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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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.