OUR LADY OF FATIMA

Lent 32 ~ Priests

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Some visitors were one day discussing in her presence the faults of a certain priest who had been forbidden to say Mass. Jacinta began to weep for sorrow and she said that people should not talk about priests but they should rather pray for them. She herself often prayed for priests and asked others to do the same. ~ of Jacinta Marto, Fatima seer.

          I am tired and worn out by the week, yet able to pray, but unable to pray for others since the past Sunday. The only prayer allowed me as I reach for the Rosary is the prayer of an emptied vessel. Since Sunday, it feels as if I am only allowed to approach God in this way.

          Yet, it is not a form of spiritual dryness. Despite my physical weariness, my heart sings in a skip of joy. It’s just that although I cannot pray for anyone, the feeling is Someone is assuring me that those of my old prayers are all taken care of. And this was one of the messages in a double dream I had last year on the feast day of St Jude.

          These puzzling developments in my prayer life take me back to an October 28th dream of a huge white map in the sky. A map that showed Africa especially, a bit of Europe and to diminished extent – Asia. A blank, brilliant white map of Africa. In the dream, I chose to ignore the map in the sky. As I walked on, I saw a big statue of Our Lady of Fatima. When I saw it, I looked back up at the map suspended in the sky above, and I was filled with a deep, deep fear.

          Right after, the second dream began. I was at a St Jude church, where I saw people crammed into a little green church. Happy people.

          They seemed well take care of. Spiritually well taken care of.

          I had the sudden feeling that they were those I had prayed for. And that they were secure in the Arms of God. Sensing my work there was done, as I moved to leave the church grounds, I felt a voice write this on my heart ~

          Pray for others

          In a way I cannot explain better, I knew immediately, the exhortation was linked to the dream of the white map in the sky. That I was to leave the old petitions behind, and move on to the new.

          Since that dream in the old October of 2016, I’ve gone back to its core over and over again, wondering especially at the call to leave behind the old prayers and to move on to others. As often as I’ve wondered, I have looked out for new causes and tried to pray about them too.

     But it has not been entirely successful. I kept getting pulled back. I didn’t understand why it was that I couldn’t move on. I didn’t understand why God didn’t help me if that was what He wanted me to do.

          It was pretty frustrating.

          Yesterday, I had wanted to journey with Blessed Francisco Marto, one of the Fatima seers. I wanted to keep him close to me and to console Jesus as he did. But it was a tough and busy day, and Francisco got lost in the hours. I arrived at the humid night chimes, annoyed with myself.

          Before I went to bed, I made one last stab to place my heart close to Francisco. I prayed that he and Our Lady of Fatima come and be beside me.

          I believe they did.

          When I awakened, the October dreams appeared before me. Suddenly, I realized why the white brilliance of the map had seemed familiar. It was the white of Our Lady of Fatima. Something of Fatima was going to touch and completely envelope the continents. Beginning with Africa. But for the spirit of Fatima to take root in hearts there, I think pain might have to come first.

          As my mind stayed with that illumination, another was brought – the second dream and the call to leave behind old prayers and to move on to new calls. My previous efforts hadn’t worked because I had wrongly interpreted the timing. I had erred in assuming that I was to heed the call immediately. And so, I had thrust forward of my own accord, but because the timing was not in His will, my efforts went up against a wall.

          I wasn’t meant to move on then; but I was to, now.

          That was why the petitions were being dried up since Sunday. Petitions were mine. Even if they were about people I cared for and needs close to my heart, they were ultimately mine.

          God was now asking for a complete surrender of my prayer~will to Him. He would allow prayers as long as they were emptied for Him to fill.

          As the light dawned brighter, my eyes were turned to that account of Jacinta Marto who had been upset that people preferred to tear down a priest, however justified it seemed, than to turn to the mercy of prayer. As I read the account again, I knew it was no coincidence that I was led there because I had lived that same experience.

          Ten years before, I had been with a seriously sick child in a hospital room. A child who had feared our then parish priest because of his terrible, uncontrollable temper. Some visitors came to visit us in the hospital room. Like it had been with Jacinta, with us too the conversation steered towards priests, that priest in particular.

