Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle in us the Fire of Love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and You Shall renew the face of the earth. O God who instructs us by the light of the Holy Spirit grant us in the same Spirit the gift of Holy Wisdom.
Lord, you promised in your Holy Word that the Father will not deny the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who ask for Him. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord to recreate and to deeply heal us in every way.
You are close to those who suffer and near to all who call. The only thing impossible with you is that you would remain distant and inactive. Grant that we may expect all things from you.
Still small voice within, you are the same Spirit who parted the Red Sea and guided your people through the desert in the pillar of cloud and fire. Help us to trust you completely and keep us in peace as we wait to see what you will do. We know you will do something.
Mary, Bride of the Spirit, pray for us that the Spirit will overshadow our lives and reveal Christ in our midst. May your prayer, the gift of a grateful heart, draw the Holy Spirit to rest on your children.
Oh God we praise you, we adore you, we bless you, we thank you, we pour out our hearts before you.
In the past year and a half, I have experienced the loss of three beloved pets dear to my heart. The first was Peanut, my orange and white rescue cat. Peanut lived to be 19, and died peacefully from kidney failure in August of 2016. The next was Simone, a beautiful long-haired white cat that I adopted from my sister’s vet in San Antonio. She died in April of 2017 from pneumonia at age 16. The last was my fiancé’s family dog named Flower. She died way too young from a cancerous tumor at age 8 or 9. I had grown quite close to her and she spent a large part of the last year of her life with me in my condo in Austin.
All of these losses have affected me deeply, especially Peanut and Flower. Simone spent a lot of time outdoors and was somewhat aloof. But she was just as special as the others.
I will have to admit that these deaths have affected me as much as the death of my own mother and even my beloved grandfather. At first I felt silly even thinking that. Or at least admitting to it. But it is true. Peanut spent just about every day of his life sleeping right by my head. We woke up together, spent much of our days together, and he was around long enough to witness my changing from a young man into middle age. He came when I called him, (not always the case for cats, as many of you cat owners out there know) He gave few other people the time of day. The closest he came to accepting someone else was Shawn, my fiancé. He grudgingly started allowing her access into his world. And then she took a large role is caring for him in the last few weeks of his life.
As much as their deaths affected me in a deeply painful way, the positive and uplifting aspects of how they affected my life mad that pain worth it.
Peanut was a constant, a reminder of being in the moment, of not sweating things, and unconditional acceptance. When I came home, he was there. He did not care what kind of day I had, or how much money I made, or even how accepting I was of him. Sometimes I was exhausted and needed a bit of time. He seemed to get that. Peanut was just there, content to meow at me (sometimes grumpily) and give me the honor of petting him. It was unconditional love in the purest of ways.
Later in his life he spent some time in the outdoors, but every time I came home I would call him and he would come bounding up, his slightly fat belly rocking back and forth at his steps.
Peanut was a stoic little cat. Once, he accidentally got locked in a hot closet for a day without food or water. I came home and called for him, and no Peanut. To my horror I opened up the closet door and found him. He sort of sauntered out and went directly to his food and water and then hopped to his usual spot on the bed. Oddly, he still had no fear of the closet after that, either.
It is as if he knew it was an accident and he trusted me not to do it again. I didn’t.
He had the prettiest green eyes. And he sometimes would bite me for no reason and sort of look at me like “I don’t know why I do that either”…..
He also was the last living pet connection to my mother, who died in 1998. She gave me Peanut in October of 1997. He was a very small kitten when she found him under a shed in her backyard in San Antonio.
I miss my mother often. I miss Peanut daily. He was a great cat. And at the end of his life, he got to know and be friends with Flower. I have a picture of both of them sleeping together one sunny afternoon. I treasure that photo and always will.
Goodbye Peanut. You gave as much to me or more than I gave you. Thank you.
Simone was a very skinny, somewhat neurotic 2 year old when my sister brought her up to me from San Antonio. Peanut, who was already living in the house, accepted her from the get go. She hissed at him a few times, but he never hissed at her. At the time I adopted her I had carpets on my floor, and the smell of pee (she was sneaky) in various corners of my place suggested strongly why Simone had trouble being adopted.
It didn’t stop me, as I realized it was time to pull up the carpets anyway. After she got more used to things, I let her explore outside and she stayed out there often after that. She would come in to eat and be petted. But often she ran from me when I approached her. Up until the day she died. When I had company, she would decide to get friendly and start meowing in a very loud voice (Peanut, on the contrary, had a very soft half meow, half bird call voice). She then would approach whoever was there and offer her best side, her butt. Right in their face.
I found that I could make this somewhat obnoxious behavior stop when I would merely cough. She would run back outside. But she rarely ventured far. And in the morning she would be just outside the door for food and a morning greeting.
People would comment on her beautiful white coat and my vet often wondered how she didn’t get picked off by some falcon or large bird. But she did fine outside, and even the raccoon who came over to try and eat would ignore her and her him. She wasn’t the least bit aggressive. She was just Simone.
Goodbye Simone. It is weird not seeing you outside my door.
