Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Praising the Thorns. By: C.C.

"God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). He does not take account of nobility of birth, length of time in his service, or the number of our good works. What counts with God is a devout soul's increased fervor and more ardent love. He does not consider how you once behaved , but what you have now begun to be."(St. Bonaventure)
   One of my favourite Scripture passages is from a letter St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in which he mentions the "thorn in his flesh". This thorn was permitted by God in order to prevent St. Paul from becoming too proud or elated in the many consolations that had been sent to him.
  The presence of this thorn serves as a reminder to St. Paul of his humanity and weakness. It leaves Him nothing to boast of except our Lord. In fact, this is where the beautiful gift and grace of his suffering blossoms. As a broken instrument St. Paul shines forth the majesty and works of our Lord through the simplicity of his surrender and the silent shout of his struggles to God. 
  St. Paul, like all of us battles with imperfection and the toil of temptation. The experience of temptation may vary from one person to the next, but there is struggle. We can at times live in the shadow of our past experiences and wounds. Some of our sins can still linger in the corners of our hearts and minds even after many Confessions and moments of repentance. There are wounds that may resurface and still burn. 
   God's mercy and love is unconditional. As St. Bonaventure reminds us God "does not consider how you once behaved, but what you have now begun to be". We can often become so self-absorbed with the difficulties we face and the "thorns in our side" that we overlook the profound grace God has sent us. We can long for the quickest fix to our problems and pain, especially when faced with many messages in our surroundings preaching instant gratification. From fast food to instant communication we can fall into the temptation of longing to have even our deepest hurts healed with the press of a button. Unfortunately, and thankfully thorns remain. 
   If we remain rooted in Christ and honestly seek to follow Him with "increased fervor and more ardent love" we can be assured that our "Divine Physician" will bring about the healing we need in order to carry out the mission He has called us to at the pace that we can handle for His good. Should we be pricked by a thorn or two from time to time let us recognize in these moments the way that this too is for our good and the good of others. We are not polished and perfected because we strive to live in accordance to God's plan. We are broken and wounded and in that we share good company with some of the best! I question the motive of those who claim to have it "all" together as they strive to witness to God's goodness. The truth is we are all as together as we can possibly be because of the goodness of God. The only thing we should claim to hold together are our hands in perpetual prayer. 
    I live with the thorn of my past in my side. Not in a scrupulous way but it reminds me time and time again of God's goodness and mercy in my life. It reminds me of the ongoing journey of conversion. I used to fear encountering those who knew me before I began practising my faith. I was worried about their judgement and truthfully a bit self absorbed in how "they" would see me, or remember me. Over time I began to recognize the amazing way God's transforming grace spoke through in these encounters and eventually brought great joy. Hearing "there's something so different about you" reminded me of the Someone greater than all of us that knocked me off my horse! The memories, not so glorious have been healed by our Lord, but every now and then there is the grace of a thorn prick to remind me Who God is and who I am not. A prick that corrects my judgement and allows me to recognize that being perfect is not important to serve God. The prick of the thorn reminds me to see others through the lens of my own brokenness and not with partiality.
God "does not consider how you once behaved , but what you have now begun to be."  May we strive to remember how we once behaved, so that we may forever live rejoicing to God by the witness of our lives and what we have begun to be by His mercy. (CC)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Three Persons One Divine Love. By: C.C.

"It is not just individual man and woman that image the Trinity (in the unity of body, soul, and spirit), but in a yet more perfect way men and women together, because together they form a union of love from which proceeds a third person, their child. Thus all three persons in the human family, mother, father, and child, are wrapped with a bond of self-giving love–and in this way they image the Trinity. (Gretchen- The Catholic Company) 

