Cheryl Wills is a Christian who converted to the Catholic Church in 2000 with her husband of 30+ years, Ed. Wife, mother, writer, and entrepreneur fulfill her calling. She enjoys hiking and cycling, photography, drawing and painting, scrap booking and reading.
Yesterday I left five days at a Franciscan Retreat Center on 35 wooded acres north of Lansing, Michigan for a Catholic Writers’ Retreat. Each day we enjoyed Mass in the peaceful chapel and hours dedicated to quiet and writing. We 17 met for meals and socializing in the evenings. Gratefully, for the first time I feel connected to a writing community. I didn’t write thousands of words as many who attended with me. But it was a true mental health break that I wasn’t aware I so desperately needed. And in that way, it has opened my heart and mind to write thousands more words than I would have at home and in my favorite writing space.
Today I awoke in an even more remote wooded area in Hubertus, Wisconsin, at a place known as Holy Hill. The peacefulness is palpable as I walked under towering trees of vibrant colors. Does peace go deeper and stronger, moment by moment? It surely does in this place. Rosary and Mass at the Basilica was attended by about 500 people. (Thankfully, they’re not all staying at this 30 room guest house of the monastery where Discalced Carmelites live!) After Mass I walked the path of the spectacular outdoor Stations of the Cross and sat I silence for at least a half hour in the simple, beautiful Chapel of St. Therese.
In between these two life changing events, was the interstate drive. Only the fact that I had left peak tranquility and knew I was headed for more of the same was I able to maintain sanity as I drove six hours, including skirting south of Chicago at rush hour. The drivers in Indiana and Illinois are in a great race. They consistently drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit and weave from far left to far right and back again, over and over. Without exception they completely ignore lower speed limits in work zones, while men and women toil in those zones. Where are they going? Why are they in such a rush? Because their life demands it? I’m not sure if anyone actually wins their race.
What I witnessed on the interstate represents a zippier route to death than any life could require. My experience on the retreat and on lovely Holy Hill is, to me, an example of life as it is intended: life that makes time to enjoy the gifts in creation – the people, the foliage, the animals, the sun, moon, and stars. This pace allows time to rush to Jesus in our hearts. This energy spent re-energizes from the inside out.
I am thankful for a lovely space this morning.
My daughter, with her baby, has not stepped out of her room yet so I sit on their balcony. It’s cool enough for a light jacket. I face West; the Rocky Mountains peek over the apartments – a good reason to live on the third floor. The sun blazes from behind, illuminating the pool below with sparkly brilliance. The highway is not far off; to drown out the drone, I play a Pandora station of meditative music. Sipping hot coffee, with their old black Lab, George, by my feet, I say Morning Prayer on this day we honor The Most Holy Name of Mary. I feel compelled, after my rosary which I prayed for everyone on my extensive prayer lists, including my family, to pray more specifically for some on that list. So I offer the Memorare. And, for myself, a prayer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The waves of the music ebb and flow from my mind down through my heart and my entire being and the cool air tickles my bare feet. I sit in silence. And breathe.
He speaks to my soul.
If I do not deny myself,
myself stands between the cross and me.
If I do not deny myself,
I cannot pick up the crosses he allows for me.
If I cannot carry my crosses,
As he carried his for me,
How can I follow him?
Let your Grace, Lord, overcome my weakness,
That I may be called your disciple.
When we lived in Texas, our gas grill was on the patio, just outside the open space of kitchen, dining, and family rooms. One early evening, as our girls and many neighbor children watched Sesame Street on TV, I started the grill to cook dinner. I went inside to get the meat from the refrigerator. When I stepped back out I discovered yellow and orange flames rising from the gas tank under the grill up into it.
Have you ever experienced fear to the point that you made a regretful decision?
In Chapter 25, Matthew recounts Jesus’ parable about the master who was going away for an extended time and entrusted money, known as talents in that day, to his servants. He gave a different amount to each of three people. When he returned, he learned that two of them had wisely doubled their share. To them he praised, Well done, good and faithful servant. The third had been given the least amount; instead of acting wisely, he blurted out to the master, Out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back. The master’s response was violent.
When we listen to the voice of fear in our hearts or minds, we invariably make foolish choices. Often, we find ourselves in a worse position. Fear causes us to stumble, to ignore wisdom, or to freeze in our tracks, which can have terrible consequences, even deadly. When we believe the lies of fear, we allow it to overpower us and that which we dread comes upon us, as the Old Testament Job lamented.
In John’s first letter, chapter 4, verse 18, we read, There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear. And Paul, in his letter to the Romans, chapter 10, reminds us, For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
When our heart beats wildly or our palms sweat, when our head pounds with anxiety or our breath is short, we can make a powerful response. First, don’t ignore fear. It will continue to rear its ugly head. Instead, acknowledge the presence of fear. But, then, proclaim the Truth: I am created in the image and likeness of God, who is Love. Therefore, in the name of Jesus, and by the presence of God within, I say to you, ‘fear, be gone. You have no place in me.’ Close your eyes, envision Light, breathe slowly and deeply. Then open your eyes and allow wisdom to make the next decision.
Back to my Texas experience: My thoughts were too rapid to time: On the other side of this door is a house full of children. What if an explosion occurs? There is only one way: I must turn off the gas. The valve was engulfed in flames. For a split moment, I wanted to stand in place and scream wildly for help. But then, I began to repeat the name of Jesus – over and over – and did what I knew had to be done. I reached my hand through the flames, cranked off the valve and watched the flames instantly dwindle to nothing. Only flames burning the rubber wheel continued to lap the air. As my voice still whispered the name of Jesus, I ran inside, grabbed a pitcher of water, and quickly ran back out to douse the wheel. All flames were gone. I began to breathe. And give thanks. My hand was totally unscathed. I didn’t take time to proclaim in whose image I am created but belief was strong and his perfect love allowed me to cast out fear. And I did call upon the name of the Lord as I acted in faith. If I had given into the fear that pounded my heart and threatened me with hysteria….Well, I’ve never wanted to imagine the repercussions of such paralyzed inaction.
When have you encountered fear and overcome it with the proclamation of the Love of God as you called upon His name?
On Sunday August 27, Ed and I officially became grandparents. Nicholas Alexander is healthy and cute as a button. (Actually, he’s much cuter than any button I’ve ever seen!) We are grateful to God for this newest blessing in our lives. His parents are already proving awesome. For them we also give thanks.
We were able to see the little guy on Sunday evening, and all day Monday. He came home from the hospital Tuesday. We drove 650 miles to our home on Wednesday. In the short time with him, we continually marveled that this new little human is a part of us – literally and figuratively. It is a concept we will forever ponder; I doubt we will ever fully grasp the depth of its wonder.
Not grasping the fullness of the concept of grandparenthood doesn’t matter. We are content to watch his presence blossom into the garden of our family life. God will grant awareness of our expanded role in the garden called Wills. We pray only to be faithful in each new and ever-changing day and that our part in this gift of family be one that pours love over all and adds joy.
Jesus before me,
Son of God and my brother,
Whom I follow, trust and obey.
Holy Spirit within,
Nudges me forward to stay the path.
Mary Mother of God,
Queen of Heaven and my Mother,
Holds my hand,
Encourages me to keep my eyes on her Son,
And to do whatever He tells me.
To Father, Son, Holy Spirit,
Three Persons of God in One,
Ever constant Presence,
I give thanks.
On Wednesday, Ed and I posted the announcement of our 37th Wedding Anniversary on Facebook.
37 years is a long time. It is time filled with change, pain afflicted on us by our world, pain inflicted on each other, disappointment, heartache.
37 years is a long time filled with joys, kindness, joint dreams fulfilled, and unending hope. 37 years is evidence of strength together through every storm, holding one up while the other falls, standing in support of each others’ endeavors. 37 years is the reality of understanding and forgiveness.
37 years cannot be accomplished without Love and our commitment to whatever it takes to fulfill our vows made before God and man, regardless of how we might feel from day to day. It is the stalwart belief that it is God who joined us together as husband and wife, and the conviction that it is God alone who remains at our center and keeps us in this place. 37 years is a moving picture to the world of Grace through Sacrament.
Literally hundreds of Facebook friends, some we know well and others not so well, expressed their good will through likes and loves and comments of congratulations and blessings. We receive these as an integral part of our strength to continually move forward for we are not on this journey alone. We are grateful for these expressions of joy and pray God returns one hundred fold the blessing to each of you.
It delights my Most Sacred Heart when my brothers and sisters gather before me. To sit with me. To gaze upon my face.
Now, come closer children. Crowd near to me. I want to tell you stories of my divine Love.
Shhh… I speak in the silence. And when you draw close, it is your heart that hears me. When your heart hears the first note of my voice, it is simultaneously filled with my Light. My Light is your life.
My Light that exposes by its very nature, also purifies. And so at once you know both the pain of having offended and forgiving love that cleanses all iniquity.
Let your heart remain open even when it is time to leave this place, for my Light will continue to speak. And my Sacred Heart will continue in delight of you.
Oh Lord Jesus, Son of God who is God, I do not want to leave your Presence here. I want to bask in your Light forever.
My child, I will never leave you. For my Holy Spirit lives in you and my Light will never be overcome. And my Sacred Heart flows into your own heart with cleansing and purifying Love that extends through all eternity. Listen to my heart and bask in me, for I AM Light; I AM your Light for the journey. And you are mine. Forever.
Draw closer, children. Listen to Love, and Love will live through you.
Written after Mass of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus at Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at first night of Marian Conference on June 23, at St. Robert Bellarmine Church, and during the musical meditation called, I Thirst, presented by Michael McGlinn.
Have mercy on creatures made in your Image
who are abused, raped, tortured, murdered
by those also created in your Image.
Jesus was flogged beyond recognition.
By lashes and bruises that crushed him,
and thorns pressed into his skull,
he healed us.
Let each of the tormented find refuge
in the raw wounds of your only begotten Son.
And let your mercy extend to the victimizers,
for you desire all to know salvation freedom.
In the depths of our being,
we all yearn for Christmas Joy
and Easter Love .
Let us pray that each one
created in the Image of God
seeks Truth, that alone can fill the void.
It is then we shall live in harmony
with Resurrection Hope.
If I lay aside self and truly desire
not my will but thine be done,
And if I surrender
moment by moment
to God present as the Holy Spirit,
I let all be done in me and through me
out of pure Love, in Love, with Love.
And it is enough.
No energy or effort is squandered.
For every thought and choice and hope,
the use of my every sense,
the path my feet walk,
the work of my hands
shall be done by Our Father, who is Love.
Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
The greatest of these is Love.
Ah, Lord, that I should live this way.
I know that God wipes away our tears in heaven.
But I wonder if, perhaps, God’s own tears remain.
At least until the end.
Because regardless that he knows
the end from the beginning,
surely he aches
as he observes the destruction
of his people by his people,
and the destruction of his gift, the earth.
There is an incalculable contrast between
what we do and who he is.
For our Creator
is all goodness and compassion and love.
His very name is mercy.
Are there yet some tears in heaven?
The Morning Star envelops me.
It swirls within me
to cleanse me;
all darkness flees.
Glory to the Light
Who was and is and is to come!
Today he speaks to me
His presence ripples
through my ears
And suffuses my heart and mind.
His presence is music.
I am comforted and lifted up
in a dance of perfect peace.
The tomb where they laid the body of Jesus was empty.
Barren. Dark. Nothingness.
Yet, at that moment of His death,
when he declared, “It is finished,”
that tomb received Him not as one who was dead
but as one who overcame the dark emptiness by His death.
It only appeared desolate.
And at that same moment
the tomb of my life was also no longer
parched, lonely, detached from my Creator,
if I but say yes to His presence.
The tomb where they laid the One
who died to save all humanity
became filled with Light by His resurrected presence.
And so, the tomb that was my life
is filled with Light that is the resurrected Jesus.
For I have said, yes!
Is He not the king we expected?
Obscured from our view,
He hangs behind the shadows of death.
Heavy, iron nails have pierced him
and attached Him to a cross.
But what obscures our view?
What has hung him on a cross?
The answer is the same:
it is our sins.
Their shadows are his burden.
Their actions are the nails.
For at third hour he pronounces, “It is finished,”
And meets death on our behalf.
His blood has washed over him and over our sins.
Shadows no longer exist.
We have been redeemed.
We are set free.
He is greater than any king we could have imagined.
God from God.
Light from Light.
Very God from Very God.
Begotten, not made.
It is you, Lord.
You are Lord.
You are God.
You are Light.
And you live in me.
The awareness of your presence
How can I but surrender all to you?
Let my thoughts be your thoughts.
May my prayers be your prayers,
My actions be your actions.
And may the rhythm of my heart
Beat to your own.
Mar 24 2017
Every year Christmas Day was one of wonder for me when I was growing up. When my brother, sister and I went to bed, our house was under-decorated. The perfect tree we had all chosen together was in the backyard (in later years the tree was moved into the garage on Christmas Eve). The only real Christmas evidence was our thanks and help to Santa: a plate of homemade cookies and tall glass of cold white milk on the coffee table.
When we awoke, hours earlier than usual of course, we pounded our bedroom floors to wake my parents from deep slumber in their room below. It took a good 15 minutes – hours to us – of pounding and jumping before we noticed lights flicker into the stairwell and heard a groggy voice call, “Not yet. Pretty soon.” We danced with anticipation . My heart pounded. We smelled coffee percolating just before Christmas music floated to us. And then the words we had waited for impatiently, “Okay. Come on down.”
We ran to the top of the steps. Mommy and Daddy called out together, “Merry Christmas!” We didn’t mind pausing in the middle of our tumble downstairs for Daddy to take pictures. Why? Because we were stunned to stillness as we gazed at the marvel before us: a tree sparkling with ornaments, hundreds of colored lights and silver tinsel sitting on a ‘snow’ covered platform where HO trains choo-chooed around the carefully painted colorful village. The spread of gaily wrapped and ribboned gifts around the tree left little walking space in the living room. And the giant mirror on the wall was painted like a Christmas card.
After many years of similar Christmas morning joy, I learned the reality of the spirit of Santa Claus. Suddenly I understood why Mom always looked half alive every Christmas morning wrapped in her fuzzy robe as though it comforted as well as kept her warm. Her eyes struggled to stay open even while they reflected our joy, and she drank thankfully of the coffee cup that was refilled all morning. Every year, my parents had gotten to bed just an hour or two before we bounced out of bed, alerting them to Christmas morning! They had prepared all night an event of love for their children whose Christmas memories would be stamped with that love in their hearts forever. Added to my joyful wonder on Christmas morning was tremendous gratitude.
Christmas morning reality was my first encounter with the sacrifice that parents make for their children. All for love.
(A few years later, even before my siblings had reached the same understanding, my parents said we would help Santa by setting up the tree in it’s stand for him; the next helping effort was to decorate it on Christmas Eve Day. And that mirror got painted early in Advent long before I knew what was going on and before we ‘helped’ with the tree. I guess as they got older, though the great love was still there, those nights became exponentially longer. I can relate!)
Ed and I will be married 37 years in July. We immediately, and willingly, entered into the life of parental sacrifice because we had a two year old. That sacrificial love has never ended. Some sacrifices seemed greater than others. But it never mattered. It’s what parents do because we love our children; we love our family.
Now there is a chance for us to sacrifice in an extended way for our family. Our children are concerned about how hard this sacrifice will be. To us it is no different than the last 37 years. In fact, though what we are committing to would have been more difficult in our early married years, it’s nothing compared to the long deployments by Ed as a Naval officer in the era of no internet for speedy communication, no video calls, and when international phone calls cost several dollars per minute.
We are willing to make this commitment because we love each other and because we love our children. We are family.
A Peek at Christmas Morning Wonder 65 years ago.
Christmas morning wonder in the Foster household started when I was two months old. Though as an infant, the wonder belonged solely to loving parents.
Here are some pictures of the morning when I was two years old.
Be prepared for the following read. I have recorded rambling thoughts as they tumbled into my awareness, so it’s a bit disjointed and somewhat out of order. I share these thoughts because I hope that, in the end, it will cause you, the reader, to wonder. To ponder. To contemplate. My thoughts are not gospel. And I don’t expect them to apply to anyone else, believer or not. God speaks to our hearts to draw us closer. He speaks to each of us, individually.
Still, I am curious to know if these ramblings have caused you to dive deeper into your heart with Him. Please let me know.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the kingdom of heaven being at hand and of heaven on earth.
Today, walking in the woods, observing God’s creation enveloping me, I thought of how perfect the earth was at the beginning.
We know that sin separated man from God, yes. But in addition to the broken relationship between God and man, it also caused something like a fuzzy translucent covering over man’s eyes and he was no longer able to see God in his creation, as in the beginning. Before Jesus, God had to reveal himself in extraordinary ways like in a burning bush, in the dirt, at the parting of the Red Sea, and guiding by fire and cloud.
