Friday, September 8, 2017

From Among All Women


+JMJ+




Perhaps it is because I am thinking about the Birth of Mary, which is celebrated in the Liturgy today... but for some reason, I cannot stop thinking about and rejoicing in the unbelievable way in which God chose me, and how He has pursued me for my entire life.

Me.  Totally ordinary and undeserving.  He loved me and chose me for Himself, for no humanly discernible reason.  There are a million things wrong with me: I am selfish, lazy, irritable, proud, too fat, not pretty... and yet, He chose me!

One of my earliest childhood memories is seeing the Rosary given to my mother by her grandmother, hanging from the mirror on the dresser in her bedroom.  Whenever I was in there, I looked at it longingly.  If there was no one around, I would touch it, because there was something about it that fascinated and attracted me.

When I was a little girl, I used to dress up like a nun, and pretend I was one.  I saved up my allowance until I had enough money to buy my own Rosary and a Crucifix at the local dimestore, hiding it carefully in my room so no one would know.  When I was alone, I propped the Crucifix up on my dresser and knelt in front of it, not really knowing what I was doing.  I took my Rosary to bed with me at night, even though I did not know how to pray with it.   At school, I eagerly eavesdropped during lunch on the conversations of the Catholic kids, as they talked about their preparations for Confirmation. and which Saint's name they were going to choose.

Every time there was a movie on TV about priests or nuns, I watched it, making sure not to let anyone see how interested and moved I was. I'm sure I've seen Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's at least a dozen times each! 

During my own preparation for Confirmation in the Lutheran Church, which our family attended for a few years, God sent His Holy Spirit to show me, when our pastor was trying to prove to us that the Lutheran Church was the One, True, Church--that he was wrong!  --and I resolved at that moment, that someday, I would be Catholic.  And although I did not have the nerve to tell anyone that I did not want to be confirmed as a Lutheran, during the ceremony I kept my fingers crossed behind my back, to signify to God that I knew I was lying, and did not intend to keep the promises I was making that night.

When I walked from my apartment to the campus as a University student, I passed a Catholic Church on the way, and longed to go in, but did not dare.  Although I professed to be an atheist at that time, there was a mysterious attraction I could not understand.

Despite my youthful intention to become a Catholic, as I got older and distracted by college and starting a career, I forgot and did nothing about it for many years--until I happened to be living with a woman who was a lapsed Catholic, and who decided she wanted to return to the Church.  Long story there, but because of that "chance" connection, I finally ended up converting at the age of 34.  Soon after that, I recognized that I was so drawn by love of Christ, that I wanted and needed to give my life to Him completely, so I became a Sister.

I left the convent before taking Final Vows, because I knew the place I had chosen was not really the place I was meant to be--and I made the assumption that it was too late for me to try to live out the vocation I knew I had, because I was too old.   However,  25 years later, when I finally returned to the Faith from which I had drifted away, God took me in His arms again, and suggested to me--through the words of a priest--that I had made a mistake!

A few months after that, in a miraculous answer to a prayer made in the midst of complete despair and anguish, He showed me how I could become a Sister again--to finally, at long last, give Him my life totally, just as He wanted and had invited me to do so many years before.

It has been all His doing, from start to finish.  I have done nothing, barely even responded to the incredible Love He has showered on me my entire life.  I don't deserve it, I know that.  I don't understand it, I know that too.  But all I want is to follow Him completely, give Him my heart and everything I have completely, and never stray from Him again.  My gratitude is indescribable.

 



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Suffering With the Poor






I had never had the nerve to try to learn exactly how Crucifixion kills until recently.  It is even worse than I thought. I imagined myself with Mary at the foot of the Cross, wanting to leave so that I did not have to endure the pain and horror of watching, but unable to go because I could not leave Him, either...and I wept, wishing I could love Him as much as He loves me.