Flower came into my life in a bit different way. She was the family dog of my fiancé, Shawn. When I first met her, Flower nearly bit me. I was visiting her at her brother’s house where she was staying. As I got out of my car in the driveway, I wasn’t sure if anybody was home. Then suddenly, out of the blue came this medium sized brown dog running up with teeth bared. Some dogs stop with a warning, but Flower wasn’t set on warning me. She chomped down, but I was quick enough to move my hand. Within a couple of seconds, her tail was wagging and a friendship was born.
Flower was a special dog in more than one way. The first thing I noticed is how smart she was. And how in tune she was to her surroundings. While still getting to know me, she was sure to come to me after making the rounds of all the family members present just to let me know I was accepted. She also could run like a rabbit, which she loved doing. She learned how to help Shawn corral her chickens in the evening.
While it took a bit (she wasn’t ready to even go for walks with me for a while), Flower and I grew close. After the tragic suicide of Shawn’s brother, I began taking Flower back with me to Austin for weekends and some days. She was a rock for me in those times, always smiling, always looking intently at my face for signs of what I was feeling.
We started taking long walks together and she became a part of my life. Sleeping on the bed with Peanut, she was a staple for over a year. We would go to the dog park here in Austin and she would be nervous but eventually get excited. Flower was a rescue as well, and you could tell she had a rough go of it early in her life.
But she grew into herself. And her unique personality shone through. She could be stubborn, even sometimes diva-ish, but she was a sweet, gentle, in tune dog that helped me through one of the most stressful times in my life. Seeing her sleeping next to me, I swear she was an angel sent by God.
Unfortunately, Flower developed a tumor on her back that required emergency surgery to even have a hope of saving her life. The way she co-operated with the process, all the pain, all of the inconvenience, was inspiring. The staff at Texas A & M Vet School fell in love with her.
Flower bravely fought her way back from the surgery. Shawn, my fiancé took care of her in Bryan the first few weeks after her surgery. The dog was in a lot of pain for much of that time, but she retained her sweet spirit. Shawn carefully took her to the backyard to pee, and Flower often took an interest in smelling the flowers and looking at the dog next door. On some days, she just wanted back in the house.
The first time I saw her after the surgery she was in her kennel that Shawn got for her. She whimpered upon seeing me, and I cried to see in her in such pain but also cried in gratitude that she was still with us. Flower took the myriad of pills and liquid pain meds with surprising cooperation, even though she hated the taste of some of them.’
The first time she came back to Austin she came we were nervous about the ride. When she saw my backporch area where she hung out so many sunny days, her first inclination was to chase my cat. We saw that as a good sign.
A few days went by and she still struggled walking. But one evening I took her out with her cloth support under her legs. At first she did her usual “I just want to go back inside”, but on this night I encouraged her to walk a bit more per vets instructions. As if to say “alright lets do this” she began to walk briskly around the back area of my condo, sniffing around as if it were old times.
The next few days and weeks saw steady improvements, along with the expected accidental peeing in the bed and having trouble getting up. You could tell this hurt her pride a lot, but her courage and good attitude continued to amaze and hearten me. There was so much pain and tragedy all around and seeing this, although hard, was also uplifting. By taking action in her healing I was healing myself.
One day Flower was ready to walk in the neighborhood were we took so many walks in the last year. Although still having trouble, she wanted to walk as far as I would let her. I cried again. It couldn’t contain it. Maybe she was on the road back.
Flower had a couple of months of good days after that, traveling to Houston with us to my new apartment there, sitting in the sun, eating heartily and laying by my new cat, Miriam. She had trouble with climbs, and her patented athleticism was not the same. But she was determined to enjoy her life. And that she did. She may have had trouble physically, but Flower remained Flower. Begging for food, being stubborn, being sweet, sleeping soundly with me.
After several months, you could see that she was having trouble again walking. We didn’t want to admit it, but the tumor, as the vet warned could happen, returned.
She travelled to Bryan to have a check up and it didn’t look good. But she did get to spend time with Shawn and her young adult daughter, Roise, whose childhood dog Flower had been. There are pictures of the girl with Roise and her then infant daughter, Lani. She still was happy to be with her people.
I took her back to Austin and things declined to where Flower could not get comfortable enough to even lay down. We tried upping her pain meds and giving her steroids per vets advice, but she still couldn’t lay down. It was sad, but it seemed like it was time to say goodbye and end her suffering.
The last day of her life I carried her around the back area that she loved and let her look around. She really did seem to understand what was happening. That day my vet came over and we had a Catholic tinged ritual with Flower there before she went to her next life. I still cry thinking about the gift of her life and yes, the gift of her good death. My vet and I carried her body to his van. Carrying her then lifeless body was very, very difficult but I am glad I did it. We laid her carefully down.
Flower was gone.
I truly can say, and I am not prone to hyperbole, that Flower helped saved my life during that difficult year and got us through the death of Shawn’s brother and the even worse aftermath of it. And I still miss the girl. Deeply. She was an angel.
Goodbye Flower. I miss you every day.
But the story didn’t end there. In fact, it started another chapter that surprised even me.
A couple of days after her death, I, still in shock and grief, went to the pet store to get a special cleaner to clean my mattress from the urine odor. Oddly, the odor offered me some comfort for a day or so but I knew it was time to clean it up.
I walked into the store, hot from the summer heat and purchased the cleaner. I was not in a good mood and things still seemed surreal. On the way out I noticed some kennels against the wall with some dogs up for adoption for rescue shelters around the area.
