Encountering Catholicism – part 4

PRESENT HERE

+JMJ

This is a continuation of my conversion story to the Catholic Church from Protestantism. The last part talked about how I was attached to Protestant services and didn’t want to consider any sort of liturgy.

Despite everything I liked about the Protestant community I was part of, I continually felt a great anxiety after every service. I knew it was probably because God didn’t want me there, and wanted me to come back to the liturgy. Yet I didn’t want to acknowledge it. My heart was not open to God’s Will, so I felt anxiety instead of peace. My conscience was not clean because I wasn’t truly responding and holding on to my attachments. God eventually had much compassion on me and allowed me to see my error…

I was studying for a university exam and decided to take a little break. Since I was researching Catholicism at this time, I went to a website to read a bit about Our Lady and found a page on the Mass. I only remember one sentence – “the Mass is the holiest moment of our lives”. This was the phrase that turned around my whole little world. I suddenly saw, with perfect clarity – the type of clarity I wanted all this time yet also feared – that God wants reverence. Liturgy. The Sacraments. I remembered the Orthodox liturgies and knew – they are valid.. and the Protestant Communion I had didn’t have whatever they had. I wish I could say that my response was an immediate “yes”. Instead, it consisted of many tears and eventually, a half hearted “yes.. but can I still attend the Protestant services sometimes?”. Even that didn’t last long.. because in a few days, I got so frightened of the change (“would  I LOSE my relationship with Jesus?” I wondered..) – that I confused myself and no longer felt sure of anything.

It is a story of great Mercy on God’s part towards a sinner like me.. because He didn’t stop even then. He didn’t give up… and sent me some words through a Catholic friend who had no idea of what had happened in my heart. I will forever remember and treasure them because immediately I received the grace to trust God and respond to what He was asking. I’m still amazed at God’s mercy that He did so much to bring me home.

I came back to the Orthodox Church after this.. yet I felt my journey wasn’t finished. As I continued to research Catholicism, my beliefs started to change, with a profound sense of peace. God did it all and encouraged my cooperation which up to this point had been fearful and uncertain. I would spend time researching about Catholicism but became very lost about whether I should be Catholic after all. I was extremely fearful of making the wrong choice. In the end, I just began feeling extreme peace about Catholic doctrines – and God would somehow just give the grace to believe them. One day, I realized all my beliefs are Catholic, and decided to finally try and go to Mass!

Then I tried praying to the Saints… The first time it was with much fear. I’m forever grateful to St Therese for helping me with this. There’s a novena to her asking for a rose… I wasn’t sure but prayed it, and looked up to find a vase of roses placed in front of me. Roses continued to appear in striking ways throughout the novena. There’s nothing to boast of here because people with strong faith do not need signs. My faith was shaky and fearful. Yet from this, I began to believe. I am sharing this as a way to thank her and to encourage devotion to this beautiful Saint. St Therese must have prayed hard for me because despite all my uncertainty and fears, on Easter of 2009, I finally became Catholic. God brought me home… Or literally carried me, as I was unable to do it. Deo gratias!

Needless to say, my relationship with Jesus didn’t ‘end” when I became Catholic. Instead I found how my relationship with Him as a Protestant was real, but limited in ways. Now, I could receive Him physically into myself! God is infinitely greater and more loving than I ever imagined.

The writings of the Saints are what introduced me to Jesus in a deeper way. I saw the love of God that I always sought out as a Protestant. A love that is infinite, that is like a fire, infinitely sweet, vehement, consuming, tender. Like living water and a brilliant light that overwhelms us. A love that becomes impossible to live without and makes one want to give everything. The ideas I read about went beyond anything I had known… like before, here was a Christ who loved me, but loved incomprehensibly, thirsting for me, waiting, lonely and rejected by so many, hidden in the Eucharist – a Christ who desires reparation. My faith was previously more about me and my feelings.. here, so much was about His feelings. Bringing Him joy and consolation. What is it like for Jesus when I visit Him? Would He have a heart in which to find His rest? His Heart is our Heaven.. can our hearts be heaven for Him, to shield Him from the pain of being rejected by millions of souls? Here was Christ who is in agony on the Cross, desiring our hearts to be immersed in the consuming fire of His Heart. The intensity of the imagery of the mystics: Jesus’ Precious Blood, value of suffering, Christ’s loving embraces, the Crucifix, prayers as arrows to wound Jesus’ Heart with love – all of this was so new and so ..”Catholic”. You could tell right away this was going to be a Sacramental religion. There was nothing abstract. It was unbelievably intimate, vivid – after all, we can eat and drink His Body and Blood…

