Perfect Joy

IMG_8504When asked about my pilgrimage, at least recently, I’ve been at a loss for words. One would think that after a year I would have a mental script prepared – not the case. My thought process comes to an immediate halt and kicks back on only to question myself; all while the person inquiring awaits in curiosity, my conscience whispers, “What did I learn? What … did I bring back?” I’m stumped. Yet, the simple but true words that joyfully leave my lips are – “My Catholic faith.”

God is strange in His ways. And, as I was recently advised, God’s ways come with security, with calmness, with patience. “The devil is no respecter of time,” I was told, and how true that rings to my spiritual growth. Time – what an overlooked practice in my laziness, to allow ‘time’ to contemplate on possible lessons learned, through my failures and through my triumphs. Lessons on both my walks: The Way of St. James and the current pilgrimage I’m on now – my earthly pilgrimage toward being a saint, through the grace of God.

I’m convinced that when I gave my ‘yes’ for this pilgrimage, God had already motioned the outpouring of His graces on me, subtly and delicately; I just didn’t know it yet. I was blind, failing to see the “yellow arrows” placed in front of me; through selfish desires and distractions, with my pride – doing the very things I hated, the things I cried of Him to take. I must have been in good company, for the Apostle Paul stressed, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). On the Camino, if a pilgrim would miss a yellow arrow, it only meant one thing. “I’m lost.” And, that I was. Only coming to find my way back through help outside of myself – asking to be pointed back in the right direction. And, how hard that is.

A year later, as I allow ‘time’ and with help of His Spirit, three things have I come to acknowledge, accept, and work on since my pilgrimage: obedience, vulnerability, and patience. They’re not in any particular order, but only ordered to be practiced with both – God, and my fellow man.

Obedience. For starters, disobedience, was what first closed the gates of heaven, and in the same way, what closed the gates of my heart. “I will not serve” or “non serviam” was the stubborn position I carried often. This prideful attitude closed my heart to finding who the true person of Christ was, and therefore finding who I was in Christ. In the letter to the Hebrews, it states, “Christ learned obedience through what He suffered.” Why was I so afraid of suffering? The burdens I selfishly ran from, in my disobedience, fell on my fellow brothers. That’s how sin works, unfortunately, it not only affects my person but those I love, those close to me and even those at a distance. And, coming to see the hurt I caused, nearly being removed from this amazing journey, my heart opened to the mercy and goodness shown to me, not only by my fellow brothers but by God Himself. For, isn’t God known as The God of second chances? “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86).

Vulnerability. In a foreign land, nothing is more vulnerable than asking the most peasant villager for directions, not knowing what reaction you would get, and how you would respond. Especially, after a day of rain, hunger, frustration and physical pain. And, what was crucial for me, personally, to remain in the spirit of trust, were the daily meditations we practiced. One meditation that profoundly altered my view was that of St. Francis of Assisi on Perfect Joy. He writes, “Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to His friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt.” As Job spoke, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, but not the bad?” (Job 2:10). And, ‘good at the hand of God’ there unquestionably was, allowing the providence of Him who Is to awe us, as St. Francis proudly exclaimed – “This indeed is perfect joy!”

Patience. Well, this one is a work in progress, of course. But, what The Camino taught me on this virtue of patience is that the final destination is there – Heaven! – and I must keep my gaze focused on it, and through it, on my fellow man. I must remain striving in spirit, walking in faith, asking in vulnerability, and dying to self for the Love of Christ until I reach it. Nothing else matters. In the beautiful words of St. Teresa of Avila, I sum up with her prayer of encouragement. Buen Camino and may God love you!

“Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you.

All things are passing away: God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices!”

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Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful)

With today being Veterans day, a day filled with bittersweet emotion of both chaos and triumph, we are once more reminded of those brave men and women who risked – their life – for ours. At my place of work, I tend to see more of an older crowd (which include many veterans), rather fragile, rather feisty, elderly ladies in their sweetness smiling at me while their husbands protest a return date interfering with “golf day”, fussing up some trivial conflict all while the woman’s smile remains unprovoked. Sort of makes you feel like you’re on the set of I Love Lucy. A love tolerance, indeed, and quite entertaining to see. Nevertheless, hand in hand, arm in arm, they stroll out, with an apparent dementia hitting the husband because he immediately props all doors open for his better half. And, every so often, a gentleman’s farewell bid in the form of a wink is exchanged, “Yeah, you’ll learn someday,” is silently proposed to me – I just smirk back.

So what is it that keeps these two devoted? A promise? a commitment? How about both – a commitment to their commitment! Never abandoning through the thick and thin, the good and the bad, upholding that loyalty to one another because they put their “self” second to their spouse – that is grace. Daily sacrifice, and courage, and a love reflected only through the one who became man to love us in its most perfect form – Christ. And still, I don’t understand it. But rather, it attracts me because that’s what we were created for – to love! – selflessly. We can learn a lot from this “selfless love”, in whatever state of life you find yourself in, inviting us to thoroughly abandon our self needs and desires, so that only through His grace we come to fathom the true definition of the The Word – which is love: willing the good of the other.

