conversion

A Thief’s Remarkable Confession

March 30, 2015

Dismas the Good Thief Orthodox icon 16th centuryOften called the “Good Thief” and traditionally known as “Dismas” in the Latin Church, this man is billed as having stolen heaven in his last hour, living up to his profession. It was no sleight of hand, though, no con job that moved the heart of Jesus. As I’ve meditated on the Passion this year, Dismas has occupied my thoughts. How was it that he alone of the two criminals crucified with Christ that day confessed Jesus as king?

While Matthew (27:44) and Mark (15:32) write that both criminals reviled Jesus, Luke tells us something else, a something that reveals an outpouring of God’s grace at the last minute that freed a man chained by evil deeds to see and say the truth in full repentance for a life gone terribly bad. In contrast,

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23: 39)

This thief had no idea what being the Christ meant, or he wouldn’t have tried to incite Jesus to free him so he could escape accountability and go on about his life of crime and ruin. Jesus didn’t come to help us circumvent the laws of His Father and to get us unrepentant ones off scot free from the penalties of our sins.

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

How did the Good Thief know that Jesus had done nothing wrong? Only if this man were Jewish and knew the law well could he have known that Jesus was a victim of a set up. Perhaps he had mingled with the crowds following Jesus, snatching a purse here and there while noting what Jesus was doing. If so, he could not have failed to see the vast numbers of people Jesus cured from all sorts of diseases and paralyses. Maybe he even saw Jesus cast out demons and raise the dead. He knew Jesus was a good man and no criminal. Perhaps he flirted with the idea of giving up his predatory occupation and following Christ instead, but, since he ended up condemned, he apparently lacked the will to shake off the shackles of his greed. Yet God gave him the extraordinary grace among the crowd of vicious blasphemers to declare from the heights of his cross that Jesus was innocent while he and his fellow criminal were surely guilty.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingly power.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Dismas claimed in full faith in front of everyone there that day that Jesus is king with all the powers a king possesses. Among them is to forgive the repentant subject who throws himself on the mercy of the sovereign. Knowing that Jesus was dying and that he himself would die, against all worldly logic that makes no room for what cannot be perceived by the senses, Dismas professed that Christ’s kingdom is real, not of this world, but is of eternity just as He said, and that Jesus prevails over all. Simply astonishing and only possible through the grace of God. A man dying in horrible pain after living a dissolute life seizes eternal life through the eyes of full-blown faith at the last minute.

The same grace God gave Dismas in extremis is open to every sinner any time who honestly admits his trespasses and repents of them. We don’t go to Confession solely because we don’t want to go to hell for our mortal sins, although it can be one motivation. We confess our sins under the power of the grace of God in order to humble ourselves and renew true submission to His will. That grace is free and open to everyone. We have only ourselves to blame if we cut ourselves off from it as the other thief did.

Praise God for what He did for the Good Thief and for what He does every time we make a good confession. Praise God for the grace of humility and repentance and for giving us His beloved Son to teach and lead us along the narrow path. Praise God when we see through the eyes of faith the transcendent world we were created for. Just as Dismas was, we are the primary beneficiaries of His terrible death on the cross. Let us not squander our inheritance.

Image: The Good Theif, Russian Orthodox icon, 16th century

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Monday, March 30th, 2015 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 3 Comments

Misery Is a Choice

March 6, 2014

Potter Working Thrower, Wikimedia

Potter Working Thrower, Wikimedia

Do you know people who are truly miserable? I am not speaking here of that great percentage of the world who live in poverty and disease, in war-torn countries, victims of natural disasters that destroy lives completely, or where people face a choice of convert to this or that religion or die. I am also not speaking of sexually and physically abused children nor of those who have been trafficked for financial gain of others, nor of the many other evils in the world. That temporal misery is forced upon persons by outside powers for evil and selfish purposes. I am speaking of misery of heart and soul – an invisible misery that manifests itself outwardly most particularly by sins of the tongue, angry outbursts, rash judgment, destruction of property and/or relationships. The kind of internal churning misery that repels others and perpetuates itself both in oneself and in others in our lives with whom we interact.

We all know the constant complainer, the super-critic who is pleased about nothing, the selfish controller of others who continually resorts to manipulation to get what he or she wants. We all know our share of Chicken Littles for whom the sky is falling almost every day. Their lives are full of constant drama, singularly joyless. And who has not known active alcoholics and others addicts of all types? They live in a continual torment and spinning of fears, often using addiction as a way not to face the demons inside themselves. Maybe, just maybe, we can apply these descriptions to ourselves at one time or another in our lives.

Now that we are beginning Lent, a time when we put extra effort into growing closer to God and giving deep consideration to the passion and death of Christ as the great act of our redemption, perhaps we can look at our internal misery index. Perhaps we can face the fact that we may be stuck in the past, chained to events that still affect our choices today, and resolve with the help of Jesus to step out in trust and change something about ourselves that makes us miserable. The fact that we can change the way we look at things, the way we perceive others, means that misery is a choice.

In every case, if we challenge ourselves, we will see that the root of our misery is some form of selfishness. Others have failed us. Others have betrayed us. Others have truly wished us dead, or at least gone or living like a toothless tiger. We have been slighted, disrespected, ridiculed, bullied and even hated for no good reason. When we get down to it, each of us can own up to the fact regarding ourselves that it is all about me and how I see myself. Who am I really? Who defines who I am? The answer to that is…well, later.

A recently convicted and sentenced prison lifer told his adult daughter that he could understand if the Christians he knew didn’t want to have anything to do with him. After all, Christians don’t associate with criminals. When she told me that I said, “We are all criminals in the eyes of God because we are all sinners. Every Confession line is full of repeat offenders. Christians of all people ought to understand criminals.” And, in fact, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for having dinner with tax collectors and sinners, to which He replied, “They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill.  Go then and learn what this means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. For I am not come to call the just, but sinners” (Matt. 9: 11-12). If we mean to imitate Jesus, we will not shrink from a criminal who seeks healing relationships.

