ST JOHN OF THE CROSS

Sorrow Before Joy

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          Today, for the first time in a pretty long while, I found the time to sit in the corner of our little garden in the afternoon and let the Mother of God take care of me. This was the first Saturday of shiny, new August, a day when Catholics like me venerate Mother Mary in a special way through the 1st Saturday devotions. This is also the first Saturday we were home to enjoy all the beauty of a lovely and quietly cheery weekend after so many weeks of sacrifice, of travelling to the city, spending hours and hours there till night. Our weekend busyness had wound to an end last Sunday with our daughter’s Confirmation ceremony, a happy and satisfying day that nonetheless, ended unexpectedly with me and another daughter falling ill by evening, followed by all the rest in the family over the course of the week.

          It made for an exceedingly tough week.

You may think you suffer much but there is someone whose name I cannot reveal to you who suffers far more.   ~  St Paul of the Cross

          Have you no mercy for me, St Paul? I asked, more than a tad annoyed with the saint who’s always there for me with words I least want to hear. But the quote did its trick. We had all come down with a bad clot of flu; yet, miserable as it was, it was nothing compared to what the mystery person alluded to by St Paul and others had to endure with far worse illnesses.

          But I also knew my God would not want me to aspire to be strong by ignoring our own illness and struggles nor making light of them. He had a better way and He showed me.

Help me to suffer this and to bring glory to You, O Lord.

          Over and over, I prayed this entreaty. Slowly, the strength to cook and clean came. The hours and days passed, and one by one, the family began the slow trek to recovery.

          On Friday, another saint, one whom I love with all my heart, came to sit by my window. As always, he stayed only long enough to leave me a gentle invite, wraithing into unseen-ess before I could hold on to him. I looked down into what he had left for me, saint who had saved my life.

Novena to St John of the Cross

Novena to love our crosses

          I jumped back and away like one scalded. No, no, no, Lord, I moaned. I’ve had it with these crosses. I’ve had it with being put through fire. No more crosses, Lord, please.

          Still, when a dear~heart friend invites you to his precious abode of light, despite the reluctance that roosts strong within you, you go. As I did. Running my heart along words of the novena,

…intercede for me and obtain from God for me

a love of suffering,

together with strength and grace

to bear with firmness of mind

all the trials and adversities

which are the sure means

to the happy attainment of all that awaits me in heaven…

the words were like thorns, drawing pain because I had not healed yet from the suddenness of this recent test, all of us being ill at the same time. The fear, the worry. Will we make it? Why were we so ill after all the good home care? Will the children make it if they are away from us?

          When afternoon came today, I felt an unusual call in my heart from the garden. There, in its sunny peace, as the breezes wreathed their hymns in ribbons around me, I knew the Mother of God was bidding me to pause and rest in Her maternal heart, to let Her care for me in the way no one else on earth could.

          As the winds gently danced around me, Our Lady turned my gaze over this old garden I’ve come to love so much, its beds of bachelor’s buttons, zinnias and chrysanthemums which the children have coaxed the earth to love and yield. The flowers I’ve grown myself – the gardenias, jasmines and old fashioned roses, the starflowers, periwinkles and celosia, each one with their own story of teetering at the cliff edge of life, then, somehow having the tide turn in their favour.

          I suddenly saw something countless gardeners must have long known, that our gardens often reflect our own paths through life, from strife and drought and fear to joy and peace and glory. And that our life journeys are often cyclical rather than falling along linear paths.

          You need to encounter pain over and over in order to meet with joy over and over as well, said Mother to me. Sorrow before Joy.

          And with that, I saw once more Her old words to me, that dark, breezy dawn 14 years ago when I didn’t believe joy would ever be possible again.

          Yes, sorrow must come before joy. Each time. Over and over.

We Have Passed a Threshold

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          Over the past 3 days, one word has been shining out like a star, tiny, yet as brilliant as a diamond.

Vindication

          On the first day, watching the news on tv, my husband heard it and mentioned it. It lodged in my memory because my husband has a gentle spirit; the spirit of this word has no foothold in him.

          The next day, to my amusement, it winked at me from the 1st reading from Isaiah 48:

If you would hearken to My commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea   ~  Isaiah 48: 18

          Today, on the memorial of St. John of the Cross, I pause to hold close to my heart the saint who saved my life. Perhaps it is a sign of his presence that once more  vindication appears, this time in the Responsorial Psalm.

Commit to the LORD your way;
trust in Him, and He will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.   ~  Psalm 37: 5 – 6

          This time, it sobered me. It drew me back to the months of this year especially. The year with the almost incessant hits and near misses of every sort. I had often mused that we seemed to be passing through a spiritual asteroid belt, littered with the stones and rocks of numerous challenges and trials.

