the gift of tears

CemeteryI am regularly experiencing a new thing for me: tears! Lots of tears.

A couple weeks ago I reached out to my friend Angela via text. In that conversation, I mentioned that I find myself crying lots but that I’m not sad. She texted back admonishing me not to forget the “gift of tears.” I’d never heard of the gift of tears and the quotation marks in her text told me it was a thing, so I looked it up. 

This article said the gift of tears is a "phenomenon mentioned in spiritual writers since very early in the Church, and it refers to an intense personal experience of God that overflows in abundant tears. It is the overflow of a spiritual experience in an emotional/physiological expression that creates deep comfort in one’s soul, and deep encouragement for the person who receives the gift, . . .”

Lo, and behold, I think Our Lord has given me the gift of tears, at least for a season. It’s difficult to describe, but the tears seem purifying, a lot like prayer. They come unbidden and seem to be an expression of one of two things: deep gratitude that I haven’t the words to express or intercessory prayer where I have little knowledge of the facts, but sorrow over the need.

It’s not easy to describe, but I want to give it a try. One of my “happy places” is a large cemetery. I go there often to walk and pray. Here, the tears sometimes flow, feeling like intercessory prayers. Often tombstones deliver sorrow to my senses and I experience significant awareness of the pain in our world, that person’s pain, their family’s pain. I offer up my tears and the tears and pain that that tombstone represents for those people and their descendants.

Recently, I stumbled across a couple who, decades ago, lost four children under 10 years old. Two of those deaths were in the same year. The crushing grief! It is almost too great to think about. But it can illustrate how I think God may be using the “gift of tears” as a form of intercessory prayer.

Did these parents’ grief send them to God or did they grow bitter? Did they raise their other children in gentleness and grace or harshness and severity that sprung out of crushing grief? Did the other children grow despondent? Did they carry dysfunctional grief into their adulthood, damaging their children, who in turn damaged their children, and on and on and on. Tombstones represent people with eternal souls, not just the soul named on the tombstone, but the souls deeply impacted by him or her, too. God is all powerful and outside of time. How does God use my prayerful tears? I have absolutely no idea, but I know He is not bound by time and He is full of mercy. My cemetery prayers rise to Him and are not “too late” to make a difference. Many tombstones belong to souls in purgatory and I present those souls to Him through, what I have recently come to think of as, intercessory tears.

Regarding how the “gift of tears” are expressions of gratitude, I will use my daughter, Deborah, to illustrate. For years, I wondered why on earth God would allow what He allowed in Deborah’s life. I assumed I would never have any clarity this side of heaven.

Deborah’s life was marked by nearly every sin imaginable. That she is alive, is probably a miracle in itself. Recently a photograph of Deborah brought on tears of gratitude that words couldn’t express. The picture was on the day of her confirmation and it portrayed at transformed person. In it, I saw how God had even changed her countenance. The tears, laden with thanksgiving were also purifying. I realized how contrary to what I had assumed – that I’d not see any answers to why her life unfolded as it did this side of heaven – I saw her powerful redemption story in her countenance.

I can say in absolute honesty, if Deborah’s wild years were required to make her into who she is today, a young lady who wants Jesus to be #1 in every area of her life, then I’m so grateful for those years. I’d willingly go through those years again. I’d willingly go through even worse. What a breakthrough this is for me! Those years, and even the memory of those years, are shrouded in such darkness and despair. But now I see a reason to view them with thanksgiving and purpose. Deborah put her whole heart into rejecting everything good. She practically mastered the art of putting her whole heart into something. Praise be to Jesus Christ, with that expertise she is now putting her whole heart into pursuing Jesus.

And the tears flow. They are tears of inexpressible gratitude. They are prayer. The tears are communion with God.


confirmation

Jan 6 1Last Saturday God answered another big prayer request. Deborah was confirmed into the Catholic Church and wee Atlas was baptized. Oh how glorious to see God expand his kingdom and bring more of my loved ones to him. My heart is so incredibly full.

In his kindness, God has been causing me to stumble upon notes and prayers - like this one - asking him for these gifts, as if he is saying, "always keep praying, my daughter. I love to involve you in my work." 


my catholic conversion

St john lateranMy journey into the Catholic faith is a glorious part of my life and this is my attempt to capture some of its beauty. 

I grew up in an anti-Catholic environment. I thought Catholics worshipped idols, worshipped Mary, paid no heed to the Bible, added to the Bible to suit themselves and, I knew for a fact, that they drank liquor and danced. The lax morality of drinking and dancing (Haha) in and of itself separated them from my fundamentalist upbringing. Even though I spent almost three decades with this negative view of Catholicism, the next 20 years were marked with a longing for something that Protestantism didn’t offer and an attraction to some things that I may not have known were Catholic at the time. This writing is a recapitulation of some events that happened through the years that pulled me in the Catholic direction, because once I embraced Catholicism, I saw a sacred thread running through my life pulling me in that direction for many years.

Sacred threads:

I met a good, Christian, Catholic family in my young years and was quite puzzled by them. Just the tiny bit of exposure to their ways, intrigued me. Each daughter had a crucifix over her bed and that made an impression on me. Crosses were part of my paradigm, but crucifixes were not. *

In 1992, I was very struck my Mother Mary’s faith and holiness as I read the story of the Annunciation. I even wrote an article called, Mary, a Woman of Great Faith, that was published in a Christian newspaper.

After Gordon and I married – I was 27 – I entered the darkest season of my life. Gordon bought me a paraphrase of St. John of the Cross’, Dark Night of the Soul. It was so deep and profound that I could only read a few paragraphs at a time. I plugged through it and it ministered deeply to me. Upon finishing it, I re-read it. I had never experienced a book like it. It stirred things within me that had never been awakened. I knew St. John of the Cross[1] was Catholic, but I reasoned that he was way before Catholics went off the rails into idolatry.

During the same period, I experienced “Responsorial Readings” for the first time in the Baptist church we attended. These readings delighted my soul. In the same church, we occasionally recited The Apostles’ Creed.[2] I loved everyone, in unison, saying, “I believe . . .” *

Through the ensuing years, I occasionally picked up a Catholic book or article that added to the intrigue. Paula Huston’s, The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life influenced me greatly as she told her retreat experiences in a monastery and the customs she adopted having spent time there. I was mesmerized and longed deeply for the faith she saw in the monks. I longed to meet a Catholic like the ones I read about. It didn’t need to be a saint like St. John of the Cross or a monk; a faithful Catholic who deeply believed and lived their Catholic faith would have sufficed. That person was elusive.

The Holy Way, the book that I’d recently read, stirred up a strong desire to sit in a sacred space and just enjoy God’s presence. Catholicism was so foreign to me that I was intimidated to go to a Catholic church alone. Gordon escorted me to the local Catholic seminary to see if they’d grant me permission to spend time in their chapel and attend Mass. The few times I went to the chapel were divine; I wish I’d known who I was with back then. I sensed His presence, but assumed it was “spiritual only”. I didn’t yet know about the “real presence.” (Once Gordon and I walked past a tabernacle with the crimson candle beside it and he told me that Catholics believe the wafers are really Jesus. I thought that was a ridiculous concept and said, “Well, that’s stupid.” I’m sorry whenever I recall that flippant remark.) *

I went to a women’s retreat on prayer at a Catholic retreat center and I had a private retreat twice at a different Catholic retreat center. I spent my time in the library alone, reading and praying. I didn’t understand the significance of the chapel and chose the library because I was afraid I’d get in trouble for doing something wrong in the chapel. It seemed so sacred and everyone did movements (genuflecting, bowing, and making the sign of the cross) I didn’t understand and I sure didn’t know the rules of when to do each movement. Even without understanding why they did those movements, I was struck by the reverence. *

When I homeschooled the kids, I designed a course on saints, with special emphasis on St. Francis of Assisi because he was my favorite and St. Nicholas because I loved his story and wanted the kids to see where some of our Christmas traditions came from. *

We started attending a church that was more contemplative and I loved it. The pastor implemented symbolisms, such as lighting a candle to remind us of God’s presence, and other things of that ilk. Once, to the chagrin of many, he lit incense to remind us that our prayers were rising to God like a sweet fragrance. It blessed me tremendously. *

At a powerful Good Friday service – I’d never experienced a powerful Good Friday service – at the end he invited the congregants to come to the front and pass the cross thoughtfully. I was so internally moved. I loved Jesus and wanted to do something external to express my love. I was so grateful for his sacrifice and I wanted to DO something to show it. I sat there pondering this trying to articulate the inner struggle and what it was I wanted, but I didn’t know. About that time, a lady who had grown up Catholic and converted to Protestantism approached the cross and bowed. She bowed. That was it! That was what I wanted to do. As I approached the cross I wanted to bow but at my moment of opportunity, I allowed my inhibitions to get the better of me. I didn’t bow and returned to my pew sorry that I hadn’t had the guts to bow in gratitude to Jesus who died for me.