"Do you pray together?" The question stopped me mid sentence and demanded a response. When the priest asked me this I was forced to silence. The Confessional is one of my favourite places, not because I am a scrupulous person or a 'repeat offender',  but because I recognize my vast sin(s) and my need to reconcile with our Lord and prayerfully reconcile with others.
    God is truly full of surprises and I am amazed at how often the Confessional is the very place where He most astounds me. My last Confession was one of these particular moments when out of no where and in no way relating to the topic of my ceaseless ramblings the priest asked that question. I was almost embarrassed to admit that since the birth of Eliana and throughout my pregnancy it had often been difficult to pray regularly with my husband outside of Mass. This had little to do with him and in fact much more to do with me. My husband prefers night prayer and I prefer the dark solitude of the early morning. He was always willing to compromise and I just fell into my own habit of personal private solitary prayer. I always used the excuse of attending daily Mass (whenever we managed to together) as praying together. In my heart I knew the importance and need for establishing a prayer time as husband and wife. 
   Before humbly answering Father with the right answer I entertained him with a bunch of excuses. Then in the back of my mind I was fully convinced that my husband had been talking to him in his confessions. I was so convinced that I began my response by saying "Well Fr, despite what he'll tell you..." (more on that later)
   The priest began to counsel me on the importance of the Sacrament of marriage and the grace that belongs to us intimately as husband and wife. Admittedly I was almost losing sight of this primary role as wife and was being consumed with my new role as mother. The priest reminded me that the grace to be a mother flows from the sacramental grace on our wedding day.
  As I sat in the Church following Confession I reflected upon the Trinity and how it truly is the icon of family life. I was able to better understand the role that I have in maintaining and nurturing our very own domestic Trinity.It is a continual outpouring of self into the other as the Father pours into the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The fullness of God's love is manifested in the Holy Trinity just as the fullness of family life manifests in the perpetual 'self giving love' of all persons within the family. 
  It is through this realization that the family stays united in Christ. It is by striving to fulfill my vocation as a wife that I am a better mother to my daughter and in being a devoted husband that my spouse is too a better father.  
   I came home from Church on a prayer mission!! I spoke at length with my husband about constructing a routine prayer time together that would be manageable for us. I found out that he actually did not confess to this priest in months, and even though our prayer life had been on his heart he never did share this. 
   "Do you pray together?" was a prompting of the Holy Spirit from the love of our heavenly Father and Son so that our domestic Trinity could grow in love and serve Him more abundantly. Though it is cliché "The family that prays together stays together". May all families strive to live out their vocation of fruitful love and be as an icon of God in the world. (CC) 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Motherhood & Prayer: Ora et Labora by: C.C

I was kindly asked by Stephanie (a dear sister in Christ) to guest blog on her site. Here is a link to what I wrote http://bluebird-songs.blogspot.ca/2015/07/motherhood-prayer-ora-et-labora.html

Enjoy getting to know Stephanie too!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Birth Story of Eliana Grace & God's Gift of Grace. by:C.C.