We know that all of God is here on earth, just as all of him is in heaven. In other words, there will be no more of God in heaven than there is here.
And then I had that realization, once more, of heaven on earth. When we are in heaven, creation will have new dimensions. We can’t see it like that now in our earthly form. Whether or not heaven is a city as we envision doesn’t matter. The new Jerusalem is here, at hand.
At the moment of Jesus’ conception, the eyes of those created in his image began to open – forever. Once more, as before the fall, God walked among his creation. We all have the ability to see God in his creation exactly as Adam and Eve could before the fall. Even those who choose not to believe that Jesus is the only Begotten Son of the One Triune God, are able to see infinite beauty in creation because God became like those he created in his image. His Incarnation has allowed all men to see that the kingdom of heaven is at hand – heaven on earth is here.
I feel certain that the earth, and all life in it, seemed to stand still the moment Jesus died. Living immediately became no more than mundane drudgery. The birds did not sing. The wind did not rustle the leaves that hung limply. Then he rose! All creation sparked again and life had purpose again. The people knew God was in the garden, just like Adam and Eve. Heaven on earth.
Belief in Jesus and his redemptive work takes us one step further – or, perhaps, closer. His work restores the relationship man had with God at the beginning. We only need to say, “I believe.” He does the rest.
And, then, we can both see and walk hand in hand with our Creator.
Only Love Remains.
Mike had a rough life growing up but he was strong and courageous. He is a former Army Ranger. He was all he needed.
Until everything fell apart when he resigned from the military where depending on self isn’t all that’s needed. His marriage crumbled, because it didn’t have a very strong foundation in the first place. He lost his home.
He was angry and bitter. He landed in jail more times than he wanted to count because he couldn’t keep himself from fighting wherever he was. Mike’s home was under a bridge.
Then he heard about a place to get a change of clothes, and even a hot meal. Everyday if he chose. It was a place where no one judged anyone. A place where those who care do so because they love God. But they never force their belief on anyone.
He visited that place often. And very slowly, as the people there gave in God’s name, Mike’s heart began to soften. He signed on as a volunteer to help people like himself. He stopped looking for reasons to start a fight.
One day Mike walked into the church attached to this giving center. God met him there with open arms of love and forgiveness. And Mike melted in His presence.
Fast forward 18 months. Mike is a part time employee at the place that was the catalyst for his transformation. Because of steady, though small, income, and not frequenting jail, he was able to buy a truck. He lives there. It’s not a home, of course. But it’s a step in a better direction. In fact, when I met Mike not long into his employment at this giving center, he announced that he’d just secured a full time job.
When Mike tells his personal story of redemption with thanksgiving, his face is full of light. Because now Mike has hope.
The following is one of 36 stories in the book called Who is Jesus? It is a fictionalized version of the facts as we know them in the Gospel according to St. Luke. See the research list at the end of the book to know where other facts included were discovered.
Our God is Faithful
Please bear with me as I tell my story. I want everyone to understand that I’m not just some crazy old woman.
Everyone delighted in Mary. Giving, loving and forgiving describe her. To teach a child like her was a pleasure. She eagerly learned things of the spirit as well as the ways of everyday living, which many call mundane. Mary’s aged father died before her sixth birthday and her gentle mother not many years later. Though sad for her heartache, I thrilled to step in to meet a young girl’s needs. We were as close as a mother and child, a sweet gift to a childless widow like me. As she neared womanhood, her graceful countenance reminded me of a gazelle – swift in purpose, full of poise. The women who lived with us in the Temple often commented about how happy Mary would make her future husband. But I knew something the other women did not.
“Anna,” Mary confided one afternoon as we sewed vestments. “You were there when my parents presented me to God. Do you remember?”
The scene flashed through my mind. I smiled, “Oh, yes, child.”
“And I took a vow of virginity.”
“Yes,” I replied, curious as to where the conversation would go.
“Anna,” she nearly pleaded, “my vow was for life. I never intend to take a husband.”
The linen dropped from my hands. I looked intently into her midnight blue eyes that allowed her soul to emerge, eyes that now glistened. She is definitely sincere. But I know the rules. She stays here until her womanhood when the priest chooses her betrothed. I opened my mouth to remind her but, to my utter amazement, I said, “Yes, Mary. And you will remain a virgin. I don’t know how but something in me believes God will intervene on your behalf. Your vow will not be broken.” Salty streams traveled down the crevices of my time worn face.
Mary lowered her head. We picked up our sewing and remained silent.
All of Israel knows the Holy of Holies can only be entered by the High Priest. In fact, he enters only on the Day of Atonement. Was it her spiritual devotion combined with her unusual demeanor that led the High Priest to disregard that law? Or did an angel direct him?
Late into one evening I prayed in the Court of Women, and heard the priest enter the Inner Court. I’m certain I did not dream this, even though my eyes fluttered open. He was not alone. My Mary, as I called her, stepped softly as the deer behind him, wearing a veil over her bowed head. I lowered my eyes, then peeked to see them both kneel before the Altar of Sacrifice. I threw my hand over my mouth when, with not a word spoken between them, they arose, moved up the steps and past the Altar of Incense, and through the Holy Place. He lifted the Veil and they entered the Holy of Holies. Instantly I shut my eyes and began to pray. I hope they don’t hear my pounding heart and realize they’re not alone.
I’m thankful that the spirit of God led me into the secret place in my heart, where I have no awareness of time or space, the place that is nothing of me and everything of God. I wanted to think of nothing, not what my imagination might lead me to.
A slight movement below caused me to stir just in time to witness a radiant child exit the Holy of Holies. Instinctively, I lowered my head out of respect. Even as my heart questioned what I saw, I sensed that one day God would reveal the meaning of the event. From that day forward, Mary and I spent more hours than usual in prayer and fasting. Though we never spoke a word of that night, I think she knew I knew.
The time when Mary reached the age of maturity came too soon for me. According to the Law of Moses, she should return to her parents’ house or to her betrothed. Her parents, as I mentioned, were deceased. The day approached for the choosing of her betrothed by the chief priest. She rushed into my quarters one afternoon, her face flushed with color and her brows deeply furrowed.
“Mary! What’s wrong, my child?”
She slid to the floor and placed her head on my lap, “This cannot be.” She tried to suppress a sob from deep within.
I closed my eyes as I smoothed her hair away from her face. Oh, God give me insight. “Mary, try not to be afraid. You were chosen by God to remain pure. We must rest in Him.” She sat by me long into the evening. Neither of us spoke again that night.
The next day, before dawn, we met for prayer. It was the eighth day of our fast and the day a betrothed would be chosen. Several young men and their families had bathed outside the Huldah Gate and waited in the Plaza.
We watched from the Court of Women. The entire process of choosing a betrothed I had not witnessed in all my years and to this day have not seen again. One by one, men were disqualified. The priest called all remaining eligible men to meet in the council chamber. Each man dragged himself with head hung low, shoulders drooped, and no smile.
Though our fast could be broken the next morning Mary and I chose to keep it. Three days later the applicants returned. I glanced at Mary as we entered the court at about the same time as the men. I marveled. She is perfectly serene. The applicants each carried a fresh lily stalk, which they handed the priest. The priest took the stalks into the sanctuary.
After what seemed hours, the priest exited the sanctuary and handed each stalk to its owner. Spots appeared on each stalk. Except one. Only the stalk that belonged to Joseph remained fresh and unblemished, its bloom fresh and full. To the priest it meant that Joseph, the carpenter, was the chosen spouse.
Some people present thought the test wasn’t good enough, which provoked the priest. He demanded a dove be brought to him. And then he called for Mary. With her head held low, and without a hint of anxiety, she glided down the steps to the feet of the priest where she then knelt.
“Rise,” he gently commanded. “Now, take this dove. Walk into the center of the candidates, and when you reach them, let it fly freely.”
As she carried the white bird to the waiting candidates, the priest spoke loudly, “Watch this, you false interpreters of the sign of God! This creature – pure and innocent – cannot hear our discussion. It lives in the will of the Lord. It only understands the language of God. Hold your stalks high! Once this maiden frees the dove, it will settle on a stalk and then on the head of the man who owns it. The man it settles on shall take Mary.”
At the priest’s direction, Mary released the dove. It settled on Joseph’s head.
Joseph was visibly shaken. He voiced his fear at taking in a maiden since he was an older man with four grown sons.
But after praying, the priest pronounced that God had made the choice. And he blessed Joseph saying, “Joseph, the Lord has found you just. And, so, He chose you. Go in peace and let it be.”
My mind swirled with wild thoughts. My heart beat like wings of a bird chased by his predator. But when I met Mary to help gather her things to leave, she took my hand and whispered, “God has fulfilled His Word.”
And though I didn’t understand, a sense of perfect contentment washed over me. Still, a great sadness to let her go found its way into my heart.
For two years not a day passed without a prayer for Mary and her betrothed. Had they consummated their marriage? According to Mary’s confirmation, impossible!
One day I awoke with a quickening in my spirit. I hurried to prayer, elated to see ancient Simeon at Temple that day. His presence here since the days in Alexandria, when he worked on the translation of Holy Scripture to Greek, confirmed the hope of wondrous things in store for us all. After all, when an angel speaks, it is surely Truth. It was easy for me to believe God kept Simeon on this earth for three hundred years in order that the angelic words would come to pass. But I often wondered if I would have the chance to rejoice with him. At eighty-four, my aching bones were ready for a final rest.
Around the fifth hour, word spread that a first-born male would be presented to the Lord. I hurried to the court inside Huldah Gate in search of the joyful occasion. It’s wonderful to witness the presentation of a boy baby. I followed Simeon through the throngs of people and nearly fainted when we reached them. This baby’s mother is my Mary. No! God promised!
While my mind raced to untangle memories and promises, old Simeon whisked the child from Mary. He raised the baby toward heaven and pronounced, “O God, my King, now you have released your servant so that I may depart in peace as you promised. Because my eyes have seen your Salvation, whose appearance you have long prepared so that all the world will see. He is the glory of your people, Israel, and the Light who will reveal the hidden ways of God to the nations.”
I fell to my knees and clasped my hands. My heart told me his words were Truth.
The child’s parents looked at Simeon wide-eyed. He faced my Mary, “I tell you, this infant shall fall into the depths and rise again, and this sign will cause great division among many in Israel. It will be like a sword slicing into your own soul, as well. And the thoughts of hearts will be revealed.” Simeon carefully set the child into his father’s arms and bowed his head.
I stood up and inched my way to the family. I squeezed past the whisperers who wondered about the old man’s words. At her side, I spoke softly, “Mary.” She pivoted at the sound of my voice and threw herself into my frail arms. After a few moments, I pulled back and peered into her calm and gentle eyes. Her vow has been kept. Tears spilled down my cheeks. I twisted away then, to meet the eyes of her quiet infant and smiled. He knows me. I’m certain.
I raised my arms to heaven. I rejoiced and gave thanks to the Lord who is good. And I spoke the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The Lord will give you a miraculous sign. A virgin will give birth to a son. She will proclaim him Emmanuel. Emmanuel – God is among us.” Do you hear me, people?
From that day, I continue to proclaim with newfound energy to all who choose to hear: The redemption of Jerusalem, and of all peoples, is at hand!
Based on the story in Luke 2:22-38; this story found at Who is Jesus: 1st Century Eyewitnesses Tell Their Stories
The Franciscan Friar was a friend of a friend. He traveled by foot from Canada to St. Louis, Missouri to enter the monastery. At one point he stopped short when he reached the top of a mountain, mesmerized by the sight of a long, fertile valley lush with wildflowers of every imaginable color. After many minutes, he thought to himself, “What a waste of beauty. For I am the only one to set my eyes upon this glory.” But immediately his thoughts turned. “God sees this. It belongs to Him. He made the earth and all that is in it not merely for us but also for His own delight.”
At that moment God was also the observer of the beauty He created. There is never a moment when beauty is not being appreciated by Him, if not us.
If we can only see the glitter and lights and pretty packages because we have not prepared our hearts, we may find ourselves asking, “Is that all there is?” Perhaps we haven’t seen Christmas for what it really is. What a waste.
Thankfully, Christmas celebrations are never wasted. There is always One who observes our nativity scenes and plays, our trees decorated with the Star that points the way, and enters the worship at His table regardless of what we believe.
And that One also continually calls us to communion with Him. And He calls us to enter into Christmas joy as we place His only begotten Son in the manger.
If we feel a void on Christmas night, it’s never too late to say, “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for you.” He will transform our hearts and together with God, we can observe and enter into the greatest miracle of all time. Then with our Creator, and our hearts full of peace, we will sing, “Merry Christmas!”
P.S. If it seems you have no need of a Redeemer, for any one of myriad reasons, invite Him anyway – with at least some sincerity in the effort – and see what happens.
(At this writing, we were still in the Season of Advent – the time to prepare, Not just our homes, our gifts, our menus. It is the time we take to prepare our hearts to receive once more Love that was born on that first Christmas Day.)
The pastel-colored beach chair settles into the dune and slowly finds its balance. I place my purple water bottle into the holder on the arm and lower myself onto the striped cloth.
Slowly my eyes scan the dunes. Except for tall grasses behind me, we are alone.
We, Ed and me. He and his chair have performed the same dune dance. His chair is of primary colors, his bottle is blue.
We hadn’t packed for a beach day but I grabbed my old blue crocs before we left our bed and breakfast after Mass that morning. I slip my feet out of the crocs and flatten the soles onto the beige medium grade sand. Its hotness massages my feet as I wiggle them deep into its presence.
I gaze on the horizon. Between it and me are millions of tiny, dazzling, ripples in horizontal layers of crystal clear greens and turquoises. Above the line, baby blue with sporadic wisps of floating white.
Leaning my head back, I close my eyes to shield them from the intense white light of mid-afternoon on a clear day. I hear gentle, rhythmic water lapping. This is a Great Lake. There are no crashing breakers. When one of its tiny waves reaches shore, its break is noticeable but far from deafening. And the rhythm instantly returns.
My hands are the first part of me to make note of the sun’s warmth. They are drooping at the ends of the chair’s arms. I feel my fingers release tension of many months. The heat moves up my arms and onto my face to the top of my head. I am enveloped in warmth that feels yellow. It holds me and keeps me still. My breath is steady and even. I’ve missed that.
Thoughts that want to invade my mind slip by as the lapping of crystal water soothes me into a thoughtless reverie.
The voice that is not a voice says, “I’ve been waiting. I knew you’d be back. I knew you would find your way back to you. Here I am, with you as always – comforting, holding, guiding, caring, loving.”
A smile begins to emerge from the inside of me until it bursts forth on my face. I open my eyes to two sailboats with tall white masts gliding peacefully along the horizon.
The dividing line.
It is my gift.
And it is our gift – mine and Ed’s.
I will return to the dividing line each time I sense the churning of hurricane-produced waves rushing into my life. Because this is where I will always find me. And You.
Yes, God is in our midst. And all around us. And in us who are created in His image. He is in all of His creation. We should be aware of breathing Him in, moment by moment. And seeing Him in the people and animals and all life around us.
But there is only one place we can see Him physically Present. All of Him. Not just Him in His creation. It is in Jesus, the Son of God, in the Blessed Sacrament. God cannot be separated, He is three in one, and Jesus is God the Son.
We have the mind-blowing honor to gaze on Him, the only begotten Son of God – His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – face to face, in the Blessed Sacrament. We cannot wrap our finite minds around the concept. It is a mystery, to be certain. But being a mystery does not make it any less real and true.
Do you not believe? Sit in His Presence for even just an hour each week. Gaze on God the Son. After several weeks, or perhaps many months, you will realize the transformation in your soul. It’s a promise.
Come, let us adore Him.
Though the words of my heart are sincere and true, they are buried so deep I can’t read them. I only know they are there, now and forever.
So, regardless of what sometimes seems to be, do not fear: I will remember in the dark what I knew in the Light. And that is reality.
Flakes of gold shimmer as they flutter to earth, too numerous to count. Teensy tiny, humongous, and every size in between, each carries a unique sparkle. Few people would know that such beauty is nothing more than the scattering of shattered dreams.
If I can gather and piece some back together, before the winds of life sweep them into oblivion, can some become real? I wonder.
But I must hurry. How much time is really left?
I’ve forgotten how to pray and write and meditate.
Something has been stolen, but I don’t know what or by whom.
I feel trapped, but how?
I grope in desperation for a thing I cannot see or feel.
I want to escape, but I’m not sure from where.
Teach me again the way to that place I long for,
the place my heart knows.