Communion had always been a bit of a mystery to me. In my childhood church, it was all but comical. (In 2005, I wrote about my lack of understanding of the Lord's Supper here.) To me it seemed nothing more than trying to conjure up sadness: “Poor Jesus. They killed him because of my sin.” I tried to enter into that, but it was never authentic. I went to a number of churches through the years and none of them gave me any more insight into the Lord’s Supper. At this contemplative Baptist church, for the first time, I got just a bit of insight. One thing we occasionally did there was go up for communion rather than being served in our pews. That so resonated with me. His sacrifice wasn’t cheap, didn’t it deserve my getting up out of my comfortable pew and going forward to receive it? Didn’t he deserve my choosing to receive as my getting up indicated. Going up for communion, as opposed to it coming to me, really impacted me. It cost me something to get up. By walking forward, I identified with him and chose him, I felt.

One Sunday during Communion, I had my first Communion insight ever. As the pastor read the Scripture, “Do this in memory of me,” a light bulb went on and it seemed to be Jesus saying, “Remember me. Remember how I loved the  children. Remember how I healed people. Remember how I had so much compassion on them.” In my prayer journal, I thanked God for the insight and said something to the effect of, “I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what Communion means. I know there is something much, much more than this insight, but it’s the first one I’ve ever had and I’m so thankful.” From then on, as I received the Protestant communion, I always remembered the insight and tried to remember well the Jesus of the Bible. It certainly helped, but I still knew there was something HUGE I was missing. I knew it! Monstrance

Around the same time, I started reading lots on St. Francis and the Franciscan order. After much deliberation, I tried to join an ecumenical order of Franciscans, meaning it was open to any denomination and to either gender. Twice I tried to join, both times no one answered my emails. This effort was to no avail, but I tell it to illustrate my hunger for something more than I was finding in Protestantism. 

When Deborah started school, I went to work and no longer had the luxury of going to the occasional weekday Mass and quit thinking much about Catholicism. But I grew more and more discontent with Protestantism, although I would have used the word "church" rather than "Protestantism", because it never occurred to me it was a Protestant problem; I thought is was simply a church problem. Catholicism, of course, was not a viable option because I believed all the lies I'd been told. Many Sundays I skipped church to be alone with God. During those times I prayed and read my Bible and got so much more out of it than going to church. Those Sundays were my favorite. It seemed I always got annoyed at church. I very often complained inwardly that it was too people-centric. Everyone who took the stage seemed to think they needed to be entertaining. The announcements had to be clever, the worship leader always had to offer his insights, the minister, then the worship team, the special music, . . . To my way of thinking, the God-focused time was very small. And even that part was sometimes disturbing as I recognized that each minister could believe something different but it was his version of truth. I wondered how one could know who was right, and it seemed like a vicious cycle that couldn’t be escaped. I remember listening to a debate on the end times by two ministers that I respected very much and wondering, “Only one of them can be right, but they both claim that the Holy Spirit taught him. How can we know who’s right and who’s wrong?” *

I remember several times telling Gordon I wish I could find a church where I really fit. I was attracted to different things about different denominations, but there wasn’t one that took my favorite things and discarded my least favorite. I wanted a customized church to my liking. That’s a pretty ugly way of thinking, but it was my way of thinking. And why not? After all, in Protestantism anyone can start their own church and everyone chooses the church they like best.

Once after our Baptist church had an ugly split, it became almost unbearable just to attend. I remember being so  incredibly disillusioned trying to figure out what was needed to get church “right.” Something was missing and I knew it!

More sacred threads:

When Gordon was still a Baptist minister we read articles, did a little research, and concluded there were elements about divorce and remarriage that we couldn’t reconcile with his being in pastoral ministry. We both experienced conviction – he could explain his, I couldn’t explain mine – that our marriage was “off”. (That is my word, because as I said, I couldn’t articulate my conviction.) His conviction led to his resigning pastoral ministry. *

Gordon and I used birth control, but we both admitted way back in our young days that we felt conflicted about it. There seemed something amiss about it. We said we trusted God with everything, but recognized we didn't quite trust him not to give us more children than we could handle. *

Once when eating out I saw a man pray over his meal and cross himself. It was enormously compelling and I wished for a Protestant equivalent. When watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the aunts crossed themselves upon hearing “bad” news. Although it was a humorous part in the movie, I recognized a desire to have an instant bodily prayer upon hearing something grave. When I worked at a Vet Hospital and an animal died, I wanted to do something that marked the sacredness of a life ended. Sometimes I secretly made a cross on their bodies with my fingers. Even a dog’s death seemed to merit a holy gesture of some sort since it had been created for God’s pleasure. During those moments, I wanted to be Catholic because I recognized they had an appropriate gesture that conveyed a holy moment.

My pastor offered something that vaguely helped, at least at mealtime. He told me to cup my hands to acknowledge that I come to God empty handed, aware of my need and that everything is a gift from him. It helped, but it was still lacking.

RosaryGordon and I visited a Catholic bookstore and he bought me my first set of rosary beads. They promptly became a part of my evening prayers. I didn’t pray the rosary, but I designed a Protestant way of praying with the beads. I quoted the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, three “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner,” and then gave my loved ones at least one bead each as I prayed for them. I recognized how involving my hands in prayer kept me focused in prayer. Later, Gordon visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal and bought me two more sets of rosary beads. I cherished them. Later, his friend went to Rome and asked Gordon if he’d like a souvenir and Gordon requested a set of rosary beads from the Vatican for me. I was thrilled, but still prayed my beads in a Protestant fashion. My rosary beads were accumulating. I had a set in the living room, the bedroom, the office, and in my car. Because I was enjoying mine so much, I even gifted some to other Protestants telling them how they were helping me focus better in prayer.

And then finally, . . . after 16+ years of searching, I met a faithful, committed, holy Catholic. Robin and I worked together and I was attracted to her because she didn’t shy away from mentioning her faith. She had convictions and wasn’t afraid to discuss them with anyone. I had often thought of holy people as people who prayed, read their Bible, and tried to live lives of integrity. Robin went beyond that. She went to Mass daily, guarded her tongue better than most, lived a very convicted life, and quickly stood for her convictions if they were being assaulted. We became friends and started taking our afternoon breaks together. She patiently let me grill her for months. I began to go to Mass with her occasionally and I loved how it wasn’t people-centered at all. I presented her with problems I saw with the Catholic faith and she told me what they “really” believed as opposed to what I’d always heard they believed. She cleared up lots of my confusion. She couldn’t clear everything up for me and tons of confusion remained, but Robin’s conviction of being right was unwavering. 

Gordon, recognizing my sincere exploration, bought me Peter Kreeft’s book, Catholic Christianity. Peter Kreeft is a convert to Catholicism himself, and this book explains the Catechism.  I was enormously blessed by this book and spent the whole summer poring over it, reading it in conjunction with all its Bible references. As I read things that resonated, my heart would pound with excitement. Many questions were answered, others were unanswered. But there was enough goodness, clarity, and beauty that I knew I wanted to learn more. Many of the longings, the dissatisfactions in my church,  the vague convictions that I couldn’t clarify, many questions about passages in the Bible that I didn’t understand, - all the things that created that sacred thread pulling me into The Church – were slowly being addressed and, to my amazement, the answers were found in the Catholic Church.

By buying the rosary beads and books, Gordon was being a sweet, kind, and loving husband wanting to help me grow in faith. He had no intention of facilitating my conversion to Catholicism. I told him I wanted to join RCIA (adult classes for people interested in learning more about Catholicism) and he wasn’t particularly happy about that and he wasn’t at all interested in joining me, as I’d hoped.

