sensitive to the patient’s place at that point in time – by refraining from joking with colleagues, talking about plans after work – until I got some grip on what I had just heard.

          I didn’t care if it was the kind of news that they delivered to patients hundreds of times before; it was my first time hearing it and I deserved much better than what I got from the doctor leaning away to crack a joke with another doctor. I deserved way much more than a condescending look and a careless answer when I asked my first question about treatment options.

          I had every right to concern and compassion that I didn’t get from those medical specialists. In that moment of my suffering, they were not healers. Their attitude was oppressive because it further compounded a Cross I barely even knew how to lift.

          My experience only lasted a few excruciating hours. But how many men, women and children, face this sentence in reality each day, alone and isolated in their fears because hostile onlookers want no part in their pain?

          So, today, I begin my fast for the oppressed as well as for the oppressors. Both are found everywhere, not just in hospitals and in doctors’ rooms. Some are in our places of work. Some are in our own homes. Not all are obvious, out in the open. Although it is far easier on me to cast those callous hearts aside and focus only on those in pain, I sense God is calling me to fast for the conversion of oppressors as well.

          Knowing that I might just choose to focus my consoling on those suffering oppression, God gave me a sign right in front of my eyes. Returning from Mass, for close to 30 minutes on dark roads, God placed my superior’s car in front of us. Due to the heavy traffic, we had no choice but to trail this man cruel to so many for so long. 30 minutes was enough time to pretend not to see, make excuses and then to concede defeat to God and say, Ok, yes, I will console You for this man too.

          Because just as I seek life, God wants oppressor hearts to be converted – that they too may live.