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A blessed Ash Wednesday to everybody!  I find the prayer for today to be a really stirring send-off into the great season of Lent:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting

this campaign of Christian service,

so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,

we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

With its images of campaign, battle, and weapons, this prayer is an explicit and vivid call to spiritual warfare.  And it tells us exactly what we need in order to wage–and win–the battle: fasting, service, and self-restraint.  This echoes and expands upon the traditional trio of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, each of which is so important, not only for spiritual warfare but for life in general.

Is it not a tremendous blessing that each year brings this season of Lent in which we can focus on deepening and growing and maturing in our spiritual lives?  Is it not an exciting time?  A kind of adventure?  The word Lent means “Springtime,” and that is a perfect name for this season of new opportunities for flourishing.

For a long time, I always thought of Lent as a dreary season of drudgery, with nothing uplifting or exciting or adventurous at all.  I didn’t see it as the wonderful opportunity that it is.  I didn’t realize or appreciate any of the rewards it can bring.  I looked at Lent through the lens of the secular world and culture: just another way the Church crushed happiness and imposed pain upon its benighted and masochistic adherents.  I much preferred the popular modern worldview that equates happiness with pleasure and goodness with feeling good.  But that worldview leads nowhere.  Follow it long enough and you may easily find yourself in the nothingness, the hopelessness, the extreme and all-consuming poverty of Hell.  Those fortunate enough (as I was), will experience a taste of Hell before it is too late and becomes an eternal dwelling.

I don’t deny that the season of Lent and the entirety of Christian life can sometimes be difficult, uncomfortable, and uncertain.  But the rewards–especially the ultimate, eternal reward of Heaven–far outshine any of the difficult spots.  And they really are just little spots when you pause to look back over where you’ve come.  Little spots amidst oceans of joy, of love, of peace, and above all, of grace.  Lent is a powerful means of unleashing those oceans!

So, let us all dare to leave behind some of our comfort and security and complacence–which make it all too easy to be self-centered–and have a successful Lent!


I’m blessed to share my home with two adorable furry housemates: Sabrina and Alvis.  In addition to companionship, comfort, and fun, they’ve also given me occasion to ponder my relationship with God, how I see Him, and how He perhaps sees me.  Granted, the analogy isn’t perfect; God sees me as His own daughter, not as a pet, and at the same time, He is far more superior to me than I am to my cats.  But it’s been helpful nevertheless.

No matter how unpleasant your situation is, no matter how little sense it makes to you, keep trusting!VetStreetCatTowelPic6

To my cats, getting locked up in a carrier, being taken to a strange place to be poked and prodded by strange people, then coming home only to be force-fed pills or vile liquids–sometimes with the added indignity of being wrapped up in a towel like a cat burrito–is nothing but a series of meaningless trauma.  They don’t understand that these things are happening in order to make, or keep, them healthy and feeling well.  And it is surely mystifying that the same person who was cuddling and feeding and playing with them just a short time ago should now turn so cruel and cold, ignoring their cries and their squirming.  So it is sometimes with me and God.  Sometimes life seems to take a cruel turn for no apparent reason, and sometimes God seems like a completely different Person, seemingly ignoring my pleas.

But just as I know that taking my cats to the vet and treating any ill condition is for their good, so does God know what good may come from times of testing, purification, building and re-building, fortifying my weak spots, strengthening me where I need it, and chiseling away ugly spots or sharp edges.  And if my will toward my cats is so good, then surely God’s will toward me is far better still!  And well, at least He hasn’t given me the burrito-wrap treatment… yet.

At the same time, be prepared to accept and to marvel that God is a complete mystery.

Each and every morning, my cats witness an astonishing ritual.  Each and every morning they see me close myself up in a small, cramped torture chamber that–horror of horrors!–sprays water all over me.  Water!  All over me!  And I submit myself to this insanity willingly, even with delight!  What sort of messed up masochist does that?!  And that’s just one example of the apparent insanity that possesses me.