As 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 reads: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

This formula in scripture not only instructs us on how to truly love: in patience, in kindness, in selflessness. But, it also instructs us on how to suffer: bearing all things, believing all things, enduring all things – It calls us to a state of vulnerability, and how uncomfortable, but this is where, and how, the grace of hope is produced in our hearts – to persevere through our hardships in life, in our relationships, when emotions and feelings get the best of us. We just need to ask ourselves during these moments – are these feelings of anger, jealousy, bitterness, etc – coming from God who is Beauty, Truth, and Goodness? Of course not! Pope Francis had this advice for couples – “Do not end any day without asking each other for forgiveness, having peace back in your house and your family,” he said. “Never end a single day without being at peace with each other. This is the secret in order to preserve love.”

So, just as their witness and loyalty to the cause they gave themselves to – to each other – the witness of the next brave and faithful souls, are an inspiration and direction for us on being more Christ-like, on how to love correctly, how to sacrifice correctly, and allowing us to unite Christ’s heavenly love with our earthly love, as imperfect as ours may be. Some of these stories are truly heroic, some barbaric, and hard for you and I to recreate, God forbid, but as St. Therese once shared, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love!”

 Fr. Francis L Sampson, whose heroic actions served as the plot to my all-time favorite movie – Saving Private Ryan, was not only captured and starved by enemy forces, multiple times, but he never carried a weapon (with the exception of a crucifix), imprisoned for tending to the wounded when the face of danger was to much and all retreated. And, when finally let go, was crazy enough to go back and tend to them again, including enemy forces!  elise-rivetMother Elise, or Elisabeth of the Eucharist, sheltered Jewish women and children in her convent during the war. When the Gestapo conducted a search on grounds of suspicion, she only told them, “Do not touch the women or the children.” She was arrested and sent to a concentration camp where she cared for the imprisoned, and her faithful end was through volunteering for a mother being sent to the gas chamber.

These valiant souls are just some of the very few who lovingly gave themselves to serve, protect, and honor their brothers and sisters in Christ. The faces of those they compassionately cared for, whether friends, strangers or enemies, was the very face of Christ – “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

“Lord, make us instruments of Your peace…”

God with us.

His Cross-Bearers

Whether saints, the ordained, or laypeople; we are all called to glorify God in our everyday lives. As the late Bl. Mother Teresa once quoted, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” And, what is this thing we call love? Well, if you’re an atheist, the only explanation your worldview can give is a mere chemical reaction; since we hold no soul and are no more than intelligent animals. Saint Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century philosopher and Doctor of the Church, defined love as – “To will the good of another.” No better example of love do we have than through Christ’s death on the cross.  He came, selflessly, to be put to death for us; offering up His life as a loving atonement for all. Scripture also tells us, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). And indeed, He treated all as friends – from the Roman soldiers who mocked and beat him, to Simon of Cyrene – who helped Jesus bear His cross (Mark 15:21). Carl Bloch, The Mocking of Christ (1880) Christ never uttered a hateful remark; which the Roman soldiers were very well familiar with during crucifixions. According to the Roman philosopher Cicero 106-24 BC, tongues were cut out of victims because of the blasphemies and rage they spewed; and the Jewish historian Josephus AD 37-100, added – “the most wretched of deaths.” But, Our Lord, despite his agony during the Passion – sweating drops of blood knowing the cup which he was to drink of; Loved us by praying these words, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.”

And for this we proclaim – O Most Holy Redeemer, I thank you. And forgive me my transgressions, which crucify you anew in my heart.    

So, let’s be Simon’s of Cyrene, helping Christ bear his cross; not because He can’t, but because through this sanctifying action, a daily action – we journey with him until we reach our Golgotha (the place of the skull), death! Which will not be our end, but a beginning to new life.

 “See Mother, I make all things new.”

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Pax Christi

The Ancient Serpent

It’s fascinating to see throughout history, the influence of the serpent in both culture and religion. serpentHow many prominent civilizations, some devilishly dominant and so technologically advanced for their time, held the worship of this so called “god.” We probably tend to ask ourselves, “Why would a loving God leave these children of his in error, basking in falseness?” That’s a fair question and the answer lies not in the finite mind, but in the infinite, the Divine mind. For scripture tells us in Acts 14:16, “In past generations he allowed all nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness.” You see, we can not come to understand God fully, not yet at least, but to try is to disprove of him, and thats impossible; It’s like the cartoon character trying to disprove the cartoonist. What we do come to understood is that God can bring good out of evil, and scripture testifies to this.