It was all irresistible and drew me in but at times also surprised me, because the Saints were sometimes so bold, and their language was so passionate, and they stopped at nothing to love Him. I saw God’s love is so much greater than I thought it was, so much more intimate and powerful. I could see their longing for God, a longing that was so strong. How God loves us, that our hearts could be so consumed by Him, that we want nothing else, only complete union with Him, to have Him only and completely, being lost forever in His Heart.. His Heart is our Treasure, more beautiful and precious than gold and silver. And when He reveals Himself to the soul it is in glimpses that only further inflame this thirst for Him. I began realizing that this is only a tiny echo of the longing that God feels for us, hidden in the Holy Eucharist in the Tabernacle, – like He told Sr Josefa Menendez, He waits for a soul all night until she comes to receive Him in the morning…

I could see why the Sacred Heart devotion drew so many of the Saints to Him – it is a devotion centered on His love. These spiritual ideas give more peace and consolation that anything earthly. From the moment of reading about these ideas, I saw that this is what I have been looking for as a Protestant. I was searching for Jesus, I wanted Him to be physically present among us, and there He was, hidden in a little Catholic church across the street – forgotten, unknown, and so little loved.

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What is God like?

Charity and purity are the most beautiful ornament of the Heart_ Turgis

(just a list i came up with one day while thinking..what is Jesus like..who is He?)

..merciful
Savior
unconditionally loving
rest for our souls
Prince of Peace
victorious over death and darkness
forgiving
His love is infinite
loves us more than His own life
compassionate
won’t ever give up on us
humble
accepts ANYONE who comes to Him
totally understanding
patient
gives eternal life
Holy
pure, sinless
caring
kind
gentle
Healer
not like the world
longs for us to know His love
loves us individually, not in a general disinterested way
brings joy
brings hope
friend of sinners
friend of the forgotten, the broken, the suffering, the lonely
our Best Friend
our Lord and King
His heart is full of love for each of us
infinitely powerful
unchanging
all knowing
faithful
keeps promises
honest, never lies
encouraging
has a plan and hope for each person
just
His ways are not our ways
trustworthy
His grace is enough
Creator
generous
teaches us to love others
not selfish, loves us to the point of self sacrifice
loves us in truth and actions, not just words
rejoices when we come to Him!
waits for us
can change us, helps us overcome sin
would never drive us away
looks at our hearts, not just at words and externals
does everything for a reason
knows exactly what we need
would still have died for you even if you were the only person on earth

Jesus is love 🙂

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Encountering Catholicism -Part 3

The Heavenly Conductor

+JMJ

I left off writing the previous post about how I had found a more personal relationship with Jesus and had joined a Protestant group on campus.

I really did not know much about doctrines at this time, or the differences between Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants.  With time, my beliefs became more and more Protestant. I must say though that I did not look too carefully at other teachings, because I wanted so much to be Protestant. I believed that only Protestants truly know God, and had many erroneous beliefs about Catholics and Orthodox. I thought that liturgy is unspiritual, that they worship Mary, that they believe in saving themselves, etc.. I began attending Protestant services where many of my friends went. It was very different from the Orthodox church because it was not liturgical. There was praise and worship and a sermon, and Communion was given once a month if I remember correctly.

