St. Anne

Words for the Hour


          Today, my phone warned me that my storage was almost full so I set about deleting accumulated content. Then, I came to a dear friend’s messages. She was the maid of honour at my wedding almost 23 years ago. But more than that, she was someone who was always looking out for what was best for me. A gentle person, she nevertheless never shied away from telling me uncomfortable truths. She wasn’t always right; sometimes she was dead wrong. Still, the bond between us ran deep and tight.

          When I came to her messages today, I knew that I would have saved any that I wanted to keep so with one swift move, I hit Delete. Sure enough, everything went – save one:

Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your very great reward.   ~  Genesis 15: 1

          That was my dear friend’s New Year message to me this year and seeing it now, my heart was pierced. I knew God was speaking through that verse.

          I have a lot to to be anxious about. The Delta variant is wrecking havoc as far as the eye can see and I have no faith in my government to lead us through this. Last month, I also began discerning a major move in my life. While I’ve made some progress, I’m still some way from a confirmation. I’m handling my work stress so much better now – but it hasn’t made me like my job more. There are all these little hills in my life, the terrain far from smooth.

          I haven’t forgotten what the past months and years have been like. The pain and the hurts remind me to be thankful for the present gentle hours, even on days when it’s easy to forget life was so hard a short while back. And so I tighten my grip on gratitude.

          But I’ve always been honest in my writing and here, I will not pretend that I am strong and positive now. The past weeks have seen glorious, stunning sunrises and sunsets. Pinks, golds, tangerines…all the colours of joy and hope that reach out and just catch your heart each day. July has never been an easy month for us for many years now.

          But I don’t remember a July as beautiful as this one has been. Every morning for more than a week now, the angel has woken us up with a surprise in the eastern glory of the sky. All through the day, the winds sing their hymns among the trees and flowers. Sometimes, in a quick foray to my garden on a busy work day, the winds quieten momentarily as I work in the flowerbeds – only to spring forward in a sudden gust, like a little child springing a jolly surprise on his mum. And every evening without fail, someone was sure to point to the sky’s western breast where the sun painted his last words in a spill of colours we know so well yet which still startled us.

          Somewhere over the weekend, I sensed the word, Faith, being written on my heart. It was easy to skip about when the sky is painted in hope and joy, and faith was not difficult to summon then. Then, August Queen prayer came and I knew the days were about to change. On Monday, a strong wind blew for hours and sealed the sky with thick gray and white fleeces. By night, the rain poured its grief upon the land. Nourished from the beauty of recent days, we welcomed each change unafraid. Soon, however, the thick white of the clouds descended deep into my heart, and faith needed a bit more work to reach for.

Let me hear your voice, I called to heaven. Leave me not bereft.

          St. Anne heard me and gently spilled light into my heart this afternoon. Doing some writing and finding the going a bit tough, a friend came forward expectedly and shone needed light on my path. How my heart jumped in happiness! That alone sufficed and I continued working with the renewed vigour that insight often brings.

          But God was not quite done.

           In the evening, when the sky was an unyielding white, He spoke through the love of my old friend, touching the wounds I did not try to hide from Him,

Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your very great reward. 

          So, I’ve come to place His words here. To let them touch and heal and soothe any passing hearts, for even the bravest souls will meet the hour that breaks their courage.

          Here then are His words for that hour.

Gift of Hope


          A storm of sorts taught me a gentle yet potent lesson about the power of hope.

          About 2 weeks ago, one of my Muslim colleagues quietly let me in on a little secret in her heart: she was finally expecting her first baby after many years of marriage. While the news filled me with joy, there were frissons of worry too as my friend was experiencing intermittent bleeding. The government medical services in my town being what they are, I suggested that she seek a second opinion at a reputable hospital in the city, some hours away. I also recommended my gynaecologist at another medical facility in the same city, but I didn’t push it knowing fully well how deeply entrenched racial and religious biases are in this community here.

          My friend listened carefully but then came the weekend and a work week filled to the brim with another round of distractions. Unsurprisingly, she got caught up in a swirl of office parties, non-essential tasks and inane hysterics. Concerns were dismissed.

          This morning, I got a call from her, the quiver in her voice betraying her emotions as she told me that the doctor at the local hospital had told her the baby was gone. He had also administered an injection to ‘speed up the process’ and given her some pills as well. In pain and frightened, the woman had sought a second opinion at private clinic not known for much beyond an insensitive doctor. There, the doctor had performed an ultrasound and told my friend that something could still be seen in the womb.

          Now, my friend is hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer, and she hadn’t equipped herself with sufficient knowledge about foetal development. Hence, she didn’t ask the questions she should have. The local doctor’s words instead gave her hope that the baby was still alive; they also filled her with agonizing regret and anger that she hadn’t sought the services of a good doctor earlier.

          Thankfully, that second doctor knew she was out of her depth in this and wrote a referral letter to another private clinic, frequented by Muslims, in the city. It was on her way there that my colleague called me and told me about all that had happened.