Likewise, there are things I just can’t understand about God–things no mortal human can understand.  Like the Trinity.  Like the Passion and Crucifixion.  Like the Resurrection.  Like what exactly He sees in me that is so special that He created me out of nothing and holds me lovingly in existence, a little speck afloat in the unspeakable vastness of the universe–not only that but that He loves me!  These mysteries–both majestic and intensely intimate to my little life–always surround God, as He surrounds me with His marvelous deeds, His tremendous power, His unwavering attention, and His boundless love.  And how He must smile when we gaze toward Him wide-eyed and bewildered, just as I smile at my cat sitting nervously outside my shower!

How many people prefer to dismiss Him today as something impossible and foolish to believe in!  How many people are eager to dismiss all things that are mysterious and marvelous just because they cannot be examined by human eyes or neatly defined by human definitions!  What a magnificent relationship they are missing!

You’re always your best when you are simply yourself, flaws and all–there’s no need to fear rejection!

Silly SabrinaMy cats sometimes make me crack up with laughter (see: Sabrina being silly at left).  They do it without any shame whatsoever.  They are free spirits who do whatever comes naturally in the moment.  Sometimes, they make me shake my head because they don’t realize how incredibly comfy and easy their lives are–but I wouldn’t ever want it any other way!  Sometimes they’re a real handful–like when I’m trying to give them medicine and they just won’t be still, and I have to resort to the burrito-wrap.  But I understand and just do my best to make it as quick and painless as possible (knowing full well that they would beg to differ).  And sometimes they are so incredibly sensitive and insightful and tender toward me when I am sad or sick or in any kind of pain that it’s like God is acting through them.  They may never know what it means to me that they are just who and what they are, and that I love them for it.

I think God regards us the same way, whether we make Him laugh or shake His head or even when we squirm and kick and scratch and protest and do our darnedest to shove Him away.  He knows when we are trying to lie or hide or BS Him.  He sees straight through us.  He knows how we are made.  He knows our limitations.  He knows our individual personalities.  He knows them–He loves them–He even died for them.  And no matter how much we may reject Him–for He made us free to do so if we truly wish it–He never wills nor wishes to reject us.  That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  Sometimes, it’s a bit difficulty and even frightening to believe!  We are so fearful of the rejection we sometimes suffer from our fellow man.  We may instinctively try to throw up walls between ourselves and God.

But what liberty, what joy, what lightness of being and peace of mind can be ours if we will venture to just be ourselves before God!  I could never reject my cats just for being the cats they are.  And God would never reject me for just being the human being I am.  Nor would he reject any one of us for being who and what we are.

As good as we are to our pets, those little creatures we share our lives and homes with, God is far better–infinitely better!–to us.  And as much as we enjoy our pets, God rejoices so much more in us, His own children.  And as much as we would love to spend our whole lives with our beloved pets, so much more does God desire to spend all eternity with us.  So never doubt, never fear, never dismiss Him!  Curl up in his arms with all the confidence and security that your pets curl up next to you with!

Alvis chillin

Alvis says “Relax!”

My goodness, where has this year gone?  It seems like only yesterday we were at the end of the Church’s year, and yet here we are again, approaching the first Sunday of Advent!

I’ve decided that, as a way of entering more deeply into the liturgical year and a way of deepening my spiritual life, I am going to make some resolutions for this new Church year.

In general, I want to keep living my life more and more by the mottoes “What Would Mary Do?” and “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

What I want to work on most is having and maintaining a constant spirit of joy and love, no matter what is happening to me or around me. Being joyful and loving is always a choice–and I want to make the right choice more often, so often that it becomes habitual. This includes being joyful even if I am hurting or feel sad. It also includes being loving to everybody, even those who have not been good to me. I want to do these things freely, without counting the cost or expecting anything in return.

Also, I resolve to write blog posts far more often than I have been!

I think that should keep me plenty busy and challenged for a year!

A happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day to my fellow Americans!  I am looking forward to feasting with my family tomorrow!  :)

Related post:

How true a subject am I?: Reflections at the end of the Church year

This last weekend was certainly a momentous one!  A British royal wedding, the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the death of the United States’ top public enemy.  I had quite a bit going on personally, so I wasn’t able to tune in to as much of the news and events as I would have liked.  And by now, so much has been written in the blogosphere that I almost feel like this little post of mine will be totally redundant and insignificant.  But it’s my blog, and I’m trying to start posting much more frequently, so here are just some quick little reactions.

The royal wedding:  From what I saw it was a very beautiful ceremony and very rooted in Christian tradition.  I came across the prayer that Prince William and his bride composed and offered up:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Beautiful.  It sounds like this young couple will not only have invited God to the wedding, but will also keep Him a part of their marriage–something all too rare these days.  I pray for them that it may be so and that many young people around the world will follow their example.  I was also very impressed with Catherine’s dress–very classic, and very modest as wedding dresses go these days.  It reminded me of Princess Grace’s wedding dress.

Beatification of Bl. Pope John Paul II:  What an experience to see somebody who lived in your own lifetime be beatified!  And how blessed the world was to have this incredible man at its service during such turbulent times.  He was truly a universal man, who had so much personal experience with human suffering and yet vigorously, tirelessly preached “Be not afraid!” and the worth and dignity of every human life, no matter how poor, how small, or how difficult it might be.  In the Church and on the world stage, he was a lion-hearted man, and also an extremely gentle man.  In his old age and illness, when many were shaming him for not retiring and letting somebody younger, healthier, and supposedly more capable take over as pope, he persevered quietly, and taught us all that people don’t lose their dignity and worth when they become old and sick.  That perseverance is one of the things that inspired me to come back to the Church, and has uplifted me many times since.

Death of Osama Bin Laden:  When I saw the news, I had two thoughts almost simultaneously.  One was, “Thank God, he’s finally gone!”  The other was, “Dear Lord, he must be in desperate need of Your mercy!”  I rejoiced in the success of our soldiers and the defeat of such a dreadful enemy who had killed so many innocent people.  I also feared for the state of his soul and how terrible his judgment before God must have been.  I hate and despise his sins.  I pity the man.  I wish he had repented.  Maybe he did in his final moment.

I was also glad to see some joy and celebration in the streets of New York and Washington.  I know some people have found it tasteless, even going so far as comparing those people to the people in the Middle East who celebrated in the streets on 9/11.  I didn’t see that at all.  For one thing, I didn’t see any burning effigies or burning flags or guns.  I saw people celebrating not a man’s death in itself, but rather celebrating the ending of at least one chapter of a dark and haunting story, a nightmare of agony.  I think that the New Yorkers and Washingtonians deserved to celebrate.  I don’t think that we in other parts of the nation fully understand what they have gone through.  9/11 may have occurred almost 10 years ago, but the shadow of grief is very long and dark, as I know from personal experience.

My friend Annette, who writes the blog Learning to Listen, recently shared a very moving and inspiring post that includes a “Depression Manifesto.”  It has inspired me to start thinking about my own life as someone who suffers the same “family curse.”

Yes, I suffer depression and anxiety.  Whenever I’ve mentioned health problems in my writing, I’ve almost always meant those, although I’ve tended not to name them.  Well, I’m naming them now.  Depression.  Anxiety–particularly social anxiety.  Sometimes a strain of obsessive-compulsive disorder that usually manifests in over-scrupulosity–to which I have referred before.

I also get painfully fixated on things in my past that I regret.  I play them and re-play them in my mind, over and over and over, to the point where I’m just about driven to despair, desperately wishing I could somehow go back and fix them, do things differently, but knowing full well that it’s impossible.  Several days ago, I was in such an agony.

But then I thought back to Annette’s post… I remembered that I was not the only one who experienced such dark moments… remembered that I am not insane…. remembered that all is not lost.

I also turned to God and asked Him what I should do.  I asked my dad too–because he has always known what to do.

And what came to me was something extremely simple:  Just go forth and live each day in such a way as will make God smile.  The past can’t be undone, but the future is still brimming over with opportunities and possibilities.  The future rushes in to every single moment, and every single moment you can choose to do something good, something loving, something beautiful… even if it can’t necessarily be seen or heard or felt by your fellow man; sometimes the greatest deeds are secret, known only to God Himself–and that is enough!  When you make God smile, you can be sure that you are having some kind of wonderful effect on something or somebody somewhere.  Just live for God and His smile!  Even if you don’t feel like smiling yourself.