In response to an eloquent, heartfelt, and lengthy view of the current world condition by Dan Rather:
Mr. Rather quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. But he does not give us the man’s full vision nor it’s foundation as evidenced through his life. If we want to follow a leader, let us first always know all there is to know about that person, just as we should never fan the flames of one side of an argument without giving full weight to the other side.
Mr. Rather leaves out the most important and glaring loss which Martin Luther King, Jr. knew very well as his moral standard and whom he loved and served: God.
Dr. King’s God is my God.
God is the Creator who IS love and who IS order and balance. It is God who taught through actions respect and dignity for all people by sending his only Son among us. It is he who showed us what selflessness looked like.
For decades the Creator is being systematically removed from society’s eye. When mankind, the created, is only permitted to see mankind, can we expect anything other than self-led chaos to remain?
All society will implode without the recognition of God at its center. This is no surprise; history has proven so.
My definition of gluttony is probably close to what it really is: eating what I don’t need for good health and wholeness, eating more than I need of anything, good or bad.
Why does God name gluttony as a sin? I think that’s because being a glutton is hurtful to my physical body. And when my physical body is injured, it transfers to my mental, emotional, and spiritual welfare.
See the prisoner on the cross? Any flesh on his bones that is not torn and bloodied, is swollen purple and black. He struggles to breathe. His death was meant to restore humanity to its creator, to give a path out of sin and back to friendship with God. It is the ultimate sacrifice of pure Love – to die so that others may live.
It is I who deserve that punishment each time I separate myself from my creator with acts and thoughts contrary to him. Those thoughts of unforgiveness, pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, rage, stinginess. Those acts and thoughts that are not kind, loving, giving, forgiving, gentle, and selfless towards all of his creation. They are the thoughts and actions that put a wedge between me and my creator.
Because of the price he paid – his perfect life – I can know freedom of life and not be a slave to sin and death. And through him I can have an actual relationship with God. At my baptism, I was marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever by the Holy Spirit and I entered into the Body of Christ. Though nothing can now separate me from the love of God, my sin will estrange me from him.
My physical body is actually a part of the Body of Christ. At the Eucharist, I receive his Body and Blood because we, the church – his bride – are one in him. Each time I receive him again, it is a physical re-joining of the spiritual reality.
When I harm my body through gluttony, not only is my life not full as God intends, since gluttony injures, I am harming the Body of Christ. Worse yet, when I knowingly sin, it’s as though I disregard the price Jesus paid for me. To me it feels like I’m slapping him in the face while his gasps for breath say, “I love you.”
With all thankfulness, there is hope unending. Because the very words of Jesus from the cross to those who put him there were, “Father forgive them.” That plea is for me and all of God’s creation. He asks our Father not to hold my sin against me, to wash me in another flood of forgiveness; the gap between us closes once more.
Thank you, God, for the Sacrament of Reconciliation that restores me to that moment of my baptism, when all sin was washed away. And all because of the sacrifice of you and your Only Begotten Son.
And thank you, God, for grace to “go and sin no more.” That includes not sinning in what and how I feed this body that was created in your image.
Without grace and mercy, I would be a heap of rubbish on the earth, good for no one and no thing. Because of your grace and mercy, I am free to be your friend and I can rise up to your good intentions for me.
Mr. Breen was in his seventies, a cantankerous “guest” who arrived at the New York (Catholic Worker) house one day. “I am at my wit’s end,” wrote Dorothy to a friend in July 1935. “He sits at the lower window like a Cerberus and growls and curses at everyone who comes in for a bite of food or for some clothing…And he, after all, is Christ.” Mr. Breen stayed until his death, in 1939.
“As long as I live,” he once wrote her, “I shall always be proud of having had you as my boss and my friend. Your little glimpses into my mind on personal responsibility a few days ago remade me and I have, thank you, ceased to hate people as I was wont to do.” (story from The Magnificat, June 2016)
Mr. Breen was changed because Dorothy Day recognized that each person is created in the image and likeness of God, and each one has Christ living within. She treated him according to that knowledge.
Blessed Mother Teresa did the same. “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
Who is our Mr. Breen? Is it the neighbor who grumbles when we say hello? The cashier who ignores us at the register? The driver who cuts us off on the highway? That eccentric, and often annoying, parishioner? Perhaps the co-worker who doesn’t shower as much as we think they should? The homeless person sleeping on a park bench or the pan handler who approaches when we just want to have a pleasant night out?
If we act with the knowledge that Jesus lives in disguise of each of us, we can change the world.
“Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” Matthew 25:40
My friend is dying.
The reality of death in our midst causes us to pause.
We consider why our friend or loved one must be presented with it. Especially if that person is younger than us or if the illness or accident caused the reality to be sudden.
We consider our own life. How have we lived it? What will we be remembered for? Have we taken more than we’ve given? Where will we go from here?
My faith teaches that time on earth is less than the smallest fraction of all life. That being here is not just about having the most fun, gathering the greatest number of friends, visiting every nook and cranny on the planet. It’s not even about how many charities receive our time and money to. Or how many volunteer hours we commit to helping the gazillions less fortunate than us, in every tangible and intangible way. It’s not about making the most of what we’ve been given.
Life on this earth is about preparing what we actually take with us when we leave. It’s about nurturing our hearts and souls for the next and final leg of the journey. That time when we are face to face with our Creator for all eternity. That preparation involves commitment to knowing Him more with each breathing moment.
I am grateful for my faith. I can’t fathom the emptiness in my soul without it or the devastation when a friend leaves our planet.
Thank you, Rosemarie, for your steadfastness. For your commitment to God and family. For your courage and strength. For your listening ear. Thank you, Rosemarie, for your love.
My friend is dying. Better yet, my friend is preparing to step into the fullness of life.
This reflection was written on July 1.
My dear friend, Rosemarie, passed into the fullness of life on Sunday July 3, 2016.
May you, dear friend faithful departed, rest in peace.
I am the door to my own destiny,
And I am the key holder.
Do I clutch the key in hands wrenched with fear, defending my actions as protective because of what has been?
Or do I courageously open my fingers, loose the key, turn it in the latch
& walk past all that has been done to me & even for me, through all that I’ve been & even that I am, to all that is intended for me?
Will I choose chains & suffocation or will I choose freedom & life?
Whatever my choice, this door is never alone.
Today’s Gospel reading is about the widow’s only son who had died; it is about the time that Jesus healed that son and how the son rose from the dead. We don’t understand why miracles happen or why they don’t when we believe. The important reality: Miracles and answers to prayer are a mystery and so we give Him thanks in all things – when we witness those miracles we beg for and when they do not come to fruition before our eyes. The widow at Nain did not understand why He chose her and her son. She didn’t try to even imagine the reasons. She only rejoiced and gave thanks.
Here is her story, excerpted from my book, Who is Jesus?
He Chose Us
I choked on the dust that swirled around me and filled my nostrils. Unending tears stung my eyes. I can barely see; I may as well be blind anyway. The din of wailing and flutes deafened me. The heat of the long day past weighed heavily. It was too hard to lift one foot in front of the other. Arms of friends guided me. Words spun through my head without control. How can I survive? This can’t be real. Who will care for me? Who will help me? Why? Why? Why?
The procession continued toward the caves. I tried not to look at the face of the young man on the bier. My son! My only son! The last of my family! I stole a glance and convulsed into more sobs.
A crowd bigger than our procession approached from behind. Their voices rose, interrupting my despair. Oh, please, have respect for the dead. I looked back toward them. One man seemed to lead them. He stopped to face those people with him and raised his arm to silence them. Thank you.
In a few moments, he reached my side. I sensed him looking at me. In my grief-induced stupor, I slowly turned my head toward him. Those eyes are full of compassion. He understands my agony. He slowed his pace to match mine. With a voice that made me think of a cool breeze in the blazing heat of noon he comforted me, “Don’t cry.”
I stopped. He paused with me. I turned to stare closely into his dark eyes. Who is this man? And, then, he reached out to touch the wicker bier. Instantly, everyone halted and stopped wailing. The flutes’ melancholy notes strangled and stopped.
“Young man, get up.” Did he really tell my son who is dead to rise as though he is alive? An involuntary gasp by one and all present confirmed my thought.
My son pushed himself up. The bearers stumbled to lower the bier quickly. All praise to God!
“Where am I, mother?” a groggy voice asked as his eyes locked on mine. “What’s happening?”
The man who had spoken stepped closer, took my son’s hand and held it out for me. I leaped forward and grabbed my son into my arms, “My son! You were dead and now you live!” Tears sprang from my eyes. I glanced behind me at the stranger. He smiled and his eyes twinkled with moisture.
All around me people laughed and cried and danced. The reality of what happened dawned on us, and nearly every man and woman present fell to their knees and called out, “Praise be to God!”
“He has sent a great prophet like Elijah and Elisha before him.”
“God has visited us with a great miracle!”
Yes, God has done this. But why did he choose to raise my son and not others? I will never know the answers to those questions. I only know that he did.
Before we re-assembled ourselves, the teacher had moved ahead with a multitude of followers. My neighbors told me his name is Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth.
Because I will never forget what he did for my son and me, I live differently. My neighbors notice new compassion in my actions, more than I ever thought I could give. Now I am one in the throngs of people who cluster around him and hang on his words that pierce my heart. And I praise God day and night, for now I know Him.
Based on the story in Luke 7:11-17
The alarm rings. The dog whines to go outside. The coffee pot buzz tells us it’s time for our first sip of caffeine. Water rushes at us from the showerhead. The car engine makes its starting sound (unless it’s a hybrid, of course), the radio or music flips on, we surround ourselves with other whirring vehicles and honking horns. Now enter the workplace….whose noise will vary immensely for each. Endless voices bombard us from every angle: friends talk, friends text, we even chatter incessantly to ourselves.
From sunup to sundown noise greets our every breath.
What has become of you?
Where can we escape to find you?
What will we discover when we do?
Our society likes to equate silence with boredom. I posit that silence reveals jewels that are the authenticity of life :
And especially, real Love.
Stop, noise! Let the eyes of my heart see the dance of silence and let her ears hear the music so that I might truly live!
To every woman who is a mom to children she gave birth to or adopted.
And to every woman who is a mom to friends and family who are blessed by her nurturing spirit, whether or not any child calls her mommy.
You are all mothers.
And to each of you I wish a year filled with love that continues to soften your heart and the hearts of those to whom you will always be mom.
Two and a half years ago Mom left this earth without much warning. She couldn’t bear to live anywhere but by the side of Dad, who passed even more suddenly six months earlier. I will miss both of them for the rest of my life.
But now my thankfulness for Mom overpowers all sad. Below is a link to a blog I wrote for her 80th birthday at a time when we thought we’d have another 20 years together. I think if I were to write this piece now, I would emphasize one of her greatest legacies: my mom was truly one of the most forgiving people I have ever known.She had a hard childhood, she had people be unkind to her (as we all do) and family betray her (fortunately most of us don’t experience such sadness). But she never, ever held a grudge and always, always forgave. And when my dad was breathing his last, she asked his forgiveness for the times she had hurt him, she forgave him for the times he had hurt her. One last act of forgiveness, to cover anything she had unknowingly missed in 64 years. Within minutes my dad quietly stopped breathing – total peace for them both.
Forgiveness is often the missing link in the chain of joy and love and healing of relationships. I’ve heard miraculous stories of people being healed of cancers and other illnesses once they let go and forgave even the worst atrocities.
Oh that we would all exercise forgiveness daily. Then we could sing with Daddy while he continues to whistle in heaven: It’s a Wonderful World. Because then it would be. For everyone.
Love you momma. Forever. Thank you for so many life lessons. Thank you for exactly who you were and are.
Here is the link to the 80th birthday post: Things I’m Glad to Have Learned from Mommy
And the link to something I jotted down for Mom the other day: The Gift of Mom
I’ve written more posts about Mom because she’s worthy to be honored in my writing. But I won’t add ALL the links here!
And here’s a picture of my 3 awesomely beautiful, intelligent, kind, and caring daughters:
When I was a teenager, I spent little time with my mother. We just didn’t seem to have much in common. I must admit my parents’ crazy high expectations of their first born didn’t help our relationship.
My twenties were spent in rebellion. Or maybe it was just that my life expanded so far into new found freedom that it looked like rebellion. Either way, I had less in common with Mom, and spent even less time with her.
At 30, I married Ed. We lived far from the town I grew up in over the previous 26 years. In those days, the interstates were far from completion and that 300 mile trip took six to seven hours. Weekend visits were rare. There was still a little friction between Mom and me. But I began to recognize her wisdom. I realized she raised me as she was raised, and knew no other way. In fact, life was tremendously easier for me with her as parent than she had. That realization opened the door to compassion for Mom. My eyes were opened to the fact that her faith, which I had misunderstood as religiosity and had come close to laughing at in my teens and twenties, was the anchor that actually kept her steady and sane through life’s storms. Instead of laughing, I admired. And hoped that I, too, would have that internal force in my heart to depend on in rough times. The friction eased, our friendship birthed and grew.
In my forties and fifties, I talked to Mom weekly and more. We shared our common faith. We laughed. We cried together. I longed to live closer to my parents so that I could drop in for a cup of coffee now and then. Or share my girls’ triumphs with her (and Dad) in attendance. I missed her during two major surgeries I had. It saddened me when she was hospitalized and I couldn’t be there. I missed her when two of our daughters were hospitalized at the same time after catastrophic accidents. And the more I missed her, the more I wanted a hug now and then.
Thankfully, we made the 1200 mile trip to see Mom and Dad at least every two to three years. And my dear parents made sure they visited us every few years. So I got a few hugs over the last 36 years. And a few cups of coffee.
Now I can long all I want for a chat about faith and life over a cup of coffee and it will never happen. Oh, how I miss Mom now. It’s a different kind of pain from the days when she was with us. Now it shares emptiness.
If your mom is still around, I encourage you to spend as much time together as possible. Someday you will look back with thanks when you realize what you gained from her life experience. And the scales will weigh heavier with fond memories than those of longing for something you didn’t have.
I love you, Mom. Forever.
This is the post I wrote on Mother’s Day
Dreidel was my favorite game when I was a little girl. It’s a wonder I loved the game, since I could almost never make it spin. The best thing about knowing Jesus then was when he carved me a dreidel with those strong hands that worked carpenter tools like magic. Even the tune he hummed put magic in the air. It was the only dreidel I could ever spin!
Jesus never uttered an unkind word. At least, not in my hearing. The charity I received, he gave to each person he met. He even treated the animals in our village with the same respect he gave people. His deep-set, dark eyes revealed an inner calm that I have never seen in anyone else. And when we were around him, that peace enveloped us all.
He was like a big, protective brother to me while we grew up in Nazareth. I felt special when his muscular arms helped me carry heavy loads. He stood up for me in every argument with my older brothers. It made me feel like I had won, even though he did the work. And if we needed water late in the day, his tall frame, with hand shielding his eyes from the setting sun, stood in the distance, to make sure no robbers or lion lurked to attack me. I felt safe when Jesus was near.
He was brilliant, too. But instead of impressing people with big words and long quotes from Scripture, he laughed as he told stories to explain God’s ways. We sat and talked for hours, Jesus and me. He paid attention to every word I spoke, with his eyes locked on mine. In fact, each person he spoke to felt like he was alone in the world with him.
When Aaron and I married, he celebrated with us. When my first child was born, he shared our joy. He was like a brother to us. The day he left Nazareth for his ultimate call, a little ache began in my heart. I didn’t understand the feeling. I felt different about my husband whom I love very much. Still, I would have followed Jesus, if circumstances had allowed.
To keep up with his busy new life I asked every traveler to our town if they had news of him. The stories of healings, and teachings, and the times he stood up to the Pharisees amazed me. But not totally. Because I knew Jesus was destined for greatness.
In Jerusalem with my husband for Passover that year, I was glad we stayed in the city, not merely within the prescribed boundaries. I thought we’d have a better chance to see him; it had been such a long time since our last meeting.
Of course, the horrid turn of events blew into my mind and heart like an unexpected sandstorm. Preparation Day was a blur of pain, agony, disbelief and anger. And many tears. I nearly fainted as the crowd chanted to crucify the man who was a brother to me. “He’s not a criminal! I yelled to the world. “No! No! No!” I screamed, when I watched the scourging in the praetorium tear and bloody his flesh. I wrung my hands and wailed, when they forced him, battered, bloodied, and beaten, with a crown of thorns pressed into his head, to carry his cross. Just the thought of the Place of the Skull, Golgotha, where he would be executed, made my stomach churn. On the narrow streets I kept pace with the growing crowd, many of whom jeered unfounded accusations and tossed rocks at him. I never left his side, all the way up the hill. Death hung in the air.