I made my purchase and was not paying attention to much when I made eye contact with a little white dog in his kennel. He looked very sad. He looked at me, looked down and then looked at me again. It caught my attention.
I had no intention to getting another dog. I knew also about the “don’t get a pet to replace a lost one right away” rule, which I though was a good one. But something made me turn around and ask the people at the front about the dog. His name on the kennel was “Henry”. He looked so small and fragile, but had these huge “bat” ears. He reminded me of me that day. Well, besides the ears.
One clerk told me that Henry had been rescued from a house where there was a murder and a suicide. Given that Shawn’s family had gone through a suicide (and quite frankly some metaphorical murders) I thought it odd to hear that. And it sent a chill down my spine. My heart immediately went out to the little fella. That pissed me off.The clerk then told me the manager of the store, Theresa, would have information on him. She walked up to me after doing some things with the rescue cats. I asked her about him. She seemed a bit skeptical and cool at first “oh, he is not close to being ready to be adopted. He is still somewhat feral and needs a lot of work”….I know something about feeling feral and needing a lot of work, so I said “what would I need to do?”. She said, still somewhat skeptical “you can come back and visit him and see how you two do”. I think she thought I wouldn’t come back.
Later that day, I was back. She gingerly picked the terribly frightened dog and told me I could pet him. He eyed me very cautiously. And as I petted him his eyes stayed wide open, as if waiting for a blow…Then I noticed the strangest thing. His back was shaved in a little rectangle area. “What happened there?” I asked. “Oh, he had a tumor on his back. But it was benign. It was a fatty tumor”. It was shaved just like poor Flowers back.
That scorching July afternoon brought on a pretty serious thunderstorm that for a bit made Austin look almost dusk like. It was surprisingly cool for a bit.
After waiting for it to pass, I got on my scooter, a little taken aback, and got a real sense that I was supposed to adopt Henry. And I would show Theresa how serious I was about that, whatever it took.
On the way home, I looked at the gray but clearing sky and saw a full rainbow facing east, in the direction of Flower’s place of birth near Bryan. It was beautiful and vivid. It was if Flower was saying, “You get it? adopt him”. Flower knew I needed Henry as much as he might need me. That shook me but also gave me a real sense of calm. Flower was still up to her tricks.
I called Shawn and told her the story. She laughed a bit. “Sounds pretty clear” she said.
So, every day, twice a day, I would go and visit Henry. At first I think he was wondering what the hell I was doing there. Theresa would take him out. He would be frightened, but he would cower in the corner and let me pet him. I just sat on the floor uncomfortable and sweaty. Occasionally, he would glance at me and look away. When she put him back in his cage, he would literally dash in there and look terrified.
I came the next day. And the next day. And the next….twice a day when I could.
Theresa finally started warming up to me and offered tips as to how to handle him. After a little over a week, she had me walk with Henry as she took him out to pee. Then I took him out (I was terrified I would freak him out) with her behind me. He would look back at her, very skeptically. She told me he would hold pee and bowel movements for days. He would only eat if no one was looking.
Eventually I was able to take him out daily. He started peeing, being very careful to stay directly behind me, out of my vision.
Then one day on the way back to his kennel he pooped on the sidewalk. Victory!
The day come when Henry came for a home visit the first time. I felt like CPS was coming over, I was so nervous. But Henry, once he found his trusty bed (that bed is his safe place. his world exists from there) felt quite at home. Shawn was with me that day. It was a lovely hot summer Saturdayafternoon. The visit was a success.
The next Monday I came to visit and Theresa very nonchalantly said Henry could go home with me on that Wednesday and she handed me his adoption papers to sign. She said“I didn’t think Henry was going to find a home. No one was interested after hearing how hard he was.” I passed!
Henry was gonna be a part of my family. The dogless, childless divorced guy who only could handle cats was going to be a dog owner.
Flower made sure of that. This part is too weird to be true, but as I was nervously taking Henry home for the first time, another rain storm came down on a steaming hot August day and produced, yes, another beautiful rainbow in the sky.
After seeing the second rainbow, I reflected again on how I needed all of my beloved pets as much as they needed me. They were family. I miss Flower, Peanut and Simone like family. They were a part of my everyday life. They showed me unconditional love. I could only hope that I showed me close to the same.
In this new year, 2018, I have had Henry for about five months. Each day he is becoming more like a normal dog and not like the scared, lost dog with the haunted eyes I met that July afternoon. He barks when he hears my scooter coming to the house. He growls affectionally as I walk in to greet him. When I ask if he wants to go for a walk, he gets so excited he starts shaking. But he still keeps a lot of stuff inside. It is the path of healing for abused animals as much as for abused humans.
As gets out of his bed, he circles around a few times, (still not quite sure what to do) and I put on the leash and he is ready to go. His ears are perked up now when we go outside, he stops everywhere to sniff around and even lifts his leg to pee now and again. His healing in a continual process. It is slow but steady.
His eyes, once so haunted, are softer now. And he stares at me intently with his eyes half shut. He still likes to stay in his bed, but he will put his chin on the edge and look around, taking much more interest in the world around him. I know that he sneaks out and steals dog toys and whatever else he wants to gather for his bed. Despite his rough road, his spirit and rambunctiousness are still there. It is amazing.
