Suffering

I Love Thee

 

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          Almost two weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked me if I had heard of this particular St Joseph novena prayer ~ 

NINE-DAYS NOVENA TO ST. JOSEPH

(Note: This prayer was found in the 50th year of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Sometime during the 16th century, it was sent by the Pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle. It is said that whoever shall read this prayer or take it with them, shall never die a sudden death or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect on them; neither shall they fall into the hands of the enemy, or shall be burned in any fire or shall be overpowered in battle. Say this prayer for nine days for anything you may desire. Then let go and let God. Trust that whatever is the outcome of your novena is truly what is best for you in accordance with the will of God.)

O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.

O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. Amen

O Saint Joseph, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. O Saint Joseph, pray for me. (Mention your intention)

          Then, this person informed me that he had a ‘spiritual’ nudge that I would have need of this novena too.

          That certainly got my attention because in the days before this happened, I had noticed that St Joseph was coming up pretty often. And my husband and I were both facing serious work-related issues as well. So, I took it as a sign and began the novena.

          The day the novena ended for me, I received a whipping at work. I had my life efforts dismissed for the second time in two years. My abilities were belittled and in shock, I watched another august institution I had respected deeply crumble into the sewer of moral erosion, pride and blindness.

          Although I withstood it better than the previous hit last year, the bewilderment and the pain was severe and it cut deeper, because this time, my humiliation was public. I was desperate not to cry, not to compound my shame, but I sensed the unrelenting wet hovered close.

          An angel answered my prayers and pressed my tears into a vault in my heart, to not fall before eyes, and a dear friend’s prayers got me through the day. I stumbled home in a condition one would expect as a result of the smashing and grinding into the dirt of every potter’s vessel worked and lived for.

          And yet, I sensed something was different this time. Throughout the lashing, my strength in tatters, I begged for grace to hold onto the Fatima Way, because I was struggling to hold on to my cross.

          Slowly, faintly, I felt my spirit being held up by unseen hands. I felt unseen hearts willing me to not break. I wept some, but again, someone caught them.

Take my tears, I whispered to the angel I had summoned, Press them into Jesus’ Wounds. Tell Him I carry my cross for the Love of Him.

          Turning my heart to heaven, I called upon the saints of my heart ~ St Joseph, Padre Pio, St Francis of Assisi and St Jude. I prayed for help because I feared the wave that would drown me was hidden from sight but advancing.

          And then, I prayed for my prayer.

          The prayer to anchor my heart to God’s when the putrid blackness of anger and hatred born of a wounding inevitably arrived. I prayed and I begged with every breath. But only silence resounded.

          As the barest of evening winds began to be touched by incoming sable hours, my eyes were led twice to hymns and verses of Praise. I recalled Mark Mallett’s deeply enlightening explanation of praise ~ …the most powerful praise comes when we acknowledge God’s goodness in the midst of the dry desert, or the dark night…, and I knew no matter what shadow my heart lay in, the lepers’ response could not be mine; I could not return in thanklessness every gift He had sent me.

          So, I somehow found the will to form praise from my heart. I formed it from the bitterseeds of the scourging I had received. I forced myself to push past the pain to acknowledge my own sinfulness that to some extent I deserved what I had received, because pride in my abilities and work results had birthed tiny seeds of scorn towards others. By nurturing this within me, I knew well enough where I was headed for, yet no attempt had I made to pull this sin of pride out by its roots.

          I don’t believe I watered this poison; but I certainly didn’t deprive it of its home in me either.

          I picked up my sin and wove my praise from repentance.

I have sinned, Lord, Let me suffer this for you.

          Hours passed. Sinking my heart into the night’s Rosary with a yearning only a wounding can bring on, I wearily touched heaven’s door yet again, Lord, give me my prayer.

          In a breath, gently, I sensed something bud and bloom in the emptiness.

You Who live and reign forever,

I love Thee,

I love Thee,

I love Thee.

          I jumped eagerly for the words that streamed serenely into my spirit. But they gently eluded my will to tendril their peaceful vines around my brokenness. Over and over, all through the still night eyes, with no exertion, like breath I breathed them,

You Who live and reign forever,

I love Thee,

I love Thee,

I love Thee.

          I marched the events of the day before me. I replayed my humiliation. I kept my sin before me. Through each one, I breathed,

You who live and reign forever,

I love Thee

I love Thee,

I love Thee.

          When the silvers of dawn found me, the pain had gone. No trace but the memory of it.

          Not to cloud, nor to shadow, but to light the weave of path ahead.