I know maybe it’s a little silly, maybe even a little conceited, to think of myself making God smile.  But it gives me a goal, a prize, a purpose.  Something to keep my eyes trained on.  Something to draw me out of myself even if I feel very isolated in this world.  It dispels darkness and despair.  It fills my heart with love and tenderness, eagerness and energy.  I love Him, and don’t we always strive to bring our loved ones joy?

Anyway, I have decided that that is how I want to live my life in every little moment.

I arrived home yesterday evening, after nearly two weeks in Pittsburgh with my parents.  I had been travelling nearly all day long, and made it home just in time to get to my parish’s last Sunday Mass at 7:30 PM.  I was practically dragging as I entered the church.  Not just from the travelling, but from the entire 12 days before: my dad’s poor prognosis, the hospital, the hospice center, the rehab center, the worrying, the uncertainty…

I shoved on my veil, blessed myself with holy water, and began walking up the aisle toward the sanctuary.  It was very dim.  As I got closer to the sanctuary, I made out the rows of Easter lilies on either side of the Tabernacle, the plants with pink flowers in front of the altar, the tall, majestic Easter Candle.  I breathed in the smell of the church–flowers and candles–which was even stronger than usual.  And even more so than usual, I felt as if I had walked into a completely different world.

I genuflected and paused with my knee on the floor, thinking to myself, “That’s funny–the church is decorated for Easter.”  And a split second later, I realized, “Why, it is Easter!”  And for the first time in many days, I felt such a joy burst within my heart.

Until that moment, I had honestly felt like Easter Sunday had passed me by.  Oh, I had attended Easter Mass–in a hospital meeting room, with no pews, no Tabernacle, no Easter Candle, no flowers of any kind.  I had heard the priest speak about Christ’s Resurrection and the resurrection we would all receive through Christ–but my mind was two floors above, where my parents were, suffering.

Until that moment, I had felt like I was still in the desert, in the long forty days of Lent.  So desolate.  So in pain.  So far from Easter joy.

I think I wept throughout the entire Mass–mostly from joy.  My joy increased when the priest reminded us that we were still in the Octave of Easter, that liturgically, Easter Sunday lasted for a full eight days.  I hadn’t missed it after all.  I was so relieved.  I was so happy.  It was like finding a beautiful, peaceful, life-giving oasis in the desert.  Heavens, I just can’t tell you how overjoyed I was!

After Mass as I drove home, even the preceding days looked different in my mind.  I caught little rays of light.  Like walking into the little hospital chapel and seeing a red lamp burning over a Tabernacle.  Like getting to push my dad’s wheelchair around the hospice center courtyard on a glorious sunny, warm, windy afternoon–and seeing Dad’s joyful smile as he looked at the trees and plants and breathed in the fresh air; it was his first leisurely outing after over a month of being pretty much bed-ridden.  Like simply getting to be with my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, and other relatives and friends.  Like having the privilege of being of service to my parents.

Suddenly those days didn’t seem so desolate.  Looking back, I realized that God had been there.  Love, lots of love, had been there.  And even joy.  I just needed to have my eyes opened and my heart stirred a little.  To see things in a different light.  I was reminded of one of my favorite Easter hymns, which begins:

That Easter Day with joy was bright
The sun shone out with fairer light

I needed that light so, so much!  And I still do.  May it shine in my heart all year, and may I never lose sight of it.  And may I help it to shine out to my family and everybody I meet.

And now for a Dad Update:

I think my last update was that we were going to a hospice center.  And we did that.  I think it gave dad a chance to rest in peace and quiet.  It was a beautiful place–his room looked like a nice hotel room.  There was a pretty courtyard outside.  But he really wanted to try some physical and occupational therapy to try to regain some strength.

