Who Will Defend You at the End?

I found the following tweet on my feed:

I’ve been reading through a book on Marian Consecration, called 33 Days to Morning Glory (let me know if you’re using it!). It has taught me so much of what it means when we consecrate ourselves to God through Mary. Powerful stuff.

My Response to the question?

What is your response? How would you defend yourself before Saint Peter at Heaven’s Gate?

Remember. During the month of May, we remember Mary in a special way. How are you honoring our spiritual Mother this May?

God bless you.

The Release Latch

Reading a reflection by Father Vincent Nagle, he tells of a scuba diver going in the water at high-tide and soon found himself unable to make any progress toward a cove. Rather, he was hurled again and again against the rocks. Try as he might the diver could not free himself from the force of the current and could neither go forward nor turn back. He was too laden down with gear and not willing to let it go. There he remained, dashed against the rocks until another diver went in and pulled the release latch, freeing the struggling diver from his gear sending it to the bottom. They both reached safety together.

All of us are laden down with ‘stuff’ that keeps us from progressing. We long to have lasting relationships, deeper faith; to live good and holy lives.

What gets in our way?

Where is the release lever in our lives that frees us so we can make our way to safety? How are we freed so to reach toward what is important? How long will we let ourselves be dashed against the rocks, unwilling to let go of our habits, our possessions, our old self ? We must come to a point and realize we need someone to help us pull the release latch that keeps us weighed down in our ‘stuff’.

It is Holy Week. It is time to let go of the past and to walk in freedom with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Jesus walked to Jerusalem to bear the burden for us.

Will we let him pull the lever? Will we let Him take our burden upon himself and choose in our new freedom to follow him?

It is time to choose.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

 

Pope Benedict Chooses a Road Less Travelled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Robert Frost’s famous poem was instrumental in the shaping of my early adulthood. It seemed to me a mystical thing to stand at a crossroad and look down each fork as far as one could see, deciding which of the two to choose. This image is the one I looked to in carving out my own religious calling.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

I could have chosen a great number of things, and as I whittled through my choices, I found a wanting to follow the Lord. The first steps down that path seemed well worn by the many who had gone before me. Yet it seemed more edgy and rough compared to the path of my friends; an uncertainty hung there that frightened me and yet compelled me to look at it more closely.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The evening I entered the Canossian Sisters, I recall how new everything seemed. A new page was indeed beginning as I learned how to live in a community of women of different cultures (my first community comprised of one Filipino, one Chinese, One Mexican-American, three Mexicans and myself of deep California-American roots). Just as Frost hints at the starting down that un-trodden path, my stepping the threshold of the Postulant house left me changed.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

There is one mistake I made in my own estimation of this first step. I thought the hardest part of my journey was the decision to enter. What I have learned – what should have been obvious – is the first turn off the beaten path was only the first of many choices; the journey only begins with that first step where the undergrowth is thickest.

God woos each of us, His beloved, slowly and gently pulling us by the hand at our own pace to wade ever deeper into His love. My journey to follow Christ more deeply into the abyss of His love has so far to go. Thankfully, God is patient to present the invitation to each of us to enter the Portal of His love in our life of prayer, Sacramental life, and community.

As we watch Pope Benedict in the final hours of his Pontificate, he is preparing for the plunge into God’s love.  He has heard the Lord call Him even more into quiet, to become less so that God can be more; to a place where God can become everything.  This is difficult for even religious to understand, and we must understand this from the perspective of our cloistered brothers and sisters who live their lives as a hidden sacrifice of praise to God and prayer for the world. Mother Maria Angelica explains:

“When he lives this monastic lifestyle, his prayers will reach those who maybe were unbelievers during his papacy,” said Mother Maria Angelica, of the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria del Rosario. “I’m absolutely sure of this, of the value of his prayer and of his silence. And it will reach the whole world, even where it wasn’t previously able to reach. . . .  [Even unbelievers] will feel the effects of [a cloistered person’s] prayer.”

benedictatprayerIt is a very generous act.

One where Pope Benedict’s impact on the world is just beginning.

And that will make all the difference.

Please read The Anchoress’ take on Pope Benedict’s call to that which is essential in the life of the Baptized.