My first night of RCIA, I was very excited, but nervous. Still in the hallway on my way to the classroom, I sensed the Holy Spirit so powerfully that I nearly began to cry. Then as we went around the room introducing ourselves, I couldn’t hold it together any longer and I cried as I told what I’d been reading and some of the things that were drawing me to Catholicism. I also told how my journey was “upsetting the apple cart” at home and how if I continued on the path, I knew it would be hard. In my world (my family and friends), everyone agreed that the Catholic Church was way off the mark.

From that night on (it lasts about eight months) RCIA became the absolute highlight of my week. It was vibrant, and I fell in love with the faith more with every meeting. The word I use is "beautiful". The Catholic faith is the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. I had believed a lie all my life. The Catholic faith, were it what I’d always heard it was, was worthy of the vitriol I grew up with, but I was seeing the lies very clearly. The lies I’d heard all my life were just that, ignorant lies.

 

[1] St. John of the Cross lived in the 1500’s. Whereas Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation, St. John was working within the Church for reform. He was imprisoned and publicly tortured by fellow Catholics. As Catholics, we esteem him for being among the faithful who fought for reform in the Church without breaking away from the Church.

[2] This is the Apostles Creed which we say at the beginning of every rosary: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

* indicates that I want to eventually address this topic in more detail.

  • Why Catholics venerate crucifixes above crosses
  • Liturgy
  • The Eucharist
  • Reverence and Christ-centered worship
  • Saints and why we value them
  • Symbolism
  • Magisterium
  • Marriage and its indissolubility
  • Natural Family Planning

advent thoughts

InnkeeperHappy third week of Advent. Advent is a season to prepare for the coming King, both the Baby King and the soon returning King. I'm trying to live Advent mindfully. 

Decades ago, there was a Motel 6 commercial that ended with, "We'll leave the lights on for you." I recall that phrase every time I get up during the night and see the lit-up living room. I leave the lights on the tree burning 24-7 during Advent as an on-going conversation with Jesus. "Jesus, my home and heart welcomes you. The lights are on so you can find your way. Do you see the welcoming light proclaiming, 'this house over here?'"

Unlike the innkeepers in the gospels who had no room for the Holy Family, I want Jesus to see our welcome from afar. My blinds are open and the tree lights proclaim, "You are welcome, Lord Jesus. My heart and home have room for you. You will be honored here. You, your mom and St Joseph, are welcome to stay here. The simple (and smelly) shepherds are welcome to worship you here. The esteemed Magi are welcome to bring their gifts to you and pay you homage." By assuring him that my "inn" has room for him, I'm committing that the ones who worshipped him in the manger are welcome to worship him here, too. "I have made room for you and all of them in my heart and home. The lights are on so you can find us easily. The blinds are open so we can easily be seen as a welcoming place. Jesus, please join us through this Advent."

I welcome his second coming, too. Might the lights that I'm leaving on for him shine symbolic light on my heart to reveal areas that aren't ready for his return? I want to be pure and holy, like a bride washed clean, pure, with eyes only for her bridegroom, radiant in his pure love. Are there areas that aren't ready for his return?

Jesus, be born anew in me and in my home. Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Holy Spirit, convict and cleanse me. May my heart be fit to welcome the coming King. 


masked worship?, offer it up

Masked worshipLast week COVID restrictions were increased and one notable change was that masks must be worn throughout Mass now. Before, it was just when we were not in our pews. It grieved my spirit. (Here is why I think masking is a spiritual liberty infringement.) 

I was "off" to say the least. I struggled breathing properly; my glasses stayed fogged; and, I was hot. I couldn't hear any responses from the faithful and realized the masks were muzzling their voices. As I observed this, I resolved I wouldn't let the mask muzzle my responses, that I would enunciate clearly and loudly. 

During Holy Communion, we are allowed to take our masks off on the "X". I resolved to stand there an extra moment and let Jesus look on my face. Back at my pew, a cried a bit thinking about how COVID restrictions have affected our worship. I left Mass slightly heavy-hearted.

In the afternoon my advent reading ended with this reflection question: What expectations and demands of life can you let go of so that you can be more prepared for the coming of Jesus? I knew instantly that I was to offer up my "muzzled worship." Within seconds, I saw things differently. With this change of attitude and spiritual posture, I'm going to worship more efficaciously during Advent, not less. I'm going to "offer up" the masked worship as a sacrifice, uniting it with Jesus's sacrifice. What a difference this mental and spiritual shift will make. 

Does Satan mean the masks to be oppressive and hinder worship? I believe he does. But I'm not going to give him that. Instead, I'm going to offer the mask, maybe even two of them, as a sacrifice, uniting it with Jesus's suffering for the salvation of souls. I will gladly don my mask, or two, throughout Advent as penitent sacrifice. I will reveal my face to Jesus for those few extra seconds on the "X" for us to look at and whisper our love to each other with unveiled face. I will speak my responses loudly and clearly through the mask. I will delight in the privilege of being oppressed by a mask for Jesus's sake.

Happy Advent. Come Lord Jesus.


prayer, communion of saints, st therese

RunnersI love to pray, and I consider prayer my calling. I think I was put on earth to pray (and deposit five awesome souls into this world). Prayer is a huge part of my life. Huge.

Recently I shared a little bit about St Therese of Lisieux and the communion of the saints and I want to develop it more.

Communion of the Saints

The Communion of the Saints is one of my favorite Catholic teachings. I accept every teaching of the Church as true, what I mean by favorite is that it is beautiful to me. I’m no theologian, but I want to describe what the Communion of the Saints is as best I can.

Christians are the mystical body of Christ. We are always connected. When a Christian dies, he/she continues to be part of the body of Christ. They are not cut off from the body of Christ just because they died on earth. They remain part of the body, just in a different location. Being his mystical body, we, his disciples, are intimately united.

We are surrounded by the saints, those who are in heaven. Hebrews 12:1, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, . . ." This verse is following the "Hall of Faith" chapter where many saints of old are praised for their faith. Here we see that those saints are with us, “we are surrounded.”

Imagine we, all Christians, are in a huge stadium. Either we are running or have already run. If we are running, we are still alive on earth. If we have already run, we have departed this life. As residents of heaven we are filled with perfect charity and have no impurities, insecurities, axes to grind, or any of the emotional baggage we deal with here on earth. Instead, we want each runner in the race to succeed as if he or she is our beloved little brother or sister. We know the pitfalls and the challenges of the racecourse because we ran the same course. We want to lend our support and wisdom.

The saints in heaven hear us, pray for us, and take our prayers to Jesus. Revelation 5:8, “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” Psalm 141:2 speaks of our prayers as incense too. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!”

When our prayers reach heaven they are as incense. Catholic churches burn incense as a symbol of our prayers wafting up to heaven.

James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” A person in heaven is perfect in holiness therefore their prayers are the most powerful and effective. Asking for their intercession is smart.

Some might object to our asking the saints for the intercession by saying we should go directly to God; we have Jesus as our mediator, we don’t need anyone else. Yes, Jesus is our mediator, and we can go directly to God. Communing with the saints does not undermine that; we must speak to God regularly. But God made us a family. As a mother, it delights me to see my children loving each other, praying for each other, counselling each other, laughing together, etc. I would be terribly disappointed if I were the only one in the family they talked to, not to mention how dysfunctional it would be. The saints in heaven are our wise big brothers and sisters. We don’t need them because God is in any way deficient. Rather, each person in the family is a gift from God to every other member of the family. God delights in us having rich relationships with our siblings.

To take, “we should only go directly to God,” to its logical conclusion would be to say we shouldn’t ask anyone on earth to pray for us either. But we know from numerous verses that it’s God’s will that we pray for one another.

Others might think that talking to the saints is sinful because God forbids necromancy. This objection fails to recognize that the saints in heaven are alive and well. More alive and more well than anyone on earth.

Necromancy is inviting the dead to talk to us totally apart from the love and light of God. Whereas we recognize the saints in heaven to be fully alive, someone in a séance recognizes they are striving to speak to the dead.

If talking to those who have departed this world is always sinful, Jesus would have been guilty. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus was joined by and spoke with Elijah and Moses who had departed this world centuries prior.