          When I heard where she was going, with a firmness even I didn’t know I was capable of, I told my friend to forget about the place she had been referred to and to instead go to my doctor. Rudderless and in tears, her wits all about her, she now clung to me. She agreed to see my doctor, and asked for directions.

          This was where another little miracle took place. I am hopeless at reading maps and at giving directions. I can’t even correctly direct people to my own home. But on the phone at that moment, you wouldn’t have know that. The directions came out crisp and clear and more importantly, correct.

          An hour later, my friend called to say she had safely arrived and that my doctor would see her.

          I breathed a little easier. I knew that whatever happened, my friend would be safe. There were reputable Muslim gynaecologists in the city; I could have easily directed my friend to those of her own faith and she would have been in expert hands and everyone at work here would have clucked approvingly that she hadn’t besmirched herself or something at the hands of a non-Muslim. Yet, I sent her instead to not just a highly regarded non-Muslim specialist, but one who was also a devoted Christian – because I wanted her to be safe. Under this Christian doctor care, not only would she get the care and advice she needed, she would be made to understand the facts other doctors of her faith may prefer to gloss over.

          And whichever way this swung, I was certain only this doctor could bring heaven to her frightened heart.

Through him, she would receive Jesus.

          In the ensuing wait, despite the odds stacked against her, I prayed hard for a miracle. If it is Your will, I told the Divine Mercy, but He surely knew which outcome I was hoping for.

          There was so much riding on this baby.

          Some years back, this woman had caused a good deal of trouble to me. Angry and hurt, I had run to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, and laid bare my heart. Very quickly, the Lord had let me know that she was under some kind of spiritual attack. With my hurt no longer at the forefront, I was freed to pray for her to be released from whatever it was that was binding her.

          Once I began praying for her, the Lord allowed me to overhear bits and pieces of office conversations, and I learned that hers was a marriage in deep trouble. Although she clearly had a fondness for children, she adamantly refused to start a family. As the years went by, I knew my friend and her husband were drifting further and further apart.

          So, I began to pray for the gift of a child for her. When she told me the happy news weeks back, it was the sweetest news for more than one reason.

          But just like that, here we were in a sudden squall risen out of nowhere.

          A few hours later, I heard from my friend again. Her baby was indeed gone.

          This is not a community that can keep a secret. She must have texted the others at work, for I saw people huddled together, furtively whispering. Before long, people were airing their own miscarriage stories and although she wasn’t there to know it (and gladly), my friend was left to bear her cross alone. The workplace being what it was, concern and empathy were quickly spent and this woman’s closest friends then moved on the next revelry.

          Staring at her words, Could not be saved, grief came to life once more. Even if it was beyond others, I wanted to help my friend get through this.

          More than that, I wanted this baby to live. Not to come back to life from a miscarriage – but to live on, hidden in her mother’s heart. That was so important because the Muslims in my country subscribe to the belief that a foetus is just a clump of cells until the third or fourth month. That is why they seldom trouble themselves to do all the right things in the first trimester. That is also why many here think nothing of aborting a baby at this time – or even later. Even for those who lose a child for whatever reason, due to religious edicts against mourning, combined with a cavalier attitude towards the preciousness of life, that loss and that child is soon cast out from memory. They see grieving as weakness, not love.

          I didn’t want blatant lies to take root in my friend because lies devastate and kill the body and ultimately, the soul.

          So, I shared with her a truth I had come to learn:

That her baby would always love her.

And that they would meet some day.

          I didn’t tell her how I knew. That would have to be her journey. I just placed my words in the Spirit and released them from my heart. Still, I feared my words would seem strange to her, and that when the gaggle of so-called chums returned to feed on her sorrow, they would bury that wee baby and not allow it to live.

          Nonetheless, it was vital that I do what I had to do. And so I did.

          Surprisingly, so very surprisingly, my friend took my words to her heart once more.

          And then, she told me about my Christian gynaecologist and how he had helped her and her husband, who was very emotional, to understand what had happened. He didn’t shove the painful details out of sight, he didn’t assume they weren’t bright enough to understand. Instead, he gently walked with them as they came to terms with their pain and regret.

         Even at the end of such a harrowing day, this Muslim girl, raised in a climate of crippling suspicion and mistrust, could testify in love and joy, that a Christian doctor was the best. And then, she told me that despite the loss, the world suddenly seemed like a brighter place.

Jesus had truly touched her through the doctor!

          In a whisper of a moment, I went from sadness to exquisite joy! A baby had gone and yet, here I was shot through with gentle arrows of sun~bright happiness. I couldn’t understand my own feelings but it was clear that all 3 of us – this lady, her husband and I – were filled with a sudden, inexplicable light.

          In one moment, it came to me:

This is what the hope of heaven is like.