 

 

 

Forty Days to Walk with God

walkwithGod copy“In the forty days of the preparation for Easter, we endeavor to get away from the heathenism that weighs us down, that is always driving us away from God, and we set off toward him once again. So, too, at the beginning of the Eucharist, in the confession of sin, we are always trying to take up this path again, to set out, to go to the mountain of God’s word and God’s presence…  We must learn that it is only in the silent, barely noticeable things that what is great takes place, that man becomes God’s image and the world once more becomes the radiance of God’s glory. Let us ask the Lord to give us a receptivity to his gentle presence; let us ask him to help us not to be so deafened and desensitized by this world’s loud outcry that our receptivity fails to register him. Let us ask him that we may hear his quiet voice, go with him, and be of service together with him and in his way, so that his kingdom may become present in this world… We imitate God, we live by God, like God, by entering into Christ’s manner of life. He has climbed down from his divine being and became one of us; he has given himself and does and does so continually… It is by these little daily virtues, again and again, that we step out of our bitterness, our anger toward others, our refusal to accept the other’s otherness; by them, again and again, we open up to each other in forgiveness. This “littleness” is the concrete form of our being like Christ and living like God, imitating God; he has given himself to us so that we can give ourselves to him and to one another.”
 
– Pope Benedict XVI, Many Religions – One Covenant, Israel, the Church and the World, p. 81, 82-83, 87
 
Let us Pray:
Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord,
and further them with your constant help,
that all we do may always begin from you,
and by you be brought to completion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
– Amen.
Collect, Thursday after Ash Wednesday
 

Patient Waiting, Undying Hope

Each year when we begin our preparation for Christmas with the season of Advent, we listen to an instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem:

“We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.

In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

– Office of Readings, 1st Sunday of Advent

These words mark the anticipation of the Christian life. We sit between two comings of Christ, and, St Cyril reminds us, when the Lord comes again, it will not be clothed in silence in a manger. At the second coming, there will be no mistake that the Lord is here. But in our waiting for that day that only the Father knows, what is our attitude of waiting?

Jesus tells us what our attitude should be like. When the disciples questioned him about the signs that the end was near, Jesus responded, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-33, 35-37)

vigilance copyThe first disciples of Jesus thought that the Lord would return in their lifetime. They committed all their resources to getting the word out, proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. As one Disciple after another began to die, it made them wonder, where is the Messiah? Isn’t He coming back soon? Urgency turned to hesitancy. Many possibly returned to their previous lives. Their vigilance turned its energies to ordinary tasks.

To think, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah’s return for not quite two thousand years. And, a general pattern follows that after a period of complacency, believers find themselves persecuted and must choose whether what they believe is worth dying for. We see many signs that any hope for the return of Christ is fading from our cultural memory. The memory is clouded with a sense of urgency for what is not eternal. Eternal seems so far a way, like an old fairy tale. But it is not a fairy tale and the words of Jesus are words for our generation:

“Be watchful! Be alert!…Watch!”

To have such a capacity comes from a life formed by prayer and worship. For these require discipline which also prepares the heart for hardship and difficult choices. Do we have such an attitude that will sustain our waiting? Are we willing to wait in patience and vigilance, without letting hope of His coming die in our hearts?

Come Lord Jesus! Come soon!

Centro

At the Center of My Heart

What happens when we choose to love and it unravels? Perhaps we lie to ourselves that it’s better off that way. Despite the problems and obstacles we saw all along, we can’t help ourselves but to feel hurt.

The art of being human allows it. It is a sign that one is capable of love when she opens her heart and allows herself to be vulnerable to love. And vulnerable to pain.  To my young readers who might experience this, it is a devastating feeling and the only thing that will help is time. But it is to you that I want to point out that there is a love that never fades. A love that will never abandon or get tired of you.

It is there, waiting at the center of your heart. The song is in Italian, but the words are translated below. Allow this Love to be at the center of your heart, and your tears will turn to joy.

Try speaking these words to Jesus:

I desire to meet you alone in my heart
to find you there waiting to spend time with me.
Only point of reference I have for my life,
my only reason is you, my only support is You,
At the center of my heart there is only You.