One day I looked at a calendar at the scooter repair shop I frequent. They still hadn’t changed the page from the month before. But the picture on the calender page was of a white dog with massive, bat like eyes and the unmistakable paws that Henry has. It was a French bulldog. Aha! I learned that Henri was part French Bulldog.
So, now, his name is Henri. Whereas he once bit me (and Shawn, too, we share that honor) when he is frightened, he now will stop at the urge when he is frightened.
It is so rewarding to see this growth. And it is rewarding to see my growth in caring for him. He has taught me to be more patient, more gentle, more accepting, more…..calm. And his reticence, even in the face of excitement has shed some light on my own history. A story in itself.
Pets are people. They share our lives. They show us love. They show us ourselves. The model for us how to be present and happy in everday moments. They are a part of us. And yes, how we treat our pets says a lot about how we treat each other.
I am thankful for my past pets, and miss them every day. I am thankful for Henri. And for the gift Flower gave me in choosing him.
January is the month we focus on the Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated January 3. It’s also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1. As the eve of the New Year leads me to reflect on the past year and my resolutions for the year ahead, I feel that God is re-directing me to a new way to make use of a fruitful practice of mine. I understand that it will help me again to heal from trauma, to walk free from injustices, losses and grief that I can do nothing more about now that I have done all I can with God’s help.
I have wondered how I will ever heal, ever be able to forgive, ever be able to be whole again. I begin to see the way, and I have a powerful tool to start with.
I can take the reigns of my mind once again. I can draw it constantly back to the healing, freeing presence of God, turning painful memories, overwhelming thoughts and situations over to Jesus and to the prayers of His Blessed Mother and ours by repeating their holy names when that sense of helpless outrage rises, or bitter thoughts try to take over my life.
This will be my main resolution: to repeat the holy names of Jesus and Mary, as others have for centuries of Christian history, as a way to attaining the mind of Christ, and to cultivate in my battered soul the beautiful receptivity of Mary. May God give me the grace to follow through, and if I fall away from this constant prayer, to draw me back to it. I have already begun to experience mental freedom and soul healing in making a new beginning with this prayer.
Should you be interested in joining me, but perhaps “Jesus Maria” doesn’t appeal to you, there are other choices that run deep in our faith tradition. They are oft repeated prayers that shine like paths well trodden by holy feet, blessed by the Communion of Saints, for you to choose from and make your standard in the battle of earthly life.
Eastern religions make use of mantrams (or “mantras,” as one hears more often.) We do too. We may not realize that we Catholics have some mantrams as well, and that we could put them to good use in our spiritual lives.
This is one way to pray without ceasing, one way to occupy the mind properly during a difficult temptation, or slow it down when it is racing or dwelling on something that makes it angry or destructive, a way to harness the power of anger, or to find guidance and inspiration, and to grow constantly in love of God.
As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, God is accessible only by the little spark of love, that impulse toward Him, even if for a moment we lift our hearts toward Him, this is how to reach Him as well as any arrow hits the bull’s eye on the target. This impulse of love is the way to penetrate the overwhelming mystery of God and to possess, even apprehend Him by love in a way our intellects are not capable of. A mantram gives voice to that spark of love and helps us consciously place all of our lives in the presence of God throughout the day.
For those of you familiar with “Centering Prayer,” (a form of Christian meditation, or mental prayer using a prayer word or phrase ) you will already have an idea what I mean.
This short prayer can be done all the time, even when we are busy, or bored in a lobby somewhere, or sweeping the floor. We can pray those moments with a word or phrase that we repeat either vocally or mentally.
Don’t worry. Vain repetition means just that: vain. Are you being vain or mindless? Is it vain to repeat something that means all the world to you: the Name of Our Lord perhaps, or of Our Lady, or both? Of course not.
Some Christian mantrams:
In the Eastern Church the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) is used in a mantram fashion. One is encouraged to repeat it constantly from the heart… until it begins to pray itself within us on it’s own and becomes as much a part of us as breathing or the heart’s beating.
St. Francis is known to have stayed up all night at times repeating, “My God and my all, my God and my all, My God and my all!”
St. Rose of Lima memorized the Names of God from Scripture during a period of terrible aridity for her. She would say them over as she did embroidery and this practice gave her light.
The prayer received by St. Faustina is a good one to base our lives on, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends simply the word, “God.”
The angels sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” It seems like they are always saying it. We join them at every Sunday mass. Why not as often as we can?
There are a lot of very short, one line Catholic prayers that make good mantrams.
“Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls,” is one I have heard people use. An elderly Carmelite told me it was her constant prayer.
“May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored and loved,” is good.
Imagine how much good a constant spiritual communion would do. “Lord come spiritually into my heart.”
There is that great word from Revelation, too, “Maranatha” Our Lord come!
And then, there is the Holy Name itself, which, as St. Bernard says, brings to us Jesu dulcis memoria, “the sweet memory of Jesus.” Repeating it is a beautiful way to consciously live in His presence.
My mother used to say during chemo, “Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy,” especially since she was afraid of needles. If she started saying other mantrams that were not so good for her I would laugh and remind her of “Divine Mercy.”