St Therese of Lisieux

I wrote briefly about her before, because a couple of her admonitions touched me deeply. “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love,” was one. But my absolute favorite thing she said was this: I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.

St Therese understood the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints. She had a long, painful struggle with tuberculosis, and when she said those words I love so much, "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth," she knew she was dying. She knew she would soon be in the great cloud of witnesses cheering on (praying for) her little brothers and sisters as they ran their race. She embraced death knowing it would allow her to do more good on earth than she could while living on earth. She died in 1897, at 24 years old. Her last words were, “My God, I love You!”

Prayer, Communion of the Saints, and St Therese. What am I trying to say? When I die, I hope you will remember the Catholic teaching on the Communion of the Saints. I hope you will remember that my calling is one of prayer, because I think that will be my “thing” in heaven too. I hope you will remember St Therese’s words, “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” I hope you will ask me to pray for you because, like St Therese, I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth. 

PS St Therese's autobiography is called The Story of a Soul. It is a short book that has helped millions grow in holiness. I'd be grateful if you'd follow that link as your purchase gives me a small kickback. 

PSS St Dominic said this to his brothers as he was dying: “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.”

St Therese, pray for us. St Dominic, pray for us.


st therese

St thereseOne of God's beautiful gifts to us is family, and the saints are a critical part of the family. I can’t stop smiling as I contemplate this grace. My heart swells with love and gratitude; I wish I had better words to express my thanks. Some days I just ask God to receive my smile and the warmth and joy in my heart as my offering of thanks. 

What an amazing gift God gave us in the communion of the saints; their love, their intercession, their help, their teachings and writings, and their friendship. St Therese of the Child Jesus is my newest saintly friend. "Do small things with great love," is the biggest gem she has taught me thus far. Since learning about her teaching on small things, or the "Little Way," as she called it, I've been striving to reframe things in that context. I remember last summer, after having read her "Story of a Soul," getting out of my car at a gas station and seeing some litter and thinking of it as a small way to give love to God. I picked up the litter and disposed of it, all in the context of St Therese's words to do small things with great love. I gave that little act of disposing of someone's litter to God. It felt good.

She wrote, "What matters in life is not great deeds, but great love." I think we've forgotten the power of love, if we ever knew it to begin with. I've always focused on deeds, not love, so this teaching is profound to me. Therese believed and taught that the secret was not in doing great things, but in doing ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Another one of her quotes that I love is, "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth," in which she meant she would intercede powerfully for us. How glorious. I too, want to spend my heaven doing good on earth. As it is November, the month the Church particularly honors the souls that have died, I've been spending time at the cemetery praying. While walking the cemetery praying, I've realized that I would love that epithet on my tombstone: I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.


chapel veils

VeilAfter quite a lot of thought, I recently decided to begin wearing a veil to Mass. For me, veiling is about three things: reverence, submission, and femininity.

Reverence. Wearing a chapel veil is a testimony of our reverence for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Nowhere else in the world is as sacred as a Catholic Church where Jesus is always present in the Tabernacle. The incredible honor of being in His presence deserves something out of the ordinary. I don’t wear a veil anywhere else; the veil is reserved for being in Jesus’s presence. The veil proclaims this place is sacred.

Submission. A bride wears a veil as she walks toward her bridegroom to whom she is giving her whole self. When a woman wears a chapel veil, she is testifying that she has given herself wholly to Jesus. One of the ways that absolute giving of herself to Jesus is expressed is in total submission to the teachings of the Church. Wearing a veil is an expression of total commitment to Jesus and His Church. Our time before the Lord in the Eucharist is like a bride before her groom. Wearing a veil in Mass says, “I give my whole self to You and I submit to all your teachings.”

Femininity. Veils are usually made of lace and are very feminine. When I wear a veil, I’m embracing my dignity as a woman and I’m expressing praise to God for my womanhood. Why praise God for womanhood? Because womanhood allows us to carry life within us. What an awesome gift.

Our world is so incredibly upside down with respect to all these things. By worldly standards, nothing is sacred and deserving of reverence. Submission is a distasteful word that is equated with subjugation. Femininity has been replaced with equality or sexiness, whichever is most beneficial in the moment, and the ability to carry and produce life is denigrated, as evidenced in contraception and abortion. When I wear a veil in Jesus’s presence, I am countering the values of the world.

The Catholic Church used to be set apart by its reverence. I’m not sure we still carry that distinction. Women who choose to veil, I think, remind us of the reverence that our Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist deserves. It’s a testimony to others that we truly believe He is really present in the Eucharist.

After I began veiling, I learned something that reinforced my decision. In 1968, the NOW (National Organization for Women), encouraged Catholic women to send their veils to the NOW national office to be burned. If an organization that promotes killing babies in their mothers’ wombs hates the chapel veil that much, that should give us pause. And for me, it does just that.


happy reformation day?

Cath churchOctober 31 isn't just Halloween, it's also "Reformation Day" and my Facebook feed always has some Happy Reformation Day posts. I think the Reformation is the saddest event since the fall in the garden. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517, the Catholic Church was in a terribly corrupt state and desperately in need of reform. How I wish Martin Luther had stayed in the Catholic church and humbly fought for reform there. Several Catholic reformers did and they made a powerful difference. Jesus prayed that we would be one as he and the Father are one. But now, thanks to Martin Luther and the reformation, we have over 30,000 denominations – anything but unity. No one denies the church needed reforming, but we didn’t need a new church. We needed a purified church. Thankfully, God raised up saints who fought for purity and reform in the Church. Martin Luther, on the other hand, threw out the baby with the bathwater. 

The "Happy Reformation Day" posts often include something about, "Scripture alone. Faith alone. Christ alone." Regarding Scripture alone, I want to ask: Where might that verse be found? "Scripture alone" is a self-refuting argument since it’s not in the Bible. When I was a protestant, I cited 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as proof, ("All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be equipped, prepared for every good work.”), but really those verses confirm the value, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Word, not the teaching of Scripture alone.

Catholics believe that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (Apostolic teaching) constitute the full deposit of faith. Chronologically, Tradition came first as the early church didn’t have the New Testament. The New Testament wasn’t canonized until four centuries after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus left us a Church, not a Bible. Apostolic teaching (Tradition) propagated the spread of the gospel before the Bible was available. If “Scripture alone” is valid, how did the early church survive? Thankfully, they weren’t reliant on Scripture alone or they would have starved to death.

Regarding faith alone, isn’t the flip side of faith faithfulness? Can one have faith without being faithful? Romans 1:5 and 16:25-26 speaks of the obedience of faith. If faith is simply believing, what is the “obedience of faith” that Paul speaks of? The Catholic church is accused of teaching that we can earn our salvation, but the Church teaches no such thing. We believe in

Confirmation day
My Confirmation Day, 2016

 faith and works. I cannot earn my way to heaven by good works. But once God gives me the grace of conversion, (His work, not mine), for love of Him, I will “work out my salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12 “For faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:18

Glory to God alone!! That Catholics worship anyone other than the Holy Trinity is untrue. To worship anyone else is heresy and idolatry. We honor and esteem the saints who’ve gone before us, Mary above the others, but in no way do we worship them.

I am head-over-heels in love with my glorious Catholic faith and badly want to come to its defense when I see the Reformation Day posts. But that would be futile, and I'm anything but a debater. But I know my experience well and it is this: when I came into the Catholic church, I didn’t give up anything, but I gained a richness, depth, and beauty in my relationship with Jesus that I never dreamed possible. I have never been more in love with Jesus. I have never had more powerful prayer. I have never been more aware of my sin and His mercy. I have never been more whole. Jesus, through the Catholic Church, has changed everything.

 


sr josefa and redemptive suffering

JosefaNow I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. - Colossians 1:24

Sister Josefa Menendez wrote: I begged him to accept all the little acts, . . . the sufferings, . . . and above all the very real desire . . . to comfort him and please him. I asked him to purify and transform these very little things and give them some value in his sight.

Jesus replied: I do not look at the act itself, I look at the intention. The smallest act, if done out of love, acquires such merit that it gives me immense consolation. . . Love me, and refuse me nothing to obtain for me the love of many souls."