" For this child I have prayed and the Lord has granted the desires of my heart" (1 Samuel 1:27)
                                                Eliana's Baptism Day: Divine Mercy Sunday
    I hesitated to share the intimacies of our daughter's birth story out of the initial desire to  enjoy the sacredness of each moment with her and to allow for everything to 'sink in'. After  some prayerful reflection I felt it was important to share her birth story to bring glory to God.
   Every birth, every beautiful gift of life within the womb of a woman is a testimony of our Lord's majesty and goodness. The experience is full of awe. It is difficult for me to imagine any woman carrying life within her and not contemplating the One who gave us all this precious gift of life--"You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb" (Psalm 139:13). 
   The experience of my pregnancy allowed me to enter more fully into the mystery of our Lord. Not only was I stretched in the literal sense, but also spiritually. My awareness of the unknown was expanded and the reliance on hope and trust in the Lord was renewed and prayed for every day (often many times in the same day)
   My husband and I decided to keep the gender of our baby a surprise.  Leading up to the  due date of March 18th we often tried to guess what we were having. This too was a test of  my patience! Given that I was due to deliver during the Lenten season I thought that my Lenten sacrifice could be to offer up my labour pains for our Lord's sufferings and mercy. Yes, I was naive at this time to the pains to come, but I was determined. I shared this desire with my spiritual director, who replied without hesitation "You know Catherine, I read somewhere that the pains of child birth are the equivalent of sixty bones crushing simultaneously, or something like that" ...well Father, thanks for the encouraging words! I left there recognizing the need to enter more fully into the preparation with prayer, while also aware of my own physical limitations. 
    St.Gerard (patron of expectant mothers) and I became great friends, but I also decided that I would need to think of more concrete offerings to meditate upon throughout the labour experience. As the due date approached I entered into the Psalms and following the advice of a priest in Confession read and re-read the scripture of Jesus in Gethsemane. I  thought of three intentions (in no specific order) and kept them in my heart.
    My intentions were The Passion of Our Lord and the excruciating pain He endured. I also committed to offering up my labour for the women who have had abortions, for their emotional pains and for our Lord's mercy on them. And lastly, but not least, I chose to offer up any sufferings to come for the 21 Egyptian Coptic Martyrs, as that story truly touched my heart and the images of them kneeling on the beach in surrender left a painful imprint within me. I knew it would take discipline and focus to think of these intentions when my "hour came" (John 16:21).
   And the hour(s) did arrive on Sunday, March 15th, 2015. My water broke at home (thankfully) and the journey to delivery began. I will spare the specifics. Things progressed well and I endured much of the early stages of labour at home before my midwife asked me to come to the hospital to monitor baby and me at 2pm. Baby and I were doing healthily and  she was confident to send me back home as she thought I had much time to endure before it was "Go" time. 
   My husband was truly the hero this day with support, patience, and incredible focus operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a wife in labour! The agony became more intense as soon as we left the hospital to return home. Once home, I entered deeply into my intentions, plugged into my ipod , which my husband had loaded with audio from my favourite Gregorian Chant  and waited in expectation of more to come.
   By 8:00pm we were on our way back to the hospital, and at this point I was quite sure that if labour had not yet fully arrived then I would not be able to keep going! When we arrived to the hospital my husband dropped me off at the Emergency entrance said to wait there for him and a wheel chair as he parked. I told him I'd be walking right in to labour and delivery and that I had to keep moving ...off I went. This walk up to labour and delivery was truly a  grace. It was during this time of painful walking and stumbling that I was again able to refocus on my intentions. 
   My wonderful midwife (a seriously devout Polish Catholic) was there to greet me with open arms. She gave me a very soothing and maternal hug. Eventually my husband arrived not too long after, carrying multiple bags and on a mission! By roughly 9pm I was checked for the first time and I was 9cm dilated!!! It was indeed "GO" time shortly. My husband placed a crucifix that we had brought from home above my head. By 11:24pm our baby girl had arrived!
   There is much that remains in the sanctity of silence and experience alone. However departure day on March 17th, 2015 was truly where the most affirming sign from our Lord was made visible. 
  My husband and I were leaving the hospital and he had gone to get the car telling me to wait with Eliana inside as he felt it was too cold to wait outside. I am much more stubborn. I began to leave through the main doors and was stopped for a moment by two men attempting to enter at the same time. These men we robed in black cassocks, one gentleman had a rather long beard and was carrying a small wooden ornate Crucifix. I motioned for them to enter, but they insisted that I depart first. I was intrigued by them. It was rather cool so I walked back inside of the lobby. The man with the beard and Crucifix was seated across from the information desk and I approached him, gazing at the Crucifix in his hand. He held Jesus out to me and I reverently did the sign of our faith and kissed the Crucifix with my hand. I was greatly moved and began to ask him some questions. Embarrassingly the first question was "Are you a Christian?" (yes, it was glaringly obvious, but I'm not sure what overcame me). My next question to him was "Are you Orthodox?" to which he said yes. I then asked him if he was a priest and he replied yes. I told him that I was Roman Catholic and without hesitation he brought his hand to his heart and said " My brothers". 
     The exchange was very emotional. I introduced him to Eliana and he blessed her. I began to weep, and being 2 days postpartum these were quite intense tears! He sat back down and I asked him what type of Orthodox Christian he was, and when he replied that he was Egyptian Coptic my tears and awareness of God's providence and majesty increased. 
   I shared my labour intentions with him....telling him that I had included his martyred brothers in my intentions as I continued to weep. He stood up and gave me two prayer cards and said "Remember St. Paul always". 
   Here below are photographs of the cards. I obviously have no idea what they say, but that  is unimportant. 

    My husband then called me and I walked out of the hospital crying. My first words to him in response to his perplexed look were "I'm okay, God is so amazing."! He assumed it was hormonal, but on the ride home I shared the story with him and showed him the prayer cards. He was just as moved. I am so grateful that our Lord gave me the gift of this tangible keepsake to remember the blessing of this day and to share it with others. Should Eliana ever doubt God's presence in her life I will be undoubtedly sharing the story of her birth and leaving the hospital with her!!

   The name Eliana means "My God has answered" and our Lord truly answered me with  her life and affirmed my Lenten offering. May the glory and praise be to God. (CC)




Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Lose Yourself on the Cross" By: C.C.