Being with our clients in St. Vincent de Paul is much the same...When we suffer with the people whom God sends to SVDP, we are standing at the foot of the Cross suffering with Jesus, witnessing His suffering, and not turning away--because we don't want to leave Him alone. This is how we can honor Him, this is how we can love Him--by staying there, even though we don't want to.

He would still do it: He would still suffer and die for us, whether we stayed or not--because He loves us THAT much! ... but in some mystical way, we are sharing in His suffering by staying, by going to these people's homes, by hearing what they have to say, by praying with them, and by helping them as best we can-- even though it's never enough.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Virtue of Humility


+JMJ+

With the help of my spiritual director, I am concentrating on trying to develop the virtue of humility--and having set that as my goal, I am finding that God is giving me plenty of chances to grow in this virtue!

 

Until I became a Catholic, I considered humility to be a weakness: I viewed my arrogance as attractive self-confidence, a positive trait that had no need of modification.  I went through life scattering people's feelings, with only pity for those poor, weak people, who could not stand up to my strength!

 

Wow, have I learned a lot since then.    

 

I am dealing with a particularly difficult situation right now.  Our pastor decided to change the locks on the parish building where an organization I head meets regularly at night--but he did not tell me or anyone else about this in advance, so I discovered it only when my key no longer worked.  I was deeply hurt, because I had treasured the privilege of 24/7 access, which I needed because the office is only open 4 days a week, and there are resources in that building that I need to get to at odd days and times.  However, even though he handled this clumsily due to lack of experience (this is his first pastorate), he certainly had the right to do this.  

 

Soon after this change was made, I came there to set up for one of our evening meetings, which involved a potluck meal--and contrary to what had been promised, the building was locked, and I was unable to locate him or anyone else who could let me in.  Finally one of the Deacons came and I got in... and then Father appeared--but I foolishly let loose my temper on him, with the bad effect you might expect.

 

Now, he is so angry because of my rudeness, that he is refusing to speak to me and give me an opportunity to apologize.  At first, I tried to justify my behavior because of what he did-- but with the help of my spiritual director and my own reflection, I now see this incident for what it is:  another example of my pride getting in the way of reason.  If I had held my tongue that night, we could have had a rational conversation later, during which I could have explained my side and possibly even persuaded him to make an exception and let me have a new key.  Instead, my pride destroyed that possibility and also seriously damaged the good relationship I had with him.  

 

In an article I recently read about good mental health, one of the characteristics described is "Response Flexibility—the ability to pause before acting on my impulses and willfully change the direction of my actions if doing so suits me better than my initial impulses."  Clearly, I am lacking in that area, and I hope that--having had this horrible experience, I will remember this next time!

 

 

 



Saturday, May 27, 2017

Setting Up My New House


+JMJ+



I slept in my new house for the first time last night.  This is the area in my room which I use as a focusing aid for my personal prayer time.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

New Catholics!


+JMJ+


Last night at the Easter Vigil, I had the privilege of accompanying two friends (a married couple) who became Catholics.   I had not known them prior to becoming involved in RCIA, so I was completely surprised and touched when they asked me if I would be their sponsor!  No one has ever done that before, and--as a convert myself--this was very meaningful for me!

 

The Baptisms were first.  All were asked by Father to give their assent to the Creed, which was very moving.  In a few moments, Alice stepped down into the pool and knelt in the water so that Father could pour the blessed water over her with silver pitcher:  it was so dramatic, so beautiful!  I helped her up out of the Baptismal pool and escorted her to the Reconciliation Room, which had been designated as her place to change her clothes, and put on the Baptismal garment.  When she came out, we embraced for a long time, and I spontaneously gave her the blessed Eucharist medal I was wearing, which was a memento of my own First Communion in 1981.  I loved putting it around her neck! 

 

After all the Baptisms, Father went on to the Sacrament of Confirmation, which both Alice and her husband were receiving.  As I stood behind them, I could not stop the tears of joy, as the full force of what was happening in their souls came down on me, recalling for me the blessed day when I received this Sacrament at the hands of my beloved Fr. Flaherty.   