Communion and the Real Presence was the only part of my faith that was not really Protestant. I still believed in the Real Presence, though those around me believed it is a symbol. I tried to convince myself that it doesn’t really matter if others disagree…. I prayed that they would begin to believe in the Real Presence too… but this situation caused me near constant anxiety and pain. Whenever I went to the Protestant services, I loved it but afterwards I felt an unrest in my heart, that I tried to explain away. When I went to the Orthodox church with my family – I felt it was very powerful spiritually, yet I again tried to argue against it.

When we would receive Communion in the Protestant service – it was “non denominational” – they passed around grape juice and little crackers and this was passed from person to person. In Campus for Christ, we also had Communion (I remember it being given once) and it was bread and grape juice – people went up and took a bit of the bread themselves. This was a huge difference from the Orthodox church, in which the priest gave out Communion on a silver spoon from a chalice and altar boys would hold fabric beneath it to prevent any falling on the floor and there was so much bowing and crossing yourself. However, I continued to receive Communion at the Protestant services, and I saved the little plastic cups that the grape juice was given in because I truly believed it was the Blood of Christ really present. Whenever I would hear about the Real Presence anywhere, even by watching a Christian movie based on one of the Gospels – I felt strongly drawn to the liturgy but resisted it and argued against it. This lasted many months and I was in an almost constant state of anxiety about it all, yet could not find clarity in my mind.

At this time, I also began talking to some Catholics. I was very skeptical at first, especially about Mary. However, the Catholics were friendly and kind and treated me with respect… so I continued to ask questions. There were few Catholic doctrines that I agreed with and I had disagreements with most of them.

Mostly, I struggled with the idea that you can “really” know God in Catholicism and Orthodoxy. I thought a liturgical service would be “unspiritual” and that it would impede any sort of a relationship with God. I had tried to “evangelize” Catholics in the past, so when I met Catholics who were really passionate about their faith, I was actually surprised. God needed to do a lot in my heart to even allow me to consider that it’s possible to know Him in a more traditional liturgy.

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Letter to a soul losing hope

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This is just something I wrote to help me remember how God sees us. Hopefully it could be an encouragement to someone. I wrote it as if God is speaking.. I hope everything in it is accurate 🙂

+JMJ

“My beloved child,

How many times have you cried, “where is God? Where is my hope?” – and I was not far away watching you from a distant place, but so near you, that you could not even feel Me. You were looking for Me outside of you, when I was so near and embracing your soul. Will you at last open the depth of your soul to me? O come, come now to My Heart! I long only to embrace you.. it is not too late… do not run away. Why do you look around as if searching for a place to go? I am here to give you hope, to envelop you in My loving light so that no darkness may ever touch you. I will not let you go because My love for you endures eternally. Will you let Me love you? Don’t fear… My Heart has enough love to consume all your sorrows and miseries. You have doubted Me, yet nothing can take away My love for you. I am telling you now, all is not lost… Yes, there is still hope.

My Heart wishes to heal all your troubles and to calm all your fears, to be your light, guidance and delight that surpasses all other loves. All this time, you were truly seeking for Me, but you mistook the love for creatures for the only Love that can satisfy you. I created you for this. I created you to be loved, and I love you! I love you, and I have died for you as the proof. Now at last will you trust Me? O how I long for you to trust Me and abandon yourself in my embrace. I love you, My child! Do not despair. Nothing is lost. Come and find your hope.. your strength will be found in Me. Regardless of how lost you feel, I can and will find you.

I will bring you back to your home, where you will never be lost again, where your heart will never again experience sorrow. I long to consume your heart in My Love, and show you the richness of My power, strength, divine and most perfect Light. You are so little and I see how you suffer from your human weakness, but I can supply for all your misery. I myself will give you hope. I see the beginning, and the end of your life. My Will for you is more beautiful than you can imagine. Trust Me, and do not abandon the hope that I place in your heart.

Always remember.. I love you, more than My life. Life your life for Me. Don’t fear, and live, live with Me. I shall always be with you, and support you. If you have God, and if God is on your side, what enemy will dare to harm you? I allow suffering only for your good. Trust can help you see what is hidden from your eyes, and your heart can know what is not yet within your sight. Someday you shall see and understand and know perfectly. Though it might be difficult to see this in the present darkness, until then, I will carry you as a mother carries her infant. I will hold you close to My Heart forever. You, yes – you are the delight of My Heart, and My Heart will not be content until you are hidden within it.