I bring up this example because although we are all criminals, we are much more. Grasping this one point and considering it over time can help us overcome misery we create for ourselves. That point is:

We were each created by God out of love. We are His children, broken by the effects of Original Sin, but loved so greatly that Jesus died for us. No generalities here. Each one of us is loved by God individually. Our sins hurt us and hurt others, but Jesus in His mercy heals us if we turn to Him. By turning away from ourselves and seeking a relationship with Him, we gain a perspective that allows us to make choices that lead us to joy and not misery. As the best Father, God wants us to be happy with Him forever. We find out who we really are only in relationship with God.

 Of course, having a relationship with God means getting to know Him. Getting to know someone takes time, peace and quiet, listening, studying his actions. What better place to start than with the New Testament where we have the words and actions of Christ to light the way? But that gets us into knowing about Jesus. We can’t stop there. We need to spend time with Him in front of the Blessed Sacrament or at least in quiet prayer thinking about what He taught us and asking to know Him better. The amount of time we give to these two things is relative to our internal misery index. More time with Jesus means less misery because we are focusing on Him and not stuck in our own self-centeredness. We will reduce the number of criminal actions (sins) against God and our neighbor by doing this, and instead bring the healing love of Christ to others. We reduce misery in our hearts by conversion.

We also need to get to know Mother Mary better. She always points the way to Jesus and can help us to reflect Him to others. Once we begin to experience more joy in these relationships with God and the Blessed Mother, we cannot keep it to ourselves. Joy is one of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit and the more selfishness we get out of the way, the easier it is for the joy in us to come out naturally and brighten other people’s lives as well as our own.

As we consider the season of Lent, let’s look at our misery index. What permanent changes do we want to make to become more like Jesus? What choices do we need to make to let more joy into our lives? Who is God placing in our lives to help us? Are we making the best use of Confession?

St. Benedict tells us, “Prefer nothing to Christ. In all things glorify God.” St. Paul wrote: “All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17).

We are all a work in progress, the Great Potter shaping us in love. Let us surrender to Him, let go of the past, live in the present moment, and look to the future of everlasting life and joy.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, March 6th, 2014 joy, spirituality 8 Comments

The Cockle in Our Lives

February 10, 2014

Kiss of Judas, Fecamp Psalter, French Miniaturist, c. 1180, The Hague

Kiss of Judas, Fecamp Psalter, French Miniaturist, c. 1180, The Hague

The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany in the Extraordinary Form is the parable of the man who sowed good seed in his field, but his enemy came in at night and sowed cockle seed over it. Now what kind of person would do such a thing? The farmer’s crop not only provided his living, others needed it for survival too, and future crops depended on the seed. The malicious act of a hateful heart would hurt many.

This is exactly what Satan is about. Create as much pain and suffering as possible in ways that have far reaching effects. Discourage all kindness. Choke the light of Christ out from the midst of God’s children. Seize their water and make them shrivel and die, all the while masquerading as one of the authentic stalks of grain until the very last minute when the reality of being a fake naturally emerges.

Cockle and wheat look alike when growing until the heads mature. At harvest the cockle is uprooted, bound and burned. The wheat is harvested and stored in the barn, protected from the elements, safe. We can see the obvious spiritual reference to the Last Judgment here, but let’s back up a bit and consider the time of the two growing along side each other. If we identify ourselves with the wheat, what is God showing us here of how we are to live in this very imperfect world? Why not just rip up the cockle wherever it appears so that it can’t hurt any of the wheat?

We see here the permissive will of God in action. He isn’t allowing the cockle to grow alongside the wheat because it is good, but to save the wheat. Does this not seem contradictory, allowing something evil to exist along side the good to save what is good? Yet this situation is little different from Judas staying close to Christ and the other Apostles, who knew Judas was a thief and must have scratched their heads wondering why Jesus didn’t kick him out of the group. Not until the traitorous kiss in the Garden of Olives, did Judas appear to all exactly what he was, and to the bitter end threw away the chance for mercy.

Jesus kept Judas near him and treated him with love. Clearly this is what Jesus expects of us. By allowing us to suffer the effects of those committed to evil, Christ shows us how to grow in charity, to learn to forgive, to return good for evil, to suffer injustice for the love of God, to show how to bear wrongs patiently. And while cockle can never be turned into wheat, those committed to evil ways can be converted to the Lord through kindness and good example if they so will.

It isn’t easy, of course, to navigate the entrenched evil about us. It’s quite exhausting to control our reactions to all the traps laid to ensnare us into the ways of Satan. We do no great thing by living in peace with people who are good, kind, and seeking God as we ought to be doing. We all prefer those who love peace just as we do. But, as Thomas à Kempis tells us in Book II, 3,2 of the Imitation of Christ,

it takes great virtue to live in peace with obstinate, perverse, intractable people whose ideas are not like our own.

The cockle in our lives challenges us to love perfectly, returning good for evil. We can live among the wicked without scorning them since they are God’s creation and Jesus died for them the same as He did for us, and without being influenced by them. If, as martyrs by blood or by full submission to the will of God, we are able to open the hearts of our persecutors who test us relentlessly, and make it possible by our actions for them to accept God’s grace, we have followed well in the footsteps of our Master. Deo gratias for the cockle in our lives and let us look forward to being carried into the barn.

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Monday, February 10th, 2014 conversion, spirituality 2 Comments

The Benedictine Oblate and Christian Perfection

January 24, 2014

Clear Creek Abbey Solemn Profession, 9/7/13, used with permission of the Abbot

Clear Creek Abbey Solemn Monastic Profession, 9/7/13, used with permission of the Abbot

Poverty, chastity, and obedience are called the three evangelical counsels, the counsels Jesus recommends in the Gospel for those who desire to do more than the minimum to get to heaven, and to aim at Christian perfection (Mt. 19:16-22). By Christian perfection we mean that extremely elusive condition of perfect charity, love of God and love of neighbor, that we will enjoy for all eternity and which we seek, by the grace of God, to reach in this life, sinners that we are. In fact, if we don’t work at it consistently and generously in this life, God will have a lot of polishing to do on us before He admits us to heaven when we die.