 

 

 

 

Home I Have Come

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          My Christmas surprises came a little late this year – they came this week. Little things longed for, but on which I didn’t dare linger in yearning too long, lit up my tree the first week of 2017. Little gifts, left to surprise, in misted pockets along my path.

          So, it has been a happy week. Tiring but happy. I flew to duties, I flew to tasks, with an energy I hadn’t felt in a long while. And it felt good to see things work out. It felt even better to see how I handled life when the road dipped unexpectedly around the bends.

          I should have been up in the sky of a hundred blues, twirling next to the shy gold sun.

          But I wasn’t.

          Something was missing. I missed my Lord’s voice.

          I missed Him in the press of spirit I sometimes feel when searching for Him. I missed Him in the unseen Hand on my will, holding me back from something. I missed Him in the songs sung by unseen voices somewhere deep within me.

          This week, it certainly felt like He had released me to skip along my own path in wildflower meadows hiding a thousand surprises of light and joys. And skip and dance and spin I did, for it was great to feel light and unburdened for once.

          Yet, I came to the quiet sunset of the week, feeling a slight emptiness, despite the successes and happiness of the busy days past, no sorrow or suffering casting their shadows. I didn’t feel abandoned. But I did feel as if my Lord had skipped town for a bit.

          And the lights dimmed for me.

          That was when I realized that as much as I longed to be carefree and in a perpetual jolly frolic, I only felt anchored to my God in suffering – whether it was through my own suffering or through the pains of others. In the days past, Heaven had blessed me with the freedom to wander unrestrained amongst dancing grasses and singing blooms, and even as I sang happy ditties, my spirit ached from an odd loss. The missing of something that had always been there. That should have been there, but it was not. It was much more than an attachment to something.

          I was feeling the bereftness that binds a life lived away from the sun of suffering.

         Today, I came late to the morning hours birthed from a cloud-festooned grey~blue sky. Hence, I missed my usual rest by God’s door, and that poked more than a bit at my heart. I didn’t like missing my morning Holy Hour of sorts. It wasn’t much, by any standards, and to not keep even that was to sink to a low I was not comfortable with. But there was no chance to slip away.

          Deep in chores I had offered up in lieu of my still~time with Him, I sent God my yearning:

I want to pray. Not like this, on the go, but to really immerse myself in prayer.

          The wish had barely left my heart when I heard unseen voices, singing a familiar song in a somber timbre. I leaned in to listen. It was the Litany of Saints. Sung by a choir hidden from sight. I recognized the tune, but while the voices were clear, the words were oddly muffled. I immediately wished I knew what the response was to each saint mentioned in the litany, because, while I didn’t know the Litany off by heart, but I knew enough saints to be able to concoct my own litany. I just needed to know what the response was. I could then pray as I worked.

          On cue, the voices sang, St…Pray for us.

Pray for us. That was it.

          About to begin the prayer, I felt an imperceptible tug on my spirit, like Someone was holding me back a wee bit. So, I stepped back from the choir, and tried to discern the message – if any. I thought perhaps it was to understand what to pray for, or to focus on a specific saint.

          Instead, I felt I was led to focus on the hidden voices singing the litany. The mystery choir.

          Who are they, I wondered. Angels? It didn’t seem so. Monks or priests singing it on recordings I have surely heard many times before? Quite possibly, yet, it didn’t feel that way.

          I leaned in deeper. 

          And made out a quality of sorrow in their voices. Unmistakable notes of pleading woven through the grave cadences. Something familiar about them.

          And once I had reached that, I felt my attention led to the next lamp:

Pray for us.

Angels wouldn’t ask us to pray for them.

          And then I knew. Those were the voices of my friends, the Holy Souls.

          When I had expressed the wish to pray deep, it was to sink deep into my friends’ and their children’s prayer needs, those I had been informed of. I had their faces before me, and I wanted to be there for them.

          But it was not to them that God turned me to; He instead led me to the most loyal of my friends, the ones I love, yet, often forget. The ones in the deepest pain – the Poor Souls.

          I had asked to be able to pray, to touch the pains of my friends and loved ones, for Jesus. And so, He answered me by letting the pleading prayer of the Holy Souls fall on my ears, so it may be my prayer too. To their suffering I was led, their song I joined.

          And there I found Jesus. Home I have come.

 

 

 

 

Cross the Jordan

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          Years ago, plumbing the depths of desolation, I heard these words in an insistent whisper,

Cross the Jordan

And you will find rest.

          I almost wept in frustration. I couldn’t even put one foot in front of me in hope, what more swim across a biblical river.