Child, come into the wound that was opened in My Heart for you. Come and forget all your miseries. I, Jesus, long to be your Savior and to heal your poor heart with My love. I am waiting for you.”

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Saying Yes to God like St Clare

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+JMJ

“Fear is not in charity: but perfect charity casteth out fear, because fear hath pain. And he that feareth, is not perfected in charity. Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us.” 1 John 4, 18-19 (Douay-Rheims).

Sometimes people ask God for signs, and sometimes we are too afraid to ask anything, but He sends us a sign. I looked at the sign in front of me that was literally a sign – a verse from 1 John 4:18 handwritten on a loose-leaf piece of paper, left by someone at the back of a downtown church. Written in big capital letters, just to make sure it’s not missed.

Who left it there? And why? Maybe I’ll never find out in this life, but God can definitely work through people. I’m sure whoever wrote it had no idea how much I wanted a reassurance of those words that day. Maybe it was meant for me, maybe for someone else, but it was like God was saying “I really DO love you. Will you finally trust Me?” Sadly, my response up to that point went something like: “um… yes.. maybe? Can you tell me it’s safe to trust? Otherwise I don’t know if I can”.

I was trying to figure out some things about my life and everything was uncertain. Any proper decision-making gets lost in all the fear and turmoil. How are we supposed to hear God if we’re too afraid to find out the answer? At least that is what was going through my mind that day.

I thought of St Clare and her courage. She was young and she did something that was very difficult to do – she joined the early Franciscans and started her own religious order. Was she afraid? I don’t know, but she certainly overcame it by God’s grace, so we can too. She didn’t really care about human opinion, or what was popular in her society, she only cared about what God wanted for her and to please Him. Her example is so clear – that is all that life is about!

Imagine that night when she said her unconditional “yes” to Jesus. She came to church on Palm Sunday dressed in her very best gown and all the finery of her position in life. She was the daughter of a noble family and there were plans for her to marry a rich young man. Yet in her heart she had other plans that day. She did the most radical thing – gave up all her possessions, gave her beauty to Christ, cut off her hair, and founded the Poor Clares who are one of the most contemplative orders of the Catholic Church and live simple hidden lives of prayer and sacrifice. At the time, she was 18 years old.

What was going through her mind as St. Clare left her old life? She went secretly through the back door and went to meet St. Francis and his brothers at St. Mary of the Angels. She was faced with a difficult choice – to follow the expectations of everyone in her society, do the safe and easy thing that would be approved, or do something that would make her misunderstood and opposed.

Back to that sign – perfect love casts out fear. When we truly fall in love with Christ, and see that He is worth infinitely more than anything the world offers us, then surrendering to Him becomes a joy and even a necessity. We begin to long for this with all our hearts. Not just for what God offers and His gifts, but for God Himself, even if that means doing what is scary or what is unpopular. The very sacrifice and pain of it turns to joy. Do we search for our happiness here on earth or is Jesus truly our Treasure? You are a treasure to Him, “the pearl of great price” that He ransomed at the price of His Blood. If God is with us, who can be against us, and what is there to fear?

Notice how at the end of the verse, it says “Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us”. How reassuring that is! Maybe we feel our love is imperfect, too little to overcome all that fear. Perfect love overcomes fear but it’s not just our love. We don’t have to strive for what is impossible at the moment. God understands we still need to grow. He is standing in front of us with His arms outstretched, loving us first, before we are able to work out our uncertain, incomplete response. HIS love is what casts out fear, and then we are able to let go of everything and love Him more completely, more like the Saints. St. Clare, pray for us!

Also posted at Made4More

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The Story of St Gemma Galgani

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Last spring, one Sunday at Mass, I struggled with a feeling of great emptiness and distance from God. St John of the Cross writes that such things are either purifying trials, or the result of our own negligence in the faith. Though I definitely don’t have St John’s insight into distinguishing or understanding them, I guessed that it might be the second one. At least in my life, various attachments often come out of nowhere and try to compete with my love for God. This time, there were a couple major ones at once.