          Vindication is certainly not new to me nor to my heart of hope, but only now, with these 3 chimes, has my spirit hearkened to it. It is not my human hope – of that I am certain. Since I sealed my gaze to the Evening Star, since its peace slipped into my heart, my spirit has found a different meadow, one carpeted by the blooms of skips, mirth and light. And later as I stood beneath her, the final full moon of the year and of the decade on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe gave me a deeper than usual sense of comfort, calm, and strength as I gazed upon her.

Each giving seemed like a benediction.

          The uncertainties of coming weeks and months are ever present. But for now, I am strangely untroubled.

          It is into this significance that vindication lights its lamp today. As my spirit stills before it, God sends His word through a dear friend who tells me, …there are 6,666 days between SEP/11/2001 and 12/12/2019, the last full moon of the decade.

          If I discern this well, he says, we have passed a threshold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pierce Me, Lord

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          Thursday, after a tough meeting, I had come home tired, a little hurt, more than a little angry, but nowhere as bad as it used to be – not because the work situation has improved; but because I sense something else in control within me. So, when I asked God, Why, why, why? Why is this necessary?, I did not really ask to know the answer, and I did not ask in the anguish of old. I asked in the slow weariness that comes at the end of a long day where the winds have restlessly stirred leaves, only to retreat to hidden depths, sullen and unwilling to speak.

          The answer didn’t matter as much as the will to endure if the road ahead was long, the bend He had spoken of, yet to be. 

          Later, opening my heart to one of my children, I heard myself saying,

Often we must suffer in order to know joy;

often too we must suffer so that joy comes to others.

          It was as if something from inside me was speaking through me, reminding me of the Cross, reminding me of why the Body must be broken and piercings endured, why Blood must be shed.

          Answering my own question of Why?

          As I spoke, I knew the bite of tears in my throat, the glisten of those same tears in the eyes of my child, as we both fell to remembering the breaking and piercing we have endured as a family, what we have suffered and lost forever.

          A short while later, an old memory was stirred. A memory of my children being a hair’s breadth away from danger, the chilling memory of how close abuse had  brought me to the edge of the cliff.

Broken and pierced beyond belief.

          But by a miracle, my family and I were saved by St. John of the Cross. He had rushed to pull me back from the brink, holding me till I heard and obeyed his urgent bidding,

Seek counsel.

          Now, years later, as I sat and recalled that miracle, I began to sense something else. I felt the strains of a hymn nudge my ears.

Lift up your hearts

Lift up your voice

Rejoice!

again I say, Rejoice!

          A Christmas hymn. A Christmas hymn in the middle of June. I looked curiously at the word, Rejoice! What did it mean? I couldn’t just jump up and pretend a jubilance. So, what did Rejoice! mean, coming as it did now?

          Two days later, we happily welcomed to our home two friends – one a beloved priest. It meant a lot to me to have Father with us on the weekend of the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Twelve years ago, I had deliberately gone past church on that very feast day. On that day, we had arrived way too late and it seemed silly to make a spectacle of ourselves and go to a Mass that was almost ending. So, we drove on.

          We drove on into the biggest sorrow of our lives.

          For the next twelve years, haunted by what I had done, I made reparation, over and over, for piercing the Heart of my Jesus that day.

          Suddenly, now, here was Father, this particular priest, the one we ran to twelve years ago when the light began to go out, sitting and having lunch with us! I was so happy!

          We sat and laughed and chatted about so many things. It was beautiful, so beautiful being blessed by the presence of Jesus within this joyful and loving priest. I have always been a Martha, fussing over things that didn’t need fussing over. But not this day. This time, I was Mary, sitting by Jesus’ feet, listening to Him.

          And then he uttered the word, Promise. He said it three times.

          My mind went to the verse in Jeremiah.

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise   ~   Jeremiah 33: 14

          To the stunning June rainbow. To the painting of The Fool and His Gold. The steady stream of signs. We must endure the piercing, I had told my child. Our Friday of 10s.

          I sense someone is waiting before me, waiting for something from me.

          I shrink back. I am afraid of more suffering. I don’t want any more of it. But I know that’s not the way to go. If I want to be a part of what is to come, I must endure the piercings too.

          What do You ask of me, Lord? I ask timorously.

          And then I dive. Pierce me, Lord.

          The winds pick up suddenly. The change is instant. From gentle sun~warmed breaths threaded through clouds and tree tops, the winds jump in jubilance and exultation. Through the trees and leaves, the winds rush as if to spread the news. The robin’s song pierces through the gold of Corpus Christ morn.