          But unseen souls wouldn’t give up on me. On and on, over and over, through weeps and struggles, stumbles and falls, the holy wraiths urged me  forwards,

Cross the Jordan and you will find rest,

Cross the Jordan and you will find rest,

Cross the Jordan and you will find rest.

          Grave after grave, farewell after farewell, one loss after another. And I’d struggle to my feet for the sake of my husband and children, for the sake of those at work who depended upon me. I walked blind, unable to sense or feel anything but the tearing sorrow of dashed hopes and dreams.

          I fell more than walked.

          I knocked at doors as I stumbled, begging mercy, respite from the wrench of pain. Many doors closed. Many never even opened. Get over it, move on, they said from their seats of comfort and triumph behind the lock. But some doors were thrown open. The most wounded of all reached out to me, fed me, nourished me and with love, set me on my way, for the journey could not end then. And long after I had crested the hill, they remained in watch at their doors, willing me on, despite their own bleeding.

          Great has been the distance covered since I began this weave through the most bitter of valleys. Yet, not one step could I have managed without the love of other wounded hearts that chose not to hide in hollows of pity. What I was fed with, they gave from their pain, they gave despite their bleeding, many wounds unhealed. They didn’t wait to reach their rest to put out their hand to me. My angel~saviours, both of this world and the next, seen and unseen, known and stranger alike, never once left my side, never ceased their whisper, willing me the life-giving hope I didn’t have.

Cross the Jordan and you will find rest.

          With that chorus in my ears, I have made it this far. At the end of this week, a Light awaits in the dark. Waiting to touch  and bathe me in welcome. But I do not want to fall into Messiah Luminescence by myself. I want this welcome to bathe one and all, every seeking soul.

          And so, to every pilgrim soul lost in the grey and in the dark, I shine you this light that was lit for me from the love of countless others,

Cross the Jordan and you will find rest.

          Do not stop now, do not give up. Do not let bitterness win. Hard as it is, the road we stumble along is not as lonely and as empty as it seems. Many hearts travel the same routes unseen, brokenness a common coat shared in the freeze of loss. Even when all hope is gone, even when all has been taken away, especially when there is absolutely nothing left in our jar of oil, Jesus fills it with His own grace.

Yet, it is a grace not always felt. It is a hope not always sensed. It is a light not always seen.

          But it is a life~grace born of the most bitter of Crosses. It is a grace born of One who chose to Love despite the dark, One who chose life through death so that He may pour His grace into all of us, wounded seekers of life eternal. Our Messiah’s grace poured into us at our most empty, stands at ready to light the strength we need to not stop now, to not give up, but to cross the roughest Jordans of our life, to reach the rest Jesus has ready for us.

          Come now, beloved brethren, Christmas is almost here.

Don’t stop now,

Don’t give up.

Cross the Jordan and you will find rest.

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To those who bound my wounds and fed me,

Always, always in my heart,

Sue Shanahan, https://commonplacegrace.com/

Carlos Caso-Rosendi, https://casorosendi.wordpress.com/

Susan Skinner, https://veilofveronica.wordpress.com/

Nancy Shuman, http://www.thebreadboxletters.com/

Veronica Jarski, https://theinvisiblescar.wordpress.com/

God’s Child

Merry Christmas

Unfurling the Mercy of the Eucharist

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St Germaine Cousin, Patroness of Abused Children

 

          Today brought me learning about a young saint, St Germaine Cousin (1579 – 1601), who lived at the heart of terrible physical, mental and emotional abuse by the very people who should have loved, sheltered and cherished her, but who instead showed her what an earthly hell was.

          After her birth mother died prematurely, her father remarried. Soon, the sight of the young, pitiable girl with a withered hand and scrofula – a tuberculosis infection of the lymph nodes, which, in her case, resulted in unsightly abscesses in her neck, drove her stepmother into a frenzy of hatred. Fearing the risk of contagion to her step-siblings, Germaine was isolated and banished to a narrow space in the stables, shared with the animals she had to tend to during the day. I cannot help but wonder if the deformed hand, and the fact that scrofula was then known as the King’s Evil, might have worsened the abuse. Did her stepmother, who made a habit out of severely beating, scalding the child with hot water, and administering other abuses, delude herself into thinking she was ridding the child of demons through her mistreatment?

          Did her stepmother see demons where there were none? Did young Germaine’s purity of spirit agitate the darkness within the stepmother’s soul, worsening the whippings, food deprivations and humiliations? Driving the woman to a madness of violence, that perhaps, even she could not understand, much less contain?

          Germaine’s father, by some accounts, was said to be a weak-willed man.