          And the conversation was far from charitable.

          Although I didn’t contribute any morsels to the character assassination, I disliked the priest immensely. In fact, I feared him for his ability to hurt.

          As the conversation wore on about this priest, I began to sense an odd, odd sadness. It was a sadness deep and heartbreaking.

          One spirit glance at it and I knew it was not mine. It was coming from elsewhere.

          In the next instant, I knew it was this very sick child’s sorrow. This shy, gentle child so very much like little Francisco Marto.

          This little one with me who feared this priest and his violent anger, was grieving over the way the priest was being torn down.

          The realization seared and shocked me then.

          And today, after a night kept in counsel with Francisco Marto and Our Lady of Fatima, the pearling of the dawn skies brought with it the discernment of old dreams, and the understanding of what I am to do next.

          To withdraw from malice. To pray for priests.

 

Moving On

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          On the 28th of October, I had a dream. Walking down a street bordered by old, old, whitewashed buildings, on a sunny day with the clearest and bluest of skies free from even a hint of cloud.

          And then suddenly, in those skies appeared a huge, pure white map. A blank map consisting of the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia. No cities or towns marked on that map, no names of the countries. Only their boundaries, drawn in black.

          Among the continents and countries I saw, only Africa stood out clear and bright; all the rest seemed to be in a slight shadow – but I understood that to mean that the focus was on the African continent.

          In the dream, looking at the map in the sky, I mused if I now had to pray for Africa as well. Somewhat disinterested, I dismissed it and turned away from the map, intent on my journey. A few steps on, for some reason, I stopped and turned to look behind me.

          There on the side of the street, was a big statue of Our Lady of Fatima, looking out at the street.

          I have never been afraid of any statue, none has ever struck fear within me. But seeing this statue of OL of Fatima, I was gripped with a sudden fear.

          But not of the statue itself. In that fear, my gaze immediately shot towards the white map still suspended in the blue sky, and I had a deep realization:

I have to pray for them.

          I awakened briefly after the dream. The fear from the dream was not deep, but it sat firmly enough on my heart. I fell back into sleep.

          And into the next dream.

          I was outside a St Jude church, one I had never seen before. Its walls were a fresh, clean, soft shade of green. There was a Mass going on inside the little church. It was packed to the brim. The congregants seemed happy and cared for.

          As I moved to leave the church grounds, I felt these words etched deep in my heart –

Pray for others.

          And immediately, the memory of the white map flashed before me.

          The message seemed clear enough, but there were missing pieces, as in – what do I pray for? who do I pray for – which others are these? And I wondered about the connection between the white map and St Jude. When I awakened, I realized it was the feast of St Jude – one that I have always marked by saying the 9-day novena, but which I did not do this year simply because I didn’t feel like it. So, did the saint come to me through the dream, to tell me I needed to continue my prayers for others? It seemed so, but even that didn’t make sense. 99% of my prayers were for others. It has always been that way. The strength for my own journey has always come from the nourishment of praying for others.

          But St Jude had clearly said, Pray for others.

          A mere reminder to carry on doing it? Somehow, I felt there was more.

          So, I took my dreams to the Interpreter of Dreams – St Joseph, and asked him to make them clear. After a period of quiet, a single word floated up before me ~

Consecrate

Consecrate a nation? Wasn’t that for the Pope to do? I could barely manage my own life, I didn’t believe I was being asked to do the work of the Pope now. It must be pride, I surmised.

          So, I shrugged off consecrate.

          Short days later, at Mass, the weekly prayer for the Year of Mercy was recited. One word of the many there reached out and caught my spirit ~

Consecrate

          This time I could not shrug it off. All this was now clearly beyond me and I needed spiritual direction. Suddenly, I was filled with an odd urgency to seek out my spiritual advisor, ensconced in a parish many miles away.

          Father listened to my tumble of words. Then, with a calm sureness, he confirmed that the call was indeed to place the continent of Africa into the hands of Our Lady of Fatima.

          I was still slightly unconvinced. And more than a little unwilling.  Africa had never been on my personal news-scape. I knew little of that country, and nothing before this had tugged me to it.