          As this excitement reaches for the highest ever notes, a soft breath writes upon my heart,

Something is about to end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 16 ~ Winter’s Secret

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Winter’s secret…

Wait upon God with loving and pure attentiveness, working no violence on yourself lest you disturb the soul’s peace and tranquility. God will feed your soul with heavenly food since you put no obstacle in His way. The soul in this state must remember that if it is not conscious of making progress, it is making much more than when it was walking on foot, because God Himself is bearing it in His arms. Although outwardly it is doing nothing, it is in reality doing more than if it were working, since God is doing the work within it. And it is not remarkable that the soul does not see this, for our senses cannot perceive what God does in the soul. . . if the soul stays in God’s care it will certainly make progress. ~ St. John of the Cross

 

 

 

Boundaries

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          It’s strange, the journeys we go on when we step back and let God take charge. After months of trying to quiet myself, of trying to discern, of being as obedient as I could, I had hopes of a new Advent journey into some unknown. I longed for something new and refreshing – because I was tired out from the work year. Tired of the same ruts and trenches. The same struggles.

          I wanted a change and I hoped for this Advent to give me that. I tried to direct God a bit too – by asking to be gifted with the book, A Pathway Under The Gaze of Mary. I went to a place where I was sure I would find it. Being the Feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it made me doubly certain that my prayers would be answered.

          Once more, I learned that my way was not God’s way. There was no book.

           So, I allowed my disappointment to steer me towards hearts that needed to be filled. The 12th of December passed quietly. The 13th brought little parcels of sweetness as we took a break for a quick holiday with the family.

          But the 14th dawned and the familiar restlessness was back. It was the feast day of an old friend, St. John of the Cross, to whom I owe my very life. There being no spot in my heart that I cordon off from him, I lay my seeking at his feet, asking,

What am I supposed to learn?

There is always something to learn when you come. So, what is it this time? All through my washing, my baking and cooking, I badgered. Tell me. Teach me.

          He helped me as I cooked. Watched over me as I napped. Yet, not a word passed through St. John’s lips.

          But as the rain-soaked night air pressed the hidden sun to sleep, two words from of old appeared once more,

Narcissist

Boundaries

          As any adult survivor of Narcissistic Personality Abuse will tell you, celebrations like Christmas are really tough. Because you’re expected to go home, to light fires of cheer and goodwill where your love is demanded in ways and means beyond you, but not valued nor treasured. Times like these, though brief, fill all the barrels for the coming year with enough hurt and tears to keep the sun out.

          And yet, the barrels keep filling and spilling over because the abuse never stops as long as contact remains. For the NPD parent firmly entrenched in narcissism, to stop abusing is to die. They keep hurting us in order to live on, believing in the deception that they have only our best interests at heart.

          But if we choose to draw the lines in the sand to cut off and separate our lives from theirs, we erect a wall they cannot climb – which is what I finally did, after more than 40 years of pain and madness that took my marriage and family life to the brink of tragedy and life-long sorrow. I was at the very edge of the cliff. Just before the rocks beneath me gave way, St. John of the Cross pulled me away. But he didn’t just leave me a safe distance from that cliff-end.

          St. John brought me face to face with God.

          And that day, I learned that Christian NPD parents are not above abusing the 4th Commandment: Honour thy father and mother, that all may go well with you. That day, I learned that I had been trained and conditioned to worship, not honour. And that was wrong. That day too, I learned that no vocation must be forsaken for the love of earth.

          My submission to Narcissistic Personality Abuse was destroying my vocation of Marriage and Family.

          In my situation, there was no option of standing up to my abusers. Not a chance of gently making them understand or even of forcing them to respect my vocation, because not only did this abuse in my family stretch back to two generations with multiple abusers and secret victims and abuse of varying degrees, it was also fed from both bloodlines. For every limit I had endeavoured to impose, there was always someone else with NPD in the family to back them up, to enforce the idea that they had done no wrong.

          That it was I who was wrong. And that they had been wronged by me.

          In God’s heart that day of my epiphany, I finally saw that the only way to save my marriage and family was to yield to a boundary my abusers could never cross.

          It’s now been 5 years since I’ve begun to learn the meaning of lying down in green meadows where a brook gurgles past blooms that dance in winds of freedom. Yet, every celebration time, the mist of fear and worry rises a little within me: Should the boundary remain? Should I return? And each time the question forms, I become afraid. I begin to fret over unlocked gates, passing cars. I tense up in familiar family grounds. I fear the phone, the mailman. All the things that bear the stains of past encounters.