Each of my daughters has a personal mantram that they repeat in times of trouble or difficulty praying or temptation or stress. Maire’s is “Stella Maris” or (Star of the Sea), one of Our Lady’s titles. Roise’s is, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,” or “Ave Maria, Ave Maria…”
My fiancee, Mark, is beginning to explore the use of a mantram prayer. His choice is “Baruch atah Adonai.” It is Hebrew for “Blessed be the Lord,” a phrase that has been sanctified by centuries of pray-ers.
Mine, I got from my beloved St. Joan of Arc, from the words on her banner, “Jesus Maria.” I hope I’m saying it when I die, to accompany me into the the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Some ways to use a mantram and some practical advice:
When you’re mad or worried about something, a brisk walk repeating your mantra can really help put you in the right frame of mind. The mantram is a good way to pray when you are at a red light or a seriously dull meeting or doing something tedious. It is great during hard, physical work to keep you going and dedicate your work, says my fellow Carmelite, George. It’s not bad for when a mean dog is chasing you, either, according to my kids.
If you are not having to concentrate on anything like navigating freeway traffic or doing a delicate repair that requires all your attention, the mantram can and should be said anytime.
One of my favorite ways to use mine is when I am falling asleep. If I’m good about staying on it, my heart will repeat it all night and if I wake up I notice I am still at it.
I try to pray it as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Sometimes it helps me get out of bed.
Sometimes when I am too upset to pray the rosary I just hold it. Sometimes I am in need of the greatest simplicity; something for my mind and heart to hold onto. A mantram prayer is perfect for that.
I would say don’t change it once you have chosen it. This way it will become part of you and sometimes your heart will start it on its own. It will grow with you and be with you all of your life. I have had mine for about twenty years. When I fall away from it, it is not too hard to get back to because of that. It has become a part of me, and my response to it is quicker and deeper now because it has grown over the years.
There’s nothing useless or vain about a mantram. Think of it as steps that lead you closer and closer to Heaven. Just choose it carefully so that it has the most meaning to you in your faith journey.
I have a little book I write the mantram in at times. I might dedicate a page to peace or to someone in trouble. There are several pages on which I have drawn pictures with the mantram in different colors and shapes. You will be amazed what a calming, peaceful activity this can be. It’s fun to do as a family too. We have made some mantram art together with all our different mantrams making a picture. Some of these hung on our refrigerator for years, serving as continuing prayers, and signs of family unity.
Try a mantram prayer with me this year. It couldn’t possibly hurt you. Most likely it will get you all straightened out when you need it and help you not waste time that you would ordinarily just use to worry when you are stuck somewhere or letting your mind go all over the place in unhelpful ways.
Perhaps it will help you regain focus on the present moment,
and to be present in the moment,
the **sacrament of the present moment,
where God always is.
It’s been very good for me.
I like to think of every repetition as a rose petal that drops into my heart as a gift of God, or that I let go into the wind to bless someone else, or the world in general.
The mantram “Jesus Maria” is my constant companion and has done me nothing but good. Have fun choosing yours, choose it carefully, make it part of your every day.
Maybe you will see what I mean.
*I am much indebted to one of my favorite spiritual authors, Eknath Easwaran, for first teaching me about the mantram and finding it in my own faith tradition.
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
… she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
~St. John of the Cross
I have to kneel at her bedside since it is just a mattress on the floor. When she nods a go-ahead to me, I peel her blankets carefully aside. I am moved to see that underneath these she holds a wall crucifix against her heart. I smile. “Jesus!” I exclaim, and she smiles hesitantly back at me. I gently set the crucifix beside her. Wordlessly I ask permission for my intended task by gesturing to the tub of soapy water I have brought. She nods. I take the rag, and wringing it out, I bathe the swollen, arthritic hands of this emaciated woman who has found no room, no help, no comfort in our hospitals, homes, or hearts in her time of need. In so doing I suddenly feel that the hands I bathe are those of the Mother of God here present in her suffering daughter. “No room, no room,” we have said to her in so many ways.
O Mary, my Mother, Mother of God,
obtain for us the mercy
of being merciful,
open our hearts
and our lives to you.
I unzip her sweat jacket to find a wrinkled tee shirt of Our Lady of Guadalupe underneath, her face peaking out at me as the zipper goes down. I have to sit back for a minute in my amazement at the serendipity in this. It is as if Mother Mary is confirming my thoughts.
Didn’t Mary appear to St. Juan Diego as one of the poor and disregarded herself, in a complete visual identification with them, in her dress, facial features and skin color, also saying, “I am the Perfect and Ever Virgin Mary, Most Holy Mother of God.” This is what Mary seems to say to me in this moment of simple revelation. “Am I not here who am your Mother?”
Yes, you are here.
Full of grace, intercede for us.
Intercede for this child of yours who needs help and welcome.
Medically neglected for years because of lack of resources, little help from others, and the constant fear of deportation she lives in, her disease is now unnecessarily advanced and irreversible, the pain unspeakable. She knows the extreme of poverty. She has experienced in her body the denial of any claims of the alien among us for anything at all.
Pierced Heart of Mary, pray for us.
It has been impossible for her to bathe herself and she has not allowed her teenaged sons to do so as yet. It appears, thankfully, that she may allow me, possibly as I am in scrubs, a woman, and someone she has come to trust a little.
