Canticle to the Holy Face

HE WHO HAS SEEN ME HAS SEEN THE FATHER

Another beautiful poem by St Therese – this time on the Holy Face of Jesus. (In public domain)

Canticle to the Holy Face.

“Dear Jesus! tis Thy Holy Face
Is here the start that guides my way;
They countenance, so full of grace,
Is heaven on earth, for me, to-day.
And love finds holy charms for me
In Thy sweet eyes with tear-drops wet;
Through mine own tears I smile at Thee,
And in Thy griefs my pains forget.
How gladly would I live unknown,
Thus to console Thy aching heart.
Thy veiled beauty, it is shown
To those who live from earth apart.
I long to fly to Thee alone!
Thy Face is now my fatherland, —
The radiant sunshine of my days, —
My realm of love, my sunlit land,
Where, all life long, I sing Thy praise;
It is the lily of the vale,
Whose mystic perfume, freely given,
Brings comfort, when I faint and fail,
And makes me taste the peace of heaven.
Thy face, in its unearthly grace,
Is like the divinest myrrh to me,
That on my heart I gladly place;
It is my lyre of melody;
My rest — my comfort — is Thy Face.
My only wealth, Lord! is thy Face;
I ask naught else than this from Thee;
Hid in the secret of that Face,
The more I shall resemble Thee!
Oh, leave on me some impress faint
Of Thy sweet, humble, patient Face,
And soon I shall become a saint,
And draw men to Thy saving grace.
So, in the secret of Thy Face,
Oh! hide me, hide me, Jesus blest!
There let me find its hidden grace,
Its holy fires, and, in heaven’s rest,
Its rapturous kiss, in Thy embrace!”
August 12, 1895.

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To live of Love – St Therese of Lisieux

I am the way, the truth and the life - Saintin

I was struck today by the concepts in St Therese’s poem To Live of Love. It is a translation from the original French and it’s one of those times I wish I could read the original.

To love God so ardently! I will quote two stanzas – one of living for Love, and one of dying for Love.

“To live of love, ’tis by Thy life to live,

O glorious King, my chosen, sole Delight!

Hid in the Host, how often Thou dost give

Thyself to those who seek Thy radiant light.

Then hid shall be my life, unmarked, unknown,

That I may have Thee heart to heart with me;

For loving souls desire to be alone,

With love, and Thee!”

“To die of love, O martyrdom most blest!

For this I long, this is my heart’s desire;

My exile ends; I soon will be at rest.

Ye Cherubim, lend, lend to me your lyre!

O dart of Seraphim, O flame of love,

Consume me wholly; hear my ardent cry!

Jesu, make real my dream! Come Holy Dove!

Of love I die!”

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She who loved much: Mary Magdalene’s example

The Vine of God's own Heart Desires and implores The Sun_ It expects everything FROM HIM ___ Nothing has meaning WITHOUT HIM, seeks HIM ONLY_ _Fervent Com

+JMJ

She who loved much

If you are anything like me, maybe words like these have crossed your mind at some point:

Does God actually want me?

If this person knew my past, they probably wouldn’t be my friend anymore.

I’m not worthy of any vocation so I doubt I have one

We are called to be saints but is it too late for me?

Such thoughts may happen if like me, you have a past. I wasn’t always a practising Christian and at some point lived a very different life. Though I went to Confession and knew I was forgiven, I still felt – different, stained, forever ‘ruined’ somehow. I had a chance to make the right choices and I didn’t. God forgave me, but would I ever forget them?

I looked at the “good Catholic girl” persona I built up for myself. I wear a crucifix and try to dress the way I should. I’m involved at my parish. However, the person next to me at Mass has no idea that the girl next to them who prays and maybe “looks Catholic” has lived a very sinful life. Most of my friends don’t even know. What would happen to our friendship if they found out – everything? They are good people and they’d probably just be glad I found God eventually. Yet sometimes there’s this nagging doubt – if people knew, would they reject me?