joseph_sold In the Book of Gen. 37:18-36, after Joseph was sold to slavery by his brothers, he suffered through trials and persecution, and not knowing God’s intentions, he was elevated to high authority in Egypt. This serves as a reminder of the trust we should have for God regardless of the circumstances. Years later, Joseph, after encountering his brothers; said to them – “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Many a people were saved by Joseph, for he fed their starvation for seven years. Another account, the Apostle Paul also fed the starving, spiritually, on the island of Malta after the shipwreck in Acts 28:1-10.Paul After the natives witnessed a serpent fasten itself on his arm, they cried out that Paul was indeed a guilty man, and that the gods had served justice. They waited for Paul to swell up and drop dead, but after seeing him alive and well; they proclaimed him a god. Was this part of God’s plan, to use whatever spiritual knowledge these native people held for his purpose, to bring them in communion with him? Evidently the Lord had a plan for them, operating through Paul to witness to the Maltese for the 3 months they were ashore. Scripture doesn’t entirely describe the Maltese converting in the few verses we see, but tradition/history holds that the chief of the land; Publius, whose father was healed by Paul, became the first Catholic Bishop of Malta, and is now venerated as Saint Publius throughout the Church. This just goes to show that God is Charity, he uses one and all: the stubborn, the sinner, the Angels. But, the most dearest of his humble creatures, God used Our Blessed Mother; I will explain how her use by God was fruit to over 9 million coming to the Fullness of Faith in the Americas.

 According to the apocryphal Book of Enoch, the fallen angels (theologically known as demons) showed men: the art of metals from the earth to utilize for weapons, enchantments, knowledge of the clouds, signs of the sun and course of the moon, constellations and astrology. Of course, we can shrug this off as fairy tales and mere mythology, but then again, lets take a look at a civilization of people who are held as the most barbaric to this day – The Aztecs.

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 Serpents were used in every aspect of their formalized worship. Snake skinned drums would beat as the victimized hearts of the sacrificed echoed their own music, slowly fainting to a halt; being offered up to Quetzalcoatl – the feathered serpent. These monstrous gods demanded those sacrificed to be consumed, flesh and blood. Sound familiar? Millions were sacrificed, women and children included. Maybe the True God, having seen enough, heard the blood calling out from the ground – “The Lord said, What have you done? Listen! Your brothers blood cries out from the ground!” Gen. 4:10

 The year was 1531, and one of the greatest spiritual turning points for the Native Aztec Indians. It had been about 12 years after the Spaniards landed and demanded tribute to the Judeo-Christian God after being appalled by the temple practices of the Aztecs. And, lets be honest, we know that some of these Spaniards did not have the greatest moral standings, either. So the natives being fierce warriors, revolted, but they were no match for European weapons. After most Aztec cities were conquered, and the last emperor Cuauhtémoc surrendered, the Aztec Empire had fallen, but their religious practices remained very alive. Missionaries had converted many, unfortunately the majority of the population held to their pagan beliefs, but God was not finished, yet.guad

 Rev 12:1 “And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is the image of the woman who appeared to a native Aztec indian, St. Juan Diego, asking him to go to the bishop and demand a church be built on the site she appeared, which previously had been a sacrificial ground. The bishop didn’t believe St. Juan Diego, and demanded a sign from this mysterious woman. Around the same time, St Juan Diego’s uncle was very ill, to the point of death; thus so that the Saint avoided the woman by a longer route to summon a Priest for his uncle’s last rites. Nevertheless, she appeared to him, promised a cure for his uncle and asked the Saint to pick flowers at the first apparition site. He gathered the flowers in his cactus woven cloak, and with her blessing, he went to the Bishop. After opening his cloak, the beautiful flowers which were not native to Mexico, but Spain, and not in season during the frosty December weather – were at a perfect bloom. The Bishop was astonished by the fragrance and sight of the flowers, while suddenly, he noticed the miraculous Image of the Virgin- who called herself in the native Nahuatl language, “Coatlaxopeuh,” which means crush-serpent“She who crushes the serpent.” Coatlaxopeuh is pronounced “quatlasupe,” and sounds a lot like “Guadalupe” in spanish – there is no doubt that this is where the translation originated from.

 Within a few years, around 9 million Natives converted to the Catholic Faith after coming to knowledge, through God’s grace, of the message derived from this miraculous image. The natives related to her because of her mestizo complexion, the fact that she was clothed with the stars, standing in front of the sun and on top of the moon, symbolized to them something greater than their “gods” whom they worshipped in the stars, sun and moon. But, they also realized that from her posture – knee up, in form of dance, which was the Aztec way to give praise, meant she was giving glory to someone else – but who!? The Virgin wore the Aztec maternity belt which was custom to their culture, and adorned with the Cross on her brooch around her neck, this confirmed to the Aztecs the doctrine and teachings of the Spanish missionaries – Jesus Christ. Soon they came to trust the Spanish missionaries and gradually converted. To this day, the original cloak with the image, even after multiple attempts by others to destroy it, is intact in Mexico City at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It has been the subject of study, from scientists to professors (believers and non-believers) all around the Globe, and no explanation can be given or can it be disproved; leading us to suspect – a supernatural cause behind it. She is now known as the Patron Saint of the Americas, leading the people hand in hand to her Most Glorious Son – The Lord Jesus Christ – true God and true man.

 Christ promised us – “The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.” God uses the devil to defeat the devil, just as He did on the Cross. The mere victory of the Ancient Serpent – the death of Christ, was the defeat of evil, and the redemption of the world. God, who spoke the first word – will always get the last! Devil defeated by Angel

Pax Christi.