Her arms, which she can barely move because of the pain, have to be scrubbed for long want of attention. The skin is rough and cracked. I remove bright yellow socks from pain twisted feet, being careful to wash between each crooked toe. She sighs with relief as I lay the hot washrag on her chest and stomach. She seems surprised when I add lotion and a few dabs of lavender essential oil.
I realize the graciousness of what I am being taught, even though I feel shy right along with her. This is living reparation, I realize, to the heart of the Holy Mother, broken by indifference, ingratitude and hostility toward her in the littlest of her children.
Mother of Our Lord, accept this small act of reparation and be consoled.
I respectfully bathe as much of her body as I dare, as much as she indicates I may, each time I “ask.” I enjoy the privilege of washing her long, black hair. This is a tricky job since she is bed bound, hurting, and can hardly move. Gingerly and with growing reverence I cleanse the high cheek bones and artistic lines of her face, making sure to wash around her mouth, eyes and eye lids as tenderly as I would those of the dearest child or of my own mother.
The Lord is with thee.
She looks at me intently, her honey colored eyes inscrutable as I apply moisturizer to her pretty face and graceful neck. How beautiful she is!
I sit back on my heels and wring out my washcloth one more time. We look at each other.
I tell her thank you. She considers this.
“Gracias, Chawn,” she says with gracious dignity.
“You are my Queen,” I say.
She smiles. “OK, Chawn.”
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Have compassion on the heart of your Most Holy Mother (Mary)
covered with thorns,
with which the ungrateful pierce it at every moment,
and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them.
~The Christ Child appearing to Sister Lucia of Fatima
Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor,
Mother of the immigrant, the sick, the forgotten,
of those denied human dignity and compassion among us,
allow us the grace of ministering to you and dicovering you and your Son,
in the despised and abandoned of your children.
Open our hearts to gratitude,
that we may make living reparation to yours.
May justice and mercy become our sacrifice of joy.
My late husband, Bob Chapman, had a strong sense of community. He was deeply aware that everything he did or did not do affected everyone else’s life, that we all have an effect on one another, all the time, in all we touch and do. He called this his “skin religion,” and he tried to live it to the full.
He cultivated a constant awareness of others, and had a knack for seeing how each might be helped, and then doing it. He noticed people’s needs and contributions every day.
He always encouraged someone he saw working hard, or doing something good. He pitched in an act of kindness everywhere he could.
The sign shaker guy on the corner was cold and needed a hot chocolate. Bob bought one and had me take it out to the man.
A girl at a small town grocery store was putting back all that she had in her basket. Unknown to her, Bob had watched her do this. Following behind, he had put her things in his own basket. As he paid, he had me run outside and ask her to wait a minute. I asked this girl what was wrong. “I was out of money on my food stamp card. I thought I had more.” “What were you getting?” “After school snacks for my kids.” And here comes Bob, handing her a bag of groceries.
A kid in our neighborhood loved basketball, and played often in his driveway. Bob noticed his net was broken one day. He went and got the kid a net, leaving it on his front porch.
I remember a time he fixed the cook’s car in the parking lot at the Vietnamese restaurant we liked. He asked about it every time, too, to make sure it was still running OK.
When he got where he shouldn’t be driving anymore because of the return of his brain tumor, he gave his truck away to someone at work who needed a vehicle.
When Bob mowed our lawn, he always mowed the neighbor’s yard, too. Sometimes he went around the corner to mow an elderly couple’s yard while he was at it, as a matter of course. He considered it to be what he was supposed to do.
When he saw anything broken, he fixed it. He would never have thought of not doing so. It was his gift. So it’s what he did. Bob walked around with a wrench in his back pocket. It made me smile. It was a good symbol of his sense of purpose.
After Bob’s death following a valiant fight with Brain Cancer (April 13, 2012,) to celebrate his birthday, December 13th, we began what we call, “The Bobly Day.” It is a day of random acts of kindness, of noticing the needs around us, of sneaky good deeds, gestures of love and service, wherever we are.
2017 will be our 5TH December to celebrate Bob’s birthday this way. It is mainly a Face Book event. Friends invite their friends, who invite their friends. People who never knew Bob celebrate this day along with those of us who did. On the event page, I ask that people report back to the rest of us what they did. Whoever is comfortable with sharing does so.
The usual number of people officially “signed up” are a bit over 100 people. We have “Bobly friends” in New York City, Chicago, California, South Africa, Scotland,
and of course, here in Texas, going out and looking for good deeds to do and having fun doing them!
Streets have been picked up, (something Bob used to do around the neighborhood,) stranded motorists helped, leaves raked, gifts given, appreciation expressed, hugs offered, needy children cheered, angry words held back, veterans’ needs attended to, rides given, smiles exchanged, tabs paid, and animals helped. Here are some of the examples people have shared the last six years, on face book, or e-mail, or by telling me.
“I helped an old guy in line at the doctor’s office who needed blood pressure medicine but had no money for the required doctor visit. I paid for his visit so he could get his medicine.”
“Was going to go out of town this weekend, but gave my trip money to a Christian rehab center instead!”
“Today at the Texas Aggie women’s basketball game, my husband and I bought teddy bears to donate to their teddy bear drive.”
“I taught a guitar lesson to a girl who couldn’t afford a teacher.”