          Except that in recent days, for some reason, I had been rolling the name of Sierra Leone on my tongue.

          I had totally forgotten that this priest had an on-going mission with Africans. More than anyone I knew, he has a firsthand understanding of the situation there. And sure enough, he immediately grasped the meaning of the first dream:    Mother Mary was not before you; She was behind you. This indicates Africa has pushed aside the Mother of God to the far back. They have replaced her with other gods. They need to return to loving Her again.

           And on seeing Her behind you, you immediately looked up at Africa again. That is Her call to you, he explained. That you pray them back to Her.

          He advised me to consecrate Africa by offering up the continent during Mass. He reminded me that St Jude was the patron saint of hopeless cases, and his call to me in the second dream was to pray for others – hopeless cases.

          How serious was the situation in Africa, I asked, still seeking that final escape chute.

          Very, Father insisted. In some places, the faith is strong. Others – not so.

          Like where? I pressed. I knew of the fervor of pure faith in Rwanda, and flippantly assumed Rwanda represented the faith of the whole of Africa.

          Nigeria, Father offered.

          Anywhere else?

          Sierra Leone, he supplied matter-of-factly.

          I was startled. Of all the places.

          Then, Father gently but firmly added, Go beyond your family and present prayer needs.

          His words reminded me of a phrase that had come to me a long time ago ~ Spread your nets further. I wasn’t clear about it then, but the haze mysteriously cleared up a bit now. I had understood enough. Still less than eager, I was, however, determined to do what I was called to.

          Yet, my spirit remained in a hold. Not soaring in zeal. Not on fire.

          I lashed myself in obedience to the needed prayers. For the first few days, it felt right. But soon, I began to sense a drying up within me. A drying that took with it all prayer. I fought and fought it. But the aridity streamed in further and deeper.

          I was about to get myself into a twist of frustration when I remembered my vow to not revisit old haunts of behavior. Instead, I offered up my dryness to Our Lady of Fatima. The very next minute, I recalled a prayer given to me some time ago.

Empty me and fill me with the Holy Spirit.

As I prayed it with an earnestness deepened by the agony of the spiritual aridity, I felt my spirit sink in relief into the prayer. This was strange. It was as if my spirit had been searching for home, an anchor. And found that anchor in that prayer of Surrender to the Holy Spirit.

          In the days that followed, over and over, I went to that prayer. When I wanted to pray but couldn’t. When I could pray but failed to find a prayer that rested in ease on my spirit. Over and over,

Empty me and fill me with the Holy Spirit

Empty me and fill me with the Holy Spirit

Empty me and fill me with the Holy Spirit.

          On the 5th of November, the First Saturday of the month, I went to Mother Mary for the first Saturday devotion. I give you my will, my heart, my mind, my soul. I give you my motherhood, my vocations, my job, my everything. I want to pray but cannot. There is no prayer in my heart. Please, Our Lady, give me my prayer.

          And in a whisper of a moment, I felt these words press deep into me.

Rest your heart in Jesus.

          Again, my spirit reached eagerly for the new prayer. Jesus, I rest my heart in You.

          It was then that the mists parted over months of signposts and I saw their meaning.

Blow the breath of my Mother into the realms.

Spread your nets further.

Sing a new song.

And now – Africa, the packed church, the call of the St Jude dream, Pray for others.

          Jesus shone His light on the signposts.

          Heaven had received the hearts of those I had loved through prayers. They were now in the church – the heart of God. They were now safe. It was time for me to leave and blow the breath of Mary into other waiting souls.

          Beginning with Africa.

The King!

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          Early morning’s sunlight dimples. The winds in playful delight through the wetsilver of leaves. A child tumbles in with a Rose of Sharon in full bloom. For a reason wreathed in mists as yet, I felt the bloom ask for its place in our home. So, I gently placed it at the foot of my Our Lady of Fatima statue. I thought the flower was another name for our Blessed Mother. But when I looked it up, to my surprise, the Rose of Sharon instead symbolised Our Lord!