One day I came across the Gospel passage about the “sinful woman” with the perfume. I was touched to the depth of my heart by what Jesus did for her. Most Catholic scholars consider her to be St Mary Magdalene. So I imagined her… Everyone knew she had a sinful past. She must have been constantly reminded of it, and didn’t feel worthy of anything. Maybe she struggled fiercely to overcome her sins, because of a look Jesus gave her as He walked past, and some words she heard Him say of God’s longing for her soul. She heard Jesus would be at this house; she came there, and there He was! She wanted to run up to Him right then. Yet there were people all around Him… important people like the Pharisees. They would only throw her out. If she could reach Him, she would thank Him from her heart.

However, these other people – they weren’t thanking Him.. they were involved in their own conversation and they didn’t wash His feet, or treat Him like an honoured guest. He had done so much for them, cured the sick, and showed them such compassion – and no one did anything for Him. So then she forgot all her fear of these people, and what they would think, and took the most expensive perfume she owned. She entered the room and went right up to Jesus. He was at the table with the really important people, but she no longer saw them. She no longer saw anyone except her beloved Savior.

He must have felt tired from so much walking and caring for these souls… She bent low at His feet and tears streamed from her eyes. She was overcome with gratitude and contrition. The tears fell over His feet and she took her long dark hair, and wiped them. She covered His feet with her kisses and cried. She poured the perfume over His feet and its fragrance filled the whole room. It was like she was pouring her whole heart before Him.

But what would He say? Perhaps she wondered.. These things she was doing were so bold. They were too bold. She was afraid to look around because doubtless, the people around her and all the Pharisees were staring at her. They were probably talking about her too, and about how she is not supposed to be there.. Fear filled her – would Jesus send her away too? She knelt to the ground by His feet. If He tells me to go, she thought, I’d have no where else to go, and there would be no hope for me at all.

She looked up at Him very quickly… would He look angry, or repulsed? She was a sinner, and so she should not have been touching Him at all. Especially not Jesus, who is so holy. Yet she saw only love in His beautiful eyes, and heard the words:

“Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she with tears hath washed my feet, and with her hairs hath wiped them. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less” (Luke 7: 44-47, D-R)

Then, He turned to her and said, “Thy sins are forgiven”. “Thy faith hath made thee safe, go in peace”.

No matter how sinful we feel our past is, we don’t need to be afraid to love Jesus. Any sins we have committed in the past, are not only forgiven when we confess them, but forgotten. We can love Him greatly, even like the Saints. I’ll borrow an idea from St. John of Avila: Jesus did not turn away from His executioners as they nailed His hands and feet to the Cross. He looked at them with infinite compassion and prayed to the Father to forgive them. If He showed only endless love to those who killed Him, what would His response be to someone who comes to love Him in return? For example, someone who comes to visit Him when He’s all alone in the Tabernacle, forgotten by most of the world. This person comes and says something that Our Lord desires to hear from each soul – “I love You Jesus”. Would He truly turn them away?

A priest once asked me – if I could see Jesus, how do I think He would look at me? I tried to imagine this many times since then. I’m sure when I’ll actually see Him someday, I’ll realize that all my imagination completely falls short. Yet thinking of this can be very healing. This look of perfect love that we long for in the deepest part of our souls, is the same look that He gives us in the Eucharist, and from the Cross. We only have to come to Mass to meet Him. I believe He wants us to give Him this fear, and with trust abandon ourselves to His embrace.

Also posted at Made4More

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Arise!

“After these things was a festival day of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem a pond, called Probatica. In these lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered; waiting for the moving of the water. And an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water, was made whole, of whatsoever infirmity he lay under. And there was a certain man there, that had been eight and thirty years under his infirmity. When Jesus had seen him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time, he saith to him: Wilt thou be made whole? The infirm man answered him: Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pond. For whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me. Jesus saith to him: Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole: and he took up his bed, and walked. And it was the sabbath that day. The Jews therefore said to him that was healed: It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed” (John 5: 1-10, Douay-Rheims).