“While walking through the airport, I spotted an elderly lady resting on a huge recliner. I realized it was a massage chair. I put $5 (the maximum) in the slot and it started humming and moving that dear, little lady. She let out an audible “ooooo” and smiled ever so broadly. She then thanked me and said, “My, but it HAS been a long time”, winked and then smiled some more. I’m not sure which one of us was enjoying her “massage” more. I’m giggling as I type this.”
“The kids made blankets for the hospital, and took them there today. They spent some of their own money to get the materials.”
“I paid it forward at the What- a- Burger drive through!”
“I hugged a homeless guy and took him lunch.”
“I gave up my seat on the subway.”
“I shared about the Bobly Day and his life with someone going through her fifth round of cancer.”
“There was a man on the corner with a sign that said “I have three kids.” I have my three girls in the car and would do anything for them. I handed him a 20 and said Merry Christmas.”
“I made gifts for the people that work at all the fast food places I go to. They were thrilled!”
“Today I’m donating baby things for moms in need.”
Looking for ways to help others is one of the ways Bob Chapman lived, and found meaning in his beautiful life, by practicing his “skin religion.” We can, too.
“I want my job to be just going around and helping people- fixing their car if they need it, mowing their lawn, getting them groceries, whatever they need, and to tell them, ‘God loves you!’ ~ Bob Chapman
Since my conversion* I have seen Advent as a time of waiting for Christmas, or as commemorating the waiting of humanity, the waiting of Israel, the waiting of Mary and Joseph for the Messiah to come.
I have thought of it as an entrance into the mystery of that expectation both a memory of humanity and something that makes it present. Also, as the Church teaches, I know Advent as our renewed expectation of the Parousia, the return of the Lord.
Something else is happening with me this year. I find myself sensing that God is about to act in my life in a mighty way, a way I will be conscious of. I feel it like a rising tide, steady and slow, but sure.
God is coming. And He will set things right. Even if setting things right means I become free to accept and walk away from some painful and deep running, long term injustices I have been coming to terms with. Even if that is what is happening, I am happy.
“Lift up your heads, for your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)
However, I have a feeling that change is coming. Clarity is coming. An unravelling of seemingly impossible knots is already starting to happen. Justice is rising gently, truly.
I believe it.
Something about it is not just personal to me, but also universal.
Advent, in a very real way, is a special time of grace.
I hope this is happening for you, too.
I hope it is happening for our country, and for the world.
Let us prepare the way of the Lord. (Isaiah 40:3)
His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. (see Isaiah 58: 8-9)
Of course that is so.
But this year, as we wait for the Lord, and we make way in our lives,
let’s really expect Him…
In our houses, for real…
In our lives.
God entered into time in a mighty way by the Incarnation and Nativity of the Lord.
Let it happen now to us.
Let there be a star.
Because it’s all true.
I don’t know about you,
But I think I will celebrate Christmas this year with my front door open.
* I was baptized a Catholic October 23, 1990, at the age of 22. 🙂
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians 2:19b-20
I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The last few years have been so traumatic for me that I have felt alienated from everything and everyone, and like I would never be myself again.
Part of my healing in this latest phase of my journey has been to investigate for myself what really happened and to face the truth around my brother’s suicide, to ask questions I had been too freaked out to ask before, to recognize and re-claim my own experience of what happened after a truly dysfunctional family response that left me confused, dismayed, and even more traumatized.
I called my truth- seeking mission “The Immaculate Heart of Mary Detective Agency.” I thought this appropriate because the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, Simeon said, was “so that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed.
I wanted to truly love my brother by understanding all of him, not just the parts that I had enjoyed so much all of my life, but all of him. I wanted to try to understand what drove him to do what he did.
I realized I didn’t have to wait around for people to quit lying to me and tell me what was going on. I could find out for myself. So I started asking questions and interviewing people who had the information I wanted, or a different perspective from my own as the sister and room mate I had been at the time.
Unexpectedly, the whole experience of the IHMDA has been empowering, though I uncovered rank injustice and malice I hadn’t known some people were even capable of. I feel more alive than I have since all this tragedy began. I have a glimmer of an idea that I have a life and a future.
It seems to me that Mary’s heart has helped lay bare many truths, and strengthened me to deal with them.
I am not sure what I will do next. But it seems God thinks my next step is to forgive. That message was in last Sunday’s Gospel. It seems to pop up everywhere I turn. I seem to read or see or hear something about forgiveness every day.
There is hardly anything I have not lost to some degree in the past couple of years of shock and trauma; my home, my life savings, my family, and the cohesion of my group of wonderful friends. Everything is strange now. I have even felt like I lost myself.
I am grateful for the good relationship between my daughters and me, though honestly, at times, even those sacrosanct relationships were violated and temporarily distorted by lies and manipulation.
What do I do with this horrible story? Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself.
How can I forgive the unforgivable? And how can I ever be a whole person again? How can I bear this?
I have been asking all that for a good while.
I realized, praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours today, when I read this reading, (above) the answer to these questions. “This is how,”Jesus says.