I want to give Jesus souls through every hardship; to offer whatever cross or suffering God allows in my life for the salvation of souls. Difficult relationships provide ample opportunity to unite sufferings to Jesus's sufferings for lost souls. Most often I forget about this awesome opportunity I've been given to "offer it up" and instead get caught up in the annoyances, frustrations and hurt of the moment. But I'm learning and I ask for the grace to remember to offer it up, whatever "it" may be.

Somehow, when we unite our sufferings to those of Jesus, our Lord will bring good to the lives of others in need of him. It's an awesome opportunity and I deeply wish I'd known this years ago. Not only does our suffering united with his suffering work salvifically in the lives of others, but it helps us along the road to holiness. 

It doesn't have to be a great hardship like persecution or cancer, for us to offer it up. We can offer up the phone call from an annoying neighbor, the email we're struggling to compose, the laundry, . . . There is no limit. 

The minutia of day-to-day life provides much opportunity to grow in holiness. Saints of God, pray for me. Help me see those opportunities as you did.

 


dear darian, meditation

MeditationDear Darian,**

When you are consistent in praying the rosary, you’ll experience a spiritual rhythm within the week. Tuesdays and Fridays will take on a more somber tone as they are the days we contemplate the Sorrowful Passion of our Lord. You may begin to look for ways to do penance. I’ve chosen stairs over the elevator, walked to the next bus stop, refrained from tempting snacks and things of that ilk because meditating on the sorrowful passions makes me want to participate in Jesus’ sufferings in small ways, even if it’s just giving up my desires to be on Facebook.

Meditating on the mysteries of the rosary is so powerful. (Don’t let the word “meditate” intimidate you. It’s acceptable, to call it “thinking”.)

Oftentimes I think about the day’s mysteries as I’m drinking my morning coffee and watching the sun rise, while making the bed, or showering. I can’t think of a more solidly Biblical way to regularly “think on things above”[1] than by thinking about the mysteries of the rosary.

Even though I haven’t been a Catholic for a long time, I’ve been a Christian for many years and have had years to build my praying muscles. Perhaps you don’t have a lot of strength in your praying muscles yet. If praying the rosary seems far-fetched, you can begin by just thinking about the meditations of the day. Try to engage your imagination as you think about them. You may be surprised how powerful using your imagination can be in bringing you closer to Our Lord.

Love,

Valerie

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts. 

[1] Colossians 3:2


affectionate love for jesus

JESUSI love worshipping the Lord in the mass. I’m so grateful that he’s put this great love in my heart. I remember well in 1995 telling him in prayer that I wasn’t sure I loved him. I knew I loved his comfort, his Word, his gifts, but I wasn’t sure I loved him. At the time, I wasn't sure what was missing, I just had a vague feeling there was something deeper, something more. I know now it was affection. 

Praise God, I’m now madly in love with him. I have so much affection for him, more than I ever knew was possible. I credit that love to praying the rosary. Contemplating the mysteries of Jesus's life on earth has drawn me into this glorious love affair with him. I can easily imagine him looking at me, looking at the crowds with pity and love, the gentleness and love in his eyes as he spoke with Mary Magdalene on the morning of his resurrection, . . .  And as I contemplate these mysteries my heart swells with more and more affection. And nothing brings me into this time of daily contemplation like the rosary.

Most likely, the grace of affectionate love for him is not just from praying the rosary, but my confirmation, the Eucharist, and confession. All are sources of great grace. I love this holy Catholic faith and I want everyone to come into it, to experience this glory, grace, and affectionate love for Jesus.


dear darian, the rosary

Rosary beadsDear Darian,**

Our imaginations are powerful and can be prayerful even if we aren’t engaging in prayer in a formal way. We may not say “Dear God” or “Hail Mary” but as we think of the mysteries of the rosary, we may be deep in prayer. If the rosary intimidates you in any way, know that you can begin simply by thinking about (meditating) on the mysteries. Allow your imagination to run wild. Be present with Jesus and Mary in the scenes. Imagine Mary taking you by the hand like a child and allowing you to see the scene through her eyes. What do you see? What is God seeing? What is Jesus thinking, feeling? What are the smells, weather, sounds? Who are you with? Who else is there? Try to look at the mysteries through the perspectives of those present. Allow all your senses to be involved.

By God’s grace and mercy, this was an area that came easily for me. I read a few simple instructions on how to pray the rosary and my imagination took off. Through imagining myself in the scenes of the mysteries, I learned to gaze on the face of Jesus every day. And that practice, better than anything else, made me fall madly in love with him. Through the rosary, that love continues to grow.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was a Spanish priest and the founder of the Jesuits. His imagination drove his spiritual life and eventually, imaginative prayer became associated with Ignatian spirituality.  Perhaps employing your imagination as you visit the scenes of the mysteries, like St Ignatius taught, will help Jesus become more personal to you. 

Allowing my imagination to be fully engaged has certainly been a tool God has used to help me fall in love with Jesus. I hope something similar for you. Our experiences will be vastly different, I’m sure, but I look forward to our conversations on how the rosary is changing us and leading us into deeper love with our Lord.

Love,

Valerie

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts. 


dear darian, confession

ConfessionDear Darian,**

When I was a Protestant, I didn’t loathe my sin like I do now. I thought it was impossible to be without sin. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s easy, but I will say the goal to be sinless is solidly in place. Now, there are short periods when, to the best of my knowledge, I have no unconfessed sin. (Jeremiah tells us our hearts are deceitful,[1] that’s why I added the caveat “to the best of my knowledge”. Also, please note I said, “short periods.”)

Before my conversion to Catholicism, sainthood wasn’t a goal. I saw all believers as saints, although I could hardly imagine how I in my sin and others in theirs, could be saints. But now, I ask God daily to help me avoid sin and grow in virtue, to help me be a saint.

Awareness and conviction of sin is a special grace we’re given in the sacrament of reconciliation. I go to confession a couple times a month. I don’t often have mortal sin to confess, but I want to confess and receive reconciliation often. When a person brushes their teeth twice a day, they recognize the grit and grime of their teeth far better than someone who is haphazard with their dental hygiene. The sacrament of reconciliation is our spiritual hygiene. The better my spiritual hygiene, the more in tune I am to the grit and grime of sin and the more I love the experience of being spiritually clean.

As I confess my sin, my resolve is strengthened to “beat my body into subjection”[2] in that area of sin. Sometimes this works and other times the sins are so deeply a part of who I am that it’s pure grace that gives every ounce of victory. Perhaps my desire and resolve to overcome sin is what God’s grace in the sacrament looks like. James tells us to confess our sins and we will be healed.[3] Our sin is like a cancer and as we confess it, its evil talons are loosened. Some sins that were a problem in my past are no longer a problem because I’m dead-set against having to humiliate myself by having to confess them aloud. (Do you see the pride there? Funny how God draws straight lines with crooked sticks, eh?)

In my experience, one of the graces in the sacrament of reconciliation is the change of heart, the desire not to participate or engage in that sin. Because of confession, I become more aware of sins’ presence and influence in my life. Confession fine tunes my awareness of sin. The more often I go, the more aware I become of sin. My confessions use to be actions I’d done. Now it seems I confess a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle attitudes and thoughts. This is the fine-tuning of the heart.

After confession I ask God to help me be aware of sin and He does. Those hours that I’m free from unconfessed sin are wonderful. And again, by God’s grace, those periods are slowly growing longer. That’s more of the grace of the sacrament.

It’s none of my business what your confession habits are, but I’d sure hate for you to be missing out on this powerful sacrament and the graces it unleashes in our lives.

I’m thinking and praying for you today, Darian.

Love,

Valerie

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts. 

 

[1] Jeremiah 17:9

[2] 1 Corinthians 9:27

[3] James 5:16


dear darian, guardian angel

Dear Darian,**

Guardian angelDid you know that guardian angels aren’t simply a thing of lore? They really exist and we all have one. Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”[1]

Recently I was meditating on this and wondering what my angel is like. It would be so cool to have a relationship with him since he is always with me. As I thought about him, I realized with amazement that he knows me better than I know myself. He’s been with me from the very beginning. He remembers when I was born and my babyhood. He knows everything he has spared me from – something I’m not privy to – protected me from and allowed me to experience for my good. He knows my sins and my merits. He knows me beyond well. Isn’t that interesting?