Even if the heavens turning above are without peace,
there’s a point unmoving, that one star there.
The polar star is fixed, unique in all the heavens,
that polar star is You, the only sure star is You.
At the center of my heart there is only You.

All the broken turn to You, and have their being in You.
It is not important ‘how’, ‘where’ or ‘if’.

That You always shine at the center of my heart.
What’s significant is that it is You.
That which I will do will only be love.
My only support is You, the polar star is You.
At the center of my heart there is only You.

I desire to meet you alone in my heart
to find you there waiting to spend time with me.
Only point of reference I have for my life,
my only reason is you, my only support is You,
At the center of my heart there is only You.

“Know, then, that the LORD, your God, is God: the faithful God who keeps covenant mercy to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments.” – Deuteronomy 7:9

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you — says the LORD — plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 136:26

“…we boast in hope of the glory of God.Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” – Romans 5:2-5

Saturday with Mary

It has come through a several mediations this past week for me to pick up again Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary.

On the title page to de Montfort’s preliminary remarks, he is quoted:

“The more the Holy Spirit finds Mary, His dear and inseparable spouse, in any soul, the more active and mighty He becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul, and that soul in Jesus Christ.”

These words remind me very much of the role of Mary by her participation in the mystery of the incarnation, the Word – Christ Jesus – made flesh:

“Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33).

The Holy Spirit is Mary’s Spouse. Where Mary is, her Spouse is. And, with them, Jesus Christ.

A side thought that came, reflecting on these words in view of the Incarnation:

no Mary – no Jesus; know Mary – know Jesus

To come to know Mary we surprisingly find her always pointing us to her Son. May she intercede for us, that her Spouse the Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts and minds to know and love her Son, our Lord Jesus.

Maxims of the Saints

I love the stories of the Saints and the inspiration that I always glean from their zeal for life and their love for God. They are often quoted, little catchy sayings that are so simple and yet so packed with wisdom. Some of my favorite maxims are:

  • “Love spurs us on to do great things, and makes all that is bitter sweet and savory.” – St Teresa of Jesus (Avila)
  • “At the end of our life, we shall all be judged by charity.” – St John of the Cross
  • “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
  • “Jesus, if you want it, I want it too!” – Bl. Chiara Luce Badano
  • “Those who love are never tired, since love knows no burden.” – St Magdalene of Canossa*

The list goes on! Come check out the whole post at:

Never Forgotten by God

A religious once told me, “We only forget things that don’t matter much to us.” Her words come back to me readily as a point of examine of conscience when I forget something that I shouldn’t have. It begs the question, ‘do I really care about that (him, her, them)?’ 

This means of examine came to me today as I read the first reading from the Office of Readings, Isaiah 49:14-50:1. The reading begins:

Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my lord has forgotten me.”

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

In this passage, Zion wages a complaint, that during their Babylonian exile, God has forgotten His covenant to them, leaving them in desolation as slaves in a foreign land.

God responds to the complaint with words full of consolation for us too; a reminder that we really do matter to God. We are important to Him, so much so, that he tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “I will never forget you.”

I’ve been asking people to join me in praying in these days as Christmas approaches, for those who are alone, and/or those suffering from depression. My prayer for them is that these words of Isaiah may speak to them and comfort them in their affliction. That, like Zion, pouring out her grief, those who find themselves suffering can take these words of God to heart.

“I will never forget you.”

A related verse for those moments in our lives when it seems to Lord is long delayed in His coming:

“Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!” – Psalm 27:14

Lord, I Seek You

Saint Ambrose describes a soul’s longing:

“When you are in your room, then, at night, think always on Christ, and wait for his coming at every moment.

This is the person Christ has loved in loving you, the person he has chosen in choosing you. He enters by the open door; he has promised to come in, and he cannot deceive. Embrace him, the one you have sought; turn to him, and be enlightened; hold him fast, ask him not to go in haste, beg him not to leave you. The Word of God moves swiftly; he is not won by the lukewarm, nor held fast by the negligent. Let your soul be attentive to his word; follow carefully the path God tells you to take, for he is swift in his passing.