So, for the past 5 days or so, he was in a rehab center.  It was a good place–the staff were some of the best, most attentive, and most caring of any other place we’d been.  But it was very different from the hospice center.  Dad had to share a room, and there was not much peace and quiet–which Dad really wants and needs.  The therapy sessions were pretty exhausting, and the physical therapist said that any significant improvement would take many weeks.  I think that discouraged Dad.  He may or may not have many weeks, and so he decided that a hospice center would be best after all.

Today he moved into a new hospice center, and it seems to be a very lovely and comfortable place.

Overall, he’s just hanging in there as always.  I don’t think his health has significantly improved or declined.  But his spirits have been bolstered quite a bit by just being able to get out of bed into a wheelchair, have some changes of scenery, and visit with family and friends.  His faith is still strong as always, and he constantly expresses appreciation for everybody’s prayers.  It pleases him greatly when I tell him he’s got people all over the world praying for him.  :)

So please kindly keep up the good work!  Many thanks!

I need it, don’t you?

Father Farfaglia shared this little darling–one can’t help but join in!

Here are a few beautiful and joy-filled photos from Whispers in the Loggia, taken during Pope Benedict’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land:

Holy Land First Communicants

Holy Land First Communicants

Pope Benedict blessing babies in the Holy Land

Hm… I notice a theme in all these… they all feature children!  What would a world without children be like?

But no–this is a happy post!

Here’s a song that always makes me happy–Haydn’s “Mit Wurd Und Hoheit Angetan,” here performed by The Priests:

(But don’t download the song for free, buy the album!)

And here is what’s been going on with me this evening:

Cats in my lap

That denim covered thing is my lap.  And recently, both cats have taken to lying on it at the same time.  As long as they’re calm, it’s fine, albeit a bit warm.  If only they’d acquired this habit during the winter, I could have saved $$$ on heating!

Well, it’s time for me to doze off now too.  God be with you!

The Associated Press (AP) has an exclusive interview with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who will be installed as Archbishop of New York this week.  Here is an excerpt, with my emphases:

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Archbishop-designate Timothy Dolan said Monday, on the eve of his installation, that he will challenge the idea that the Roman Catholic Church is unenlightened because it opposes gay marriage and abortion.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Dolan said he wants to restore pride in being Catholic, especially given the damage the church endured in the clergy sex abuse scandal, which he called a continuing source of shame.

“One would hope that through education and through the joy that we give by our lives that people will begin to see that these fears and this skepticism we have about the church are unwarranted,” Dolan said.

He said Catholics also must defend themselves against bias, which he said was still deeply ingrained in American culture.

Periodically, we Catholics have to stand up and say, `Enough,’” he said. “The church as a whole still calls out to what is noble in us.”

Sounds very promising to me!  I hope Archbp. Dolan can light a nice fire under Catholic Americans.  It’s way overdue!

I like how he encourages us to give witness to the truth and goodness of our Church by “the joy that we give by our lives.”  I think that in this world, joy is one of the most powerful evangelization tools.  We live among so much sadness, despair, and discouragement.  Joy gets people’s attention.

I may not always succeed, but I do try to share with others the joy that my faith gives me.  People tell me that my face lights up when I talk about my faith.  It doesn’t matter what else may be going on in my life.  And heaven knows there’s been a lot.  But I still find joy in my faith.  And I hope that it comes across and inspires people.

"Study in pink flowers" by Flickr user photogirl7Happy Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent which calls us to “rejoice!”  We get a nice break from the penitential color of violet for the joyful color of rose.  The color of approaching dawn!

It’s sad, but Gaudete Sunday is usually when I am finally able to settle down into a still, quiet, contemplative state of being.  Sad because, well, I wish I could be this way for the first 2 weeks of Advent too!  But at least I can properly observe the latter half of the season.

I absolutely love the Mass readings for today, especially this passage from the prophet Isaiah:

I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.

Such beautiful imagery!  And we do have ever so much in which to rejoice in our Lord, if only we don’t take it all for granted.  He has given us this beautiful world.  He has given us our families and friends.  He has given us His Church and the Sacraments.  Above all, He has given us Himself!