          Christian hope is not always privy to what lies beyond the bend, it knows not today what the morrow will bring. Yet it blooms, even in death, when we choose life as God wills. My friend and her husband had made that terrible, anguished journey to the city to save a baby that their faith did not fully acknowledge but whom their hearts had loved from that first day of knowing. That selfless Christian doctor they saw had said the words they needed to hear to keep their grieving hearts open to God’s gift of life.

         And even if her womb never loves another baby, I hope I helped my friend to understand that she is now a mother too, with one wee baby patiently waiting for her.









Sword of the August Queen


In 1864, a soul, Father Louis Cestac, saw a vision of demons spread out over the earth, causing unbelievable ravage. And then, the Mother of God told him that the time had come to pray to the Queen of the angels, and to ask Her to send the holy legions to combat and overthrow the powers of hell.

“My Mother,” said this soul, “you who are so good, could You not send them without our having to ask?”

“No,” replied the Holy Virgin. “Prayer is a condition set by God Himself in order to obtain graces.”

Upon asking for a prayer, Fr Cestac received from the most Holy Virgin, the prayer, August Queen.


          Over the weekend, an unseen hand gently and lightly took me to the 40-day St. Michael’s Lent Novena. It was a set of prayers I had been led to more than a year ago in August when a colleague had hurt me very deeply. Through the 40 days of prayers at that time, I found strength and consolation to rise each day and to go to face this strange and unexplained hate towards me. With the love of Jesus, Mother Mary and St. Michael, I made it through those bitter days of humiliations and hurts.

          Last weekend, I realised that it was 40 days to Christmas. The yearned for end of year break was approaching in a week’s time. I was very tired. All I could think about and anticipate was the end of a work year and the beginning of some weeks of rest – and not forgetting, the joy of preparing for Christmas!

          But out of nowhere, Someone reached out and caught my heart, leading me instead to the St. Michael’s novena. With little deliberation, I promised to say it.

          Nonetheless, the leading this time was so gentle that as soon as I said the first day prayers, I wondered if I had misread the summons – because it felt like the prayer did not fit the season. I wondered if I had jumped into this with the spiritual impetuousness so typical of me. Yet, having sealed my will to saying the prayers, I balked against bailing out.

          Today, I discovered that my committing to the prayer had nothing to do with impulsivity. For today brought a very minor brush against that same colleague’s hatred and anger. After long weeks of peace away from her, she had returned briefly this morning, and in those minutes contrived to let me know how deeply the rivers of hate still flowed within her. Slightly singed this time from the fire in her hidden depths, I had no intention of returning to the poisonous wellsprings I had swum in before. So, as often as it rose within me, I placed this new hurt in the hands of St. Anne, the mother of Mary, for St. Anne is the keeper of my tears.

          As the last of the waterbirds sang their farewells to the setting sun, and the smoke-coasted winds bowed their heads to the coming night, a new emissary came before my heart, bearing the prayer, August Queen. Something brushed against my spirit as I read the lines of the prayer.

August Queen of the Heavens, heavenly sovereign of the Angels, Thou who from the beginning received from God the power and the mission to crush the head of Satan, we humbly beseech Thee to send Your holy Legions, so that under Thy command and through Thy power, they may pursue the demons and combat them everywhere, suppress their boldness, and drive them back into the abyss. Who is like God? O good and tender Mother, Thou will always be our love and hope! O Divine Mother, send Thy Holy Angels to defend me and to drive far away from me the cruel enemy. Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us, guard us. Amen.

Defend me. Cruel enemy. A battle cryAm I being asked to say the prayer? I wondered. Putting the call to the test, I received my answer: I recalled the vicious, senseless anger of my colleague earlier in the day.

          It was not mere frustration with the vagaries of life. It was the breath of hell.

          And the August Queen prayer was to be prayed against it.

          Overruling the last remnant of doubt, I firmly decided to make it my morning prayer for as long as I needed to. But Someone wanted no shadow of uncertainty to fall across my prayer, no matter how slight.

          At that moment, one of my children, named after St. Michael, casually told me about a sudden gust of wind earlier in the morning. Among the many little beads of events from a busy day, this stood out and it was laughingly shared it with me.

          It took me back to a day a few years ago, when I had been in prayer to St. Michael and hours later, had sought a sign.

A sudden gust of wind had sprung out of nowhere.

It came straight for my heart and then it was gone.

I understood then that it was the sign for me of St. Michael’s presence. And now, upon hearing what my child had said, I immediately recognised it – it was St. Michael’s sign.

          August Queen. The title of the prayer tugged at me. And then, I saw what I had not seen before.

The August Queen prayer was the closing prayer of the St. Michael’s novena.

          The last petal uncurled. In the final days of the year, even as the bells Christmas joyously tinkle ever closer, another wind is rising unseen, determined to come between us and the Light to Come. The shadow that hides within the confines of many hearts is the odour of that feral entity.

          It must be fought – but now with The August Queen prayer.

          That was St. Michael’s sword to me.