“You will do and experience both of these things because your life is not your own anymore. It’s better than that because I live in you and for you. From within you, I will forgive, I will live, and we will have a beautiful life together. I have loved you and given Myself up for you. You have loved Me and given yourself to Me, no matter what life has brought you. ”
I thought about this. It is a miracle that the thing I have not lost or had to re-negotiate, so to speak, is my faith in God. Even though I have been broken inside beyond anything I thought it was possible to experience, I have an inner rock solid foundation of faith that God has not let me lose.
I have discovered that, as St. John of the Cross speaks of in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, I am “supported by faith alone,” now, in spite of how disjointed I feel psychologically and socially.
No one and nothing can take me from Christ’s hand. He is even more real to me than I am to myself. And even though my heart is broken, it does know it is safe. It does know Who it belongs to and Who lives there forever. Not even my own death will change that.
In fact, Paul also says that the spirit of Jesus in us is so real, it is that power that will raise our bodies from the dead.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (This turned out to be in Evening Prayer tonight.)
All the lies and malice, misunderstanding, persecution, blame, rejection, trauma, loss and grief I have suffered, and that the whole world has suffered, are no match for the Truth of God who is Love, and Life.
In a way, in comparison, these terrible things are not even real.
The reality is God.
And I am glad to be only ashes and dust.
That is exactly how I have everything I will ever need in this life and in the next:
“It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”
One of the most famous healings recorded at the tomb of St. Philomena aside from that of Venerable Pauline Jaricot, is the healing of a blind girl, and a change of heart in a non-believer who was present, who later gave money to build the shrine where St. Philomena’s body still rests today. Eight days after Philomena’s body was moved from Rome, and settled in the Italian town of Mugnano, in 1805, there was a large crowd of people gathered for evening prayer in the church. Miracles and healings had already been taking place, so a mother had brought her blind child. The little girl, about two years old, had been blind since she had contracted small pox. She dipped her hand into the oil from the oil lamp before St. Philomena’s coffin, and applied it to her child’s eyes. The girl was instantly healed, both mother and daughter started to shout with joy and excitement. All eyes were on them, and an un-believer present, as mentioned earlier, was moved to give the money to build the shrine to house St.Philomenas’ relics. Through St. Philomenas’ physical presence, two miracles happened in moments: the opening of the eyes of a blind child, and the opening of the eyes of a heart closed to Jesus, that both might see in the way each needed the most.
God seems to show us that He loves to share his grace and glory with His holy ones, even and maybe especially after their deaths, by His miracles through their physical presence.
A reading from the Second Book of Kings
As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.
The Word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God
St. Philomena, we come into your spiritual presence with our needs and pressing burdens, our longing for healing, for change of heart, for truth, for new life, for help with our difficulties. In spirit, we bring our broken hearts before the lamp at your tomb in Mugnano as we pray with faith. [Here express your petitions and needs to St. Philomena.] Dear compassionate and miraculous friend, we trust in your intercession. Your name, Philomena, means “Daughter of Light.” May God pour over us the brightness of His light through you, His dearly beloved saint.
Holy Virgin Mary, you have shown that St. Philomena was especially close to you when your brilliant light came into her prison cell and healed her of her wounds from being whipped, her humiliation from being punished in public, and the sorrow she felt about her family and her impending suffering and death. You showed her the Child Jesus, and your encouraged her with the hope of Heaven. Visit us now and protect us from evil and despair, that we might be encouraged and filled with new hope.
Radiant girl, courageous and free of heart, our friend and guide, protect us, lead us, for the glory of God.
The only accounts we have of the life of St. Philomena are two corroborating private revelations (from different people in different places) that have been approved by the Church, but are not as certain as written testimony from her contemporaries would be of course. According to these private revelations and the hints from the drawings on her tomb, she had been through and survived several humiliations and tortures to try to break her down and many attempts by her captors to kill her before she was finally beheaded.
She gave herself to God bravely one life-threatening moment after another. Her trust converted many of the people who witnessed it. I am sure God was speaking to St. Philomena, too, in the way He is said to have saved her miraculously from two attempts to execute her, once by drowning, once by arrows. God often sends us messages in our lives, as well, often when our suffering is deepest, and our challenges urgent, to let us know, “I am with you.”
Because of her union with God, and her willingness to follow His lead wherever it might take her life, her moments of fear and suffering became her finest.
A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians
Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that… you are standing firm … struggling for the faith of the Gospel,not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.
The Word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God.
St. Philomena, pray for us that our pivotal moments may be transformed in Jesus, and that in these we might glorify His love. May God increase the strength of our souls, and exceed all we have ever known of Him. [Here mention your petitions.] Trusted Saint, lead the way for us bravely, and help us to see the movements of the Holy Spirit in the events of our lives, that every one of them will become sign posts of the way forward. Pray to God for us, that He may turn darkness into light before us, and make crooked ways straight. May we shine with the power of the Lord when we come to moments of decision, and may God bless our efforts to be faithful, as you were unfailingly.
Mother of God, may the sweet companionship of your spirit make our paths bright with meaning and love and grace. As you accompanied St. Philomena to such great bravery, we ask that you also accompany us, especially in times of trial and discouragement. Shine the brilliant light of the Gospel on our paths, that we may see our way through our troubles, and that the grace we will know may, in turn, strengthen the faith of others.
Radiant girl, courageous and free of heart, our friend and guide, protect us, lead us, for the glory of God.
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