God’s will, and my will.. the whole point is to submit my will to His. It probably goes without saying that this is very difficult and mostly I fail at this. As I sat there in the pew and remembered all my struggles, my will was not submitted to Jesus and my heart was far away from the reality on the altar. I loved others more than Him. I couldn’t even get myself to open up to Him, that was beyond my power and needed grace. I felt like God is a divine Person that I worship on Sundays but the rest of the time, I live for myself. God showed me incredible mercy and kindness that day in helping me to open up to Him and to surrender my heart to Him once again.

There is one Saint that I often think of as having an undivided heart in her love for Christ. Her name is St. Gemma Galgani. When I first read about her, I was stricken by the beauty and sincerity of her prayers to Jesus – prayers of love. Then, I saw that her life was really very extraordinary – she was a mystic and a ‘victim soul’, she had the stigmata, prayed the Psalms with her Guardian Angel, and regularly experienced ecstasy and spoke with Jesus and the Blessed Mother. She lived in Italy and died in her 20s, after wanting to be a Passionist nun. On the surface, her life doesn’t have much in common with mine, which is quite ordinary. However I saw I had much to learn from her, including humility, and loving Jesus more totally and freely.

St. Gemma lived in the world but her heart was detached from everything except her Beloved, Jesus. It didn’t come automatically and she had to fight many battles to get there. She was detached to a heroic degree, yet extremely humble and thought she loved herself and other creatures more than Him. She practiced mortification during meals, gave away everything that was given to her that wasn’t strictly necessary, and refused any vanity or adornments through the advice of her Guardian Angel. Especially in our time and society that emphasizes personal comfort, her level of detachment might at first seem very extreme. However, such a total dedication to what God asked of her is a further incentive to value Christ’s will over the views of the world. God’s will is unique for each person, and each person’s mission is unrepeatable. St. Gemma was generous in following His will rather than her own, though this must have cost her much. Her detachment was an effort to cooperate with all the graces she was receiving to live according to her state of life. Though my efforts and virtues don’t nearly match those of St. Gemma, she has been a great inspiration to me to seek the virtue of fortitude.

St. Gemma didn’t deny all those things in a prideful way, but because she wanted her heart to be free to love Christ to the degree that He willed. The detachment brought her greater joy. For His love, she was ready for all, to show that Christ can truly be everything to us. She also stayed faithful to what God asked of her, which was consecrated life and a vow of chastity. Though she was very beautiful and many young men might have wanted to marry her, St. Gemma did not change her mind about her vocation. The responses from others that came with all her choices must have been difficult to bear, but she did so with perseverance and charity.

More than anything, St. Gemma’s life shows me that God is worthy of such love. It might not be easily comprehended by the world and at times of distraction, it becomes harder for me to accept. Yet though St. Gemma denied earthly comforts, the joy that Christ gave her was beyond anything that the world could offer. During the night, she eagerly awaited each Communion, when Jesus and her would be united. Especially in her prayers, it’s evident that her love wasn’t something abstract, only intellectual or conceptual – she loved Jesus in her choices and actions, and in all the affections of her heart, which were His alone. She spoke to Him as to her Beloved. St. Gemma was indeed a bride of Christ, because a bride is completely devoted to her Bridegroom and His concerns for souls become hers. She is willing to share in Jesus’ suffering to be like Him, and her prayers reflect His own desires. Though not all have an extraordinary life like St. Gemma, holiness consists in loving submission to God’s will and humility, and she is an amazing example of how God’s love can transform a soul. His love entered her heart so deeply that she gave her heart entirely to Him. Will we let His love be victorious in our hearts?