What does his bride say? I sought him, and did not find him; I called him, and he did not hear me. Do not imagine that you are displeasing to him although you have called him, asked him, opened the door to him, and that this is the reason why he has gone so quickly; no, for he allows us to be constantly tested. When the crowds pressed him to stay, what does he say in the Gospel? I must preach the word of God to other cities, because for that I have been sent. But even if it seems to you that he has left you, go out and seek him once more.” (On Virginity, Ch 12, 74-75)

As we move through these days of Advent, let us not lose heart in our continued search for the Lord. He waits patiently for us.

Pruning the Heart

A visitor to our convent stopped to admire our roses that line the path up to the front door. “What beautiful roses!” he said, “How do you keep them so lovely?”

Well, we don’t have time to give them extraordinary care. We water them on a timer and prune them. They seem to do the rest.

As we begin a new liturgical year, and the time of waiting for the Lord in Advent, the theme of pruning has been on my mind. Not of roses, however, but of the heart.

I like to think of God as the gardener, who comes in the right season to prune my heart. He comes to take a critical look at what is growing in me, what needs to be trimmed to encourage more growth, and what is unhealthy and needs to be lopped off altogether.

Here are three lessons I have learned as I allow God to be the ‘Gardener’ of my life.

Lesson One: Pruning is painful.

No matter how gentle the Gardener is, the trimming is painful. We get comfortable with our habits, the way we say and do things. And, although not all of our habits are harmful, even too much of a good thing can become an obstacle to growth in the Lord. And so, the Gardener comes in our prayer this season of Advent wanting to prune away the excess of our lives so to make room for the coming of Christ.

Out of fear, I want to hold some of my branches back, out of the way of the holy pruning hands of God, believing I will not be able to endure the pain of loss. The challenge of this season is to trust, that whatever we give over to God, He will make what is good even more so, and that which is harmful, He will heal us from our dependency. Yes, giving it over to God to be pruned is painful, but in the end, we are better for it.

Lesson Two: The Gardener never prunes without our permission.

Then, what do we do when God wants to prune our heart of something? We know, perhaps, how much the pruning will cost, not fully sure we want to trust the Gardener. He understands us better than we understand ourselves, and will never force us to resign anything to Him. No. He will allow us to hold on to even those things that might be harmful to us because of our free will. But He will come and ask us to let go. He will wait until we are ready to turn our lives over to Him.

Many times in our lives, we go through the externals of doing things because others expect it of us. But are we acting freely in these moments? Are we freely choosing to do the good? God’s asking permission to shape us through the art of pruning the heart, He hopes we will allow it, not just begrudgingly, but wholeheartedly.

Lesson Three: There is no plant too unruly for transformation in God’s garden.

God is patient with us, yes, in His waiting for our readiness to turn our lives over to Him. He is the Gardener who intercedes for the barren fig tree in the orchard, who ‘leaves it for another year…cultivating the ground around it and fertilizing it, that it may bear fruit in the future’ (Luke 13:8). God is equally patient with us, giving us the graces to be fruitful in our lives too.

What is it in your life during this Advent time that, perhaps, God is wanting to transform, to cultivate? Where in your life are you not bearing fruit? How might God be calling you to conversion through His care?

Advent is a beautiful season of the Church calendar. A time of preparing the heart to ‘make room for the Lord at Christmas.’ It is a time for reflecting on the “reasons of the season”, calling us back to examine our relationship with God, which then takes us to consider our relationship with others (these two are forever connected).

We are called by God to turn our hearts over to Him. In our giving permission to transform us, we are telling God, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”

An Ordinary Man Teaches Us Four Extraordinary Lessons

Today we gathered together to pay tribute to the life of our brother, Philip Andrew Doty. I wish to share the four lessons his life has taught us, as mentioned in his eulogy. God bless.

Anyone who knew Philip for even a brief span of time came to realize quickly his affinity for books. And, in my reflection my brother’s life, I realized, Phil’s life is a novel worth reading. Not because he has done extraordinary things…he is no superhero; nor has he made great contributions to better the society we live in. Though, he has done wonderful things, to be sure.