I wonder if he waits with bated breath when the Holy Spirit prompts me to do something to see if I’ll give my yes. It’s a thought.

I’ve heard of people who experience communion with their angel. I never have, but I’d like to and I don’t see any harm in asking to know him. What about you? Does that interest you?

Love,

Valerie

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts. 

 

[1] Matthew 18:10


dear darian, humility

Dear Darian,**

As I meditate on the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, I’m often struck by how each mystery has a strong current of humility. Everyone represented in the mysteries is humble. Mary, of course, is the humblest of souls. In her Magnificat she proclaims her low estate, her low degree, and her neediness. Elizabeth proclaims, “who am I that the mother of the Lord would visit me?”. Joseph accepts Mary even though he may have known he’d forever be in her shadow. Aged Simeon and Anna desire to see Israel’s Messiah even though they’re near death and probably won’t experience their nation’s improved status. The shepherds were among the lowest ranking in society, yet the heavenly host appeared to them, not to the religious or well-taught Mother teresa

One would be hard-pressed to find a saint who wasn’t humble. Pride and sainthood are mutually exclusive. They don’t reside together.

Mother Teresa said, “Humility is the mother of all virtue . . . It’s in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know who you are. If you are blamed, you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint, you will not put yourself on a pedestal.” She even had a “humility list” for her order, the Sisters of Charity:

  1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
  2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
  3. Avoid curiosity.
  4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
  5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
  6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
  7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
  8. Give in to the will of others.
  9. Accept insults and injuries.
  10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
  11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
  12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
  13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
  14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
  15. Choose always the more difficult task.

That list drives home just how badly I need to grow in humility.

Consider Jesus: He chose to be born poor. He could have chosen to make Mary and Joseph wealthy prior to the annunciation, but he didn’t. He chose a humble earthly life. Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”[1] Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”[2] 

How do we humble ourselves?

Both Old and New Testaments are replete with encouragement to choose humility. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.[3] …. “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted"[4] “Humbles himself,”- it begs the question, how does one humble himself.

Sainthood can only grow in a humble person. Holiness and pride are diametrically opposed. To be holy as Jesus wants us to be, we need to choose acts of humility and graciously accept humiliations. Like a muscle, the more we practice humility by choosing acts of humility and accepting humiliations, the stronger our humility will become. But the paradox of humility is we will never know when we have it.

When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me a card that said, “Humility is the strange possession that you lose the moment you find out you’ve got it.” Like Jesus – who emptied himself – we can practice emptying ourselves. We can empty ourselves by embracing any item on Mother Teresa’s humility list. Practically, that could be saying, “Today I will speak as little about myself as possible.” Or, “Today when a slight is directed toward me, I won’t respond.” Or, “I’m not going to argue, even if I know I’m right.”

Ironically, sometimes it’s pride that drives the desire to get rid of pride. Really, when you think about it, aren’t the proudest people the hardest to be around? Isn’t it pride that says, “Who wants to be like him?” Pride is a tricky thing and it inserts itself into everything. We always need to be on our guard against it. While on this earth, we will have to battle pride. But to become who we were created to become, we must not abandon the fight.

Love,

Valerie

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts. 

 

[1] Philippians 2:6

[2] Philippians

[3] Psalm

[4] Matthew 23: 11-12


josefa on humility

HumilityJesus told Sister Josefa, one of my saints, that when she had two options, to choose the humbler one. I'm trying to apply this wisdom more and more often. I’m trying to embrace humility in various ways. My sweet saint friends, Francis, Anthony, Rita, Faustina, and Josefa all modelled humility in powerful ways. Their writings and lives have taught me a lot about humility, but I am still so proud. Pride rises up all the time. Every single day.

Humility is simply not thinking of myself. I want to be humble. I want to become a saint, but there are no proud saints. Humility is a virtue of all the saints. Therefore, I need to remember what Jesus told Josefa: when you have two options, choose the humbler one. Little by little, day by day.


hearing god, cowardice, perfect love, queenship

Recently I was bemoaning to God that I don't hear his voice. Over a couple days I saw how the opposite is true: I see my sin; I see his grace in my life; I hear conviction; I experience growth in his word, his Church, and the sacraments. It's true that many times I ask for direction and sense nothing. But when I think about what I do hear, I'm so thankful.

Sometimes I hear people say things akin to, "God told me to go to the post office." I want that kind of clarity, to hear that clearly, but I much prefer his healing in my heart, conviction, consolation, the grace to experience his presence and his love to momentary direction. 

I am a real coward in sharing my faith and identifying with the Catholic faith and Blessed Mom. (I'm ashamed to write that). I think of dozens and dozens (hundreds?) of times cowardice won. I want to love him so much that all fear of men and their opinions is driven far from me. I want to love him with 100% of my being. I think of the verses, "Perfect love casts out all fear,"1 and "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for others."2 Laying down my life means eliminating my propensity to protect myself from others' bad thoughts of me. Laying my life down for others means rising above cowardice and fearing what they'll think of me and sharing my faith anyway. I want to love him so much that I readily share him and my Catholic faith, to be bold and joy-filled in sharing him with others. I want to love him with every fiber of my being. I want all darkness driven from me. I want to always abide in the shelter of his wing, in his sacred heart. As the love increases, the fear decreases because, "Perfect love casts out all fear." So instead of my standard prayer for boldness, I'm going to ask for the grace to love him more. Too little love is the problem, not too much fear. 

This morning I was thinking of Our Mother as Queen of Heaven and earth. I realized that I consider myself queen of this home. I want to subject myself to her, to give that role of queenship to her. I want her to reign as queen in my home. 

1 John 4:18 

2 John 15:13


gimpy

SparrowI love the finches, chickadees and sparrows that visit daily. My cat, Casanova, loves them too, but in a sinister way. Several weeks ago, Jessica, my friend that lives in the suite downstairs, brought me a freshly injured sparrow, Casanova's latest victim. I felt a powerful compunction to pray for him. I probably held him for 15 minutes while praying. His leg was broken, he had a tooth puncture on his head, and one wing looked gnarly. My heart ached for him.

I was reminded that I could offer my aching heart to the Lord for the salvation of souls. And I did. I was comforted knowing Jesus cared for that sweet sparrow. As I held him and prayed, he seem to regain some strength. He couldn’t get aloft, so I put him in the forsythia, hoping and praying he would survive. I felt like power had gone out from me, a feeling I have little experience with. I was reminded of the bleeding woman who touched the hem of Jesus's garment and how he knew power had gone from him. (Mark 5:10) 

For a couple days I thought about that helpless little bird and meditated on how it hurt my heart and wondered if that might be a similar to how God feels when we are hurting.

A few days later, that little bird joined me on the patio. His tail feathers were gone and and his leg was at a 90° angle. I named him Gimpy because, of course, his tiny gimp leg. I was elated that he had survived and every day I see him, my heart swells with joy and thanksgiving. It's like he is a special gift from God to me.

On the day I prayed for Gimpy, I united the pain in my heart with Jesus's suffering, based on Paul's words in Colossians 1:24, "Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." God answered the prayer that the sparrow survive. It encourages me to imagine that he might have saved souls through that small suffering of mine united to his sufferings. None of our suffering need be wasted, not even an aching heart over an injured sparrow.

Gimpy still visits the patio, giving me so much joy. My joy would be off the charts if he trusted me enough to let me hold him again. Might this be how Jesus feels when I don't totally trust him or totally surrender to him? What am I withholding? I would never hurt little Gimpy or betray his trust. God would never hurt me or betray my trust.

My experience with Gimpy was the second time I felt I "had" to pray a healing prayer. The other time was nearly 20 years ago when a lady came to church for prayer after a cancer diagnosis. Way out of my comfort zone, I felt very compelled to pray for her. Just like with Gimpy, I felt like power went out from me. (Please understand that this wasn't a huge feeling, but a small sense.) Wendy's cancer did indeed go into remission and she is still with us. I took/take no credit for that, I just knew I needed to pray right then and there, just like I did for Gimpy. When Gimpy survived, I recalled the similarities in the emotions I experienced with each situation. I wondered if God might be telling me, "Remember Gimpy and Wendy the next time this feeling occurs." I write this experience to remember it. I want to be ready if God places the feeling of  "I must" pray for someone within my heart. He used me those two times. I want to be ready should I feel that again because maybe, just maybe, God will use me to bring a healing prayer to someone.


responding to insult

Earlier this week I was badly insulted by someone. Instead of responding, I offered it up to Jesus. But the hurt persisted and I kept asking God for the grace to get beyond the hurt and for guidance on how to offer it up to him better. After some extended time wrestling, I received a little insight.