The vast majority of religious communities of priests, brothers, and nuns take these three as vows when they make their commitment to belong to their community forever. Through practicing these vows they witness to the world a higher reality. They declare through all of what the counsels imply that there is indeed something more enduring than this world. As laity, we can practice these counsels according to our state in life, too. The more we desire to reach Christian perfection out of love of Jesus, the more we can look to these three counsels to guide us in our daily choices.

The Benedictine difference

St. Benedict did something different in his Holy Rule, though, that expresses the evangelical counsels in a different way. Benedictines are known for their charism of work and prayer (sacred liturgy), of hospitality, of peace, and of keeping in mind “that in all things God may be glorified”. What most people don’t know unless they have looked into it is that Benedictines don’t take vows of poverty and chastity, although much of the rule makes specific demands for a life of poverty. The Benedictine professes instead the vows of  stability, reformation of life (conversion of morals), and obedience. Poverty, chastity and more are implied in these vows.

The layperson who is attracted to Benedictine spirituality as I am, finds great peace in these three vows. Stability is what keeps us from constantly falling for the temptation to fantasize that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence in every aspect of our lives – marriage, our commitment to the Church, the living of our Baptismal promises, the spiritual life, our focus on Jesus.  Regarding our Oblation to a particular monastery, we are “adopted” into that particular family of monks. We share in their spiritual benefits and they in ours. We do not wander around joining other religious orders as Tertiaries, although we may find much value and fruitfulness in our spiritual lives by applying certain of their charisms to ourselves. In fact, we cannot be both Oblates of a Benedictine monastery and Tertiaries of another religious family such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, etc. The other orders have similar rules. This stability allows us to focus on living the Rule without distraction, and it is why a person who desires to be an Oblate must complete a certain amount of time as a novice before making a formal oblation to a particular monastery. The monks have to agree to accept us into their monastic family as someone committed to living our lives in accordance with the Rule and doing what we can for the benefit of the house.

Conversion of morals (I really like that phrase – it makes me think hard about what I’m doing, activities I engage in) or reformation of life is a beautiful way to describe how we daily come closer to Christ. Jesus is the center of our life, the predominant figure by which we measure our actions. G.A. Simon writes:

The one who tends to perfection, indeed, renounces all that is not God; all of that is to be dead for him; at least, he must strive to make it so. He mortifies the flesh, the love of pleasures, the love of riches, the love of honors, the attachment to his own will – that the Lord Jesus may be the sole Master in him. Is not that, moreover, what our Savior has demanded of us: “Let him who will be My disciple carry his cross and follow Me”? St. Benedict wanted only to implement the Gospel; and by following in the footsteps of the holy Patriarch we are but following Christ with him, carrying our cross.

The Oblate profession

The world has always been topsy-turvy, at enmity with God. It seems, though, that today’s world has removed all bars to every manner of depravity and evil. Lies, subterfuges, and attacks on the Body of Christ seem more venomous than ever before and affect everyone on the planet. Shame no longer deters what others want to parade in front of us, whether it be evil deeds against a neighbor or self-indulgence of all kinds. I, for one, need the stability of the Benedictine Rule, the constant reminder of conversion of morals and of obedience to the will of God. I need that sense of belonging to the monastery family, knowing that I am part of something bigger than I am that glorifies God.

The day we become Oblates we have taken a huge step forward in our quest for holiness. We have pledged ourselves to pursue Christian perfection in the company of our monastic family using the efficacious means the Church provides us. First and foremost is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and all the other sacraments. Then we have the Divine Office and Lectio Divina. We have the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we perform out of the love of God. We have numerous approved devotions designed to develop our relationship with our Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and all the saints and angels populating heaven.

The day we turn away from these means is the day we cease to advance and begin to go backwards. We turn away from God and turn back to creatures who can give us nothing of lasting value. But in professing our oblation we pray in full confidence that this will not happen:

Uphold me, O Lord, according to Thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my hope (derived from Ps. 118:116).

G.A. Simon writes this about the Oblate profession:

By our Oblation, indeed, we give ourselves to God, we give Him the whole nothing that we are. Suscipe me Domine [Uphold me, O Lord]…. We give ourselves to Him with complete confidence…non confundas me [let me not be confounded, that is, let me not end up in hell]. For He has made promises to us…secundum eloquium tuum [according to Thy word]. In return He will give us His life, et vivam; His life, that is to say His grace, that is to say finally Himself living in us. May we never recant, never take ourselves back. We should then lose all, we should lose ourselves and we should lose the Infinite; we should lose God.

Anyone who wishes to do that “something more” that the young man in the Gospel sought and then turned away from because he was too attached to earthly things, can find it through associating with one of the religious communities of the Church. Through discernment God will lead you to the place that’s right for you.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Friday, January 24th, 2014 religion 5 Comments

Jesus, the Ultimate Empath

November 4, 2013

Jesus - Sacred Heart, Crown of thorns, Holy SpiritTo be an empath is to be able to feel what others feel. Literally. A lot has been written about this phenomenon in recent years, often by New Agers who think it is some kind of psychic phenomenon. I couldn’t find any reputable scientific studies on it, but rather lots of anecdotal evidence for its existence.

Mothers often say that they are connected to their children and know if something is wrong, even over long distances, and vice versa. Some people can’t serve in the medical profession because they feel the pains of the ill in their own bodies unless they turn away and block it. Watching surgeries on TV is not an option. Watching people receive injections is out of the question.  The worst part is feeling the emotions an abused person, child or adult, feels. The fear, anger, confusion, despair, and desperateness, the turmoil and anguish of someone who is or has been victimized are much more than words on a page or audio waves in the air to an empath as I’ve seen the term applied.