What make his life a compelling one are fundamental to any good novel: first, there are lessons the story teaches you about life…about love…about character and the human spirit; and second, when the last page is read and the book is closed, the reader has one or two unanswered questions that will only be answered by time.

Today, I would like to share my Cliff notes view into my brother’s life; a life worthy of celebration. And together, let us allow him be our teacher of some life lessons that will make us smile. I think in understanding this lasting legacy he has given to all of us, it may help us to wait patiently until the unanswered questions that linger on in our thoughts are answered.

Philip Andrew Doty was the fifth born of the Doty clan’s seven kids. He entered the world on October 3, 1964. I remember Philip as a quiet kid, reflective, as though he was always in the middle of working out a problem in his head. He was often lost in thought…and it has happened more than once that his doddling got him into trouble. Imagine my mother going shopping with seven kids in tow, telling us to stay close. She could turn around for a minute and Philip would be gone! It didn’t matter whether we were at a shopping center or amusement park, it happened more than a couple of times, Philip was lost. We’d usually find him after much worry sitting on the counter of lost and found eating an ice cream cone! I’m not even sure he was aware he was lost until someone asked him where his mother was. So comfortable was he with himself.

Part of his wondering off was due to his insatiable curiosity. He liked to know a lot of things. This made him a great companion, easy going, even in his childhood, whether playing street ball, hide and seek, building blocks. He enjoyed being with others; it didn’t matter much what the activity was, whether playing dolls with his sisters, or making purses (I talked him into doing); sports, just sitting in Church with dad entertaining himself with a set of Dad’s car keys – he seemed content to do or play what the other wanted, such was his nature. He had a real gift for making the person, whose company he kept, feel important. I’m sure each of you has specific examples where you have experienced this for yourself, where Philip taught our first life lesson: Enjoy your time with others. He so enjoyed the company of those he loved – friends and family alike.

He was always willing to play the other’s preferred game, or go where they wanted to go. To him, it didn’t matter; what did matter was, to do those things together. And he cherished these memories in his heart.

As Philip grew, he discovered a companion who would be a constant for him – books. Some of my earliest memories of Philip are of him with a book in hand, and, any moment he was not playing, he could be found reading. I’m sure as he grew and had a family of his own, there were discussions about books; in moving, how many boxes of books, where to put them, or store them… His inquisitiveness held no bounds and he would read anything, although he had his favorites, history, military stories, spirituality and language (how many times would we go somewhere, only to see Philip with a French or Spanish pocket dictionary make the trip too!).

His eclectic tendencies toward books were symbolic of his openness toward people. He didn’t mind that people were different, and it was the differences that drew him into other cultures and places. But it was not always that way. He told the story how, in his basic training he had gone along with the thinking of some of the men who talked badly about certain people. He had repeated some of these things in front of our parents and, when my mother confronted him about it:

“All the wisdom of a 19 year old…I think back on that moment as one of the most shameful and regretful things I’ve ever thought or said of another human being. And even more horrifying, did I ever contaminate anyone else with this poison I spread? I pray to God that I never did. The Book of Proverbs, 8:7 states, “My mouth utters truth; wickedness is abhorrent to my lips.” For sure, wickedness was indeed on my lips during that period of my life. I pray it will never find its way there again!”

Philip recalled this event, one that deeply shaped his understanding of who he was, and what he wanted to be. It made a strong impact on his future dealing with people who were different than himself. It is here, he sets the example for our second lesson of life: be slow to judge others, and quick to love them.  I remember many occasions where he would greet strangers with much respect, particularly those of other cultural backgrounds.

He had made a choice, which shows his great humility, to embrace others before rejecting them. I have never known Philip, following this brief year or two of his youth, to have anything bad to say about anyone. Although he was soft spoken, whenever a conversation turned to the worse, he would either change the subject, defend the person, or, if this weren’t possible, simply disappear like that small child losing himself in the supermarket. He took to heart the words of Proverbs, not to speak untruths of anyone. Many of us have witnessed this quality about Philip, which is one reason he was much admired by those who knew him.