Blessed Mom loved Jesus so much and so perfectly that at the foot of the cross, he was all that was on her mind. He occupied all of her thoughts. Her love for him was so great that there was no room for resentment in her heart toward his disciples who forsook him or those who were crucifying him. All her thoughts were directed to him.

As I love Jesus more and more, I will be able to forget myself more and offer things up more purely. The more perfect my love for him, the less impact insults and inequality will have on me. 


examen with st. ignatius

I've been on an eating binge. This is my sin of choice and the gutter I find myself in over and over is that of gluttony. How is it that I hate this addiction/vice so much yet still return to it over and over? I guess that is what addiction is. Yesterday I was doing the Examination of Conscience as St. Ignatius taught it and experienced some powerful imagery. (I was using a pamphlet I picked up at church, so the following thoughts are answering the questions in the pamphlet.)

The first step of the Examen - Ask for Grace

Ignatius asks: If I could ask God for one "spiritual gift" right now, what would it be? I will go with self-control. God, I desperately need self-control in my eating habits. Please give me that grace. 

My overeating is a food addiction. Addiction is lack of health. I need healing. Lord, please illumine my mind to understand it and receive your healing. I want so badly to be united with you in everything, but this sickness and sin holds me back. I choose food over you often. I ask for help and then eat the cupcake (or 6) without waiting. Forgive me. Show me how to love you better. Forgive me. Heal me. Set me free from the bondage that has such power over me. 

Ignatius instructs us to listen for our Lord's response.

Jesus responds: All is not lost. I see your heart, your struggle, your desire for intimacy with me. I see your desire to console me in my passion. Yes, you drive thorns into my brow more deeply when you choose the snack (or 10) over uniting yourself with me in your struggle. But, your sorrow and regret and turning to me in sadness is deep consolation to me. You know your help is in me and I LOVE that about you. Before you turn to me and unite your desires with my sufferings, you turn to a cow pile. Instead of the wholesome food (Me), you burrow into the cow pile (gluttony) like an worm. You choose a cow pile over me. You choose the low road, the way of least resistance. But after burrowing into the cow pile, you come to your senses, return to me and I wash you again, wash you of the slimy, stinky cow feces. I love to wash you clean and am deeply consoled by your return, by your sadness over falling for the cow pile yet again. Your sorrowing heart and turning to me is a deep consolation, but yes, being rejected for a cow pile hurts me deeply. Stay with me and I will heal you and set you free. Will you? Will you accept my healing, wholeness, and freedom right now?

Me: I want to answer a resounding Yes!, but I've failed so many times. I keep returning to the cow pile. Please give me the graces I need; self-control, temperance, patience, etc., for freedom, healing, victory.

Ignatius instructs to allow yourself to daydream about what it would look like to be "filled up" with this grace.

My daydream: Food is a means of survival, not an end. I eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm sated. I don't overeat and I'm never a glutton. I don't think about food, daydream about it, or lust for it. It is simply fuel. I am not emotionally attached to food; I am free of gluttony. Virtues of self-control, temperance, and patience are mine; they replaced gluttony and intemperance. 

I imagine a funnel over my head and Jesus pouring self-control, temperance, and patience into my soul. As I inhale, I draw in those graces allowing them to seep into all the crevices of my heart, soul, and body. As I exhale, I release the emotional attachments to food, the gluttony, the un-wellness of seeking anything from food other than fuel. I inhale Jesus' graces and virtues. I exhale Valerie and her vices. Jesus remains.

Later, still imagining Jesus giving me the graces of self-control, temperance and patience - the graces I asked for to help me overcome gluttony, I let my imagination lead to another place. Whereas the first time I imagined Jesus pouring the virtues into my head through a funnel, this time I'm feeling cold and am seeking warmth, comfort and consolation. Cupcakes entice me on the counter and Jesus sits on the sofa. I have a choice to eat the cupcakes or sit with Jesus. I choose Jesus. Still chilled, I sit beside him and he wraps me in a warm blanket and I immediately feel it's warmth and his comforting touch and consolation. He holds me. I am child-size and his comfort is like a loving parent holding a cold child. His comfort and the warmth of the blanket infuses me with soul-satisfying comfort. The cold is replaced by warmth and security. I never want it to end. Every fiber of my being relaxes in the comfort of his embrace.

I am so enraptured by him that I am not tempted by the cupcakes. I mentally contrast the feelings the cupcakes give to this feeling. Cupcakes taste amazing for a few seconds. After eating one, anxiety takes over in the form of wanting another. I eat another. Eat - anxiety for another - eat - feelings of guilt. Eat - anxiety - eat - guilt. On and on until the cupcakes are gone and I'm wracked by guilt and grossness at my lack of self control. There remains no satisfaction from the cupcakes. 

I compare that to the true feeding of my soul that Jesus' embrace gives. I can bask in it, smiling as my face rests against his chest. He hand caresses my face and hair, again like a kind, tender parent. I want to stay right there in his embrace. But I have other duties. I get up. We look into each others' eyes. Both of us have been soul-sated. He rejoices just like I do in the sweet communion we just enjoyed. I am truly nourished. The smile, the warmth of soul and body continues. What a blessed experience. What a beautiful contrast. What a superior experience to the cupcakes. Only goodness remains. No feelings of guilt or grossness. I am full. Beautifully sated and I never took a bite. 

Jesus, lover of my soul, feed me. Envelope me in your graces.


dear darian, he sweat blood

Sweat bloodDear Darian,**

Jesus sweat blood! Have you ever given that much thought? I never meditated on it prior to becoming a pray-er of the rosary. Again, I must say, if prayed well, the rosary leads us straight to Jesus and to knowing him better. To know him is to fall in love with him and to fall in love with him is to be changed by him. I want to continually be being changed and become more and more like him. I think you do too.

I recently learned that sweating blood is a real medical condition called hematidrosis, in which blood vessels rupture causing sweat glands to secrete blood. It occurs under extreme levels of physical or emotional stress, severe mental anxiety, and acute fear. Recorded incidents include one nearing execution, fear before battle, a sailor before a bad storm at sea, and during World War 2’s London Blitz. Recently I heard of a lady experiencing hematidrosis when she saw the van carrying her husband and children obliterated upon being hit by a truck.

But get this, Darian. The effect of hematidrosis is weakness, dehydration, and skin becoming extremely tender and fragile like a full-body bad bruise. Do you see it? Jesus had not even reached the physical abuse of his passion, yet his body was already weakened, dehydrated, and in pain. Before he was led out of the garden, he had suffered much more than most of us ever will.

“It is evident that before Jesus endured the torture of the cross, He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it, make the passion of Christ beyond comprehension.” (Dave Miller, PhD, apologeticspress.org)

Until recently I thought that Jesus’s agony in the garden was fear of the brutality he was about to suffer. He knew what was before him, of course he was terrified. Or was he? I don’t think it was fear at all. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.”[1] Jesus had no fear because Jesus loved perfectly. He was in horrific anguish knowing the human condition and knowing that people would reject the salvation he was going to offer them. Jesus 100% embraced the suffering of his passion with no fear.

I’m praying today that we will both live in the holiness Jesus wants for us, that our love for Jesus would become greater, and that all fear in our lives will be replaced with greater love for him.

Love,

Valerie

[1] 1 John 4:18

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts.


dear darian, the scourging

Scourging

Dear Darian,**

Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ”, greatly influenced my meditations on Jesus’ sufferings. We watch it every Good Friday (and I recommend the same tradition to you). The most powerful scene in the movie, to me, was the scourging. No mercy was extended in any way. Something I never thought of prior to the movie was that Satan was there, stirring up the basest natures in the soldiers. Their treatment of Jesus was beyond excessive because their evil passions were in the hands of Satan himself.