 

Nothing else that ever happens in our lives can transcend the exquisite significance of this event, when we are accepted into Christ's own Church, the Church He established on earth 2,000 years ago, and which has withstood every attempt to bring it down--and there have been many.  It will stand until He returns in glory to bring us home.  No matter what happens to me, I will always cling to my Faith; last night, I was praying that  Alice and Albert will also.


Blessed be God forever!



Friday, April 14, 2017

My Miracle House


+JMJ+



At first, you will think it's odd that I am posting about buying a house in my Catholic Journey blog.  I am writing about it, because I believe it is another miracle that God has given me.

 

I can't stand living with my parents anymore: the house is horribly messy and smelly because they have too many bad cats, but my mother doesn't care and refuses to hire anyone to clean.  So, I have been praying that I could find a place to rent that is very close to them, because they are in their 90s, and I need to be able to watch over them.

 

Every place I tried to rent fell through:  they decided to rent to relatives... I was too late... no cats allowed... not all on one floor (arthritic knees!).  

 

A week ago Tuesday (April 4th), I came out of my parents' house to go somewhere, and I saw a man clipping the hedges in front of the house next door.  Things looked a little odd there, so when he stood up, I said, "Did Christopher move out?"  He told me yes, and I immediately said: "Please rent me this house!"  He replied that his wife owns it, and she wants to sell.  They live so far away, he said, they no longer want to deal with owning rental property.  I begged him:  "Do you think she might change her mind?  Please give her my contact information!" --which he reluctantly accepted.

 

That night, as I was praying... and thinking about it... I wondered: "Would it even be possible for me to get a mortgage, since I will not live long enough to pay it off--do banks even do that?"  Thinking I had nothing to lose, I decided to go to my bank the next day (Wednesday) after Mass to ask.   

 

The bank officer was very positive, and soon I was on the phone with their mortgage guy in Marietta.  After some "screening" questions, he said he'd email me a list of the documents I would need to get an application started.  I went home, gathered them, sent them, and in about an hour, I had a pre-qualified letter!   I told him my whole story--he was very kind--turns out, he attends St. Ann's Catholic Church in Marietta!  He also told me that because the house is priced below $150K, I needed to tell them I was interested immediately, because there would be at least 3 or 4 offers the first week it was listed!

 

I looked up the owner's name on the Carroll County Property Tax website, but could not find a phone number for her, so I wrote a short letter, which I mailed the next day.  That was Thursday.  

 

When I got home from Mass on Thursday, there they were in the driveway, leaving: I was in exactly the right place at the right time!  I called out to her:  "I want to buy your house!"  She responded, "Come in and take a look!"  So, they turned around, unlocked the door, and we went in.  

 

I could not believe how beautiful it is:  this was supposed to be their "forever home" for retirement, so they had gutted it and replaced EVERYTHING with the best money could buy.  New wiring, new plumbing, new roof, new windows, new ductwork (!), hardwood floors, remodeled bath and kitchen (including a walk-in pantry), a real fireplace, one of those fancy gourmet gas stoves, a deluxe side-by-side stainless steel refrigerator with the ice and water dispensers in the door, custom lighting, custom countertops... you name it, they did it. 

 

Ten minutes later, we made a deal... and the next day (Friday), I signed a purchase contract.  The house was never actually listed for sale: the only people who knew it was on the market was them, and me. 

 

No one will ever convince me that God did not do this for me. 

 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Prayer at the Hour of the Crucifixion






Lord Jesus, Redeemer of all, hear my prayer.

For the love You bear to those who ask forgiveness,

look mercifully on me,

as You looked on Mary Magdalene

and on Peter who denied You. 

Look on me, Lord Jesus Christ,

as You looked on the thief on his cross,

and on every sinner

whom You have ever forgiven.

Look on me, merciful Lord,

as You looked on Your mother, Mary,

standing in sorrow beneath Your cross.