While Philip was in the Navy, we always enjoyed his moments on leave when he would spend a few weeks at home. My Dad would always introduce Philip during these visits to some of the local women, hoping his son would fall in love with one of them. Susan was working at the Post Office in Nipomo at the time, and, when Philip came home on leave they would spend time together riding horses or visiting local sites. Philip knew he found his helpmate, his life-companion. Philip was a good husband, and accepted gratefully his growing family. He always felt blessed to have two children, Jacob and Lizzy, and was always concerned that they would grow to know right from wrong, and to be protected from a social environment that tries to take away our innocence while still very young. His obituary states his love for his family so well. It reads, “If Philip prefaced a statement with “my son” or “my daughter,” there was an unmistakable air of warmth and pride in his voice. All of us who knew him realized that everything he did, he did for or with his family.” He loved his family more than life itself.

He wrote about an event that happened, not long after he was diagnosed. He was trying to reconcile why God would allow this; not that he was not willing to be subjected to disease, but that he feared not being able to be there to help his children become strong adults. He happened to tune into a radio station that wasn’t his regular one. A father was being interviewed; whose five-year-old daughter had the same diagnosis as Philip:

“I came across a channel, which I had never listened to before, and they were speaking with the father of a five year old girl…The newscaster asked the man how a father deals with a terminally ill child, and he responded that it’s indescribable, and that he would give anything to trade places with is daughter. I thought to myself that I could not imagine what this poor father lives with every day, and that I was with him in that I would happily take on a disease like this to spare my wife or kids.”

Philip’s love for his family was that way. He loved deeply, and did all he thought best to protect what he loved most. This our third lesson of life from Philip – a lesson of sacrificial love. To love at all costs. I am certain that you, Susan, Jacob and Lizzy, know how much Philip, as a husband and father loved you. I also know that one of his deepest prayers, was that God will finish the work he allowed Philip to begin. To protect and care for you, and love you even more than Philip could do himself.

Philip wrote in his reflection about the little girl and her father that was willing to changes places, that he was ‘willing to take this bullet for the team.’ This is the greatest love that can only be outdone by the sacrificial love of God himself who let his only begotten Son – Jesus – die on the Cross for us.

This brings us to the last of Philip’s lessons for us, one that can only be known and fulfilled completely  between him and God, but it is worth exploring for us, who might be going through the same struggle. The struggle to understand the role of faith and God.

Phil thought a lot about God throughout his life. He wrote of his fond memories of going to church as a child, his love of the songs and ritual. He intuitively knew there was a Creative Force active in his life, and tried in many ways to make sense of what it was. He was baptized and raised Catholic, and in his teenage years, like so many do, he wondered away from the religion of his youth, not rejecting God, but uncertain of the expression that resonated in him. In his travels while serving our Country – which he loved dearly – he encountered many cultures and religions. In Japan, he was introduced to Buddhism; in Turkey he learned about Islam. And, he reasoned that there were a lot of similarities between the major religions of the world. Something kept him from embracing any of them fully. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God – he most surely did.

A turning point for him was his time stationed in Turkey. He had the opportunity to study the Bible and to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He of course, being a lover of history enjoyed the pilgrimage immensely due to the historical significance alone. He accepted anew Jesus as his Lord and Savior in the waters of the Jordan. It lead to his study the Old Testament, reasoning:

“I really felt connected to this Man (Jesus), and wanted to know more about what he thought and taught. Maybe I should look back at what Jesus taught in the Old Testament, rather than focus on the texts many decades to thousands of years after the Messiah’s time on earth.”

When he and Susan returned to the States, and Philip was at the Monterrey language academy, he began to study more in earnest the Hebrew Scriptures and the people of Israel.  He took a class, the “Introduction to Judaism”, and Philip shared:

“At this point I was still sitting on the post, unsure of whether this man named Jesus was the Son of God…for a religious Jew, the Hebrew Scriptures that he believed and trusted his faith in God…for us Christians, and the concept of Heaven and Hell, redemption, and the fight for our eternal souls, it seemed much more than just studying what we know of the New Testament. There had to be so much more involved. So, I continued to search.”

He was drawn to Judaism. He enjoyed the service, the music, the lessons. He liked the familiarity of “breaking bread and wine at the conclusion of Friday night services…Very enjoyable and spiritual time for me.”

