This Christmas, my prayer for each one of you, my dearest friends, is for a miracle.
That you feel the tinkle of silver bells in your spirit all the hours of Christmas and beyond.
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.
It had been a gentle and tender day of household chores. Busy hours under the quiet of cloudy skies and a light breeze, wet from old rain. Deprived of my usual morning Holy Hour, I tried to find the time to pray simple prayers as I worked, but the call of the pots and the stovetop and the laundry clanged a loud clamour for my attention. In the later hours of the sulking day, I went to my room for some quiet time, intent on saying a chaplet. But it had been taken over by blankets and soft toys and two very busy little people charming the air with giggles and smiles, toothy and toothless.
I found another chore crooking its little finger at me, and to it I sailed, prayer forgotten.
By night, little things began to rile me up. Gone was the gentle unhurried pace of the day. All I saw were the many little things that needed to be attended to before bedtime. But my household of people, in happy anticipation of a good rest, did not share my urgency. So, a little fuse was lit and the night veils heard a song of carping and fuming.
Still bent on getting to bedtime with a home in apple pie order, I unconsciously decided to help one of my children with his ironing. I wasn’t even aware of moving to his cupboard to get the shirts out.
As the hot iron moved over crease after crease, I felt a gentleness settle into my heart. While I still kept my tone firm with a slightly subdued family, giggles muffled and their eyes lowered to hide the dancing in them, Someone began to release a soothing wetness to quietly flow over the little fires lit in my heart earlier. Suddenly aware of the change within me, I paused. It was then that I heard the insistent strains of a hymn,
Ubi Caritas,…..ubi caritas…..
I couldn’t remember what those words meant, but I let them flow unhindered over my spirit because they brought with them the dew of peace. Before I went to bed, I looked up the hymn. Its English translation told me while I had not remembered my God as much I should have, He hadn’t forgotten me. He came to me to remind me that I should not make Martha’s error mine – that in every little thing I do, only one King should hold court.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one:
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time we see that with the saints also,
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good, Unto the
World without end. Amen.
During one mist-laced, green June day Mass, my spirit crumbled into a rare state of joyful brokenness and I was moved to pray,
Break my spirit upon Thy sacred stones. Break me till there is nothing left of me but You.
It wasn’t until some hours later that I recalled the prayer and puzzled over it. I had felt so close to Jesus during that Mass, so safe and sheltered, like He had put His arm around me and drawn me close to His Heart.
And yet, instead of a joyful hymn to burst from me, it had been, Break my spirit….Break me…. A prayer fierce in its force.
What on earth is sacred stones? I wondered.
Looking back on June, then till now has been some weeks of deep inner struggle hidden within days of good work and simple joys ~ which is no pretense. No papering over with false light with the intent to conceal. The inner scourging has not held back the skip of my heart. But in the much that got done, in the happiness I’ve felt and the love I could give, no one could have guessed at the relentlessness of a secret whipping within me: I struggled and struggled with anger and its tainted companions of revenge and unforgiveness.
Yet despite the secret battle in this one pasture of conflict, I found deep joys in other meadows. I partook of life and loving. There was no mechanical rigidity to my waking hours. I did not live an existence landscaped by ashes and sorrow. Every pearlseed of beauty around me sank into the grooves of my heart and bloomed.
This, for me, was something new. In each past skirmish of my entire life thus far, inner turmoil had robbed me of the diamond sunbursts that garlanded my simple everydays. But this one, this time was different.
Sometimes, even I thought I must be mad, to be so much a part of the light and yet be in pain at the same time.
I banged and banged on heaven’s door and refused to leave my place on its stoop. Why, Lord, why? I cried in near despair. Why can I not move past my anger? And why this deep swell of red when its catalyst so tiny and trivial compared to the huge trials I have faced and weathered before? Why this strange blend of storm and sun?
My spirit seeking discernment, I recalled the counsel of my friend, Fight the dark through thanksgiving. So, I lifted my eyes to the morning sky to scatter the claws of frustration. As I gazed in thanksgiving at the expanse of gold sea before me, the sun shimmered and misted the sky.
My spirit stilled and I saw the words of my prayer at Mass that day, Break my spirit upon Thy sacred stones. Break me till there is nothing left of me but You.
Suddenly, it fell into place. My spirit was indeed being dashed and broken upon the sacred stones of God’s Truth. That mysterious prayer had unlocked a fire that now flooded every shadowed crevice of my soul. Fire was piercing through inner crevasses like never before. That was why the turmoil of spirit was unprecedented. My sinfulness had never been so close to Light before; even the slightest smudge burned and burned and burned.The turmoil I was feeling was the scream of sin being rent to ashes.