My head began to spin with the echo of iron pounding on iron as I watched soldiers bang, bang, bang the huge nails through his hands and feet onto the cross. Then they grabbed hold of the cross and thrust him up with no more care than if he were a butchered lamb. Blood coursed down his face from the long thorns. His gaping flesh was a violation of all that was good. Though I was afraid of potential consequences if I showed my allegiance, I couldn’t help but sob. I screamed out my own pain, “Why? Why are you doing this? He never hurt anyone. He is innocent!” No one could hear me over the deafening din of the mass of onlookers that closed in on him.
You can imagine what the next hours were like as they continued to mock and torture such a kind man. Through it all, I could see love and forgiveness in his eyes. And much pain.
Rumors had floated all over Galilee for years about who he was. My heart confirmed the fact long ago. Why do they want to kill The Messiah?
I heard his anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No words can describe the agony on his mother’s face as she stood by his blood-soaked body.
A Roman soldier stood near me through the entire spectacle. He didn’t actively participate in the wickedness, until he was ordered to hurry the death of my friend by piercing him with a sword. When both water and blood flowed from Jesus’ right side, my head jolted around to look at him as he whispered, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” Even Romans believe.
And then Jesus gasped the words that crushed all hope, “It is done. All is fulfilled. The price is paid. It is finished.”
They murdered the Messiah. My heart wrenched. I gasped for air as my body collapsed.
Before another tear could fall after his last words, the sun vanished behind black clouds and the ground broke apart all around us. Fear consumed my sorrow as I tried to stand on the shifting earth, “Help me! Someone help me! Jesus!” What had they done? What had I done? Could I have been a better friend? What should I have done to prevent this? Oh, my God, forgive me. Rivers of tears rushed endlessly down my face, while I groped along the ground toward Mary in the midst of chaotic running and crying all around.
Later, when I learned how the veil over the Holy of Holies in the Temple tore in two at the exact moment of his death, wonder began to edge out fear in my heart.
As the earth grumbled and the sky wept ferociously, they removed him from the cross and placed his bloodied body into the arms of his weeping mother. Mary is such a gentle woman. Oh, how she and Joseph loved their only son. As she gently rocked him, letting her tears wash his blood encrusted face, I buried my face in my hands. I can’t watch her pain.
That night and the next day, I, as many, moved about with glazed eyes, not really seeing. The motions of the Feast were disconnected from my reality. Parched like an old wineskin discarded in the desert, my heart shriveled within.
On the third day, I awoke just before dawn. What do I hear? The birds are singing! Only then did I realize that even the birds were mute during the stony silence of the last days. On my mat I listened to a great symphony of delight as every bird and small animal in the land awakened together.
Without disturbing my cousins whom we stayed with, I snuck out and scurried to the house where Mary stayed. I asked if I could join her and the other women to bury my friend properly. We could only hope that wicked Pilate’s guards would move the stone for us.
Close to the tomb, the ground shook again. Not like before, but enough to be noticed by everyone. We shared a frightened glance. Would another earthquake prevent us from giving him the respect and honor he deserved? The stones and grass were pink with the dawn. Instinctively, as we approached the tomb, my hands shot up to shield my eyes from a bright light. On the ground were the guards. I think they’re dead! I squinted as we hastened on. Why is the great stone in front of the tomb moved away? My heart skipped a beat. Oh, no. Now what have they done to him?
All of this happened too fast to track. I no sooner panicked when I saw the guards and the rock, when I realized the blinding light blazed from the stone itself. A figure with a golden face that radiated like lightning, and a shimmery white body, sat on the rock. His brilliance spilled onto the grass and trees and us. I gasped.
“Don’t be afraid,” he spoke with gentle power that arrested our rising fears. “He isn’t here. He has risen, just like he said. Go see for yourselves. And then go quickly to tell his disciples that He will meet them in Galilee.”
Our wide eyes blinked at each other. Tears sprang as we rushed to the tomb’s entrance and peered inside. And then we fell into each other’s arms when we saw the place where they had laid him, empty. Every part of me tingled with awe. Even so, a bit of darkness still threatened my renewed joy.
We turned to run but stopped hard. Before us stood my best friend, my Lord. “Jesus,” I whispered as my heart leapt. I dropped to my knees and kissed his feet.
He knew that though we believed, we still were apprehensive. “Don’t be afraid,” he comforted. “Now, go and tell my brothers that they will see me in Galilee.” And in that same instant, He was gone.
“Oh, rejoice in the Lord,” we sang with unbridled joy. “Let’s hurry to tell his disciples.” Our feet fled on wings of angels to tell the Good News that restored all hope; the news that changed our lives and the whole world – forever.
Based on the story in Matthew 28:1-10
This story can be found with 35 other short stories in the book Who is Jesus?
It is the day the earth fell silent. Though life still existed, it was as though without spirit. No song. No joy. No reality of love. No hope.
Only your Mother knew the end had not arrived. In fact, she knew it was the beginning of liberty from all bondage to those who choose You.
Thank you for suffering to the point of a cruel death for my freedom.
In the midst of sadness all around – lonely, hurting, sick, destitute, dying, and more – the morning sun rises. It shines on the leaves that have turned, filling them with more brilliance than their new golden or crimson or purple can hold and reflect.
And we are reminded that in the midst of change – that may even lead to death – we need not despair. We have only to look up, as well to look within, and know peace and courage. For the Son has risen.
The Woman Caught in Adultery
The following is an excerpt from Who is Jesus?
How did I ever become such a disgrace? I loathe myself. My parents’ morals were high. We attended synagogue as required. One time I had the sweet opportunity to travel with my family to the temple in Jerusalem. I remember well the long, hot journey because it touched my heart to share the holy pilgrimage with so many. All this to say, because of the moral teachings ingrained in me since birth, I intended to live upright.
At fourteen, I was given in marriage to a man twenty years older than me. His first wife died during the birth of their ninth child. As a silk trader, he provided well for us. Still, the responsibility of nine children and the oversight of a huge household, literally overnight, frazzled me. To make matters worse, his oldest children were my age. Even though this family situation was common, it made me feel awkward.
City life was hard to adjust to, especially over-crowded Jerusalem. In Emmaus, my town, everyone knew and trusted each other. Exhaustion and irritability became my middle names. I still wonder if my overall outlook was the reason my husband spent little time with me. I will never know.
From morning till dark, strangers filled our streets. “Look out for the crooks,” my stepchildren warned. “You can be mugged or, at the least, taken advantage of as you shop.” After a few years, I thought I developed an instinct about who to trust and who not to in this bustling city.
Eventually, I enjoyed the daily trip to the upper market, the haggle over prices, the smell of food and animals and people all scrunched into tiny alleys. And it was exciting to meet people from towns far and wide. Sometimes, I happened upon a vendor from Emmaus, and was thrilled to hear about life in my hometown. A few vendors became my favorites because they seemed honest and carried quality product. I learned the hard way that trust without wisdom makes one quite vulnerable. I’m not making excuses. Only I am responsible for both my good and bad actions, regardless of how naïve I might call myself.
After years of buying from the same traders, I had the most confidence in a particular man. His seeming kind interest in my family was like that of a friend. In all honesty, it felt good to have a man show interest in my life. His attention lured me into a lair I never imagined possible. I was frightened. When everyone learned the dishonor I brought to my husband and family, guilt and shame consumed me like a great wave. Wash me away, was my last desire.
I am well aware of the tradition: a woman caught in adultery is stoned to death. I never took part in that inhumane punishment. But I did hang around to watch. The woman’s eyes filled with pain, fear and disbelief. She begged for mercy. Red-faced, angry men offered none; one by one they raised heavy stones. Fury strengthened throw after throw. The memory of those horrors always makes me shudder. Now it’s my turn.
“Take her with us.” His voice was dark. The local synagogue leader seized my arm and practically dragged me through narrow streets to the Temple. I am probably the most immoral person who ever lived. I deserve such a horrid death. I had one hope that my life would be spared: because of the Roman occupation, Jews needed permission for everything, including to execute a Jew who broke their own law.
A cloud of stifling dust carried me and the growing crowd to my final destination. Their remarks were like swords that pierced my heart. “Evil!” And, “Disgusting!” Or, “Immoral and dirty!” Jabs accompanied their ugly accusations. People pulled my hair, and it fell loose.
Then I was thrust headlong into the dirt at the feet of the scribes and Pharisees. “Look at this,” the leader’s high pitched cry could be heard for miles, I’m sure. “She has been caught in adultery!”
The dust settled around us and one by one the face of each spangled Pharisee put on the same sly smile. With arms crossed and eyebrows raised, they nodded to one another in that way that says, “We are all thinking the same wicked thought – she will never do this again.” One stepped forward and grabbed my arm. He shoved me toward a crowd sitting in the outer courts. I stumbled over many sandaled feet and landed where a man sat on a mat, facing the group, as though teaching
Then I looked up. Oh, no! It’s Jesus of Nazareth. I had heard him teach. He seemed so different from any person I ever knew. His dark eyes were soft with compassion. His movements were purposeful, yet gentle. His words amazed hearers over and over again. I never heard of him doing or saying one unkind thing. Of all people, why someone who seemed so pure? I lowered my head to the ground.
Unknown to me, the Pharisees and Sadducees had been trying for days to trick Jesus into a reason to bring him to court. As a pawn in their plan, they were thrilled at my disgrace. In their minds, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. They were well aware that Jesus was versed in Scripture that directed adulterers be stoned to death. But they also knew the Roman requirements. Some of them actually licked their fat lips as they wondered how Jesus would talk his way out of this one.
With a thunderous voice that feigned respect, my accuser boomed, “Teacher, this woman was seized in the very act of adultery. In our law, Moses commanded us to execute a woman like her by stoning. What do you say we should do?” He spun around to me. “Stand up, you!”
I took my time to stand, careful to keep my head low and eyes closed. I cannot look into Jesus’ eyes. I held my breath. What will his answer be? Silence hung in the air. Finally, I raised my head just enough to peek.
Jesus leaned forward and drew in the dirt with his finger. His move incensed the religious leaders. Unable to keep quiet any longer, they badgered him with questions about my situation and their beloved law.
Lifting my head a bit more, I trembled as Jesus straightened up. One by one, he looked each man in the eye. They waited. His response astounded us all, “Let the one who is sinless among you throw the first stone at her.”
A tiny gasp escaped my lips. I am so bewildered. The sin of adultery, or any sin? Who did I know who didn’t sin? Maybe only this man called Jesus. Oh, no! Does that mean he will throw the first stone? He is so kind, surely not. But I am such a sinner. Fear strangled and choked me.
No one spoke or moved.
Jesus squatted then, and his cloak settled in the dust. Without a word, he drew in the dirt again. I stole a glimpse around. One by one the Pharisees and scribes realized the miserable failure of their trick, dropped their heads to face the ground, and shuffled out of Jesus’ presence in silence. The oldest led them. Even the gawking townspeople scuffed away without a word.
This is it. Only Jesus and I are left. Now he alone will stone me to death. How could I possibly be so wrong about people’s character? I misjudged the market vendor. Now, Jesus.
Still squatting, he glanced up at me. “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one stayed to condemn you?”
My eyes traveled slowly around me. “No one, Lord,” I whispered. Jumbled thoughts raced through my mind. I can barely breathe.
Jesus leveled his eyes at me as he pronounced each word carefully, “I don’t condemn you either. Go on your way, but do not sin again.”
I stood still as a stone idol. What did I just hear? Could the gossip be true that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah? Who else could forgive my sin? The heavy beat of dread no longer thumped within; instead my heart quickened. Tears of gratefulness, not shame, sprang from my eyes. A smile grew that was nearly too large for my face to contain.
I dropped to my knees. I bowed my head, let tears continue to stream, and squeezed my hands together. “Thank you, Lord. Thank you. Because of you, I live. Today I choose never to sin again.”
Has my life been easy since that moment of forgiveness? Of course not. Under Roman occupation, a Jew’s life is not easy. Have I been perfect and sinless? Impossible. I am still human.
I spend my days trying to be more like the One who saved me. I serve not just him but those he came to save – the poor, the lonely and forgotten, the widows and orphans, the homeless, the sinners. Each day I recognize a change in my heart as joy overflows. I am more patient and, certainly, more forgiving. When I fail, I acknowledge my sin, and beg God’s forgiveness again, certain to receive it. His peace covers my entire being. And that has made all the difference.
Based on the story in John 8:2-11
Let go the dark weights.
Shake them loose.
Push them out with every breath.
Watch them dissolve in thin air.
They do, you know,
When we break their hold on us,
For they have no real substance.
Light is our only substance.
Light overpowers the darkness.
Light begets Light.
Light is our Song.
Those of us who have chosen to be loved by God see His hand changing us. First, we see it on the outside in our public behavior, attractions, and places we put ourselves. Then, we see it on the inside – in our thoughts and the words that come from our hearts.
At the inner level, change comes more slowly. Sometimes those inward changes that are expressed away from home and in more public places, will be revealed first. When we are home, we notice how much more inward change is yet to come. Those we live with can vouch for that!
Lord, give us the desire for our hearts to be continually transformed into your Image. And give us the Grace to trust you to do the work.
I want a new car. I want to be healed. I want a new puppy. I want a new house. I want, I want, I want.
If I really believed that the Lord is my shepherd, would I yearn so often for more or for something else?
A shepherd cares for his flock at his own expense. He makes sure their every need is met. He protects and guides. A good shepherd wants the very best in every area of life for those in his charge and will see that they have it. If his sheep trust him, and his judgment as to what is really best for them, they will be content.
If I trust that He will provide all my needs and that my best interest is His heart, I shall not want. Rather, I shall relax and give thanks. And be content.
“The Good Shepherd” image is found in the St. Callisto catacomb in Rome and is believed to have been painted around the 3rd century.
Dear Sounds of Nature and Other Lovely Music,
Thank you for being the image of the One who at the center of my being. The One at the center of all creation.
Thank you, too, for reminding me that He and the music are One. That the music at the center of every atom in me and all around me, is my Creator.
Me – always dancing, always singing, whether I know it or not
To whom much is given
Much is required.
The poor, the hungry, the needy
Will always be among us.
It is for those who have more
To give to those who have less.
It is for those who have
To give to those who have not.
It is not practical to think that
The field can be made level
For all to share the same.
Those in power and leadership
Will always desire more for themselves.
Better to give freely every opportunity to all
That they may reach their own gold ring
And live exactly as they choose.
And then for each to care for those with less.
Even the poorest among us
Will find those with less to care for.
“Praise God in his holy place…
O praise Him with sound of trumpet,
praise Him with lute and harp.
Praise Him with timbrel and dance,
praise Him with strings and pipes.
“O praise Him with resounding cymbals,
praise Him with clashing of cymbals.
Let everything that lives and that breathes
give praise to the Lord.”*
“Sing to the Lord; bless His name.”**
We praise Him with song and instruments
We praise Him with breath
because His breath is our life.
*from Psalm 150
** from Psalm 96
Sunday’s Gospel tells the story of what is believed to be Jesus’s first public miracle. At a wedding, he turned water into wine. Yep. Here’s the account of one of the servants at that wedding. Oh, you know what I mean. It’s what one of the servants MIGHT have felt, thought and said. His story is in the historical fiction book Who is Jesus? Can you imagine being a first hand witness to this miracle? How would it have changed your life? Let me know!
His Secret Changed My Life
Household staff hear gossip of the entire region almost before news reaches heads of those households. Rumors of some man named Jesus who traveled throughout Galilee teaching on the Holy Scriptures were rampant. Many people considered themselves his followers, even those who used to follow John the Baptizer. The shift in loyalty miffed some of John’s disciples. I heard that John actually encouraged the shift and called himself a follower of Jesus. I hoped for a chance to discover the attraction.
Before Ephraim’s birth, his wealthy father employed me. Ephraim grew up to be a righteous man, which made my transition to him as master easy. Soon after our move to the dwelling attached to his father’s house, he planned to begin his own family.
Ephraim’s small staff worked for weeks to prepare for his wedding feast. We gathered pomegranates and almonds, pressed olives, stuffed grape leaves, made sure there was enough wine on hand, brought in the lamb, and much more.
Because my master and his betrothed came from large families, we delivered many invitations to the joyous event. As the people arrived, my concern mounted that we might not have enough food and drink since, unlike his father, Ephraim was of humble means.
From the bride’s home of Nazareth came a widow named Mary, a distant relative. I was assigned to serve her son Jesus and his friends. What good fortune! I sought him out right away. “Teacher? More wine?” He looked directly into my eyes, as though I were an equal and the only person present. I couldn’t force my eyes to glance away. He spoke to me as a friend, which made me feel warm inside. Somehow, the heavy workload of the celebration became light.
On the morning of the eighth day the bridegroom introduced his unveiled bride to the guests. The consumption of food and wine increased as the happiness of the guests heightened.