He found his home in Judaism, and saw himself “a Jew in heart if not by Jewish law.” He concludes his search for faith, reasoning, “…above all, I believe absolutely in our Creator, who made the entire universe, and all of the laws of nature that our Creator established. I have complete faith in His wisdom, His reasoning of life and death, and that I do not know…or can even remotely conceive what God really has planned. I know that we all live and die, and that death is nothing to fear. And that only our Creator knows when that time comes.”

One of his favorite books was this one (an interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament). He had a large print edition that he read regularly, and this smaller copy. When I last saw Philip, he handed this Bible to me and pointed to the index card, saying, “This is the most important part of the whole scriptures for me.” When I opened to the page, it was marked Job 42:1-6, which comes near the end of Job’s trials. It reads:

Job said in reply to the Lord, “I know that you can do everything. that nothing you propose is impossible for You. Who is this who obscures counsel without knowledge? Indeed, I spoke without understanding of things beyond me, which I did not know. Hear now, and I will speak; I will ask, and You will inform me. I had heard You with my ears, But now I see You with my eyes; therefore, I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.”

This is our fourth lesson of life: Philip, in the midst of his suffering, his losing ‘everything’, handed all of it back to God, in trust. He understood that the Creator – God – is a God of Mercy. In his own confusion of faith, his struggle to reconcile Christianity with Judaism, he still believed that this too, God in his greatness will understand.

If he was standing with us here now, Philip would be able to teach us so much about the journey each of us must make to discover the Truth of God according to our capacity. He had no doubt that God would be waiting for him at the end. This is our final lesson of life – to be like Philip, and search out the meaning of our own relationship with our Creator.

Philip, our Son, brother, husband, father, coworker, our friend. We thank God that we were honored to share this first volume of your life; that by knowing you, we have become better human beings, and may we always honor your memory by following your example, until that Glorious day when we will again embrace and laugh, with no more pain; only perfect happiness and love.

May you rest in God, my brother, may his unending light shine upon you. May you rest in peace. Amen.

Nothing but Charity

Today the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Most Holy Cross.

For my Religious Family, the Canossian Priests, Brothers, Sisters, Tertiaries (Lay Canossians), Lay Consecrated and Missionary Volunteers,

Christ Crucified is the center of our contemplation. It is here, at the Cross, we are formed in Charity of the highest degree – the Greatest Love.

Our Foundress, Saint Magdalene of Canossa teaches us:

“Jesus on the Cross
was stripped of everything
except his love.”

“We are dedicated to the singular imitation
of Jesus Crucified.”

“Jesus Crucified breathes nothing but charity.”

-+-

It is no accident that the day following the Exaltation of the Cross,
we turn to console our Lady of Sorrows.
As we stand at the foot of the Cross, contemplating this Greatest Love,
let us slip our hand into that of Mary Most Sorrowful,
together contemplating the mystery of God’s infinite mercy on Calvary.

Our Lady of Sorrows at the Foot of the Cross, Pray for us!
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What do you contemplate?

Passion of Christ and Mary’s Role

As we commemorate the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus this Palm Sunday, my thoughts turn too, to the role of Mary, who is not mentioned Matthew’s narrative, from which we have this year’s readings. My thoughts were prompted by a challenge from a friend.

At the challenge of a friend, I picked up the closest book on hand*, turned to page 56, and wrote down the fifth sentence:

“La Vergine Madre è ai piedi del sacerdote con gli occhi rivolti al cielo, tenendo in braccio il sacro Pegno. Ella sente tutto il peso rovesciato sulla Vittima divina e si unisce ad essa.”

Translation:

“The Virgin Mother is at the foot of the priest with her eyes to heaven, holding in her arms the sacred Pledge. She feels all the weight placed upon the Divine Victim and unites herself to Him.”

A conversation ensued, based on my translation, since I admitted I didn’t like to use the word ‘Pledge’ in this context. Still pondering this thought, I wrote:

“‘Pegno’ is hard to translate here … because what is happening at the Cross is more than a ‘pledge’ (as we would use the word). It is a reference to a promise, a token (another weak word), a sign (a little better?). It is ‘to pawn’ something. Hmmm. Very interesting indeed! Is Jesus what is pawned, for the promise of our future redemption?”