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          My mind then traced the dip in the path to yesterday morning. I had been awakened very, very early by a lone robin’s delirious rhapsody of joy on a branch of purple green, just outside our window. Their song here is usually a gentle morning lilt, tenderly respectful of a slumberer in the last wisps of dreams.

          But not yesterday. The little one sang his heart out to the purple grey skies awaiting the early blush of sunrise. His joyburst startled me out of sleep. Barely registering his exuberant cadence, a song burst from my own spirit:

Hark the herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King!

          On and on, the two lines of the Christmas hymn trilled  and trilled within me, willing me to join my spirit to its jubilant notes. I hesitated. What madness was this, at the wind down of a ragged two weeks that scraped at my soul, now Christmas in July?

          What Christmas is this?

          The little bird sitting in the tree that bears stars saw what my spirit has yet to grasp. A new wind has begun to weave its way through the disfigured pain~shards of broken dreams and lives.

          Even as the world weeps in its tortures, the King is already here.

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An Un-vesting

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          Early this week, my superiors informed us that we would all be subjected to a new performance evaluation. ‘Good’ and ‘Excellent’ work performance had been redefined to suit the times. Basically, those who trumpeted their efforts the loudest, regardless of what those efforts were, stood to gain everything. Those who worked quietly and in obscurity would have their efforts remain unrecognized and unrewarded – unless they converted to the times, and burnished everything in the fool’s gold of egoism and vanity.

          What you actually did no longer mattered. How you elevated and promoted yourself was to be the new compliance test.

          Stunned, I saw almost everything crumble before me. Like everyone else, I wanted my work to be appreciated. I wanted it to be recognized for the good it truly brought. But I shrank away from the turgidity of the platform upon which I was called to promote my work. I could not understand why the sacredness of sincere toil needed to be dolled up to be admissible for scrutiny. I could not understand why the fruits had to be sacrificed so garishness of the self might shine.

          I had a basket of simple wildflowers no one wanted. They were not fit for adornment for the times we were in.

          Everything dear and sacred to me, every struggle faced alone, one by one, peeled off and cast aside contemptuously by a world beholden to the luridness of the times. Day after sad day, one petal after another, plucked and left to flutter to the ground, deemed not worthy to be lifted by the breeze of authority.

          It was in the bitter hours of those thorn-wreathed days that I felt this word written on my heart ~ un-vesting. Over and over, I felt it pressed gently upon my spirit. Like someone unseen was willing me to see the negation of my work through the lens of heaven. To suffer it without the stain of mutiny to render it a worthy offering ~ atonement for sins – mine and others.

          Despite the gentle entreating that I open the eyes of my spirit, I kept turning away. Too much of me was bound too tightly to my work efforts. A rejection of it was a rejection of me. To cast it aside was to toss me aside too. And I took it none too meekly. Storm after storm beat a hymn of keening within me, lamenting all that I was now to lose for choosing to stand with my Lord.

          On the dawn of the 13th, on the 99th anniversary of the first Fatima apparition of the 13th of May 1917, I wearily prayed the Act of Consecration of the family to Our Lady of Fatima. I surrendered each one to my Mother. At the end of it, I remained at the shores of the prayer for a while. Then, I wearily reached deep into me and untied the moorings that had hitherto bound work efforts -my simple wildflowers – to my heart. I placed the tiny blooms of all I have done, each one, into my Mother’s hands, and stepped back into the busyness of the day, emptied but sad.

          Within an hour, a vine of tiny miracles began to unfold through my work day. I laughed with a giddy abandon and tickled dour others to mirth as well. I found myself tending to my duties with a skip and lilt of spirit lost to me in the days past.

          Surprised at the sudden change, I put my joy to the test: I recalled my losses.

          The joy remained, anchored in the serenity of a spirit freed from burdens by an un-vesting willed by Heaven. I still saw my losses. I know what has been done to me and others is wrong. But the sting was gone.

          The un-vesting called me to meekness this week, and late though I was to answer that call, the flood of joy I experienced was His Mercy~gift to me on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

          To tell me my wildflowers, rejected by the world of the times, had its place in heaven.