Some people might think empaths are crazy, but being crazy and being highly empathetic are not synonymous. If that were the case, we would have to consider that Jesus was not alright in the head, and that is not a possibility except in the eyes of a cold, hard, selfish world. Being an empath, or having a high degree of empathy for the suffering of others, is actually an aid to fraternal charity and to fulfilling the second Great Commandment. It is a great natural gift given to some for the supernatural good of others.

In meditation #64 of Divine Intimacy Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D. writes:

Although Jesus was God, He did not hold Himself aloof from men. He willed to feel and experience all their needs, even their temptations, “without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

He shared with them a life of privation, fatigue, painful poverty, and suffering. Therefore, if we wish to attain to an effective fraternal charity, we must feel the sorrows, the poverty, and the material and spiritual needs of our neighbor; we must feel these in order to sympathize with him, help him, and even share in his trials.

We must sacrifice ourselves, our ease and comfort, in order to give ourselves to others. We shall be able to do this only if our love for our neighbor resembles the love of Jesus, that is, if it springs from our love of God. Only one who loves others for the love of God will have that strong, persevering, fraternal charity which never fails.

In other words, we must have the characteristics of an empath in order to imitate Jesus. Whether we come by these qualities by nature or by grace, we must apply them for the Kingdom. We cannot shrink from stink, dirt, filth, and neglect our brothers and sisters may live in. We cannot shrink from their pain even when they themselves are the cause of it. We cannot shrink from the unloved who have no notion of what love is and present themselves most unloveably. Otherwise, we are not walking in the footsteps of our Lord and we cannot bring Christ to them.

No one can ever be a better example of an empath to us than Jesus, because He is so intimately connected with the creation made in the image and likeness of Himself.  That’s us. Personally. Not a generic mankind.

His Sacred Heart burns with a love for each of us beyond our comprehension, no matter how intensely we have loved another human being. He is there beside us in every kind of suffering, even in our sinning and when others sin against us. We can hide nothing from Him. He is always reaching out to us, asking us to turn to Him, to convert, to enjoy the peace He gives us even in our misery. He is consistent, never changing in His love. He became sin on that cross, bore the suffering of all times and every person in his body and died for each of us. That is how we must be to others.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote that we are the hands feet, and body of Jesus. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, while seeing the suffering and dying in the streets of Calcutta, saw Jesus in them and thus, in herself, brought Jesus to them. It was the only possible answer she could give to Love that called to her from the gutters and byways. Any other response would have been unthinkable to one committed to God.

It seems to me that all the saints have been unselfish empaths who imitated Jesus no matter the cost. The quality of empathy was supernaturalized in them by grace, enabling them to do great things for God in the imitation of Christ, whether those things were hidden from the world during their lifetimes as with St. Therese of Lisieux or whether they were in full view of the world as with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The suffering in this world they lifted up to God, all the while realizing they could only do so much, and that little only by His power. They were not crazy people, but eminently sane.

If we have been given the gift of being a natural empath, we should not shrink from it because it is too troublesome or painful, inconvenient or uncomfortable. Rather, we should direct its use by the grace of God toward the salvation of souls, following His will for us grounded in Truth, which is Christ. That is a journey of many steps, scraped knees, and broken bones. Ultimately, though, it can be a way God uses us to make us and others saints. In that we can find peace.

If we are not natural empaths, as we get deeper and deeper into a relationship with Christ, we will develop by grace the ability to share the suffering of others in our being. We will find in that the special contribution God is asking of us to bring souls to Him. When we bring souls to Him, we share in the peace and joy of all the saints. No earthly good or honor we might have bestowed on us can trump a single soul we bring to the Lord and whom we will share eternity with.

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Monday, November 4th, 2013 conversion, joy, spirituality 6 Comments

Behold, I Make All Things New

September 30, 2013

And He that sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

Christ Enthroned in Heaven - Giotto

Christ Enthroned in Heaven – Giotto

In Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus says these words to His mother, gazing into her eyes after He had fallen on the Via Dolorosa. Ultimately, from the throne of the cross He did indeed make all things new.

I have often puzzled over these words because they are spoken in the present tense. The new heaven and new earth are, for us earthbound souls, in the future. But another way to look at these words of God relates to the conversion of sinners, which applies to all of us individually. The “thing” that is made new is our soul every time we repent and ask for forgiveness.

Whoever and however we are today, if we are living a Christ centered life, we are not the same as we were ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. If during a time in our life we lived and made choices without reference to God, the moment we choose God over all else, Jesus begins making us new and He continues to work in us as long as we let Him.

Sometimes, though, we have sinned so grievously that a temporal accounting of our deeds must be made under the law. The new man must pay for the sins of the old man. A forty year old burden may be laid down when a capital crime is finally confessed. The seeds of sexual promiscuity may bring about serious health problems years later long after a person has changed his/her life for the better. Embezzlement of millions results in discovery and a long prison term begins. Disaster, shame, and scandal ensue with these revelations that warrant prison. Relatives and friends are hurt. But what can the positive outcome be of bringing sins to public light?

For the new man, what looks like disaster and shame becomes the opportunity for repentance, healing and peace. Reparation is his hallmark. Giving the burden to Jesus on the cross and accepting the punishment due with a contrite heart allows God to restore what we lost by living contrary to His laws. Some of the greatest conversion stories are those from people who behaved terribly wrongly and then embraced the Lord.

Even if we have not broken the earthly law, we may still have sinned grievously enough to bear a load of guilt and shame. My neighbor and I were talking one day and she said she has heard a number of times, “My sins are so terrible God can never forgive me.” If we hear someone say those words, we are hearing despair. We are hearing a person who is limiting God’s mercy. We are hearing a cry for help. We are hearing a person with a still active conscience. We are hearing a person ripe for conversion. At that point we must bring Jesus to the person; that Jesus who said as He was being murdered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

All the Alcoholics Anonymous groups and their various offshoots are full of repentant sinners Jesus is making new, sinners helping sinners recover from sin. Everyone in the line for confession in every Catholic church around the world is a recovering sinner who is being made new by Jesus, even when he is a repeat offender as so many of us are. The patience and infinite mercy of God allows us to be made new, finally to the point of eternal life.