The world might ask “is it worth it?” Yet Jesus did not measure His love or give us only a part of His Heart. He gave everything for us – all His Blood, all His sufferings, and He gives His Heart entirely to us in the Blessed Sacrament. Day and night, He waits there for us, – waits to come into our little hearts and rest there. When He comes into our hearts – what will He find? Will He find it as a garden of weeds, full of attachments and distractions, will He have to share it with creatures and our self-love? Or, will it be like a garden of roses, filled with acts of love, and a longing for Him above all things? Jesus loves each person with His whole Heart – and desires the gift of an undivided heart. His love is so perfect, that it will not rest until we belong to Him completely.

Also posted at Made4More

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St Philomena: a Princess and a Martyr

“If you stay faithful to Christ, you will lose everything”. This is the fear that can enter our hearts when we go through trials for our faith. The Christians being persecuted in Iraq and Syria have to make this choice daily, and for them the choice is losing their lives. Though my struggles are much less than theirs I think of the time when I first decided to become Catholic, knowing that I might lose friendships and suffer loneliness. This fear added a heavy burden to my conversion. As I continued, I realized that these are not one-time sacrifices, and that God calls us to continually put Him first in our hearts.

So often, the enemy comes in and whispers lies and exaggerations – “see, you will be miserable if you continue… you will be alone and you will never be happy…”. A compromise is suggested – maybe if I don’t do “so much”, I would lose less.. A doubt arises in the mind – where is God? Why is He letting me go through this? We turn to God and sometimes we feel He is silent, and we are left with only an image of the Cross. “..If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it” (Matthew 16:24, 25, D-R).

God’s thinking is not our thinking, and with Christ, loss is gain. The more we are purified in the fire of tribulation, the more our souls will be like Him, and even if we give up the whole world for Him, He is yet more generous. The life of St Philomena demonstrates this reality in an amazing way. She loved Christ to the point of heroism, and she has been a great encouragement to me to seek greater purity and God’s Will.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like for this Greek princess, the only daughter of Christian parents. Her sacrifice was her life, and what is to the world a successful marriage – a marriage to an Emperor. In her thirteenth year, she was pressured to accept the marriage proposal from Diocletian. Yet for St Philomena, this offer was impossible to accept, as she had vowed her virginity to Christ. She chose her Heavenly Spouse over an earthly spouse. I sometimes wonder what it was like for her… either you become a great Empress, avoid an unjust war with your country, ensure the prosperity of your family, and live surrounded by comforts and riches… or, you choose Christ, and face the wrath of the Emperor, the disappointment of your family, and even death. I can’t imagine the difficulty of her situation as her parents cried for her to take pity on her family, her country, and her kingdom. Are we ready to choose Christ above all? Trust becomes the only remedy.

As young women, we are often pressured to give in to worldly standards and face ridicule for the degree of purity asked for by Christ. This can be ridicule for the virtue of purity or modesty for married or unmarried women, or the choice of celibacy for consecrated women. Whether it’s from friends or even the media, this pressure often tries to get us to lessen our purity by degrees – a little here, a little there… and then our hearts forget the love of Christ and become distracted and confused. St Philomena rejected the Emperor’s invitation right from the start, and said, – no, I have another Love. For her, virginity was worth more than the gold and jewels of an Empress, because it is the priceless adornment of the soul. Our purity is more valuable than the world’s promises or even requests from those we love, as painful as the sacrifice may be. Through joyful purity we imitate Jesus, and show Him to be our greatest love.

As nothing moved St Philomena’s resolution, the Emperor moved to threats and then ordered her to be thrown into the dungeon. As she was tortured, she received strength from God by recommending herself continually to Jesus and to the Blessed Mother, who appeared to her and gave her courage. St Philomena underwent more tortures at the age of 13 than I could imagine enduring. She was scourged, tied to an anchor and thrown into the Tiber, and pierced with arrows. Each time, she was rescued by Angels and miraculously healed, and many were converted through her example. In the end, the Emperor ordered to have her beheaded.

St Philomena’s story was unknown when her relics were discovered in 1802. We know her story because it was miraculously revealed to three people, unknown to each other. We can read it in her words. After her relics were discovered, she became known as the “Wonder Worker” because of the amount of miracles and healings that occurred with her intercession. Her story does not end, but continues with the words: “My soul, glorious and triumphant, ascended into heaven, there to receive the crown of virginity which I had merited by so many victories.” Then, she gives the date when this happened – August 10th.