          In those minutes when I give that question life, am unable to live. My mind gets caught in the trap of what-ifs. Prayer becomes careless, patience erodes, anger creeps in. And that is ominously telling. The boundary must remain for the vocation to live.

          In today’s coming though, St. John brings me a second reason for the boundary – it is to enable me to pray for my parents. The existence of the boundary means I am no longer trapped and held in bondage to the abuse that takes hostage my very mind and will. I am no longer caught up in anger and hurt and frustration. My mind is no longer clouded by lies and deception. My time is no longer taken up in paying homage to those who believe themselves to be God. I am free to live as God wants me to.

          But I have also been freed – to pray heart and soul, for my abusers. Because as the good priest made clear to me that day – the abuse makes me the person who knows exactly what to pray for them – that one day, like me, they too reach that shore where God’s outstretched Hand awaits them.

          And like me, they reach out and take It. And be freed.

          For that reason, the boundary must remain. The court of public opinion would assert that these are lines drawn with hate and unforgiveness.

          They are wrong. It is love.

 

 

 

 

Follow Me

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          Thunder rumbles from the grey breast of a huge, roll cloud lying low in the darkening west. The day is almost at its end. With the promise of heavy rain due soon, it is a fitting close to the week, for I so love rain and a wee storm on a Friday.

          More so when it marks the closing of the 40.

Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered,
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.   1 Kings 19: 4 – 8

          It has been 40 days since it came strong that this too must be my journey, 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God, accompanied by St. Padre Pio, my spiritual father, and St. Michael the Archangel. If I’ve discerned the 40 correctly, then, today, I should be at the mountain. 

          At the foothills? The peak? Somewhere in between?

          I don’t know.

          Or still a long way off? I wouldn’t discount that, I’ve been wrong about a lot of things a lot of times.

          But it has been a huge journey, at least to me, marked by the ridges and canyons of struggles, old and new.

          And yet, I say this too – as much as I’ve felt the waves hit and pound at me, I’ve also felt the gentle embrace of warm sea~swirls, lovingly assuring me that I was not alone. The 40 has passed quickly, smoothly, and with a strange decidedness. As if Someone was ahead of me, turning the pages, knowing when to turn them. In many of my previous bouts of struggle, there’s always been confusion. Doing and undoing, back and forth. But not this time. No matter how deep the frustration or anger on the journey this time, it was always clear to my heart, if not to my mind, what I needed to do to put one foot forward and to move on to the next point. And for all the knots of struggles and difficulties, the peace has been undeniable. Every day, worn out and frustrated from work issues, even angry with God on some days, I’ve come home to my husband and children, and somehow, found  renewed strength and will to care for them. Not every day was great. But it all worked out each day, no matter how hard the gone hours had been.

          And I know that I had nothing to do with it.

          My prayers and whatever obedience I could squeeze out of my willfulness, took me some distance, but the serenity I experienced despite the hurts, the bursts of life, courage and exuberance to work and work and work – none of it was mine.

          It came from somewhere else. A power from a Love and a Wisdom so deep and firm, that no human can ever lay claim to.

          A power that guided me to the seas of deeper freedom.

          Where do I go from here? I had wondered aloud to beautiful soul who had journeyed the 40 with me.

          That very night, someone passed by my window of waiting. He stepped quietly, his movements quick, economical. He left me a little package and swiftly took leave. He didn’t wait for me to recognize him.

          He was St. John of the Cross, Father of the Carmelites, to whom five years ago, Our Lady of La Salette had passed the mantle of responsibility to lead me to the Light of freedom, away from the shadows of a narcissist’s abuse. I learned of his enduring love for me, as he stayed by my ear for weeks and weeks, untiringly calling out, Seek counsel, Seek counsel, Seek counsel.

          When I finally bent my ear to him, he led me to a priest – incidentally, one promised to the Carmelites. And my children were saved. My marriage was saved. 

          My very life was saved. St. John had snatched me away from the jaws of death and lifelong sorrow and anguish.

          He has returned now, on this final day of the 40, in his customary quietness, to invite me to follow him for the 9 remaining days of September. When I first read his note, even more so when I looked at the contents of the package he had left at the doorstep of discernment, I wasn’t sure. The Novena to St. John of the Cross is a hard novena to pray from the heart, for it will take me into the deepest silence of amare nesciri – to love to be unknown. To eschew all and everything for the Heart of God.

          But St. John didn’t tug me to him as he did before. He didn’t linger to hear my answer.

          He didn’t have to, I guess. He knew what it would be. 

LENT 29 ~ Touching Heaven

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          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

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