The next day, my worst fears came true. A worried murmur hummed among the servants. “No more wine.”
“Were we irresponsible?”
“Did we waste the provision?”
We were afraid to tell the steward. We knew we’d be punished, whether or not we were the cause.
Within moments our plight reached the women’s celebration. How do the women always know what’s going on whether or not they’re directly involved?
A few minutes later, the mother of Jesus approached me. “Is it true? There is no more wine?”
With my eyes cast down, I trembled and hoarsely whispered, “Yes.”
Without another word, Mary made an about face and headed to the men’s section.
Back at the entrance, I gasped at the scene before me. The bridegroom looked up just as she reached Jesus. But my master said nothing.
I entered the celebration and acted busy by gathering empty platters. Whatever does she intend? I have to hear what she says to him.
“There’s a problem with the wine. They’ve run out.”
“Woman, why trouble me with this?” Jesus questioned her curiously. “It’s not my time yet.”
My mind whirled as I scurried to my station. What did that mean? I reached my friends and turned to see Jesus behind Mary. They walked directly toward us. I had an urge to run. Or bow. Fortunately, I kept my head and stood tall.
She didn’t smile as she measured her words to us, “Just do whatever he tells you to do.”
He pointed to six stone jars that stood nearby. “Fill them with water,” he gently commanded.
The jars were used for the rites of purification, and could each hold twenty to thirty gallons. We scampered out with them and filled them to the brim. Stunned with wonder, we didn’t breathe a word as we returned and set them before Jesus.
“Now,” he said with a smile, “draw some, and take it to the steward.” He chose the servant with the longest family affiliation for the task: me.
Careful not to allow my shaking hands to spill the water, I served the steward. Now I really wish I could close my eyes and run. My head felt like someone slapped me dizzy, and my breath caught when he looked at me, alarmed. He signaled for the bridegroom to join him. I have surely lost my job.
“Everyone serves the best wine first,” the steward told Ephraim. “Later, after the guests have had plenty to drink, they serve the cheaper wine. But you have saved the best wine until now.”
What did I just hear?
The bridegroom raised the cup slowly to his lips. He sipped. He smiled as he lowered the cup and glanced quizzically toward Jesus, who had re-joined his friends. He must remember that Mary called Jesus from the party.
“Serve this good wine, then.” It was his only response before returning to his celebration.
From that day, I learned all the news I could about the teacher named Jesus of Nazareth. He knew something that I intended to discover. Thankfully, my master shared my quest. It was only a few years before we were honored to learn his secret that changed us completely, like water into wine.
Is your thought of evangelizing negative or positive?
Does it scare you to think of evangelizing our neighbors?
The following combines my personal reflection on, my paraphrase of and some direct quotes of a small section of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation called Evangelii Gaudium, or, The Joy of the Gospel:
“The Gospel is radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross and constantly invites us to rejoice. When we encounter God’s love in Jesus, our friendship with God blossoms and becomes more rich. We are liberated from narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. And here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. We discover that Evangelization is the source of authentic personal fulfillment.”
When we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?
“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”
And what are we communicating? “The heart of the message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ.”
Some of us recently began a personal experience of life in Christ. Some of us are recently renewed. At some point we have experienced some level of radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart, what the Gospel calls metanoia. We desire to grow in that profound relationship we are honored to have: friendship with God, the Creator of the Universe, through His Only Begotten Son.
The more we grow in that relationship and the more we allow Him to fill us to overflowing with His goodness, the more we naturally want others to know Him, too. All it takes is our surrender to His Love and so allow its natural outpouring.
We “let that love flow to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. But, we “should appear as people who wish to share joy, who point to the horizon of beauty and who invite other to a delicious banquet.” And we must remember that this is done not by proselytizing but by attraction, which is how the kingdom of God expands throughout the earth.
So, we evangelize, or preach the Gospel, just as St. Francis said, through our actions. When necessary, we may use words.
Now how does the thought of evangelization feel?
Are we ready to invite others on the journey of Life and Love?
The beatitudes are found in two places. Matthew and Luke.
Luke’s are called the blessings & woes.
They actually may be more closely what Jesus said because they are in the Deuteronomical genre (blessed if you do this, cursed if you don’t).
Jesus was a good Jew… and he would speak to the Jews as they could relate and understand.
But Matthew’s version is likely more close to what Jesus meant, as blessings.
Moses went up the mountain and obtained from God the list of thou shall nots.
Jesus went up the mountain and gave people the heart of God in the thou shalts.
How can we make this assumption?
Because we all know that mercy and forgiveness are central to Jesus’s entire teaching ministry.
And…not to be taken as coincidence, the middle beatitude is:
Even at the end of the discourse on blessings and woes, he emphasizes:
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Though his discourse might sound like Moses, he lets it be known that he, Jesus, is different.
We hear the same message when he says,
do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
And when he says that the greatest commandment, the one that fulfills the law and the prophets, is:
love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength
and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.
We hear the message of mercy in the Lord’s prayer:
forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And again, after he teaches the disciples how to pray using the Lord’s prayer as a prayer template, so to speak,
he reiterates: for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses.
It is important for us to understand that the overall message for us is to be merciful as God is merciful. Forgive as God forgives. And to remember that Jesus is the standard by which we are judged.
So, how can we be merciful as our Father is to us and as he requires?
Here is a list of traditional corporal works of mercy:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To harbor the harborless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
And the spiritual works of mercy are:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offenses willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
Besides receiving mercy from God as we show mercy, what is the ultimate reason?
It’s never about us.
For, as we did it for the least of these, we have done so for Jesus.
The Gospel reading last Sunday, the 10th, was about the baptism of Jesus. What might have been like to witness that incredible beginning of the ministry of God as Man? Here is a story told by someone who was there. Well…a story by someone who MIGHT have been there. It’s from the historical fiction book, Who is Jesus? I hope you enjoy reading about how this man’s life was changed. How would YOUR life be changed if you were there? Let me know.
We Were Different -Now I Know Why
Jesus and I grew up together in Nazareth. But he was different from all of my friends and me.
Here’s an example. We used to race to prove who ran the fastest. One day I tripped one of the kids I competed against. Typical for me, I narrowed my eyes at the guy and yelled, “Look out, will you?” like it was his fault. I picked up my pace and left him there, even though his leg and arm were badly scraped up. What do you think happened next? Jesus held up his hand to stop the race and walked over to the boy. He actually took the hem of his own cloak and wiped the dust and blood from the boy’s leg and forearm. He stretched out a hand to help the boy stand and asked, “Better?” Micah smiled huge and bobbed his head. My friends wore looks that reflected my thoughts: it’s like we’re watching snow fall in summer.
And another example was when we began classes at the synagogue. He always learned the material super fast and went ahead in the studies. Not only that, sometimes it seemed like he knew more than our rabbi.
I liked him enough. But sometimes I didn’t hang out with him because – well – it was more fun to live on that narrow line between good and bad. Jesus seemed planted on the good side.
Jesus’ father, Joseph, was a carpenter. My father was a farmer. Because everyone held them in high regard, my family didn’t look down on his, as often happens between farmers and artisans. His family was hard-working, honest, and giving. Still, our families didn’t do much together. I think it was because our routines didn’t coincide. Except on the Sabbath.
Everyone, artisans and farmers alike, gathered on Sabbath. And that’s when Jesus shone. When he was old enough to read the scroll in synagogue, we all looked hypnotized. There was something about his voice, and the way he read, that made us think he wanted us to grasp some kind of hidden meaning.
We all grew up and started our own families. Except Jesus. He spent so much time learning and teaching, I guess he couldn’t fit in a family.
I had a nice plot of land that my father gave me. My olive and fig groves flourished under my excellent care. After all, my father trained me. I found ready buyers everyday at the Sepphoris market – almost four miles from Nazareth – because my fruits, oils, and pastes were beautiful and their aroma called to people.
To say life was hard is an understatement. We had to pay the imperial taxes on top of our own temple tax, plus our tithes. All those taxes made it impossible to thoroughly enjoy the fruit of our own labor. Yes, I had a plot of land, but my wife and children and I lived with my parents and four of my siblings in a small, two-room house. Why? Because no one could make a profit, no matter how good their product. But it was more than not being able to get ahead; we could barely keep our heads above water. Each household had to constantly borrow to buy seed. Then we’d pray we wouldn’t need to sell ourselves into slavery to pay those debts. Who could ransom us if we did that?
We had no choice but to sell to the Romans in Sepphoris. Not only was the market huge and accommodating, the population was many times greater than little Nazareth. Sepphoris was one of the beautiful cities built by Herod and he considered this one his pride and joy. I tried to avoid the taxes that he forced on us, but collectors always found me. It was easy for them to keep track of us. Whenever we were at market, Herod’s spies, as we called them, kept close tabs on us.
Many of us chose to cheat – even our own neighbors – just to feed our children. It was simple to fool young shoppers with how much I placed on the scale, because they talked nonstop to their friends and didn’t pay attention to what they did. It was easier to cheat the old folks. They could be distracted in noisy crowds just like children, so I could place my hand on the scale or toss in a small stone with no one’s notice. Did I feel guilty? Sometimes. Like when I cheated poor old widows. Still, I didn’t feel guilty enough to change my ways. I needed every drachma I could scrape up. Besides, we never knew when the next tax hike would hit us.
My greatest embarrassment is forever chiseled in my memory. As usual, the men stood around the courtyard to talk after services one day. The women had hurried home to set out the late afternoon meal of Shabbat – what we call our religious observance of rest on the Sabbath. Jesus still lived in Nazareth then. Our typical conversation trailed from the weather to crops to taxes and, finally, the Roman occupation.
“I’m done with these Romans,” I spat on the ground. “They cheat us, they accuse us falsely, and they make life miserable. Where is our redeemer?” “Yes,” Joel chimed in, shaking his raised fist in the air. “We need to be rescued, and the Romans need to be annihilated.” Agreement rumbled through the small group. “Where is Elijah? Aren’t we oppressed enough?” I moaned. “Isn’t it time?” We all lamented with flushed faces and voices that grew louder.
“Men,” Jesus spoke in that quiet voice of his that demanded attention. “I agree life is unbearably hard. But perhaps before we blame all of our hardships on the Romans, we should consider our own actions. What does our own law call for?”
As one, we hung our heads.
“Do we forgive each other debts as we would hope they would ours?”
I began to feel exposed – like he knew my bad secret and was telling the world.
He didn’t stop there. “And, yes, they cheat us and steal from us. But which one of us can claim perfect integrity? Perhaps we should change our own ways first.”
And, no kidding, he looked directly into my eyes. How did he know? A well of sadness rose up within me.
You would think after that admonition, almost a warning, I would immediately mend my ways. But not one week later when I entered Sepphoris, a tax collector called to me for all to hear. “Justus, you seem to have forgotten to pay your tax the last time you sold here.”
Traitor, I mumbled under my breath. Then, out loud, “Oh. I’m. Well, I meant to,” I stumbled. Trapped again.
“Let’s see what you plan to sell today.”
He rummaged through my cart and stole a handful of figs for his own belt. He miscounted – in his favor of course – everything I had with me. “Today you will pay one shekel.”
“But – but – but. I can’t sell enough to pay such a tax.”
“You should have thought of that earlier.”
I sighed and scuffed away with knit brows and pursed lips. Then I hoped that yet another friend could lend me money. My anger refueled. I continued doing business as usual.
As we trudged through life, we clung to the hope that soon Elijah would herald the arrival of our redeemer.
After more than ten years of marriage, my family of seven still lived crammed into my father’s house. Miscounted purchases here and weighted scales there continued. Every day I tried to sneak past the tax collector. I rarely succeeded. I considered myself a poor provider. I was tired. And angry. “How long, O Lord? How long?” I cried out each night.
One night, I could barely hold my head up as I dragged my empty cart toward home, with a nearly empty belt tied to my waist. My equally tired and angry neighbors chatted. Judah mentioned a rumor about a man named John. He preached about repentance and said things like, “Get everything ready for the coming of the Lord,” and, “Someone is coming after me who is much greater than me. Compared to him I am less than a slave. I am not even worthy to take off his sandals.”
My breath caught. What? I stopped dead in my tracks. “Are you serious? What does he mean, prepare the way? Like, for a king?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I heard. Odd character. His clothes are camel’s hair and he lives in the wilderness, they say, like a hermit.”
“Is he an Essene?” I asked. “No one seems to know. But he makes his way to the Jordan every day.”
“Do you think?” I paused. Could it be? Dare I say?
“Do you think it’s the prophet?” As the whispered words released, I felt my heart pound in my ears.
Just before sundown we gathered for the first Shabbat meal. I shared the rumor with my family. My father stopped sharpening the knife he’d been working on and stared at me.
Slow and quiet, he spoke one word, “Elijah.”
My heart raced again.
By the time services ended the next day, the entire village buzzed. The men gathered, as usual, and we all talked at once. Voices pitched in excitement as speculation rose. The older men paused often and looked heavenward. Jesus was with us, of course. I noted he didn’t join the conversation.
“What do you think, Jesus?” I asked.
“What do you think, Justus?”
“Well, I think it could be true.” Do I? Suddenly I needed courage. I looked at my friend. “Right, Judah? Don’t you think it’s Elijah?”
And then everyone shouted affirmations. The conversation heightened to a frenzy.
I never did hear Jesus’ answer.
That evening some of us made a plan to visit the Jordan ourselves. That decision was the beginning of radical change in me.
Since we had some time yet before Fall planting, we agreed to take ten days – four days out, two in the Jordan River region, and four back. My father and brothers, some nephews, and neighbors made up our party. Jesus went, too.
News travels fast around here. Along the way, we met scores of people who also wanted to see the display at the Jordan. Speculation was rampant. Hope was high. Our steps were quick. I made a mental note that Jesus remained peculiarly pensive.
The scene from the summit of the mountain that overlooked the river made me dizzy. Hundreds of people stood in rows five deep at the shore. About ten of them were in the water, in a circle around one man at their center. It was his voice, not the hundreds gathered, that reached us. As we descended, that voice became more clear.
He quoted scripture. It was the Prophet Isaiah. “Get everything ready for the coming of the Lord. Everyone will see God’s salvation.” And then he said, “I am the voice that cries out in the wilderness.” He called for people to repent. But not the kind of repentance that we knew about – the kind that had to be done over and over again. No, he preached that the Redeemer would soon come and that we needed to prepare our hearts for his arrival.
The rocky path couldn’t slow us. We nearly tumbled down the mountainside. That strange quickening zipped through my heart again. Is it true?
Soon we were close to the man dressed in camel’s hair, with unruly hair, just as described. We listened, mesmerized. The passion in his unnaturally loud voice confirmed that he believed every word he spoke. Our ears filled with the message they longed to hear.
“Get everything ready for the coming of the Lord!” He preached for us to stop cheating our neighbors and stop wanting things that didn’t belong to us. In a nutshell, he told us to live the Mosaic Law of morals and righteousness.
The hot sun tiptoed toward the western sky; its brightness peeked through clouds that kept us cool. His voice penetrated my being. His words pierced my heart. My eyes brimmed, filled with sadness at how I lived my life. What example have I given my children? The thought broke my heart. I wove through the throng of fellow pilgrims; we all longed for freedom. Refreshing coolness lapped over my feet as I waded closer to the prophet in the river.
“Here I am! I am a sinner. Cleanse me!” I called to the man with a hyssop branch. He turned to me and waved me further into the moving water. When I reached him, the water was at my waist.
“Do you repent of your wicked ways?”
“Yes, I do!”
“Do you long for the coming of The Messiah?”
“With all my heart,” I whispered.
“Then be cleansed. Go on your way and sin no more.” And with that, he plunged the hyssop into the water and then shook it violently over me. I lifted my arms and raised my face to the heavens.
How do I feel? Clean? Yes, but so much more. Free? Yes, I’m free! My lips stretched into a smile that nearly split them.
As I came up out of the river, my father and brothers hurried toward the man named John. As in a dream, I watched my family and friends’ faces light up as they, too, experienced a spark of true freedom.
When they came up out of the water, we embraced as though we hadn’t seen each other in years. We are new.
Though we wanted to shout and jump for joy, John continued to preach, even as the sun dipped. We focused on him. He stopped abruptly in mid-sentence, and shifted his gaze. His voice changed to one of awe and surprise as he called out, “Look, here is the Lamb of God! He will remove the sin of the entire world.”
As one body, my father, siblings and I turned to see Jesus walk through the water to John. My eyes widened. My mouth dropped open. What does he mean? What is Jesus doing?
John continued, “I mentioned him earlier. I told you that after me there would come a man who is greater than me because he existed before me. I didn’t know who he was, but the reason I started to baptize in water was so that he could be revealed to Israel.”