Most of us are not faced with the choice to give our lives for Christ. Some are called to vow chastity to Him like St Philomena, and all are called to purity and holiness. Yet St Philomena’s story shows us that God gives us strength to overcome all things for Him. There is nothing to fear in following Christ, not because we won’t have to suffer or sacrifice, but because God will give us what we need. Bearing the pain with love and resolution can add a certain joy, and through the cross we become more like our King. The same God who gave such courage to St Philomena, is with us now and always, and crosses carried with love for Him, become less difficult.

Also posted at Made4More

St Therese’s little way – part 2

One of the most beautiful things about St Therese’s spirituality is her trust in God. Though we know we should trust God, often I found it difficult to open my heart enough to do this. St Therese’s “little way” can help to love our littleness by allowing us to let go of fears and hidden pride. The smaller (and more trusting) we become, the more freedom we give to Jesus to do His work in us, without hindering Him. The problem is not at all our weakness, but lack of confidence in His power and mercy. It took me a while to just let Him love me.

One day, I came across a very beautiful book called “Way of Divine Love”, which contains the words of Jesus to Sr. Josefa Menendez. Jesus said, “Why fear? The more miseries I find in you, the more love you will find in Me”. Such words of comfort for any “little soul”! God loves us not despite our weaknesses, but because of them! His Sacred Heart is tenderly moved to pity when He considers our weakness. Yes we are so weak, so unable to love Him perfectly, to practice virtue, to pray without distractions, and to love others in the way we should. Even when we make good intentions, we have difficulty living them out and persevering through trials. Yet instead of this making Him angry, He looks at us with even more mercy and love that heals our hearts in the deepest, most truest way. Our souls crave to be loved, and understood… Who can understand us better than the One who made us, who hears our every hidden thought, every heartbeat, and not stopping at our sinfulness, wishes to embrace us closer to Himself? If we ever waited for true love, He is the one we have awaited.

Was I afraid that Jesus would love me less if I let Him see my heart? All this broke down my defences and made me see the importance of gratitude for my everyday weaknesses and unwanted faults. With them, we can stop pretending that we are strong, let go, and turn to Jesus as our only strength. Then, we would allow Him to live in us and through us. With St Paul, we can rejoice in our infirmities. Jesus spoke about us as His sheep, and said that we should become like little children. What is more helpless than a sheep? Sheep get lost without guidance and left to their own they can easily become the prey of wolves. As little sheep, we can rest safely in the arms of Jesus, our gentle Shepherd, and offer Him our little efforts just as they are. We can close our eyes and trust that He Himself will take us where He wants. He alone has enough power and love to do it, and it is not important that our own steps are imperfect.

Also posted at Made4More

St Therese’s little way

Since I was around thirteen, I have felt a pressure to succeed. Maybe each person feels this pressure in a different way. If I can describe the ideal young woman in the eyes of the world: she would be smart, outgoing, beautiful, fun, fashionable, popular, and successful in grades, finances, and career. She would never be single, at least not for long. She would wear a size ‘extra small’. As I consider this fictional woman, I see I don’t share her various qualities. I don’t fit her mold. For many years as a teen and young adult in university, I battled with my sense of confidence while I compared myself to some others, who seemed much more like her. Of course, I never expected myself to be completely ‘perfect’ – but my imperfections seemed too many. I also didn’t consider that there’s more to the meaning of life than these worldly things, and that God calls each soul to something unique.

Although there’s nothing wrong with using our talents or with having determination to fulfill our goals, – it’s a problem when we become discouraged or anxiously compare our success to others. We also lose sight of true success in life which goes beyond wealth or the number of degrees we’ve earned, – or our hairstyle. (Maybe this ‘perfect’ girl isn’t so happy after all?). It took me a while to re-examine my priorities and see that while the world isn’t very kind to failure, certainly God is, – and He who overcame the world lives within us.