"He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely." (St.Catherine of Siena)
    The idea of asking oneself "who am I?" acquires much more depth through seeking God. The question "who are you?" in regards to others also becomes much more insignificant and irrelevant. The reason for this is because in coming to know God we become aware of His majesty and our baseness, not in a manner of ill thought or self sabotage, but in a way that allows one to fully surrender even the idea of "self" to He who gives sense to the very nature of being an "I" to begin with. St. Catherine of Siena reminds us that losing ourselves on the Cross allows us to find our complete self. 
     It is beautiful to seek God and to lose self; becoming entirely full and whole seeking things beyond the tangible and an identity that can not be expressed with words. In reconciling ourselves to the idea that we are nothing, we can be most blessed to grow in relation to He who is everything. In knowing this, there is no longer anything more important than continually drawing nearer to God allowing Him to reveal Himself and His mystery; enabling one to become who He wills and to do what He most desires. 
    The question of "Who am I?" should naturally lead us to ask "Who is He that made me, and for what purpose?" In giving over ourselves to God we become most who we are called to be and reflect to the world the image and likeness of God in which we are created.
    The world poses us the question "Who are you?" and seeks answers for this by looking at what we have.  As a result, we are led to an identity struggle that pushes us toward material merit, more possessions,  more labels, and in turn smothers the soul by burdening us with stuff so that we are totally consumed by falsity and further out of touch with God. Until we recognize that the thirst we have is for God we are left perpetually parched.
      It is a continual work and sacrifice to serve our Lord. It is a constant battle between flesh and spirit but in constantly turning to our Lord and Blessed Mother we are most provided for. God desires our nothingness to make us everything through Him. May we come to  trust God in all things gladly losing ourselves to His loving providence-CC

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Belief and Action. By:CC

"How you act reveals what you believe. How you act will tell you if you truly believe you are born from above. You want to know what you believe, see how you act. Even better accept input from others who will not flatter you. The new self reveals itself precisely at those limits when we must choose to keep the unredeemed ego, the old self in place or let go and let the walls and defenses crumble. If I still cultivate the old self. If I guard it, protect it, protect turf, wall myself off from the claims of God or others – how can I really say that the new self is alive in me? How would anyone know that there lives in us the new life in Christ unless we were ready to die to self?" ( Abbot Gerard D'Souza- Homily April 14th. 2015)

    Our faith may dwell intimately within us and our prayers are often privately proclaimed in the sanctuary of our hearts- appropriately hidden from the gaze of others. Through faith we are invited to allow God to transform us. 

   A life surrendered to Christ is one of perpetual surrender. It is a constant and continuous offering of ourselves to God in complete awareness of our lowliness. Much of our spiritual life occurs in the hidden interior of our hearts. Our Lord calls us outside of ourselves to proclaim the Good News and live our lives as an example of virtue. It is beyond faith alone. If we proclaim to have faith and if we humbly pray in the hidden places of our hearts then this should indeed manifest itself in all of our outward actions. 
"How you act reveals what you believe" if this is true then ideally our every action as followers of Christ should be radiant and Christ like. Yet, we stumble and we fall. Our actions fail to consistently reveal what we believe because our faith at times is inconsistent.
  In these shortcomings we are humbled and we are called to examine our hearts and the depths of our belief. We are tested and forced to the 'limits' when we must make a choice to act in accordance to our belief or to be controlled by the temptation and resort to the old self. 
  The new self, if alive in us takes great work. It is this self that demands cultivation and protection.  A life of prayer safeguarded by the Sacraments. It is the new self that brings forth new life by death. The authenticity of our faith, the goal of our spiritual lives is to have all that we believe, say, and do harmoniously united in Christ.- CC

Monday, March 30, 2015

Humility in The Desert. By:C.C.

"Where then is the man so stubbornly and mistakenly presumptuous of his own sanctity as to refuse to undergo the cleansing action of the remedy of penance? (…) I only wish, my dear brethren, that we, in our sinfulness, had the same humility as the saints have in their virtue."(William of St Thierry, On Contemplating God II)

   If we genuinely commit ourselves to our Lenten observances then the awareness of our sinfulness should come to us as a gracious blessing. Here is found the opportunity to do penance, to seek forgiveness, and to reconcile with our Lord. Through our fasting and alms-giving we undoubtedly stumble and fall. We may fall short of climbing the spiritual heights we vowed to pursue on Ash Wednesday as we entered the desert with our Lord.
   This experience of failure can increase our dependence upon God and the awareness of His providence if we approach it with humility. When we acknowledge ourselves as imperfect and among the sinful we can recognize our need for our Lord's love and mercy in a more profound way. We can better understand Christ's sacrifice on the Cross when we begin to walk the desert daily without presumption of our own sanctity. -CC