What will I do today to help a fellow sinner encounter this mercy and love? Especially among my family and friends. We have been put in the paths of repentant sinners who have helped us along. Now we must consider what we can do for others, remembering Jesus’ admonition to us in Matt. 7: 1-5:

Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

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Monday, September 30th, 2013 conversion, penance, spirituality 7 Comments

Magnetic Pull of the Holy Spirit

September 4, 2013

Holy Spirit Dove and SunToday I read the conversion story of Father Jurgen Liias at the Coming Home Network. I urge all readers to visit there and be inspired by his journey. One paragraph struck me because it put into words what the end result of all evangelization efforts should be: a state of spiritual completion, of fulfillment at the end of an arduous journey. It also made me realize once again, the precious gift God gave me of being born into a devout Catholic family and taught by nuns in my most formative years who knew their faith and truly loved Jesus. While others endured much struggle to arrive at an understanding of what it means to be fully Catholic, I was handed it on a silver platter as it were. 

Over the years I have read innumerable books, have had many searching conversations, watched hours of EWTN, listened to many testimonies and teachings — all of which have contributed to the decision to become a Catholic. But above all it has been a deep, constant magnetic pull of the Holy Spirit to come to the center of the Church. It is this deep intuitive sense each time I enter a Catholic church or religious community that I am in the Church, not a church. We speak in evangelical circles when a person of the Jewish faith becomes a Christian that they have become a “completed Jew.” To become a Catholic is for me to become a “completed Christian.” As I have already previously articulated, the driving vision of my ministry has been to build a church that was “fully catholic, fully evangelical, and fully charismatic.” I have come to the conviction that one cannot be “fully catholic” apart from communion with the See of Peter. For that matter one cannot be “fully evangelical” or “fully charismatic” apart from the rich and deep historical meaning of those words in the fullness of the Catholic Church. As has been said to me on a number of occasions by wise and mature Catholic friends, you need leave nothing behind of any Christian tradition that is of true gospel value. All of it comes only to fullness. To become a Catholic is to receive from my Lord His last providential gift from the cross: “Behold thy Mother.”

How beautifully and blessedly put. All around us many are on the same journey as Father Liias. They are feeling the pull towards the Church but maybe God is saying to them, “not yet” as He did several times in Father Liias’s life. Our friendship with them, our sharing the love of Jesus with them, our sincere seeking of the Holy Spirit’s leadership in our words and actions may be a significant factor in their final choice to enter true Christian unity as Jesus prayed for in John 17:21. I feel very safe in saying that if all Christians were united in the fullness of the Catholic Church as Liias expressed it, the consistent witness to the Gospel truth would lessen wars, corruption in government, poverty, and the threats to life and family.

Perhaps a worthy prayer throughout the day for all Christians could be, “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.”

This post is linked to Sunday Snippets where all are welcome.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 Catholic Church, conversion 8 Comments

A Rising Catholic Influence – Dawn Eden

November 14, 2012

This video is Marcus Grodi’s interview with Dawn Eden on EWTN’s The Journey Home.  Dawn’s story of her journey from Judaism into the Catholic Church and her healing from childhood sexual abuse is fascinating and a ray of hope for all woundedness that no one of us escapes. She is now working on a licentiate in sacred theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington – a very bright woman, and one who is plainly understandable.  I’m embedding the video here and hope readers will circulate this widely.

Dawn’s blog is Feast of Eden.  I highly recommend it for those who want food for the mind and food for the soul.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 Catholic Church, religion, spirituality 1 Comment

Catholic Spiritual Direction

September 3, 2012

From time to time I mention in my posts about the difficulty of getting spiritual direction these days.  Many people sincerely seek a continuing improvement in their relationships with God and their neighbor yet don’t have access to a trustworthy guide.  Fortunately, there is a good web site, Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction, that many will find very helpful. 

Father John Bartunek is a regular contributor to the blog and last week he wrote an article titled Hard Hearted Hipocrasy.  Based on Mark 7: 1-23 in which Jesus confronts the Pharisees with, among others, this statement: “For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.”

Father remarks:

The people of Israel could not follow both Jesus and the Pharisees; it became clearer by the day that Christ was demanding an undivided allegiance. His teachings were not optional addenda; he called for a total commitment. Such was Jesus then, and so he is now: the Lord, not the Consultant….

…Where our hearts are, there our treasure is, as our Lord says elsewhere in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 6:21). We can never be satisfied with merely exterior piety, and we can never consider ourselves superior to others just because our sins are less visible. The heart that loves is never satisfied with how much it can do for its beloved; if we find ourselves smug in our life of faith, like the Pharisees, chances are we’re running low on love….

…Most of all, however, He wants us to avoid the double life that the Pharisees are living. They are full of selfishness on the inside, even while they appear to be model Jews on the outside….

…How you despised hypocrisy! But Lord, I fall into it every day! I say I am your follower, and yet look at some of the things I say! The criticisms, the double entendres, the tacit condoning of degrading comments…. In so many ways, Lord, I am still so far from the integrity you want for me. Change me, Jesus; teach me to do your will…

“The heart that loves is never satisfied with how much it can do for its beloved…”  We need to look this statement not only within the context of our relationship with Christ, but also our relationship with others.  What particularly comes to mind, given the attacks on the institution of marriage that are escalating in our society, are the people who show up in front of the priest for marriage preparation but who are living together.  Statistics show that within five years 49% of these couples will be divorced.

