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 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 great 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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Conditioned by Christ. By: C.C.

"For most of us sensitivity of soul is just not there for it has been loaded over with cares and concerns often far removed from integrity and truth. Our hearts are conditioned by the society in which we live far more than by the Gospel. It is what the Fathers call the clouding of the Image of God in the soul by the passions; and what we might describe in contemporary terms as the evident loss of integration in the human heart." (John Anthony McGuckin)
   Becoming attune with the life of our soul and acknowledging the counter Christ conditions that society imposes upon us takes great work. It is a task that we are called to as followers of Christ living within the world. It is not a work that should leave us overtly bitter or critical of our surroundings.  It is through the increasing awareness of our soul that we become equipped to recognize our place of responsibility as God's beloved in the world which He created out of love for all. 
   It is potentially easier at times and tempting to become cynical and bitter as we are faced with surroundings lacking integrity and truth. Giving into these temptations only highlights what McGuckin shares as a "clouding of the Image of God in the soul by the passions". These passions, often lead one toward judgement and do not help foster the Gospel message in our world. We cease being a light of hope and instead become darkened by pride and other vices that further cloud the Image of God, and fail to cultivate a culture of Christ within our society.
   The Gospel reminds us that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son." (John 3:16) We can not serve Christ by hating the world that He served out of love for His Father and for all. Despite the condition of our society we are encouraged to turn fervently toward our Lord and live out the Gospel message of love. We must make integrity and truth our main care and concern and leave those things that cloud our hearts aside. If our ministry and mission is not driven by love then it is most likely clouded by self-centred concerns and not centred around Christ.. 
   The Lenten season invites us to a deeper awareness of the soul. It is an appropriate time to take the required space from our multitude of responsibilities and keep our gazes upon the Lord and His teachings. Let us continue this Lenten season aware of God's love and welcome the transforming graces that may come. (CC)

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Reality of God's Presence. By: C.C.

"There can be so much escapism in our striving for a "spiritual life". We often flee from the concrete, apparently banal reality that is filled with God's presence to an artificial existence that corresponds with our own ideas of piety and holiness but where God is not present. As long as we want to decide for ourselves where we will find God, we need not fear that we shall meet him! We will meet only ourselves..." (Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D. +2013

    The path toward holiness is one of humility and surrender. The desire to have greater union with God and to lead a life of service to Him requires that we step outside of ourselves and allow the Lord to slowly transform us the way that He wills- void of our own wants and selfish needs. 
  We can often make the mistake of thinking that we need to pursue holiness the same way we do daily tasks and goals. This approach can lead us to an artificial experience of God and one that is much rooted in our own need for control rather than in humble surrender. As Fr. Wilfrid reminds us, "we often flee from the concrete, apparently banal reality that is filled with God's presence". 
    To encounter God and allow His grace to mold and guide us requires our perpetual consent.It is not about finding an escape, but in opening ourselves more fully to the Lord and creating an entrance way.
  A spiritual life does not entail escaping the conditions of our reality, but demands that we become increasingly aware of God's extraordinary presence in our day to day ordinary existence. (C.C) 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Remembering Rome By: C.C.

     It is hard to believe that a year has almost passed since departing Toronto to attend the 'Joy of Yes Forever' event for engaged couples in Rome. I have decided to re-post highlights from the beautiful experience. 
   Last January I came across an advertisement from the Pontifical Council for the Family about an event at the Vatican on Saint Valentine's Day where Pope Francis was calling together engaged couples from around the world for an engagement blessing. At the time this seemed to be something far out of reach and quite frankly 'crazy'. 
  To leave Toronto for a weekend and fly to Rome? Who does that? Well, maybe Cardinal Collins, but he definitely has important things to do!  Anyhow, I kept this between God and I, (did not tell my fiance), sent an email to the PCF and prayed.
    While keeping this to myself, I did feel rather at peace with entertaining the idea of going to Rome and began researching flights and times, accommodations, and also looking into my school board's voluntary unpaid leave of absence days. Thank God for those days, because the idea of heading to Rome for a Papal blessing and calling in 'sick' to work is probably a sin that I'd end up having to confess!
   Eventually I did inform my lovely fiance (now husband) about what I had been up to. At first he was caught off guard, but not entirely because he was well aware of my stubbornness with ideas, and also of what happens with an ounce of determination and a whole lot of prayer. I translated his lack of a clear "NO" and a deep exhaled breath to mean "Let's do this"(......poor guy). He left my house that night and as I retired to bed I quietly prayed .... 
    Carmen and I quietly planned our trip together, sorted everything out, and though to be only one couple among thousands, to us it was worth it. There were apparently no tickets for the event and it was to be held in St. Peter's Square, 'first come, first serve'. I assured Carm that if necessary we would be sleeping in the square!!. To my amazing surprise on departure day February 12th. 2014 I received this email prior to our flight....

"Gentili Signori,
 Vi scriviamo in merito all’udienza dei fidanzati che si terrà il prossimo venerdì in Piazza San Pietro. Volevamo comunicarvi che abbiamo riservato al vostro gruppo un numero di  2 BIGLIETTI per il sagrato (parti laterali a destra e a sinistra del palco dove si trova il Papa).
Vi chiediamo gentilmente se un referente potrà venire a ritirarli  la mattina del 14 dalle ore 08.00 alle ore 09.00 davanti la Porta Sant’Uffizio(colonnato sinistro della basilica, ingresso Aula Paolo VI). Troverete una postazione del Pontificio Consiglio della Famiglia con degli incaricati che vi distribuiranno i biglietti.
  In attesa di un vostro riscontro vi porgiamo cordiali saluti,

Pontificio Consiglio per la Famiglia"

  .......Which, basically says that there are now two tickets reserved for us and that we are to come to get them on the morning of the event! I had no idea how this happened but I was even more excited and grateful to God. One part I should add is that February 12th, 2014 was less than a month to our wedding day (march 8th, 2014)! There was a lot going on. 

Me, So very happy at Pearson

The 'Poor Guy" saying to himself "My fiance is crazy"!
We arrived in Rome, ate really good pizza, checked into our accommodations, and found the nearest Church to pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God! 

He was excited, I promise, just a tad exhausted (ha)

                         "I woke the next morning and said 'Carm, it's Pope day let's move!"

Got the Tickets!!!!

Got close, awaiting Il Papa!!
We also met and got to know yet another wonderful priest from the Archdiocese of Toronto while visiting and the fun continued.

Fr. Owen

   Listening to Pope Francis and being so close to Him and his presence truly affirmed God's presence and the humble and hidden life of Christ that he lives. His advice to us as an engaged couple  remains etched in my soul and are those that I often reflect upon, especially in times when I need to be reminded about what the vocation of marriage is. 
   Marriage is a Sacrament meant for holiness, not for happiness. But it is in striving toward holiness that we undoubtedly find joy beyond measure; a pursuit well worth more than any worldly merit.
   In pausing to joyfully remember our experience in Rome, I rejoice in God's providence and His aid in our early experiences as a married couple. Valentine's day will always have an important central focus around the love of God in our lives. The words spoken to us by our Holy Father in Rome will continue to ground us in striving to better understand and live out this vocation.(CC)

"Cari fidanzati, voi vi state preparando a crescere insieme, a costruire questa casa, per vivere insieme per sempre. Non volete fondarla sulla sabbia dei sentimenti che vanno e vengono, ma sulla roccia dell’amore vero, l’amore che viene da Dio." (Pope Francis)