          I think that’s too mild a word for someone who lived near such horrific abuse, but never suffered it himself, yet did nothing to halt it. 

          I cannot place him in a kinder light. I think he loved and cared much for his own self-preservation – to the point of excluding love for anyone else. Blood could pour out of his daughter, but nothing could be allowed to threaten the comfort of his position in that family. His entire heart must have been filled with himself; nothing left over for anyone else, not even his very own daughter. It must have been – to have deafened and blinded himself to his little girl’s tears and sobs and sufferings; not to have been moved by the even the sight of his own flesh-and-blood, living amongst animals, like an animal, dressed in rags, feet blistered and bloodied because she was deprived of shoes, rising before dawn to slave in servitude for him, her step-siblings and stepmother, and then shepherding in meadows bordered by wolf-infested forests.

          What heart of stone was this, un-softened by even a whisper of love for his own child?

          It is the heart of an abuse-enabler.

          That which belongs to one who looks the other way when abuse is being perpetuated. Who, like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands off Jesus, distancing himself from his duty. Who holds up the evening papers and huddles behind it to separate himself from the injustice when the child is being beaten and humiliated, convinced the child brought it upon herself.

          Did this man, to whom a child of God was given, over time, begin to nurse a secret dislike of his own child, by justifying to himself that Germaine must have been doing something to stir the nest of tempests in his tenuous household? And by that conjecture, hold her accountable for all that befell her?

          When the line was drawn, I wonder if he ever joined in the abuse – just to show on whose side he stood. Did he add to the slaps and kicks, on his wife’s demand, perhaps? Or join in the family chorus of vitriol against the defenseless child- just to ensure that he remained one of the others?

          Did this man, Laurent Cousin, find suffering in the second marriage of his choosing? And failing to find the courage to carry his cross, blame this daughter of his for necessitating this marriage of woes?

          And mercilessly hurl her to the wolves in his own household?

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          The little Germaine grew up and wore out the rutted paths of violence at the hands of her abusers – her entire family. But with each lash endured in silence and meekness, the angels buried her deeper into the Wounds of Christ. While she lived Calvary at the hands of her family, the young shepherdess’ soul was drawn into a deeper union with her Heavenly Shepherd, and some were privileged enough to witness this through the miracles of the parting waters as she went determinedly to mass, and the changing of bread in her apron to winter blooms never seen.

          But the far greater miracle borne of this pain, was the holy magnificence of a spirit that never yielded to the saddest consequences of abuse – the hardening of heart and the inward centering of the victim’s gaze. The more Germaine was abused, the more she loved others – through her teaching of what little catechism she knew to children, through her sharing of scraps, through her Rosaries. Her own suffering didn’t take hostage her sense of charity. It didn’t mottle her loving kindness. Nothing veered her from that steadfast adherence to her Shepherd’s call in her spirit. Germaine was given a paltry daily ration of black bread by her stepmother, but even of this paucity, she saved to share with others she deemed more deprived. The fate she was enduring was never foremost in her mind; mercy was.

          By the sharing of her rations with others, she gave them Jesus. 

          By humbly submitting to the breaking of her body, Germaine sent the Eucharist where mercy was most needed.

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          All through my Friday Rosary of the Sorrowful Mysteries, I met the pensive gaze of the holy shepherdess as I wove my prayers for abusers and the abused through the Holy Passion of Christ.

          And yet, the weave didn’t remain in place. I had the faintest sense it was  not the prayer I was called to that day. 

          In the hours that followed,  I probed my discerning. Slowly I felt the abuse that St Germaine suffered recede from my spirit. I struggled to hold on to it through prayerful probing, because that is the common thread she and I share. But it slipped through my fingers.

          I had the vaguest feeling, it hadn’t ‘slipped away’ as much as it was taken.

          In its place lay a little bud the shepherdess placed on my soul. 

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          It is in My Passion that you must seek light and strength. ~ #654, St Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy In My Soul.

In My Passion…..seek Light…

          I rested my mind in the Passion of my Saviour.

          And the bud began to unfurl its petals of red. I began to see that the breaking of Germaine’s body healed and nourished other souls, to go forth themselves, to multiply mercy through the same giving – the breaking of their own bodies for others.

          Going back to my own life, and petal by petal, my spirit saw each year lived. Every tear, every storm, every uprooting – converged on a single point of Light: the Holy Eucharist.

          I have slowly begun the journey to comprehend the purpose of the gnarls and twists and ruts in my life. Every nail endured through the loving of others is the unfurling of the mercy of the Eucharist in the pain of need, to be multiplied in a succession of other lives, one soul after another.

          .