Let me feel in my heart

her compassion for You,

and let my eyes weep

for the sorrow my sins have caused.

Call me from the darkness

 to my Father's house,

give me a new heart

 and a place at Your side in Eternity.

Amen


My God, I believe, I adore, 
I trust, and I love You! 
I beg pardon for those who do not believe, 
do not adore, do not trust, 
and do not love You.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Day of Grace and Memory


+JMJ+

I registered to attend a session of Vincentian University, being held today at St. Gabriel's Church in Fayetteville GA.  I had to leave very early in the morning, so the sun was just coming up on a beautiful Spring day when I left home.  

 

As I was driving down South Fulton Parkway, my mind unexpectedly turned to the astonishing fact that here I am--70 years old now--and I am a Catholic!  What I wanted so much when I was a child, finally, thanks to the grace of God, did happen!  And no matter what else I have done in life, or will do, the essential fact about me--the most important thing to know about me--is that I am a Catholic.  It is my core identity.  

 

I confess that I started to weep, as I recalled with overwhelming gratitude all the ways in which God kept calling me until I finally answered Him.  I have written about these events in this blog before, so I won't repeat them, but I am continually in awe when I think how totally loved I am--and I can't understand why He kept waiting for me through all those long, miserable years.  

 

As I drove along, I suddenly realized that the GPS on my phone was leading me on a route I had not traveled in over 30 years: straight through Fairburn, where stood the church in which I had been Confirmed and received my First Holy Communion: St. Matthew's, a parish which has since relocated to a new and larger building in Tyrone GA.  At that moment, I was hurrying to get to St. Gabriel's on time, but I was very excited to see, as I passed through town, that it is still there.  I knew that on the way home that day, I had to stop and see it once again. 

 

 

It is now some kind of Black Protestant church in a denomination I've never heard of, but I drove into the lot behind the building (which was a funeral home before it became St. Matthew's), to see if I could get in.  From the pickup trucks I saw, I knew there were workmen around, but I didn't see anyone, so I brazenly walked right in the unlocked back door... a door to which, thanks to Father Flaherty, I once had a key, and entered often. Sadly, I could see evidence that people had tried several times to break into the building: it's not quite as safe and serene in Fairburn as it was when I was last there, 31 years ago. 

 

The inside seemed familiar, and yet not familiar--there have been some renovations --but I knew the direction in which I needed to go in order to reach the Nave and Sanctuary, and I finally got there.

 

Except for our altar and beautiful crucifix being gone, it looks much as I remembered it.  Next is a picture of the spot where I used to kneel to pray at the back of the church.  I always stayed back there, because Father Flaherty was often praying in the tiny Blessed Sacrament chapel to the left of the altar, and I did not want to intrude on his privacy (in those days, the Tabernacle could not be kept behind the altar as it is in the church I attend now).

 

I then walked to the front and up the 2 steps to where our altar used to be, and stopped in the same place where I stood on that beautiful Saturday morning, December 5, 1981, when Father received me into the Church.  I remember everything about it--exactly what I was wearing:  a cream-colored wool skirt with a brown velvet jacket and a cream-colored satin blouse with ruffles in the front--but especially how nervous and excited I was, to finally be receiving what I had been longing for: the Holy Eucharist!

 

I stayed in that sacred spot for a few minutes, to say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His incredible gift... and then I left, greeting one of the workmen, who did not question who I was or why I was there.  I think he would have been very surprised, had he known how much meaning that humble little building has for me!

 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Embracing Suffering

+JMJ+


I am sure that all people who reach a certain spiritual level, come to this understanding of human suffering--but amazingly, despite my advanced age, I am only just now realizing this:  God allows everyone to have a certain amount of suffering--and to reach His Kingdom, we must willingly embrace it, if we wish to be perfect.  Not conquer it, but embrace it, just as Jesus embraced his suffering on the Cross. 