(To use the word ‘pledge’ would be correct, deriving from the Latin ‘pignus’. And ‘pignus’ is where the word ‘pawn’ comes from.)

Peg responds: “His body and blood pawned for the souls of humanity”.

Yes, the image of Jesus given over for humanity works, but in my thoughts, I was trying to imagine God walking into a pawnshop, with His only begotten Son tucked under his arm, to offer him as a temporary holding…no, the image doesn’t quite work.

Then Deb chimed in:

Could it (the pledge) be similar to the Greek word “arrabon” meaning a down-payment?

She made the connection between the letters of Saint Paul, and his use of the Greek word ‘arrabon’, quoting his letter to the Ephesians:

“In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.” (NAB)

Deb’s translation uses the word ‘Guarantee’ in place of the NAB’s ‘first installment’. Both translations point to something in the future, that is to come. Something promised and certain.

So, looking back to my translation, how would it read to replace ‘Pledge’:

“The Virgin Mother is at the foot of the priest with her eyes to heaven, holding in her arms the sacred First-Installment/Guarantee. She feels all the weight placed upon the Divine Victim and unites herself to Him.”

The posturing of Mary, it seemed to me, was all wrong. It was too…priestly (eyes to heaven; offering the ‘sacred Pledge’; uniting herself to the weight of the sacrifice), as though she is offering the Divine Sacrifice. But this sentence cannot be fully understood without the following paragraph, which reads:

“Dopo un istante d’ineffabile raccoglimento alza le braccia e, consengnando il Bambino all’Ufficiante, ne fa con lui solenne oblazione al Padre, e supplica di ricevere, il Figlio suo come prezzo dell’umano riscatto.”

Translation:

“After an inexpressible moment of reflection, she raises her arms, handing over the Child to the Official, makes of him a solemn offering (oblation) to the Father, and begs Him to receive her Son as the price of redeemed humanity.”

So, rather than Mary standing at the Cross, the passage portrays Mary in the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. She is offering her first-born Son. Her offering Jesus in the Temple foreshadows her standing at the foot of the Cross, the altar of supreme Sacrifice. It is for this reason, the first passage can speak of a ‘first-installment’ or ‘pledge’. At His presentation in the Temple, Jesus is the Pledge of future redemption, in that very small, vulnerable Child, offered in the arms of His mother.

This is the Mary we all know and love. She is not the priestess offering the sacrifice, but rather the ‘handmaid of the Lord’, offering the first-fruits of her womb for the service of God and His glory. She presents her only begotten Son in his infancy as the pledge of the future redemption to be brought through his life, suffering, death and resurrection.

What a beautiful example of the Christian life. Luke’s narrative of the Presentation describes Mary, as one who too will experience suffering (and you yourself, a sword shall pierce – Luke 2:35). It is this sword of sorrow that inspired the title for Mary, Mother of Sorrows. She unites herself to her Son in his suffering. We too are called to participate in God’s redemptive work through uniting our own suffering with the Supreme Sacrifice. May we raise our arms and eyes towards heaven, and make a gift back to God all that pierces our heart or afflicts our body, for the service of God and His glory.

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As we come together today, to recall the suffering at the Cross, let us carry in our hearts, Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, who shared in a way the sacrifice of her Son.  A prayer prayed every morning by the Canossian Sisters throughout the world may help us in this intention:

Father, you willed that Mary be at the Foot of the Cross
Sharing in the sacrifice of your Son.
Grant, that through her intercession,
we may bear within ourselves the image of Christ
Crucified and Risen,
and spend ourselves with untiring charity
for the good of our brothers and sisters.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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*  Taken from Spiritualità Canossiana, Sr. Antoinetta Monzoni, FdCC, 1944

This story is cross-posted at National Catholic Register.

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Salvifici Dolores (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), Pope John Paul II

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Peg Demetris blogs at Peg Pondering Again (and this post linked here)

Deb Thurston – ocds, blogs at Karmalight