Why might that be?  Many reasons are cited, but at the bottom of all the excuses: financial, testing for compatibility, convenience, etc. I believe that there is an inherent emotional immaturity and narcissism at work.  Living together is using each other for one’s own benefit, not the love Father Bartunek describes.  The love Father describes is inherent in all successful close relationships.  Its absence is the cause of divorce and the cause of break-ups prior to marriage when couples live together.  It’s the cause of failed friendships, too.  In all of these cases, Christ is the missing Person, the one we have forgotten to fix our eyes on as we hold the hands of our friend/spouse. 

If Jesus is the answer, then logically we must heed his words in that passage from Mark.  And to be made clean, to “grow up” and abandon our narcissistic tendencies, to sincerely seek the good of our neighbor and to see him as a beloved child of God, meeting Jesus in Confession is the first step. 

Perhaps we should ask ourselves: Am I truly acting out of a desire to live the two great Commandments, or am I all about show and secretly self-centered?  Do I care more about what others think and/or gaining my advantage than about doing justice to my neighbor?  Where is my treasure; where is my heart? What can I do for my beloved today – my Lord, my spouse, my friend, my children, my parents, the man beaten by robbers and left in the ditch?  

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Monday, September 3rd, 2012 spirituality 1 Comment

Taking the Catholic Faith for Granted

June 19, 2012

I have always thought of myself as “born Catholic”, or Catholic from my mother’s womb.  I hate the term “cradle Catholic”, although I don’t know why.  Maybe because that phrase didn’t exist when I was small and brought up Catholic. Or maybe it’s because to me Catholic is Catholic and it doesn’t matter when a person enters the Faith.  The simple fact of accepting the Catholic faith as true in its entirety is enough and I don’t see a need for differentiation.

Being Catholic is as much of my being as is being a woman.  I cannot see myself as someone whose religion is an accoutrement of my existence, but rather being Catholic is so fixed in me, as is my womanhood, that I think of the Faith and all that it implies as part of my essence, without which I cannot breathe or live.  There is not a time in my life from my first consciousness of self that I did not think of myself as Catholic.

Metaphysicians and psychiatrists would have a field day with these statements.  The first would say it is impossible and the second would label me as delusional.  They would be both right by their standards and wrong.  Of course, I know full well that my essence, metaphysically speaking, is that of created human, and plenty of people walk around living and breathing without being Catholic.  But my identity is bound to God as He has revealed Himself in Sacred Scripture and Tradition and that means to me being Catholic.

As I’ve gone through life, even in the times when I didn’t go to church or practice my Faith, I did not divorce myself from “Catholic”.  In that sense, I’ve taken my Faith for granted without fully understanding all its riches.  If I had understood, it would have been inconceivable for me to fool around with the false gods of the world the way I did. 

The Church has always been “home” to me, no matter where I am.  Not a particular building or diocese, but the entire Catholic community here in the world and the saints in heaven.  In my mind I have always “belonged.” Therefore, I have never considered myself as not having a church home and never thought about why someone would refer to becoming Catholic as “coming home.”  Until…

Every now and then a conversion story opens my eyes to the gift of my Faith – a gift I have taken for granted.  It helps me appreciate more and see with greater clarity how blessed I have been to have been born and raised Catholic.  Eric’s story, Catholics Come Home: My Pilgrim’s Journey to Rome is just such a tale and a marvelous painting of how God reels in seekers of Truth.

Roman Catholic Altar, Chanting the Gospel in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, Assumption Church, Patton, NJ

Eric has many reasons why he, a Protestant pastor and missionary who for ten years evangelized in 25 countries, ended up entering the Catholic Church with his entire family.  If you like to read conversion stories, you’ll definitely want to read his.  He lists some of his reasons in the post I’ve linked to above, letting me see the Church through his eyes.  I was especially struck by his first reason:

Centrality of Christ:

The Catholic Church, in its theology, liturgical life and even its architectural design, exudes the centrality of Christ.  I remember preaching and teaching around the idea that Christ is our anchor, the central figure from which everything else flows.  Hence, when I began visiting Catholic churches in the quiet hours between Masses I realized that everything they do (liturgical life of the community) centers around Christ in the Eucharist.  The difference between Catholics and Protestants, as I saw and experienced it, was this.  The message of Christ as the central figure within Christianity was compromised [in Protestantism] by two things:

  1. Personality driven pulpit
  2. Interpretation of the “priesthood of the believer”

Protestant church experience and theology is based in a “me” centered spirituality.  In Catholic practice and theological understanding, the Eucharist is central to the life of the community. Hence, the focus is on two things:

  1. Christ in the Eucharist / Centrality of Christ in the Mass
  2. Communal experience within the Liturgical life of the Church

In addition, the offering of daily Mass is an additional living symbol that Christ is the Person from whom we live, move and have our being as Christians.

Adoration of the Name of Jesus - El Greco

It was during this time that I had my “epiphany” moment – while sitting in a traditional Roman Catholic parish I realized, after being caught up in the art and architecture of the space, that what I had been preaching regarding the centrality of Christ – Catholics were actually living it and they had the proof!

  • The table of the Lord was the center of the sanctuary
  • Art in the form of Biblical story surrounded the worship space
  • Statues & Imagery – drawing the eye heavenward

Everything, and I mean everything, screamed Christ.

Eric’s testimony concerning the centrality of Christ in the Catholic Faith put into words something I’ve taken for granted and have been living in my flawed human way since my reversion.  Catholic liturgical and personal prayer is geared toward making Christ the center of our lives and building the Christian community.  Yes, traditional Catholic churches and sacred art are a silent but visible testimony to the reality of Christ’s redemptive work and consistently draw our eyes heavenward.  I knew these things, but had never conceptualized them in this way because I had never had his experience of Christianity.

June is the month of the Sacred Heart.  This heart of Jesus suffered so for us that every soul lost to God is a waste more terrible than any earthly disaster we can experience. The loving Heart of Jesus reached out to Eric and called him home to the Catholic Church so that many would be able to receive the fruits of his talents and experience the joy of Christ in the way Eric now is.  Be sure to read his story and his “About” page.  Thanks, Eric, for making me appreciate my Faith all the more, and welcome home!