My inner burning was manifesting outwardly as joy and love and strength because the fire was a grace wrought by a God who cleanses in order to free.
I had been wondering about how to observe the final ten days of this Lent. For this Lent, I had made for myself a little Lenten booklet of prayers and devotionals I was inspired to pray. But I couldn’t help but ask God if anything was needed of me in the final pearls.
It came to me gently late, late last night through an account in The Little Flowers of St Francis, about Brother Juniper, a most humble and loyal friar in the order that St Francis had established:
Brother Juniper once determined with himself to keep silence for six months together, in this manner. The first day for love of the Eternal Father. The second for love of Jesus Christ his Son. The third for love of the Holy Ghost. The fourth in reverence to the most holy Virgin Mary; and proceeding thus, each day in honour of some saint, he passed six whole months without speaking. ~ The Little Flowers of St Francis, Chapter VI, How Brother Juniper Kept Silence For Six Months
While I very much doubt anything can help me pipe down, much less go without speaking, the purposing of each day for a specific prayer, offered throughout the ebb and pull of the day, is a bloom in my spirit that tells me this His will for me in the final ten.
So often, tired out from my crosses, do I seek heaven in a sunshine-strewn life free of cares and troubled people. My wistful longing for respite from worries and the scratch of human nature makes me search for eternal joys among bursts of blooms and in the green of unblemished landscapes and perfection.
Yet, looking back on the life I have lived thus far, I cannot escape knowing that the path to heaven is seldom through the ease of a carefree wind dance through green welcomes, gay and bright. While my seeking does indeed take me through pockets of joys and merriment, more often than not, I touch heaven through the rough and painful, through deserts and desolation, for it is then that having need of God, I seek Him in humility and with a fervor, for myself and for others.
It is better to be burdened and in company with the strong than to be unburdened and with the weak. When you are burdened you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted. When you are relieved of the burden you are close to yourself, your own weakness; for virtue and strength of soul grow and are confirmed in the trials of patience. ~ St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love
Yesterday was the day for me to burn in someone’s fire. I was asked to bow before someone and to submit to a will not mine and certainly not the Lord’s. Having lived most of my life in that exact same position, and only recently finding the courage not to, I wasn’t about to make another huge knot that Mother Mary would have to undo all over again.
So, I silently refused to step into the circle of human homage. And that unleashed the flames on me.
I suffered in the tirade of thwarted intentions. Over and over, the flames leapt for me. I sat in the heart of it, unable to escape the line of fire. Any prayer thought was snatched away by the relentless flames.
But by the waning rays of sunset, another, more unfortunate, fire had started in my beleaguered heart. I began to be consumed by fury at the injustice meted out to me. I made some weak stabs at prayer, but a more concerted effort went into planning fire darts to avenge this wrong to me.
By nightfall, however, I had begun to weary. The anger raged as strong as ever, but this time, my soul fought back, refusing to bend in submission to this sin on my part. It raised a different tempest within me – the tempest of awareness. That tempest took away peace to teach me the consequences of my sin.
I found that I could bear the searing pain of someone’s fire, but not the loss of peace in my soul.
So, I turned my heart determinedly to prayer. One after another, I called at all the harbours I knew, every prayer and bible verse, begging for respite from the storm. I know that no prayer is ever wasted, but I didn’t feel the soothing balm of comfort I sought. Restless and anxious, I learned anew then, the lesson learned over and over by wilful souls – everything in His time, not ours.
I ploughed on, nevertheless.
It was then that I recalled my father, Padre Pio. I thought of his anger, how different it had been from mine. But he had known anger, understood the familiarity of struggling against it. He would know what help I needed to extinguish its wounding flames.
St Pio, help me, St Pio help me, St Pio help me.
By the closing of the night’s Rosary, the winds died down. But in unfortunate possession of a nature that can seethe on demand, I remained suspicious of the calm.
Awakening in the morning, these words came, brought on the dew wet breath of dawn ~
Be patient in humiliations.
Not trials. Not challenges. Not difficulties. But – humiliations. That alone pointed to the heavenly origins of the counsel, because the seed of the firestorm of which I was a victim was the very humiliating public scourging I was receiving for daring to break ranks, and to stand apart and alone for my faith and principles.
Be patient in humiliations. Love from the heart of heaven for the storm in mine.