Jesus? Jesus is the Lamb of God? The One we’ve waited for? My mind muddled with a thousand questions.
And then Jesus asked John to baptize him.
John stood spellbound for a few moments. He found his voice again, “Why are you doing this? I should be baptized by you.”
And Jesus answered, “It’s okay. Many things, all righteousness, must be fulfilled. This is the right thing to do for now.”
John bowed his head briefly before he thrust the hyssop branch into the river and shook it over Jesus.
I had many sins to be cleansed of. Have I ever seen Jesus say or do anything that could warrant a need for repentance? Surely not.
Yet Jesus looked as refreshed as everyone else baptized by John. And just as he came up out of the water, wearing a hint of a smile, the remnants of the sun broke majestically through the clouds, and a dove that seemed to come from the sun itself flew onto Jesus’ shoulder. Before I could question the sight – and I’m not exaggerating when I say this – a voice that thundered from the skies themselves spoke, “This is my son, whom I love. I am fully pleased with him.”
Jesus raised his eyes toward the heavens, as did John. My eyes followed their gaze to a glorious peach lining of every dazzling white cloud.
When I spun back to look at Jesus, the dove was gone. I reached my hand out to him, “Jesus?” I didn’t recognize my own meek voice.
His eyes danced as he nodded acknowledgment to me, but he continued past me and disappeared into the crowd.
I couldn’t wait to share the excitement with my friends. But my amazement did not reflect in their eyes. What? Didn’t they see the dove and hear that voice? The voice that claimed him as son the way a father claims his own? Dismayed and confused, I kept quiet.
After Jesus’ baptism, the sun continued its rapid race to the finish line of the horizon, painting us in soft pinkish orange. Our immediate party headed to my cousin’s house, where we stayed. Jesus did not return with us. I won’t go into detail about how excited we all were and how much we shared that night. Suffice it to say, we fell asleep not long before the first cock crowed.
When the second cock crowed, we hurried back to the banks of the Jordan for at least a little more of John’s enlightened preaching. When we had no choice, we pulled ourselves away from the region for home. We couldn’t find Jesus. I wanted to tell him how different I felt. And I wanted to tell him that I saw the dove and heard the voice. The voice of his father?
That day in the Jordan transformed my life forever. I decided right then that, even though it seemed we couldn’t survive without cheating, I would trust the guidelines of Mosaic Law. And guess what? Living as a man of integrity didn’t make life any harder on my family than before. But things were different. Peace inside of me ruled over the worries: no more internal wrestling matches between the reality of being a cheat while I proclaimed to be a good Jew. And, I began to see myself as a good provider who did my best.
When Jesus returned to Nazareth, it was on a Sabbath. I recognized added confidence as he strode into the synagogue. He picked up the scroll and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is within me. For the sake of all, God anointed me to announce good news to those who are poor. He sent me to proclaim that those who are imprisoned will be released. Those who are blind will see. Those who are broken will be forgiven. I publicly proclaim that this is the time ordained by the Lord.” The place was more silent than ever as he closed the book and ended with, “What you have heard today brings this scripture to its complete fulfillment.”
When his discourse ended, many faces around me reddened with anger, which matched raised voices. For me, I knew at that moment who he was. My head spun with pictures of us growing up together, so I didn’t hear why he stirred up such wrath. In fact, I didn’t get to talk to him afterward. He enraged so many people that he left town, almost secretly, before dawn.
At last, the words of our ancient leader Joshua made total sense. Others can choose to follow their desire for money or land or power. But as for me and my household, we choose to follow the Lord. It is the best decision our family ever reached together. No longer are we driven by greed or lack of forgiveness. No longer do we seek revenge on those who make life difficult. Worry and fear are no longer companions. Instead, joy and peace from within sustain us through the good days and the bad. Thanks be to God!
I think that folks who visit this blog may not know about my original blog.
I miss my parents. It makes me want to tell the world about them.
So here are a few links that will help you get a picture of where I came from.
I would love to hear some of your family history stories, too. Please write me!
Christmas is about obedience.
Christmas is about faithfulness.
And keeping promises.
It’s about selflessness and giving.
It’s about silence.
And over it all,
Christmas is about Love.
A model for life lived in peace.
It’s my breathing mantra.
It reminds my soul of who is
Of who I love.
GOD IS. I AM.
Our life purpose can be discovered when we think, and act, and love like children. When we wonder about possibilities without self-limiting talk. Here is a child who discovered his life purpose in a short time. Did he know his time was short when he innocently and lovingly followed God’s lead? No.We never know the hour or day we’ll be allowed to go home.
The point is: follow and ACT quickly, just like Noah did. No matter how old we are. And we can change the world little by little. Just like Noah.
Here is an awesome example of how a even a little guy’s life purpose can impact BIG:
(A message from his mom on TEAM NOAH facebook page)
“10/30/15: Hello! First of all, thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of you who sent in Happy Birthday greetings to Noah or posted a video. Ryan Zimmerman did an incredible job in compiling all of the videos sent to us and adding music. Thank you again Ryan!! We will treasure it for many years to come. (If you haven’t seen it, you can view the link on this site).
Today also represents 4 months since Noah passed away. These months have had their ups and downs. We have spiritually grown in more ways than we could have imagined as well as many friendships have deepened and provided us strength and motivation to keep pressing forward.
As you know Noah’s legacy of “Love God, Love Others” is also continuing. His thought was that when you love others, you also help them. So, I thought that today would be a good day to spread awareness about a new “Team Noah” initiative. With the creative help and expertise from my very dear friend, Stacey Russell, she also designed these amazing Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK) cards.
I would like to encourage you to print this attached sheet and hand one of the cards to someone you don’t already know after you have done a random act of kindness. Some ideas might be paying for someone’s meal either in the drive thru or in line, babysitting for a mother in need, volunteering at a hospital or a nursing home, or even giving a teacher (or co-worker) a thank you card or flower. The idea is simple (Noah liked simple!) Feel free to begin this whenever you feel compelled to do so! (This is a great teaching moment for your children to do sometime in November too!)
Thank you again for all of your support & love to our family. We feel blessed, we really do.
Now, lets go Royals!”
What was it like to be the first people to receive the Body and Blood of Christ at that very first consecration of bread and wine? We know today who He is. We are educated before we first receive Him and have, at least limited, expectations. The first 12 did not.
So was it like fire flowing through their veins? Did they tremble on the inside and the outside? Did a tingling course through their muscles great enough to cause numbness? Did their thoughts spin out of control to the point of dizziness?
Whatever they felt, it caused them to wait, to wonder, to continue on after His resurrection. They followed Him before but then they pledged to die for Him if faced with a choice. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they moved forward in boldness to share the Good News in words and actions.
We can have the same responses, if we allow the Holy Spirit to pierce the bubble of self within and to deflate us so that our only words are, “Give me Jesus.”
All of my days, give me Jesus. And give me Grace to be His hands and feet and voice as His kingdom on earth that is truly at hand.
Strip my heart of the layers of self
That you alone will shine before men.
You are the Light at the center of my heart
My heart is the Light at the center of your heart.
By the victory of the cross and your resurrection
My heart and your Light
My Light and your heart
“What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the Light of men.” John 1:3b-4
“Come, let us rejoice with the angels in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.”
Morning prayer in one of my favorite spots. Thankful for the whacky August weather that brought in the chill air.
” A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
July 26, 2015, our 35th Wedding Anniversary. It is also the anniversary of my grandparents, Frank and Louise Brancato. And the feast day of Saints Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary, Virgin Mother of God. Such an honor to share!
Today I was privileged to minister the Body of Christ to God’s people at Mass. One after another they stepped forward, palms outreached to me. In awe, for each I touched His Body, raised it between our eyes, pronounced solemnly, “The Body of Christ.” My proclamation is that He is and we are His Body. It is He who binds us together and makes us one. In Him. I then place Him in their hand. “Amen.”
Thank you, God, for such a gift on the anniversary of the day, before you and all people, Ed and I became one, in you.
Yesterday, June 30, 7 year old Noah Wilson passed into the arms of Jesus while his parents held him at Children’s Mercy Hospital. His fight with cancer was long and hard – 14 months – and valiant. He brought smiles to all, especially with his Bandage Project that collected $7,000 and thousands of colorful bandaids for his friends, the children patients, at Children’s Mercy.
Noah was kind, loving, and other-centered. And he was not afraid. After winning the war with Ewing Sarcoma (bone cancer), he quickly succumbed in the battle with leukemia. But he remains a winner because his mission on earth was truly fulfilled – He showed the world Jesus. And for that, we thank Noah.
Not one of us belongs to another. We each first and forever belong to our Creator. Our family and friends are gifts, to be treated as such, but not to be kept for ourselves. He created us to love. And one thing loving means is that when one goes ahead of us to meet Him face to face, we are broken. Yet, He calls us to surrender at that moment so that He can fill us and heal us. And as we receive all of Him, again, and allow Him to soothe our pain, we are reminded of the day in the future when, in Him, we will reunite with those we loved on this earth who have gone ahead. That knowledge and hope will carry us forward.
You are sorely missed, little big Noah, by family and friends, and by thousands of folks who never met you. But even as we long to see you again, we rejoice that your mission is complete, and that you are filled to overflowing with joy and love that we can only imagine.
May all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
A recent connection with a new friend in Ireland opened my eyes to a pain I did not know existed– the pain of the irrelevancy of The Catholic Church to its faithful flock in a land where Christianity was brought – by Saint Patrick – to liberate the lost. In the early years, the Church quickly took on a political role that has been maintained since; its time is spent on its own politics and those of the land it serves rather than the spiritual nurturing of its sheep as the hands and feet of Jesus, what Christians are called to be.
The heartbreak I witnessed is that those who could serve with the greatest energy, in feeling that their needs and those of their neighbors have been ignored, are turning their backs on the Church. They are fed up. They are leaving.
There remain small grass root efforts in individual churches that tirelessly work to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the poor, visit the widow and orphan, and more – like training the homeless and helping them to re-integrate into society.
The heartbreak to me is, as well, that those who are leaving cannot see the value in working with those small efforts that are actually being what the Church is called to be. That they cannot see that the more the “little” people band together and rise up from within in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus, the greater the impact on the world, and the more the hierarchy of the Church will have no choice but to listen and serve as called. They cannot see that rising above their own pain, working within that place Jesus established in Saint Peter, and being the Body of Christ, is how we become like Him, our ultimate goal.
A stable church that finds its strength in the foundation of its body – the sheep – is necessary in today’s fast moving world to keep the face of Jesus and His message of love in front of all people so that all will come to know Him.
Jesus in the Tabernacle.
He waits in silence,
longing for his brothers and sisters
To join him
In conversation of the heart.
Jesus our brother, kind and good,
Your patience is Grace.
Your Grace is our strength
And our Salvation.
“Go and sin no more.”
“If you love me, you will obey me.
Do you love me?”
“Do you love me?”
Yes, I do.
“Do you love me?”
Yes, Lord, you know I do.
“Then feed my sheep.”
We give him glory when we let His Light shine through work of our hands, and hearts, and minds. When we purposefully desire to give him glory in our work, and in our hopes and dreams and goals, it is naturally other-directed. And in that way, we feed his sheep.
But if we bury our talents and gifts under the guise of busy-ness and other self-fulfilling thoughts like the foolish servant, we will deserve the wrath of the manager/master.
“Do you love me?”
The real answer is revealed in my actions.
We are all prodigals at one time or in one way or another. We all fail along our walk to fulfill God’s intentions for us. We squander his gifts in great and small ways, and almost every day we ignore his teachings when we do not stop to help a neighbor. We are prodigals each time we do not enter the opportunity to be Good Samaritans.
Every day we are given opportunities to be the Good Samaritan – the one called to help heal the many wounded around us. The chances can be big, like caring for a dying person whom we’ve never met, or someone very close to us. Big like faithfully feeding and clothing widows and orphans and the poor under the bridges of our world, or taking time for regular visits to those in prison. We are given opportunities that may seem small to us but huge to those receiving the fruit of our obedience, like when we help someone in a wheel chair access higher shelves in the grocery store, or listen in earnest to a lonely widow who just needs to talk. When we volunteer to help at school cross walks or to help an over worked teacher in a classroom, or pick up the phone to check on a neighbor who is sick or just to say hello to a neighbor we hardly know. When we engage in conversation with the homeless person we pass on our way to work each day, helping to restore a sense of dignity to one who feels abandoned by society.
Jesus asked us to walk along the way with Him as He carried His cross – the cross he bore because he loves us. In all these chances to be Good Samaritans, we walk alongside someone as they carry their cross. And so, as He said, “Even as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me,” we are walking with Jesus.
The good news for us is that God in his great mercy – his hedessa – sets the moon as a night watch for us and raises the sun in the morning. The sun runs to us and embraces us in the warmth of forgiveness and we know our day of the prodigal is no more. Light greets us with a word, “Now, walk with my Son today. Be the Samaritan to those I place before you, walk the path I have set for you that will lead to your peace and eternal freedom.”
When we arise with the sun and take hold of the new day before us, letting go of the pride and self-centeredness of prodigals in order to walk with Jesus, we are an example to the world of the compassion, kindness, mercy and grace that is God. And we are part of His plan of love to change the world.
Sometimes the enemy will whisper to my head, “Are you sure there’s a God? Are you sure this is all worth it? Are you sure you’ll seem him face to face and see those you love who’ve gone before you? Are you sure Jesus saves?”
“I am certain. It’s not just what people and their relations who claimed to have met him 2000 years ago have written, or sung or spoken. It’s not just what people have passed on who claim to have had a personal and intimate spiritual relationship with God through Jesus.If what they shared was not true, those stories and songs would have faded, not increased in numbers. No, it’s not just their story through music and written word.
“Yes, I am sure because I also have a personal and intimate relationship with God, the Creator of all through His Only Begotten Son Jesus and by the power and grace of His Holy Spirit.
“Just as the stories could not last and multiply exponentially over the last 2,015 years if they were not true, neither could I possibly make this up.”
Oh, yes, I’m certain.
March 9, 2015 would have been my father’s 88th birthday. The entrance antiphon for mass that morning was from Psalm 84: My soul is longing and yearning for the courts of the Lord. My heart and flesh cry out to the living God.
That is the verse that became Mom’s in her 84th year, on her 84th day in hospital. That day, December 31, 2013, she ran into His courts, taking the hand of my father who had gone ahead six months earlier. Daddy laughed and swung her around with joy. Then together they skipped off to see the living God, face to face.
On March 9, 2015, the Psalm for mass was number 42; its chorus was: Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God?
Dad and Mom, I miss you both so much. But I know, as well as I know that the sun rises in the east each day, that I will join you one day in His courts. And together we will behold His face. As I prepare myself for that day, I covet your prayers for my family and me that we would walk His plan for us on earth.
There is nothing more important in all of life than our relationship with God through His Son. And I firmly believe there is nothing we should put more energy into than that relationship. For this reason, since as a convert I am relatively new in the faith myself, if I were to give an admonition to people young in the faith, I would say the following:
Learn your faith inside and out. Guard and protect your faith. And live it. If you ‘live your faith fast and loose’ you will meet those who will attempt to kill it. You may even kill it yourself. Your place in The Church is unique and planned. Continually seek the plan that God has for you here.
Some in The Church are converts, like me. Some were baptized into the faith in infancy. For each of us, this church is an inestimable gift.
For 2,000 years God’s children have been given the privilege of taking refuge in His Church. Let that refuge be your peace. His children have been given the privilege and honor to receive His grace to carry on, beginning with their Baptism and continuing through receiving the Body and Blood of His Only Begotten Son. Spend time learning what that means, over and over, through and through. As the deep knowledge of that honor permeates your soul you will be changing into the image of His Son.
I nearly missed the gift of the Catholic Church. I am often close to tears when I receive our Lord in the Eucharist. They are not only tears of gratefulness that He brought me to this place. They are also tears of fear when I think of how I nearly missed the fullness of faith in this place. How did I almost miss it? I was busy striving to build the church – a misguided Protestant direction.
The reality is that The Church is built and the blood of the martyrs has paved the way for her work. They have paved the way for us to be the Church – to be the hands, the feet, the heart of Jesus on the earth. We are The Church who feeds the hungry, clothes the poor, shelters the homeless, visits the prisoner, cares for the widow and the orphan. And through the Sacraments, we can know the power of His grace to work through us to those ends.
Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the blood of the Martyrs, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of the Sacraments, my spiritual journey will continue in that safe place which God has made for His children. My journey continues, with you, in that place that is Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
We are home and our hearts should rejoice in that fact – moment by moment.
I kneel before you
And wonder at your Presence.
My God and my King,
You consume me.
I live because of you.
And so to you I surrender
My understanding and wisdom.