Perhaps they only stopped when they were physically exhausted and could whip no more. Is that not a horrific idea? Our precious, sinless, loving Jesus whipped, brutally. I picture them making a sick game out of who could whip the hardest, cut the deepest, rip the most meat from his body. As Jesus groaned in agony, his groans went unheard because of their raucous laughter and drunken-with-evil cheering. Imagine, the creator of the universe, tied to a pillar, being beaten by men who owed their very breath to him. 

The cruelty, oh the cruelty. Satan and his demons took over the minds of the guards. Every merciful element in their characters was obliterated. A single merciful thought didn’t enter their minds and they put their entire strength into each lash they delivered, trying the win the applause of the others with their vicious brutality. Had their wives or mothers been there, they would have barely recognized their men for their beyond-crazed evil behavior. They were barely human, they were evil personified. They laughed, they scoffed, they mocked each other’s “weakness” in not ripping enough meat. “My turn, stand back, I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Once while meditating on the scourging, I imagined my 8-year-old grandson Roman had done a misdeed and was to be severely beaten by cruel authorities. The only way to save him was to take the whipping myself. With every excruciating lash, I had to tell myself, “for Roman. For Roman. If I don’t take it, they’ll do this to Roman.” Only love kept me there. I could have surrendered any time. Only love for Roman kept me there. Was Jesus having a similar battle? Was he saying, “for love of you, Father. For love of your people,” with every evil blow?

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.[1]

Finally, it’s over and the onlookers are relieved. A guard unties one arm from the pillar and our Jesus falls. As the other arm is still tied, he falls in such a way as to expose some skin that is not shredded. The guards whoop at seeing virgin flesh. With scores of laughter, the beatings begin again, this time on his chest and stomach.

The soldiers are spent and didn’t have an ounce of strength left. They threw the bloody whips down and each gulped some fresh water. Jesus laid in a pool of his own blood and chunks of flesh. He was near death. Only his will to finish the Father’s assignment kept him alive. The guards dragged him to another room.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.[2]

Neck to head scourge marks. For love of me. For love of you.

Love,

Valerie

[1] John 15:13

[2] Isaiah 53:5

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts.

 


dear darian, moral courage

Life chainDear Darian,**

I am a coward. Really, I am. I haven’t always recognized my cowardice for what it is. I cloaked it in words like “meeting people where they are,” pretending that first I’d work on the relationship, letting them see me as being “light in the darkness.” That’s noble; I definitely want to be light in darkness, but not at the exclusion of speaking about my faith. But I’m a coward and it is hard for me.

Last October, I participated in the Stand for Life Chain on Teredo Street. It was just for an hour and we stood about 25 feet from each other holding pro-life signs; a peaceful, prayerful protest. I was totally unprepared. I’d never had so much hatred directed toward me. People swore, shook their fist, threw their middle fingers in the air as they shouted, “Go to hell.” They blared on their horns as they yelled expletives. Although it was just one hour, it felt much longer. When I got home, mildly traumatized, I collapsed into a heap of tears.

I dreaded the next Stand for Life Chain for the entire year. It finally arrived last week and I went out dutifully, shaking the whole time. This time I kept my eyes closed and prayed the rosary and divine mercy chaplet the whole time. I heard plenty of expletives and blaring horns, but didn’t see the fists and the hate-filled, angry eyes because I kept my eyes closed in prayer. Just like last year, I was ashamed of my cowardice.

The fruit of the crowning of thorns meditation is moral courage. It’s humbling to come face to face with one’s own cowardice, and this meditation has brought me just there. Several months ago, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the virtue of fortitude. As I live in a spiritually dark area where Christianity – and especially Catholicism, it seems – is eschewed, evidenced by the reactions of our peaceful, prayerful pro-life protests, I think it’s clear that we Christians are going to suffer persecution like we’ve not known before, and of course, it has already begun. Christian fortitude will be needed to help us overcome the fear and cowardice of the suffering, danger, and humiliations that lie ahead. I’m not ready to suffer, but I am trying to get ready. One method I’m using to strengthen my fortitude muscles is simply crossing myself after prayer in public. You will have to come up with spiritual disciplines that work well for you, but I strongly encourage you to find a few that do indeed strengthen your fortitude muscles and counter any cowardice tendencies you may have. We must be ready to suffer for our faith and it will be much easier if we implement fortitude habits now.

On the subject of making the sign of the cross, crossing myself has made me more aware of the Trinity in my day-to-day life. When we cross ourselves, we are saying with our actions, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” As we do that, our minds grow more receptive to each member of the Trinity and we are glorifying each of them. Having an intimate relationship with each distinct member is beautiful. Are you remembering to cross yourself often?

As you meditate on Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, ask him to give you moral courage for any “crown of thorns” in your future. I think it’s safe to say that Christians will be offered crowns of thorns soon. Pray always for the courage to accept them.

I love you, Darian, and am praying for you today.

Love,

Valerie

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts.


dear darian, the annunciation

AnnunciationDear Darian,**

Have you ever considered when the Trinity chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus? I never thought about it until I began to meditate on the Annunciation.

We know from Scripture that God is intimately involved in the process of us becoming people. He knit me in my mother’s womb.[1] He isn’t a distant God. He is real and up close to us, whether we feel him or not. If he was intimately involved in our gestation, imagine the attention given to the creation of the woman who would carry him in her womb. I can’t help but smile as I consider his joy in designing her. If we had the privilege of designing our mother, she would be the most wonderful person on earth. Perhaps Jesus hand-crafted her. I imagine him smiling as he chose each characteristic. “Dimples are cute. I’ll give her dimples.”

Did God tell the angels the plan of sending Jesus to earth to be born of a virgin? Imagine he did, and that at every conception on earth, they asked Jesus wild-eyed, “Is that baby going to be your mother?” One day he answered, “Yes, that’s my mother. She’s going to be beautiful; you’re going to love everything about her.”

As she grew in her mother’s womb, the angels took exceptional interest in her. Remember how awestruck you were at Holly’s ultrasound? It’s almost surreal to watch a child in its mother’s womb on a screen. Imagine that somehow the angels were privy to every detail of her being knit together in her mother’s womb. Mesmerized, they watched her development with glee alongside Jesus. Maybe before she was conceived, he told them stories of things she would do in her childhood. Maybe he told them some pranks he would play on her as a child on earth.  

And then she’s born and the angels spend the next 15 years watching her with admiration and interest. They’re curious how this crazy idea of Jesus becoming human will work. Finally, the big day arrives and Jesus, their beloved Jesus, calls all the angels together to tell them that it is THE day. Today Gabriel will go to Mary. He’d performed many missions, but this was the most glorious of all. He was elated. He loved Jesus beyond description and this girl he’d been watching for many years – oh my, how he adored her. He was delighted that he got to be involved in Jesus’ going to earth and that he got to make the annunciation to Mary. A greater honor he’d never known. The magnitude of this honor, well, even an angel sometimes feels stumped trying to express his elation.

The angels love Jesus. They spend their every moment loving and adoring him. This is a huge day. Their Jesus, is going to earth as a baby, but first this precious young girl must be willing to say yes! They know her well, they’ve watched her for years, but this request is huge. How will she respond?

Heaven is silent, as if all the angels are holding their breath, when Gabriel stands before Mary. He represents all of heaven when he speaks, “Hail, full of grace.” He calls her “full of grace,” rather than Mary. In heaven, did they call her Full of Grace as they watched her grow? From a heavenly perspective, might that have been her name? The angels stand in hushed excitement to see her response to Gabriel’s announcement. “The Lord is with you,” he says. The Blessed Trinity smiles. The angels loved her sweet voice as she asked how it would happen. They watched as her tiny hand instinctively touched her womb at the thought of Baby Jesus resting there.

Yes! She said yes. Did Jesus leave heaven at that moment to become an embryo? Did the Holy Spirit immediately overshadow her and conceive Jesus at that moment? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how those details transpired?

Love,

Valerie

[1] Psalm 139

**My dear son-in-law, Darian, was the first person I sponsored into the Catholic Church. He was the first in my family to see the Truth I saw. I wanted to help him along the way and started a book called, "Dear Darian."  In it I wrote about things I was learning, especially things I was learning through praying the rosary, hoping it would help him on his journey too. Well, Darian's spiritual life was on steroids and my little essays didn't seem needed as he was reading much greater minds than mine. So, my "Dear Darian," has instead become blog posts.