 

For some, it might be a life of material poverty.  For others, it is physical illness or some kind of disability, or a person who never finds their soulmate and maintains a life of chastity despite their own deep desires. Perhaps it's the loss of someone that a person loved so much, life seems unbearable without them. It could be the misfortune of being born in a country which has great economic or civil strife, such that they experience the stress and uncertainty of immigration or becoming a refugee, leaving behind a homeland that should have been their safe haven. 

 

It doesn't matter what it is:  there are a million varieties of human suffering, but all have one thing in common: if you are so much in love with God that you wish to be perfect, then "deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24-26) 

 

Understanding this--at last!--has been an incredible liberation for me, because it explains and justifies what is wrong with this world: it's the one thing that makes everything else make sense.  All my life, I have felt guilty (for example), that I am not poor... that I am not disabled... that I live in the United States instead of somewhere else--and I am freed of that guilt now!  They have their suffering, and I have mine: and it is all according to His plan.  Nevertheless, this knowledge does not absolve us from doing everything we can to relieve suffering wherever we find it!

 

The challenge, of course, is the embracing part, because it's human nature to want to avoid suffering.  And so, most of us spend a great portion of our lives struggling to escape from our suffering, not realizing that the only true freedom comes with acceptance, with offering our suffering to God in union with Jesus Christ.  This is a mystical concept that not everyone "gets," but I am absolutely convinced that it is true.       



Friday, January 13, 2017

The Personality of Christ

+JMJ+


For some reason, during prayer before Mass this morning, I started thinking about Jesus' personality.  What were those distinguishing characteristics that made Him different from everyone else, just as each one of us is unique?  And as I thought about this, I couldn't come up with any!

Then it came to me (and I hope this doesn't sound too crazy): He has everybody's personality: mine, yours, everyone who ever existed--but in Him, each quality is perfected. 

So Jesus has ...

my empathy
my concern for the poor
my love of people and animals
my honesty
my passionate devotion to God
my dependability
my generosity
my revulsion when I see acts of cruelty
my dedication to doing what is right
my grateful spirit
my highly ethical consciousness
my love of prayer
my desire to be immersed in God
my desire for humility
my willingness to suffer
my love of truth
my willingness to show my emotions
my desire to be totally obedient to God's will
my righteous anger when others are mistreated
my sensitivity ...

...but each of these qualities in me is incomplete--I have them to a degree, but could have them much more if I were not a sinner--in Him, they reach the highest level possible

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Life Hidden in Christ


+JMJ+


I was given an insight in prayer last night about how I am supposed to live now.

 

God made me understand that He wants me to stop focusing on all the great and heroic things I imagine myself doing for love of Him, and instead learn to be perfect in a different way: by living a very quiet life hidden in Him, as He did when He was a child in Nazareth--doing the mundane, domestic--often boring--tasks that need to be done at home, but doing them with great love and patience--all for Him.  

 

This makes sense to me, because at this moment, I am engaged in trying to solve a big problem: that is, changing what needs to be changed in order for me and my parents to have a clean and orderly house--a decent, safe, peaceful and ordinary existence.  

 

It's not going to happen overnight, but He has given me all the resources I need in order to achieve this.  He sent me a devout Catholic therapist who understands the spiritual and emotional struggle I am in, and knows what to say to give me the courage needed to confront the situation and strategies for resolving it; I have a happy and fulfilling life outside the house, doing work for my parish; I have a loving and supportive pastor who understands the problem and will not allow me to give up; and I am blessed to be in a strong, loving and sustaining relationship with Him, through the deep prayer life which He has given to me. 

 

As this all unfolds in time, I know He will give me the graces and understanding I need in order to solve the problems before me.  I just need to persevere, to be calm and measured in my approach to the problem, confident that with His help, I will find a way to do what is needed--and in the process, I will learn what it is that He wishes to teach me through my experience of this trial.

 

I am on a journey.  God is at the end of it.  And I know I'll get there because I love Him, and He loves me.  And by then, I will love Him even more. 

 

Jesus, I trust in You!  

 

The Little Way of St. Therese