Help me turn my heart to you
that only your thoughts would I think
And only your words would I speak.
Grant me grace to follow your lead
That my hands would do your work alone
And my feet would walk your path.
Flowers in millions of colors
Sprinkle from the golden orb
That bursts through magenta clouds.
Run across diamond-studded emeralds
Raise your arms and sing, Alleluia
As you catch the colors in your hair!
Spin as they whirl around you
In a funnel of joy.
The time is always now.
If you’d like to comment on the thought of NOW, please do! Click on the actual name of this post to get to the comment box if you can’t see it here. Then, share with me! And, thank you!
My Father, who is in Heaven,
Holy is your Name.
I am broken before you
And rise by your Grace.
Let your kingdom alone
Fill me and live through me.
Take me deep into my heart
Where you alone reside
And where there is nothing of me.
And pray there for all who ache
And guide there my steps
And teach me and love me
That I may love as you love.
Share your prayer with me here. Click on the name of this post to reach the comment box. Thank you.
One to feed the poor.
The other to forgive.
Our feet to walk
the way of the Cross.
By our example
we lead others to Christ,
or we hinder them.
Remember, I’d love for you to share your thoughts. Click on the actual name of this post and it will bring you to the comment box. Thank you!
John had been out of work for sometime. He was devoted to his young family of wife and baby. He was desperate for a job that paid well. Finally, he got an offer that he had to either accept or not immediately. It was an enormous salary increase over any previous employment. He had to decide fast because the ship that would take him and his specialized truck needed for the job would be leaving in two days for Australia.
John and his wife were sad to move so far from family and friends. But he had been searching so long, it seemed their only chance; everything else about the job was perfect. The plan was for him to move ahead of the family.
After he accepted the job, his wife went home to pack.
My parents were there. They congratulated John and were thankful the pay was so great and that (almost) everything seemed so good. They went home.
The next day, unsettled about the family having to move so far away, I told my friend named Ruby. She was a friend of his family. Ruby and her father owned two large companies. I told her how John and his wife did not want to go to Australia; I reminded her of his education and industry experience.
I asked, “Isn’t there anything you or your dad could find for him?”
Ruby made a few phone calls and got John an interview for the next day, which happened to be the day the ship was scheduled to leave.
In the meantime, before that interview was set, we told John what she was working on. He was quite thankful and happy but added, “Well, I have to know tonight. The ship leaves in the morning.”
The phone rang; it was my mom. She asked how things were and then she said, “Cheryl, Dad and I didn’t want to say anything last night because John had been looking for a job for such a long time. Also, because the salary was excellent and he thought it was a good deal, we didn’t want to spoil what he saw as a gift. But I have to tell you now that neither of us feel good about this. We feel like it’s not the perfect plan and the perfect job for him. There’s something else.”
And I said, “Well, Mom, I’m not supposed to tell anyone this because it’s being done behind the scenes. I’ll tell you because I know you and I know how well you know Jesus and that by telling you it’s only good because of your relationship with Jesus.” But before I could tell her about Ruby looking for a job for John at her father’s company, he came back and it was time for Ruby to tell him about the job interview; we hung up.
So Ruby told John about the interview and he said, “But the interview has to be tonight; the ship leaves in the morning.”
And she said, “I tried. Tomorrow is the only time possible. And it looks really good for you, too.”
I told him about Mom’s call and he was surprised my parents felt so strongly about it. He trusted their intuition because he knew them well.
And I said, “Unless there is perfect peace in every aspect, unless you realize a blanket of peace that covers every tiny aspect of the whole situation and you, it is not perfect.”
And I visualized a literal blanket covering someone, or a family, as they make decisions. The blanket covered them and even went out a little beyond them and was sealed on the edges so that only peace would reach them.
John looked directly into my eyes as he listened.
I added, “If there is one little part that grumbles a little, that’s not peace. And it’s not perfect. You have to let the ship leave without you, and trust God.”
I woke up repeating, “Unless there is absolute perfect peace when stepping into something new – anything new – we must let the ship leave without us and trust God.”
End of Dream
Later the next day, I spent time thinking about a big decision I am in the middle of. Rolling through my mind were those same words: Unless there is absolute perfect peace when stepping into something new – anything new – we must let the ship leave without us and trust God. And I saw that blanket again, that a situation or a person or family making an important decision is lying under – like on a bed, but it’s kind of out in a grassy place – and the blanket is over them with no ripples or crumples in the fabric and it is sealed around all edges, letting nothing ‘bad’ get under there with them or the decision/situation. And it is a restful place, filled with absolute peace; there is no anxiety whatsoever.
I will use the blanket image as reference as I move forward to know God’s direction for this decision. I’ll use it for all my large or small decisions, for that matter. Because I trust that God only wants what’s absolutely best for me. Doesn’t he?
Just like the young man and his family. Of course God wanted him to have a good job to provide well for his family. But God also wanted him to trust Him for the perfect job – in every way. Sometimes trusting God calls us to wait longer than we think makes sense, based on what we see around us. We must remind ourselves that God sees way more than we do.
Then I saw the blanket in the grassy area, and these words came to me, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”
Not only will we have perfect peace when we make decisions by trusting God. As well, the final decision will be life-giving. He restores our souls as we wait on Him, as we trust Him and rest in Him and not make a move even when so much seems perfect – but not quite. Life-giving restoration. No angst. No anxiety. Only peace that passes all understanding. It’s what every good father desires for his children, right?
After all my morning journal reflections, I returned to the Magnificat and recited the previous night’s prayers and readings, as I often do the next day.
“You, O Lord, are my lamp.
My God, who lightens my darkness.
With you I can break through any barrier,
With my God I can scale any wall.
As for God, his ways are perfect.
The word of the Lord, purest gold.
He indeed is the shield of all who make Him their refuge.
For who is God but the Lord?
Who is a rock but our God?
The God who girds me with strength,
And makes the path safe before me.”
I will wait. And I will trust. And I will know the safety, peace, and joy of being in His perfect will.
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She looks old beyond her years, hunched over, face parallel to the ground because of the brown bundle ten times her size, attached to her back. She would love to remove the bundle and let it fall without a care but her hands, in front of her, are tied together. Her eyes that can only see her feet cannot direct her steps so she wanders in circles and crooked lines, not tending well to any part of her life. She stumbles over obstacles that she can’t see ahead of her. All she can do is pray. She tries. Weeping, she calls out, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
But the burden on her back whispers, “Do you really? What makes you think he’ll answer? I’m still here, on top of you.”
Then, blubbering, her desperate words are tinged with fear, “God, help me! All I want is you.”
She closes her eyes and rests in a quiet place. And then she is reminded of a soothing message they wrote together just a week earlier:
“I try not to be afraid. When fearful thoughts attack I quickly say, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Then I recite the prayer he taught us.
Fear makes hearts palpitate and blood pressures rise.
Fear makes heads ache and stomachs churn, stirred by a hot poker.
I choose love over fear.
I choose to live and walk in love,
To allow it to bathe me in soothing warmth
And caress me with protection.
I choose to trust the One
Who was betrayed and beaten for me,
The One who chose to carry his own cross to execution,
While his bludgeoned flesh bled;
The One who felt the bang, bang, of massive nails
Hammered through his hands and feet,
Was roughly lifted in shame, mocked and jeered at.
Why would anyone lay down their life for others
Except out of pure love?
Let me not hold onto the temporal things that will pass.
Instead, I choose to let them go,
To focus on true life and trust in the One
Who suffered for me.
Jesus, I trust in you.
Fill me with your light and wash me in your love.”
Cleansing tears refresh her face. She unties the bonds of her hands and raises her palms skyward. As her lips burst forth, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord! Jesus, I trust in you,” she stands upright, unleashes the burden’s ties and shakes it from her back. When it hits the ground, it shatters into millions of tiny lights.
Movies and photographs depict little princes and princesses approaching their parents, the King and Queen, with bows and curtsies and kissing of the hand and/or ring. Once the formalities are dealt with, they draw close as any other child and parent. Having no personal association with any royalty, I have no idea how close to reality these pictures are.
In this first year since my father’s death and first six months since my mother’s, I have often contemplated the state of adult orphanhood. Joy of discovering the fullness of the Fatherhood of God as all that I need greeted my soul a few weeks ago. I’ve always been certain of His being Provider and Protector. But the complete reality of Fatherhood did not envelop me until I had no human father on earth. My enlightenment grows in magnificence, as I continue to contemplate.
I’ve also always considered Mary as my spiritual mother. Well, since I’m only officially Catholic since 2000, always would be an invalid descriptor. You know what I mean: I have always considered her as mother since that time I began to consider her as mother. In the last few days the reality of her care and nurture of me has reached a height I never came close to while my human mother shared the planet with us
I am, we are, richly blessed to have True God himself as Father and the Mother of his Son (also the same God), as Mother. I am not sure any human can fully grasp the gift until we are face to face with Him. Still, the good news for us while we wait for that moment is that the blessing can increase in proportion to the amount of time we spend in contemplation of that knowledge.
When I pray through the Glorious Mysteries, I give heartfelt thanks that Mary was crowned Queen of Heaven. It is her rightful place, considering all that she willingly surrendered to, sacrificed, and gave. Because the recognition of her place by God gives His people both a king and a queen to depend on, that makes us pretty lucky.
Today I began to consider the best, or better, way to approach the Virgin Mary. Do I walk up with small steps and head bowed, kneel and kiss her hand, and then say, Hello, Mother? Or, do I rush into her presence with unbridled joy in my voice that sings, Mother I love you? Is she queen first or mother? Or is there no first? Perhaps she is equally mother and queen, who deserves utmost respect mingled with my undying love.
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The Light and the Love are One.
Melt into them as you enter in.
Become one with them.
Let thoughts slip by,
You’ll find them later.
For this time,
Allow the warmth and presence
Keep you safe and still.
You, The Light, and The Love
It’s all that matters.
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A Christian songwriter shared in an interview his “all about me” bubble burst when he married his wife. And he was glad. When they had children, it was more evident that real life is about everyone else.
He also said that being a father has given him a glimpse of how God as Father takes care of us. The songwriter gains great pleasure to care for his children’s every need, just like God for His children.
My next thought was, “Yes, good analogy. But that’s where the similarity ends.”
Besides the contrast of God being perfect and humans imperfect, human parents are dramatically more different from God the Father in other ways. For one, people raise their children to become less needy, even independent and self sufficient.
But Our Father who created us desires us to remain like little children not only in purity of mind and soul. Forever He wants us to go to Him for every need. His greatest pleasure is to love us and be loved by us. Perfect love that provides and protects will never allow our separation from Him because we have little need of Him in our ‘grown up’ state.
I’m grateful for His unconditional Fatherhood. How about you?
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What steps do you take to reach a big decision? Please share in the comments. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ramble on about a huge decision I must make. I guess we could call this live journaling. You might be able to sway me with your insights…
My current dilemma is whether or not to go on a trip to Palestine and Israel this Fall. Expensive, I know. But cost is not the point of my quandary because I was given free passage. It will cost me a tip to the (Palestinian Christian) tour bus driver and a few lunches. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s a no-brainer. Go!”
All through my younger adult life I wanted to see the entire world. I’m now on the older side of adult life and have seen little of the world. My go-to list is dramatically shorter. In fact, the last 10 years or so, my complete list to visit is:
- All 50 U.S. States
- Italy – all of it
- Ireland (while in Ireland, I’d be happy to tack on Scotland, Wales and England if it can work into the timing)
To say I’m excited to have a plan in the works for my first trip to Italy in June 2015, is a gross understatement. Possibly I’ll be able to enjoy a month in Avila, Spain, directly from Italy. Spain is not on my list, of course, but since I will have already paid my airfare, if I can afford the college course offered, I will love it, I’m sure.
The Holy Land trip popped up after the Italy plans were underway. I needed to reply quickly to the free passage offer. My family and friends found it hard to believe I said I’d think about it overnight.
Every person I talked to said, in one way or another, I’d be a fool not to go. After all, I’m a Christian. Why wouldn’t I want to walk the land where Jesus walked, renew my wedding vows at Cana where he turned water into wine, and step into the sea where he was baptized? Besides that, my soon-to-be-released book, Who is Jesus? Eyewitnesses Tell their Stories, is set in that region. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see for myself what I’ve researched the last four years? And didn’t I spend every weekend of the last three years spreading word of the plight of Palestinian Christians to Catholic Churches in the United States? Wouldn’t I want to meet more of the people I represented?
I caved and said, yes. Everyone smiled. Except me.
The dilemma is not because of the recently renewed violence in the Mid East. It is because during these last four to six weeks since acceptance of the gift, I have waved back and forth on the idea. Most often my thoughts are, “I haven’t actually ever really wanted to go there in the first place.” If I’m more honest with myself, I might see that my hesitation is related to being an introvert. Or maybe it’s not that I’m such an introvert, but more that I’m a homebody. I like to leave home occasionally to do things with friends. But I’d often just as soon stay home. I don’t desire a lot of alone time, as much as home time. In fact, I love to open my home to all kinds of folks. If this adds to my inability to settle on this, so be it.
From the standpoint of seeing some of the world that may or may not have been on my travel list decades ago, it makes sense. What fun it would be to see those stamps on my passport. But, honestly, that doesn’t matter to me anymore.
People have told me the trip is life-changing. That when you step off the plane, your spirit senses that you are in a place of holy beginnings. That you feel Jesus in an unimaginable way. I’m sure it can be just that.
But the reality is, I don’t need to go there to “feel” Jesus. Whenever I choose, I can close my eyes, breathe deeply, and enter into His presence in the innermost room of my soul. I can be in my prayer room, on a mountain path or by a lake, at Adoration or receiving His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. I enter into Him; nothing can be more real than that.
I’m in Colorado now as I write. I’ve never been depressed while here but since I arrived three days ago, the dark night has taken me down. I know I am supposed to be living here by now and I am pretty darned certain I never will. Both realities are part of that “knowing” thing. Many people don’t understand what I’m talking about. That’s okay. For the first time ever, each time I looked at the Rockies since Thursday, I cried tears not just of longing, but also those of real grief.
I’m relieved now that at this time, I am no longer in the throes of depression. I’m sad, but not overwhelmed with darkness. I went to mass at ‘my’ church, 18 miles from where I’m staying. The ride is north along the Front Range. It was a painful trip. I began to remember His message to me, “I am your mountain.” The words repeated over and over all the way through mass, and into the drive home. And as I gazed at the mountains (glanced, actually, I was driving), and repeated His words, the pit opened and I was lifted out.
I don’t need to live in my Rockies, in order to be where I am supposed to be. I am where I belong every moment, because I am with Him and He is with me, and that’s all that matters. And I don’t need to visit the Holy Land to know Jesus better or even to know the region better to fulfill my vocation to write.
I still don’t have an answer regarding the trip. But I am keeping in mind a rule of thumb I’ve learned when making key decisions:
When in doubt, wait. When in doubt, do nothing.
That platitude has kept me out of all kinds of danger – physical, spiritual, financial – more times than I remember. I will apply the rule now.
August 6 will be three months before the flight leaves U.S. soil. If I don’t have perfect peace by then I still may not know why. That answer is not for me to know. But if that lack of peace continues, I will give up my seat so that someone on the waiting list has time to prepare for their trip of a lifetime.
In the meantime, I would appreciate your thoughts. God bless.
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If anyone knows me, they are aware of how I’ve longed to live in the Rockies of Northern Colorado for more than four years. In fact, I am convinced that it is where I am supposed to live. I am as sure of that as I was to marry my husband, to enter the Catholic Church, to adopt little orphan girls from China. I knew those things as much as I knew that I was born to Richard and Elaine Foster.
It is now apparent we will not be moving to Colorado anytime soon. It has been a very sorrowful time for me as I face this reality. It is the same sorrow I have known since the adoptions could not happen.
I also know that I am a writer and have much good to share with the world. In addition, I know that building a profitable distributorship with Shaklee Corporation is meant to be our/my financial foundation.
I have allowed much of life to interrupt being a writer and distributor – like the birth and death of our Hard Bean Café and the care for and unexpected death of my two sweet parents in 2013, to name two of many. Sometimes I try to convince myself that I could never be expected to ‘do everything.’ It’s how I try to pacify my guilt over interrupting the flow of the call on my life. But in the end, every reason is an excuse. Some excuses are relatively valid but all excuses obstruct. If I truly believed what I am called to do and be, I would find a way.
So, I come to 2014. Soon I will hit 64. How much time do I really have left to accomplish what I believe in and that will make a lasting mark in the world around me? How much time is there to move to Colorado and actually enjoy some strong and healthy years in the mountains that I love? Sure, I feel great today but absolutely no one knows the hour or the day when we will be called home. I feel like my time is running out and that I have not been a good and faithful servant.