I pick up my cross again, but this time, with a gentled spirit and a renewed strength.
Never before have I felt such a spring of joy and anticipation for the weeks ahead. Many years of my life have been spent yearning to embrace the future, yet wary that for every joy there will be tears. I came from an upbringing where the past was everything, the present a torture, the future muddied with doubt, fear and emptiness. In the life I once led, hope struggled to live; it rarely bloomed.
But not in recent years, not in recent days. I welcome each new day, as it rises from its ebony slumber and comes into its new majesty through a burst of tangerines, golds and blues. I welcome its promise and the hope it gifts me with.
I revel in love and being loved, hold close to my heart my family, the sacredness of matrimony and motherhood. Every one of it a treasure not to be squandered or gambled away.
Yet, my abode is not in the clouds of spiritual naïveté. I know the Storm is here and will come. I watch the skies more than I ever did, heeding the caution I have sensed that the first warnings will come in the world above me.
And lest, in this state of internal alertness, I return to the worry and fear that were the hallmarks of my past, I must remember that resilience in faith and gratitude for simple joys are the real jewels of life, no matter how bitterly the tempests rage.
by Jim Fish
When hard times come they sit a spell,
Like kin folk come to stay
A-packin’ troubles, pets an’ kids
That always get ‘n your way.
It’s drought an’ flood, an’ flood an’ drought,
There ain’t much in-between.
You work like hell to make ’em good,
But still they’re sorta lean.
The ranch went under late last year,
The drought got mighty tough.
The boss held-out a long, long time,
But finally said, “enough!”
So here I am dispatchin’ cops
An’ watchin’ felons sleep,
In Junction, at the county jail,
A job I’ll prob’ly keep.
The wife, she works at Leisure Lodge,
Where older people stay,
A-makin’ beds an’ moppin’ floors
To earn some ‘extra’ pay.
Though “extra pay‘s” the term I used,
It goes to payin’ rent,
An’ after all the bills are paid,
We wonder where it went.
We hocked my saddle, guns an’ chaps,
An’ then our weddin’ rings;
Then when we couldn’t pay the loan,
They sold the ‘dad-blamed’ things.
We felt real bad a day or two
But then we let it go,
Cause it got Christmas for the kids
When money got real slow.
When hard times come they sit a spell,
Don’t matter who you are;
They’ll cost ya things you’ve set aside,
An’ clean your cookie jar.
You’ll loose some sleep an’ worry some,
Won’t pay to moan an’ groan;
But hang on to your happiness,
They’ll finally leave ya ‘lone.
Food aplenty, open displays of feasts. No gnawing hunger, no fear of an empty larder. Raucous pursuits, a different joy every day. Freedom to scale any hill and mountain. No restraining leash tethered to pains and needs of those around us. Everything we want is there for the taking.
Golden sunrise of hope, clear skies. Not a tear, not a shadow. We skip and dance past imprisoned souls, Live life to the fullest, we call out. Seize the day, we chime to teary eyes, Join in our song of camaraderie, we sing before we breeze on.
Happy sojourns, success in every form, at every turn in the road. Eyes unseeing, ensconced within our walled-in sphere of accolades and shallow mirth. The still in the winds we sense not. The gathering hush comes slow and stealthily.
Muted tinkle of warning. Ribboned our way by a wind chime stirred by the first rain winds. For an instant, our skip is stilled. We look up from our preoccupation, irritated at the intrusion. We might see the burgeoning waves on seemingly distant seas. What’s new? That’s life, – we reason impatiently. Then, we turn away. A crow call of nothings, we shrug and damp down the sparks of messenger whispers.
The Storm hits from behind, a wild and feral fury unleashed. We latch our doors and cower in shock. Our houses are pummeled. Every pocket wherein we stored our hopes and faith torn and rent to shreds. In fear we flee the houses we occupied, tearing down streets where we built our other abodes, seeking open doors, ready welcome, comfort and refuge. Panic surges and overwhelms.
No door, no welcome.
No comfort, no refuge.
We crumple to the ground. Our life in ashes lie. Knifing through us, a wrenching grief of loss of the familiar. Mater dei, Mater dei, the cry slips from us.
An ember of light flickers to life within us. Sepia-stained memories of an ancient Call. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?
Stumbling to our feet, we search for hallowed ground, seek the Mantle we once knew. Grateful collapse, our knees we bend in humble homage. Winds screaming all around, yet, an oasis of Comfort in holy remorse and repentance. Refuge found.