It was with some of these misconceptions in my mind that I entered Catholicism. I didn’t realize that this perfectionist attitude would affect my relationship with God. I would often approach prayer with a great fear of facing my weaknesses, sins, and failures, and I would get discouraged when I fell – again, and again, and again. Somewhere in my mind, I half-expected to be like a saint, and any failure would continually shatter the imagined picture of my soul. Rather than wanting to please God out of love, I was afraid to admit my weakness. During my conversion, I began reading about St. Therese of Lisieux. I was drawn to her so much that whenever I was asked about my favourite Saint, she would be at the top of the list. I didn’t realize that her spirituality was exactly what I needed.

St. Therese was born in France in 1873 as the youngest in a family of nine children. Her parents, Blessed Louis Martin and Blessed Zelie Martin, are now on their path to canonization. Since an early age, St Therese had great desires. She wanted to be a Saint, a missionary, an apostle, a martyr. However, in her own words, she felt very helpless and saw a great distance between herself and the Saints. God lead her to be a cloistered nun, and she entered a Carmelite convent at the young age of fifteen. There, she continued to seek her ‘place’ in the Church. She saw herself as a ‘little soul’ who could only do little things for Jesus. Though she felt ready to be a martyr or a missionary, she resigned herself to seemingly small duties like decorating statues with flowers, helping the other Sisters and making little (though difficult) renunciations of self-will. At one point, St. Therese saw her vocation as being the “heart” of the Church, and doing little things with great love for God. Each of her actions became like a rose, a gift that she offered to Jesus. In one of her analogies, she described how she felt unable to climb the “rough stairway” to perfection, and would prefer for Jesus to carry her in His arms to holiness, in the way that an elevator can lift a person to another floor.

By her “little way”, St. Therese grew in her great love for God, became a Saint, a Doctor of the Church, and was named the Patron Saint of Missionaries. Through her prayers and little sacrifices, she intercedes for souls and helps to bring others to Jesus. Despite going through a terrible ordeal, the “dark night” in her faith, and being ill with tuberculosis, St. Therese bravely continued to trust God and to love Him amidst great trials and temptations. She went to Heaven at the age of 24 and her autobiography ‘Story of a Soul’ quickly became a spiritual classic. Before she died, she said that she will send down a “shower of roses” from Heaven and teach other souls her “little way” of love and confidence. Sometimes people remark that after praying for her intercession, they received actual roses as a sign of her prayers. (At this point I need to thank St. Therese by saying that I believe this happened to me as well, – maybe God saw I needed an encouragement in my faith, which was shaky).

Although at first, St. Therese’s example may seem daunting because of her level of sanctity, she herself encourages us to not be discouraged. St. Therese describes her littleness with a joy and a poetic beauty: “How can a soul so imperfect as mine aspire to the plenitude of Love? What is the key of this mystery? O my only Friend, why dost Thou not reserve these infinite longings to lofty souls, to the eagles that soar in the heights? Alas! I am but a poor little unfledged bird. I am not an eagle, I have but the eagle’s eyes and heart! Yet, notwithstanding my exceeding littleness, I dare to gaze upon the Divine Sun of Love, and I burn to dart upwards unto Him! I would fly, I would imitate the eagles; but all that I can do is to lift up my little wings—it is beyond my feeble power to soar. What is to become of me? Must I die of sorrow because of my helplessness? Oh, no! I will not even grieve. With daring self-abandonment there will I remain until death, my gaze fixed upon that Divine Sun. Nothing shall affright me, nor wind nor rain.” (Story of a Soul) St. Therese goes on to say that if God could find a soul smaller than hers, He would fill it with even greater graces. What encouraging words for us!

One of the most beautiful things about St Therese’s spirituality is her trust in God. Though we know we should trust God, often I found it difficult to open my heart enough to do this. St Therese’s “little way” can help to love our littleness by allowing us to let go of fears and hidden pride. The smaller (and more trusting) we become, the more freedom we give to Jesus to do His work in us, without hindering Him.

This post is also posted at the Made4More blog