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

 

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Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 Catholic Church, liturgy, religion 8 Comments

Knowing Him Intuitively

April 19, 2012

Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D. wrote in #150 of Divine Intimacy:

When we love a person, we come to know him intuitively, and thus, better and more easily than those who might study him more minutely, but without love.

How many books have been written about God by those who are merely academic and intellectual in their approach?  Do those books draw us closer to God or make us want to have an intimate relationship with Him?  Do they reveal His love for man?  Do they motivate us to love Him and live according to the Gospel?

Father Gabriel goes on to write:

…It can well be said that there is no divine mystery or truth of faith which does not, in some way, speak of the excessive love of the Lord. The more we are convinced of this love, the more profound will be our “loving knowledge” of God; and at the same time, we shall feel an ever increasing impulse to return love to Him who has first loved us so greatly.

Through prayer we love God more and come to know Him intuitively.  We learn to recognize Him speaking to us and working in our lives, even when He uses earthly agents to help us conform ourselves to His will and to distribute to us His blessings.

St. Catherine of Sienna prayed:

O eternal God, You are eternal and infinite Goodness; no one can understand You or know You wholly, except insofar as You give him the grace to do so.  And You give as much of this knowledge as we prepare our souls to receive.

Today let’s stop awhile in someplace quiet.  Let’s still the thousands of concerns swirling through our minds and the incessant running here and there of our bodies.  Let’s ask God to enter our hearts and give us the grace to know Him intuitively.  Let today be a new conversion for each of us.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, April 19th, 2012 spirituality 6 Comments

Fundamental Spiritual Truths

February 2, 2011

Conversion of Mary Magdalene, c. 1547, Paolo Veronese (b. 1528, Verona, d. 1588, Venezia), Oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

Today’s reading from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict:

For the loving Lord says: “I will not the death of the sinner, but that he should be converted and live.” (Ez. 33:11)

Father Placidus Kempf, O.S.B. (RIP) mentions that we can’t convert from our evil ways unless we understand some fundamental spiritual truths.  He writes:

The first of these is — we are ignorant of ourselves.  Many of us are not only ignorant of a great part of our character, but we often imagine ourselves to be quite different from what we are.

The image that came to mind reading this is a crowd of blind people wearing sunglasses, carrying white canes and each holding on to his seeing-eye dog. We all share this characteristic of personality to some extent.  Married people are fortunate because our spouses generally give us hearty doses of reality that help us improve our vision and smarten us up about our character.

He goes on to say:

How completely we misunderstood ourselves, how different we really are from what we had thought ourselves to be! We think we are patience personified until our feelings are crossed; we are hurt — and we explode.  What revelations have not been made of our interior by illness, by bodily and mental suffering!

We must have a true knowledge of ourselves if we hope to make any progress in perfection.  We cannot make any serious attempt to conquer our sins till we know what they are.  Hence our first duty in conversion is to have a look inside. No one can do this work for us.

Painful work this is, but so rewarding.  The sacrament of Penance is the place where, if we have a good confessor and go often, we receive so many graces to enlighten our minds and hearts.  We learn what virtues to work on; people, places, and things to avoid; and good habits to develop.

Father Placidus gives us really good news, too:

Secondly there is nothing in us that is of itself bad. Jesus assumed our nature in its entirety.  We cannot imagine that he assumed anything that was inherently evil, or that He created and placed in it what was evil.  Analyze the soul of the greatest sinner and of the greatest saint and you will not find in the sinner any single element that is not in the saint.

Compare the soul of Mary Magdalen or St. Augustine before and after their conversion.  There was nothing lacking after their conversion that was not there before.  They destroyed nothing by their conversion, but were in full possession of all their powers. There was much in Mary Magdalen that she had, perhaps, never dreamed of till she came to Our Lord.  He revealed to her true self-development, and she found under His guidance that in her everything was to be used in a fuller way than she had ever imagined possible.  From Jesus she learned that holiness is not the emptying of life but the filling of it by the right use of all her powers.

About 10 or so years ago a popular bumper sticker read, “Jesus is the answer”.  Sometime I’d like to write more about that, but for now in the age of “positive self image” and “self-development”, and in light of these thoughts on conversion, I just want to say that we find our greatest value in Christ, not on the psychiatrist’s couch or in the psychologist’s armchair. How much money is wasted today on “feeling good about ourselves” when imitating Christ is the best medicine ever?  True conversion is possible the more we let in the light of Christ.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 spirituality 2 Comments

Sabbath Moments

November 12, 2011

Awareness of God

Welcome to our weekly meme hosted by Colleen at Thoughts on Grace. Visit her to read other bloggers’ Sabbath Moments and join in or comment.

Death of a friend

A couple of weeks ago my friend Shirley passed away at age 98.  I have had many Sabbath Moments thinking about her last few weeks as related by her daughters and the pastor.  “Jesus, I love you,” was constantly on her lips.  She lost no opportunity to tell her family she loved them, and her friends, too.  One day the pastor came and sat next to her on the bed and asked, “Shirley, how do you feel about meeting Jesus?”  She answered, “I’m ready.”  She said it often in that last week.

At age 88 Shirley decided to become a third order Carmelite.  She was using a walker by then because of hip degeneration that left her bone-on-bone.  From my own experience I know how painful that was. Thinking of her physical issues, her daughter asked her in some dismay, “What are you going to do, Mom?”  Shirley looked at her and answered, “Pray.”

As I have been contemplating St. Catherine of Genoa’s writings on purgatory and the need for souls to be in perfect charity with God to enter heaven, Shirley comes to mind as an example I should follow.  I cannot know what hidden stains from faults God might have to cleanse away before she enters heaven, but I do know that she died in the most perfect charity of anyone I have personally known.  Detached from everything and every person in this world, but bound by that golden filament of charity to all of us, living and dead, she shows me both how far I’ve come and how far I need to go to begin in this life the way of being in total unity with God that St. Paul speaks of in 1 Cor. 13:13.