On March 1st, I participated in a Re-treat called Your Story Matters. It was a sweet morning highlighted with guided meditation by my friend Lyn Morse Brown. She read Mark 8:22 about one of the many blind men Jesus healed. After the reading, she guided us through a series of thoughtful questions intended to help us relate to being in the place of that particular blind man. Jesus took our hand as the blind mand removed us from the bustling village, he placed his healing hands on us, and he asked what we wanted of him. Here is the picture I breathed during the meditation:
There were people I did not know, all around me, and there were many distractions to my (meditative) thoughts.
Then I felt Jesus take my hand securely in his and pull me gently toward him. I leaned into him and wrapped my arm through his as we began walking up a rocky way. I couldn’t see where we were or where we were headed. I didn’t stumble because he held onto me.
After climbing the rocky path, my eyes were opened, and I discovered us at that place in the Rockies where Ed, Annie and I had hiked a year or so ago an enormous clearing in the woods, a great hill that was wide open, green, and very steep and I saw the same lone bench we three had rested on.
Jesus and I sat on that same bench and looked out over the expanse of rolling mountains before us, easy to see because of the wide and open hill that held us.
I leaned against him as an inner sigh of contentment began to pervade my soul. I was so happy to be in that beautiful spot with him, a place I know and love. (In fact, I have often envisioned myself sitting on that very bench, while the muse takes my pen and weaves words that change lives.) I was thrilled, actually, to be there with him.
And I told him I needed to know his presence every moment and his direction and his assurance that I am fulfilling his desires for me.
And with a strong yet soothing voice he told me to be assured. That he has everything under control – everything – our move here (the Rockies) and my writing and my business – and not to be afraid. And I melted within. It was like my heart was overflowing with a warm, honey like substance – soft, sweet, warm. And I knew his safety.
He placed his hands on my head and said, “Know my presence.” And I had peace that looks like a glass-like lake high in the Rockies, pristine and crystal clear – like Lily Lake when it is quite still. And all was well.
And I knew that Jesus is calling me to peace with him, to trust that I do know him, and to remember that he will keep me on his path. I do not have to worry or fret about staying on it.
And he said, “I am your path. I am your quiet place. I am your mountain.”
He is my path. He is my quiet place. He is my mountain and my cool, refreshing stream of life. And I see it. And I see him.
(When I wrote this piece, I was so happy to find pictures I had taken of those very same places in my meditation!)
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About 5 foot 7, graying blonde, with merry blue eyes and soft wrinkles mapped across a chubby face, and chunky around the middle, he wore a yellow collared knit shirt with a beautiful solid gold crucifix that poked out at the top.
“I used to be in prison ministries,” his accented voice continued our conversation. “Back when we could meet face to face with even the toughest criminals, with no guards around. They were the most rewarding years of my life.”
“I’ll bet,” I smiled in agreement, remembering the days when my husband and I ministered to those dying in a hospital for AIDS victims.
“I met pretty regularly with the same group of men. But one day I found myself with a group I had never seen before. We walked toward the outermost end of the courtyard. I heard murmuring and turned around to look at the unfamiliar faces.
“ ‘You know, we could kill you right here. It wouldn’t matter to us.’
“I looked squarely at them. ‘Yes, you can. You can kill me when I turn my back, like cowards. Or you can kill me face to face. Which do you want to do?’ I moved my hands to call them toward me.
“ ‘This guy’s crazy,’ they mumbled to each other.
“Maybe I’m crazy. But one thing I know is that if you do kill me right now, I will be immediately in the presence of God because I’m here to tell you about him.
“ ‘How do you know that? What do you mean, tell us about him?’
“I don’t know a lot of things but I do know how your life can change for the better.
“ ‘Really? How?’ several asked.
“By coming to know him and living the way he tells you to live. I am positive your life would be better.
“They looked at each other. ‘So, go ahead, tell us more.’’
I’m sure my eyes were ready to pop. “Really?”
“So what happened next?” I asked.
“I told them everything I knew,” Juan replied simply.
“And then we met again and again. And they were changed.”
My eyes brimmed, “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
“You’re welcome. What’s your name?”
“I’ll pray for you.”
And I believe he will.
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Some days I linger in the nave for over an hour after 6:15 AM mass. I pray the rosary, I read scripture, I lift my friends, family and strangers to the Lord, I journal. Sometimes I read a spiritually worthy work. Currently I am reading The Apostolic Letter MULIERIS DIGNITATEM of the Supreme Pontiff JOHN PAUL II on the Dignity and Vocation of Women on the Occasion of the Marian Year. It happens to be one of the most enlightening and rewarding pieces my mind has ever consumed.
The banquet table has been cleared. And from time to time I raise my eyes to gaze at the Tabernacle where the resurrected body of my Lord is safe. It’s as though I am now spending time with him in his living room.
Our bond does not require speaking. We’re just together. The flame of the Holy Spirit in our midst warms my soul. The crackle of its fire adds more peace to an already tranquil moment in my life.
I bask in the solitude that is not solitude. It is, rather, the infilling of the Presence of God – ultimate peace.
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Ethereal joy comes when I detach from every thing and every one in my life.
It twinkles and sings it’s way into my soul, the foundation of who I am. Each note makes a permanent mark on my being. When I allow it to permeate me, and when I do not drown it’s voice with the noise of the world or of fear or greed or selfishness, it grows. And when it grows, it overflows from me into the places I am and into the lives of the people near me.
And, then, it is not my joy that is felt. Rather it is pure joy that only comes from the Creator of all things and all beings. Next, it becomes their joy.
Joy into joy into joy. An outgrowth of our purpose in life: to love and to be loved; to love and know God and to be loved by Him.
October 24, 2011 Morning
Journeys to Peace…The Journey Home
I grew up in a Philadelphia suburb. My family was Presbyterian and lived Godly values. We were also very involved in our church. Every day of any given week some or all of us were busy in the life of the church. For each of us, this was by choice.
Even so, after high school I found a gazillion reasons not to go to church. The further I moved away from a regular connection to that life, the deeper I sank into the deception of the world. As I heard in a homily once, if you live your faith fast and loose, someone will surely come along and kill it. And by age 28, I was knocking on death’s door with my worldly lifestyle of alcohol and recreational drugs. Being a flower child wasn’t about roses. In fact, it led to a dramatic suicide attempt.
My first true realization of God’s grace was at that time. Deep inside I desired life – not death. I knew where to turn because of how I was raised. I ran back to church, back to Jesus. I was renewed by God’s grace through a charismatic ministry my parents were a part of, called Jesus Focus. I have since made – or at least desire to make – a regular conscious effort to allow God to work through me and to change me, be it ever so slowly, into the image of His Son.
Not long after, in 1980, I married Ed, a man who loves God with all of his heart. It was another act of God’s unending grace.
Ed was Episcopalian. And so I began attending the Episcopal Church. After several years of attending the church of his choice, I came to love the liturgy and its history. The ancient prayers, the secure boundaries of the liturgy in worship spoke to my heart. And I chose to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church, now the church of my choice.
A short time after my confirmation, we moved our family of five from Virginia to Texas. And though we both loved the liturgy and sacraments, we joined an independent charismatic church. I loved that little church and its people. But it was there that an emptiness and longing began to grow in my heart.
Two years later my husband answered the call to be a minister that he heard at age 18. He was ordained, and we moved to northwest New Jersey – rural and mountainous. He pastored a nondenominational protestant church. The congregation was as small as the building that was built in 1908 – white clapboard with a tall steeple, in the woods.
We lived in this idyllic setting for seven years. While there we experienced, individually and as a couple, some of our greatest spiritual growth. We truly lived by faith. Our house and utilities were paid for by the church. And Ed’s salary of $50 a week covered food, clothing, insurance, gas. Everything for five of us. Though we never went begging, we always reasonably dressed well and had our needs met. We didn’t mind that we could never afford dinner at a restaurant or a movie at a theater. I also remember the first time of many that we sat down to dinner and I whispered to Ed, “This is the last food in the house.” We sat down and thanked God for his blessings. And while we ate, we heard a knock at the door. A member of our church stood laden with bags of groceries. It wasn’t the only time we witnessed God’s mercy to provide for us.
But those years of spiritual growth were also the most intense. Despite the indescribable beauty of living in the woods, and the miraculous outpouring of His mercy, most of our growth was like being tested by fire. And much of the growth involved weekly court appearances that culminated in a two-week trial, which, by the way, ended hands down in our favor.
During that year, Ed and I spent countless hours in prayer together. We walked and prayed, we sat and prayed, we drove and prayed. We prayed first thing in the morning, at mid-day, and last thing at night. We became more aware of God’s presence. We reviewed the day, regardless of how difficult, with gratitude. We paid attention to our emotions and did not let them overtake us. We read and prayed through scripture. We never lost hope. We continually sought and found God’s presence in this very hard time of our lives. Satan intended to destroy our marriage and family – because he likes best to destroy the foundation of humanity – but Ed and I were discipled through prayer. We grew tremendously closer to each other and to Jesus.
Still, even though my relationship with our Lord grew closer than ever – that strange emptiness and longing expanded. I was worn out by hateful people who called themselves Christians, and I was disillusioned with what I thought to be Christ’s church. I very nearly walked away from church. Even with a pastor husband.
God uses every twist and turn on our journey to His glory and for our good, if we will seek Him in those times. He heard my cries and His grace proved evident once more in my life when, in 1993, our little church joined a protestant denomination; my husband was ordained an Episcopal priest. This particular Episcopal denomination practiced a liturgical, sacramental and charismatic style of worship. Inside of me – and even outside – I sang and danced with thanksgiving. Because the foundation of this new church was on the teachings of the Apostolic Fathers, I discovered that what I had considered leaving was what man had done to the church, not the church as God established it. That deep emptiness and longing that had begun years earlier began to be filled.
And here began my journey to The Church that Jesus assigned to Peter. By God’s grace my eyes were being opened to see what had been all along. I voraciously read The Church Fathers, other ancient and 20th Century authors. I listened to lectures in person and on tape, and spent endless hours in discussion with friends who were on the Catholic journey with us.
A few years after finding this denomination, we moved to Kansas City. Once more we were tested as though by fire. To begin with, we felt coerced to move a year before we were comfortable leaving our growing parish in the woods. It was a year before my new home-based business could financially support us. Our oldest daughter was still a missionary, far from home. We wanted to wait for her return. We tried to convince ourselves and our family and friends that because the denomination told us it was important to go, God must surely be in it.
During the first three years, we experienced incredible pain and calamity. My business depended on long distance communication. In an era of faxes, high phone fees, infant internet and no cell phones – it bottomed out. The salary to Ed we were led to believe was part of the move, did not come to fruition. He could only take a low-paying part time job because he needed so much time for his priestly duties. I’ll never forget the sinking shock when we looked into our driveway one morning and didn’t see our car. It was repossessed, just four months before it would have been paid off. Friends paid our rent more than once. We had to use food stamps for a few months. Other friends supplied our girls’ Christmas gifts two years in a row. Because of the emotional pressure of this church with its many unrealistic rules, our oldest daughter, engaged to a fellow missionary, eloped in the middle of their wedding plans. It devastated all of us, especially her sisters who had been thrilled to be her bridesmaids. One of our daughters had an out of body experience in a near death horse accident. And this mother’s heart will always feel the pain when I recall the time our daughters, about 13 and 15 at the time, said, “Mom do you think we could buy clothes from a store just once instead of only having hand me downs?”
It seemed like every waking moment was filled with varying levels of sadness, trauma, and uncertainty for our future.
On top of it all, because we now lived closer to the denomination’s center of governing politics and their ever-changing rules, we began to see that the people in charge had taken the reins from God. This Protestant denomination – the catalyst for my journey – was no longer consistent with their early teachings. They liked the Catholic look, but wanted no part of Catholic authority. Once more, I witnessed the faithfulness of our God as these realities led me to intense study of The Faith and the Catechism.
Eventually, I started skipping church with my family and sitting in the back of various Catholic churches during Mass. I wept. And wept. And wept. A gradual awakening began within my head and my heart. Finally my eyes were opened to how the Holy Spirit has protected and kept pure the deposit of faith given to the early church, regardless of the good or bad people in leadership. Having grown up in denominations that either had a sandy foundation borne out of protest and rebellion or, worse, made up the rules as they went, I suddenly realized that I longed for stability. A church that preserves their central beliefs for 2000 years is a very solid foundation; a safe place for any believer – a safe place for me.
And then, like a flash of light to a dark soul in agony, I came to the realization that the See of Peter was truly the authority given by God to govern His Church. My soul burst with joy that I could not contain! And this life-changing revelation made my future path clear: If I honestly desired fullness of (my) faith, then I had to submit to the authority of The Catholic Church.
But how could I go alone? I have a family. Another example of His grace in our midst: God brought my husband, our younger daughters who still lived at home, and myself, individually, to the same desire. By Easter of 2000 we had all entered the Church.
A sigh of relief? Not quite. In fact, our conversion caused other pain. The people in the old church were 99% of our friend base, having only lived in the Midwest a short time; they abandoned us. Hateful things were said about us. Our daughters ached that their youth leaders, whom they had confided in, and all the kids in the youth group, were instructed not to contact them. Yet God’s faithful grace abounds. I give him thanks for the healing salve of forgiveness that I gave. It healed my wounds and set me free. And because of his gift of forgiveness, I am fully reconciled to all who were involved.
There are only two decisions I’ve made in my life that I can say this about: the peace that I knew in my heart at the point of each of those conscious decisions has continued to grow deeper the further I am from that point. Those two decisions were to marry my wonderful husband and to submit to the authority of The Catholic Church. It is peace that passes all understanding.
There is nothing more important in all of life than our relationship with God, and that through His Only Son. I firmly believe there is nothing we should put more energy into than that relationship. For this reason, as a convert relatively new in The Church, I would give this admonition to people who are young in the faith:
Learn your faith inside and out. Guard and protect your faith. Commit to living it fully. If you ‘live your faith fast and loose’ you will meet those who will attempt to kill it. You may even kill it yourself. Your place in The Church is unique and planned. Continually seek the plan that God has for you here. Some in The Church are converts, like me. Some were baptized into the faith in infancy. For each of us, this church is an inestimable gift. For 2000 years God’s children have been given the privilege of taking refuge in the wounds of Jesus in His Church. Let that refuge be your peace. His children are honored to receive His grace to carry on, beginning with their Baptism and continuing through the Body and Blood of His Only Begotten Son. As the deep knowledge of that honor permeates your soul and as you participate in the Sacraments, you will be changing into the image of His Son.
The tears I shed when I receive our Lord in the Eucharist are not only tears of gratefulness that He brought me to this place and for His Real Presence. They are also tears from an internal shudder when I think of how close I was to missing the gift of the Catholic Church.
How did I almost miss it? I was busy striving to build the church – a sadly misguided protestant notion. The reality is that the Church is built and the blood of the Martyrs has paved the way for her work. They have paved the way for us to be the Church – to be the hands and feet of Jesus on the earth. We – the church – feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless, visit the prisoner, care for the widow and the orphan. And through the Sacraments, we know the power of His grace to work in and through us to those ends.
Has life been sugar sweet and easy since we entered the Church? Absolutely not. But because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the blood of the Martyrs, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of the Sacraments, my spiritual journey will continue in that safe place which God has made for His children, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And my life on earth can face every trial with strength and confidence.
I am home, at last, with my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. My heart rejoices – moment by moment.
The Journey Continues…Fulfillment of a Call
When I was 18, I had no intention of marriage before age 25. But out of the blue one day I told my mother, “I think I’m going to marry a minister.”
When I met Ed 11 years later, he told me about his call to ministry at age 18. We are like night and day in so many ways but our hearts’ desire to love and serve the Lord is a common bond that has seen us through every kind of weather. That connection of our hearts is how I knew immediately his call was real and true.
A year later we married. Decades later, God’s faithfulness led us into the Catholic Church. It also opened our eyes to the reality that Ed’s ordination as a protestant minister was only a partial fulfillment of his call.
It has been a long and hard journey – back and forth, up and down – like driving along the western slope of the Colorado Rockies. We have hoped, waited for, wondered if God’s call will ever be fully realized in Ed. It’s been a hope I’ve set aside and instantly grabbed back tightly. A hope I’ve given up on and one that I am afraid to let go of.
I know in my heart that this man, joined to me in holy matrimony 36 years ago, is called to be a priest in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I want this for him more than the fulfillment of my own calling (although I give thanks to God that my calling fits neatly beside his). To support Ed in his call is to fill me with deep contentment.
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Take the hand of my heart
and dance with me;
Spin me, twirl me;
Lead me to the place of
All music and all peace
The Creator of all sings in His creation.
I am in the music.