This Bible passage has been on my heart after trying to deal with some feelings of loneliness. I wanted to explore the message that Jesus was trying to articulate. Once I did I realized that I, too, am ‘the man who cannot walk’. I am crippled by my own human weakness, events in the past that continue to affect me, and most of all a seeming impossibility of solving the problem myself. Sometimes we go through things that we don’t know how to explain to another person and experience a type of loneliness in suffering. Thankfully, Jesus does not wait for us to become strong enough by ourselves, and wants us to turn to Him as the source our healing and strength.

Just like this man, sometimes we come to a place where we feel completely alone. It doesn’t even have to be something exterior like an illness. It can be an internal trial that we feel we can’t share with others, and wonder if anyone would really understand. Or it may be a mental illness, like depression, anorexia or bipolar disorder that can be misunderstood by others – this can bring much loneliness and feelings of being judged and uncared for.

One Sunday, as I thought about this Gospel passage at Mass, I realized some things about this man that I didn’t notice before. He was in a place with a lot of other sick people. Yet for such a long time (38 years!) he couldn’t receive the healing that he longed for. He was so close! He was right beside the pond, and all he had to do was go into it, but he couldn’t even do that. Was he tempted to believe that God had forgotten him? That He didn’t care? After all, it was God’s Angel who brought the healing – why to everyone else and not to him? Maybe if there was someone to help him get into the pond, he could be healed. But he didn’t even have that. No one would take pity on him and do the simple act of carrying him into a pond that was so near. Every time he tried, he didn’t have enough time and someone else always got there first. How frustrating and discouraging that must be!

I don’t know for sure what it was like for this man, but he must have felt forgotten, alone and like no one cared enough to help him. It was like he was the smallest, most forgotten person in society. Even in his need, no one took pity. There are many people like this and how does Jesus respond to them? How does He see the poor old woman wearing a curtain for a skirt, that I saw one day in the city? Or the man on the street who feels ignored by everyone as he begs for a few cents? Or people who try really hard but feel cast aside by society, and someone always gets ahead of them? Maybe we are not in such situations but there are times we can feel very helpless too – when we can’t help ourselves, and we wonder if others understand. As a young girl, I struggled with feelings of loneliness and didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know how. Sometimes I can still feel like that little girl despite being grown up now. Little sufferings compared to these others, but even the littleness of them could be discouraging – “no one would understand why this is a big deal to me, but it is, so I’ll stay silent”. How much in us always stays in our heart, unknown to all others? Maybe you can relate.

What is Jesus’ response to all this? Is it the response we fear from the rest of the world? “It is not a big deal. Deal with it”. Or just blind indifference? Does He see the depth of the heart that we can’t communicate to others, – the part of the heart that no one will ever know? It’s so comforting to read this passage because we see that He does care. He understood everything about this man. He saw him as a priceless person whom He created and gave an immortal soul to. He saw the hope He has for this man – a life of eternal glory and the beatific vision of God in Heaven. He saw his childhood and his whole life, all his experience of life that remained unknown to others. He saw his sins. He saw his anguish at being near this pond for thirty eight years, not being able to enter there on time and having no one to help him.

And He came to the man Himself. He didn’t just ask another person to help him and carry him to the pond. He didn’t see all the other people first. He came to the MOST helpless man there, almost like He sought him out, and came to that place just for him! Though this man was forgotten by everyone else, He was the one Jesus chose. Our Lord healed him simply by willing it – “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk”. If you feel like you are alone, dealing with a situation that you can’t easily talk about or express and if you feel like you don’t have a friend to help you or if you feel overcome with unworthiness and too sinful to approach God, remember that there is never such fear with Jesus. He looks deep into our hearts and understands everything in an instant. He hears our prayers when we don’t have words to express what we need. And even for the most miserable person in the whole world – Jesus would seek them out.

Comment from Made4More blog: “If you know someone struggling with depression or a crippling illness, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and offer love and support. The gift of your presence is enough, you don’t need to go out of your way to do huge gestures of love, start with the small things (sending a care package, visiting them, taking them out for a coffee). These gestures widen our capacity to love others more deeply.”

Also posted at Made4More

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

Angel+of+Heavenly+union

+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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