A conversion story

Tanks in Tianamen Square, 1989 uprising

This week the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanitae Institute received a guest whose remarkable history and conversion provided me with unexpected Sabbath Moments.  Chai Ling, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was a key leader of the pro-democracy movement in China that drew over 100,000 students to Tianamen Square in 1989.  You can read more at Zenit’s Ongoing Tianamen, but I want to focus on her retrospective of the events the day the world saw Chinese military tanks and soldiers violently suppressing their own people.

Twenty years after her Tianamen Square experience, Ling converted to Christianity and in 2010 was baptized.  She says (quoting Zenit):

“I had faced death, looked it into the eye, but I didn’t overcome it — in other words I didn’t have the peace nor the joy, just sadness, sorrow and fear,” she recalls. “But we had a duty, we knew we had to confront whatever we were confronting.

“Then, after I’d given my speech, I felt this huge warm sensation come into my heart — a sense of love toward the leaders of China, toward the soldiers, the people who were about to kill us. It was the most amazing feeling and I wished they had known how much we’d loved them.”

“Now I know that this must be how Jesus felt on the cross,” Ling says.

She remembers witnessing “a power, an amazing spirit” at Tiananmen Square, but at the time she didn’t know how to articulate it.

“I’ve since come to know that it’s the spirit of Jesus,” she says. “Then everything started to makes sense.”

I cannot help but wonder what the outcome would have been for China had all those students been Christian.  What if all of them at once would have fallen to their knees and prayed the Our Father together?  Would China be a force for good today rather than a force for death?

Every day 35,000 forced abortions take place in China.  Every day a large portion of those killed are girls.  Today in China 120 boys are born for every 100 girls.  That’s just the abortion angle of their culture of death.  Greed and corruption lead to shoddy construction that results in many deaths every time there is a natural disaster.  We could go on and on here.

As I observe the “Occupy Wall Street” partisan political movement I again wonder, what if everyone who has a grievance against the government fell to his knees and prayed the Our Father?  What if everyone did it daily and in public in groups?  Could we not be delivered from the forces of darkness in this country and in the world that are choking the life out of people and destroying souls?

The Roman Coliseum was the site of public mass martyrdom of Christians.  Because of those and many other lives freely given as Christ gave His on the cross, Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor saw a rising tide of Christianity that eventually overcame the worst cruelties of their times.  Today we have the wonderful 40 Days for Life movement that involves small groups praying in front of abortion mills all over our country. Many lives are saved through this effort and many souls are won for God.

The love of Christ seeks to envelop the world and govern our actions.  It alone heals.  It alone converts those in darkness.  Even if it takes 20 years to bring about conversion as it did in Chai Ling’s case, His light shines no less brightly.  We are His apostles of love and light.  We cannot hide it under a bushel and call ourselves real Christians.  So many are waiting to put a name, as Chai Ling did, to the longing in their hearts.  How long shall we keep them waiting?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever. Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Saturday, November 12th, 2011 Catholic culture, conversion, Sabbath Moments 7 Comments

Sabbath Moments

April 2, 2011

Awareness of God

Welcome to Sabbath Moments, a weekly meme hosted by Colleen at Thoughts on Grace.  Visit her to read other bloggers’ treasured moments with the Lord.

You might not think the death of a beloved pet would be a Sabbath Moment, but in the midst of grief is rejoicing.  Our 16+ year-old rescue dog had a massive stroke Monday and we had her put to sleep.  She was a great watch dog, my husband’s shadow, and a source of laughs as she was something of a clown – a very joyful dog. Considering she was around 114 in people years, we are grateful to God for her company all these years.  We always felt protected – she knew her job and did it well. The house seems too quiet now, and our 5+ year-old rescue dog is without her playmate, but she is already stepping into Gretchen’s big paw prints.  We surrendered this wonderful companion to God who gave her to us in the first place.

A Clean Heart Create in Me O God is the subject of a post I wrote this week.  Writing thoughts from meditation is always a Sabbath Moment.

One of St. Thomas Aquinas’ meditations for Lent was about the Samaritan woman and her method of preaching to her fellow townspeople.  It is a short lesson on presenting Jesus to newcomers.  I loved the fact that St. Thomas showed how the Christian can evangelize by telling a conversion story.  The personal lessons told to others of “I once was lost and now am found” carry a lot of weight.

So, how is your Lent going?

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

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Saturday, April 2nd, 2011 Sabbath Moments 6 Comments

Sabbath Moments

March 19, 2011

Awareness of God

Welcome to Sabbath Moments hosted by Colleen at Thoughts on Grace. These moments are times when we are with God, or recognize His presence in our lives.

This week I have been following the plight of the Japanese after the earthquake and devastating tsunami, and praying that God have mercy on them.  Most especially I am concerned about the people in shelters with no heat, scant water and food, and those who have lost loved ones. Some of the photographs have served as sources of Lenten meditation, to which I have devoted extra time for the conversion of the Japanese and relief of their suffering.

Spring is advancing and I can tell because the energy level of my fellow therapy pool friends is up.  It’s always good to see familiar faces and new faces, too, as we all are working on improving our quality of life.  I am especially grateful to God that we have the money to belong to the rehab center. I don’t think I could keep up strengthening my muscles and controlling the fibro pain without regular workouts in the therapy pool.  It is also a great blessing to be with others who are dealing with the same kind of thing I am in a positive way.

The sound of cheerful birds in the mornings is giving me the itch to get veggies planted, but it is too soon.   We will be getting help this coming week to ready our soil – another blessing.  This morning I woke to blooming forsythia, a sure sign that the worst of winter is over!

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Saturday, March 19th, 2011 Sabbath Moments, wellness 4 Comments

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