         

THIS CROSS ON OUR BACKS

We have our backs bent from carrying our crosses for a good part of our lives. Bent from carrying the crosses of others too. Bent from stoicism. Bent from sorrow.

Diego Rivera: The Flower Carrier (1935)

Diego Rivera: The Flower Carrier (1935)

But what kind of cross do we have on our backs?

“…….we have allowed distractions, self-absorption, anxiety, the endless pursuit of pleasure—in a word, worldliness—to enter our hearts. The irony is that we carry these things upon our shoulders like a cross—but it is the wrong kind of cross. The Cross of the Christian is meant to be the cross of self-denial, not self-seeking.” ~ Mark Mallet, http://www.markmallett.com/blog/rekindling-love-for-jesus

When a friend abuses our trust and friendship, when someone we trust lies about us, or cheats us of what little we have, and we are left feeling bereft and angry, do we flee to the Lord or do our feet trace a resolute path elsewhere?

Mourning

Hours of slaving over a project only to have it dismissed or caustically appraised. Years of struggle to keep a marriage going, and facing its death, nevertheless. The golden child who finds later years comfort in drugs.

What do we do?

Do we drown our sorrows in the bottle, try to discern our future in the wine dregs in our glass? Do we bow our heads in embarrassment, shame, and withdraw from society? Or paint a smile on our faces, project false cheeriness because no one needs know the depths of our loss and shock?

by Pablo Picasso

by Pablo Picasso

When the church we trust becomes something we do not recognize.

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          Do we turn our backs on her, for it is she who owes us, and there is no reason for us to try to help her? Do we ignore her wounds, inflict more, even, because we cannot accept that we are the Church, and if she bleeds, so do we, and by that token, if we bind Her wounds, we bind ours as well? Does the hurt and betrayal keep us anchored to the dark swells of fury, well away from the bleeding hand of our own body and soul begging for help?

What kind of cross do we have on our backs?

Whenever we get petulant and want some extra hours to wallow in the quicksand of our making, when dark comfort is what we seek in the welter of poison emotions, we hoist on our back a cross that is no cross. When we reject the path He has set for us, whenever we rush past His waiting form, rebuffing a love bought with blood, we choose for ourselves a yoke like no other.

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We chaff under its weight. We struggle to straighten up and move on. We bang on the doors of Heaven, and when we do not feel its give beneath the weight of our anguish, our anger explodes against God.

And yet, it’s not His Cross that we carry.

It’s not the Cross He chose for us.

Too often, we break beneath the weight of a cross we selected for ourselves when we rejected His.

But our pride and pain blind us to the truth – that for every grief that comes to us, we get to choose our cross.

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And if it’s with humility, obedience and faith that we choose His Cross, He carries it with us, for He is Love.

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Child of Peter

Just days after the Easter Vigil experience, a new prayer slipped into my heart:  May THY grief be mine. Not my words. Not my prayer, for it is the prayer of a Victim Soul. A soul consecrated to suffering for Christ.

Never in a million years would I have the courage to pray such a prayer.

I have had my crosses. I have carried them, however imperfectly. Like everyone else, I still have crosses that must be picked up each day and carried. I like to think that I am not one who runs away from the cross. I might whine and scream and rage at heaven; banging on heaven’s doors is an art form I have perfected. But I have always carried my crosses.

But to be stretched and torn and mangled for others….to be a Victim Soul, or something akin to it…..The mere mention of it makes me flee in terror.

Because Pain is not my friend. I can never see Pain as my companion. Pain has marked a great part of my life but because I am a happy person, Pain repulses me.

And yet, after the “blessing” of the great white Light on the cusp of Easter joy, May THY grief be mine is the prayer God has willed for me.

Heaven’s call is clear: Suffer with Me.

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In as much obedience as my cowardly heart can muster, I whisper the prayer. May THY grief be mine…..May THY grief be mine….May THY grief be mine.  Yet, I cannot claim heroism in praying the prayer. I cannot not help praying it. It slips through my lips for there is a strange power in it. May THY grief be mine is a prayer whose power towers high above my fear and reluctance. I cannot help but yield to it.

Yet, even as I pray it, my heart flees from it, trying to put as much distance between the prayer and what would come of it. I am afraid of what lies ahead. All that my cowardly heart sees is the mountains that must be scaled, the dark and forbidding terrain that must be travelled.

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I see Golgotha for me.

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So many times have I heard about the betrayal of St Peter, the fleeing from his Master at His time of need.

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I have felt brief indignation that Peter would have the heart to do such a thing; smug pride that I would never do a Peter.

But now, I know, I am truly a child of Peter.