I know how easy it is to be distracted by worldly things in this Advent season; I’ve been struggling with that for the last 2 weeks.  But if we can just take even a moment to think about the Incarnation–God taking to Himself a human nature and a human life… the mighty Creator and King of the universe becoming a helpless little babe, born into poverty!–does it not humble and amaze us?  Does it not fill us with wonder?

That is our Lord and our God, so infinitely awesome and full of wonders!  So bewildering in His power, and also in His magnanimity.  His power can pierce you straight to your soul, and His mercy can not only heal and restore you, but also make you better than before.  His mercy and love are unwavering, no matter how many times or how grievously you mess up.

My heart aches because I just can’t express how very much I love and adore Him!

Our pastor gave the most wonderful homily today about what our purpose is in this world as Christians–namely to worship God and to point others to Him.  Our purpose is the same as that of the prophet Isaiah:

… to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.

Our purpose is the same as Mary’s as expressed in her canticle, the Magnificat, which takes the place of a psalm today:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

Our purpose is also set forth by St. Paul in his epistle to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.

Our purpose is the same as that of St. John the Baptist, who

came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

In summary, our pastor said, if any of us is feeling lost or seeking direction or wondering why we are here, this Sunday is for us.

Yes, this Sunday is for us… just one of the countless and constant gifts our Lord has given us!  We have so much to rejoice for… and so very much to be grateful for!  Gaudete, fratres!

(Photo:  “Study in Pink Flowers” by Flickr user photogirl7)

A wonderful, amazing article about a wonderful, amazing lady.  Do go read the whole thing!

Woman without hands or legs discovers ‘true joy’ after converting to Catholicism

.- Lucia Otgongerel was born in Mongolia 30 years ago without hands or legs.  She lived in a deep depression until 2002 when she converted to Catholicism and, as she explains, discovered “true joy.”  Today she works in the capital city of Mongolia, Ulan Bator, as a teacher for seven children with special needs.

Now Lucia claims, “I could not live without my faith.”  She overcomes the challenges of her physical condition though an intense life of prayer: including the daily Rosary, meditations and study of the Bible in the midst of her predominately Buddhist country.

In an interview granted to UCANews, Lucia explains that her daily work with seven disabled boys whose ages range from 15-19.  Lucia teachers, despite not having hands: cooking, cleaning, reading and writing at the Faith Center, a small school run by St. Mary’s parish in Ulan Bator which opened last September.

The sixth of eight children, Lucia Otgongerel was born in the Zavhan, a remote province in the Asian country of Mongolia.  She had a very difficult childhood that started to improve when she began using her first prosthetic leg.  Because of it, she was able to attend cooking classes at a very young age which has greatly increased her cooking skills.

“Even without hands, there is nothing I can’t do.  I can open doors with keys, sew, work on the computer, use the cell phone, cut up food, cook – nothing is impossible!  I like embroidery and beads.  People are surprised when they see my parents’ house, decorated all over with my needlework,” she says.

She recalls that in 2001 she began going to Mass because her sister was the friend of the bishop’s secretary.  While she was interested in the celebration, she did not have much faith.  She explains that she enjoyed the songs sung in English and the words continued to ring in her ears, though she did not understand the lyrics.

Faith in Christ began the following year and after praying the Rosary intensely, but with great difficulty at home.  She realized the importance of prayer and decided to convert to Catholicism.

“Since then, I pray a lot, every day, all the time.  I pray a lot and cry.  When young people in the church see me like that, they just leave me alone, and when I come out of the church laughing, they know I was praying.”

“It would be hard for me without prayer.  I pray every morning before I leave home….Later in the day, I also read the daily readings and meditate.  I try to implement the message of each day’s readings.  It gives me much power.”

“Prayer is an important part of my life.  I am alone a lot, so I pray all the time.  I make time to read the Bible.  I am also writing a book about the church in Nisekh and about faith.”

“My faith is very important to me.  I could not live without my faith.”

This dear lady, Lucia, just by living her life, has so much to teach us.  She teaches us that no matter what difficulties may befall us, life is still good and valuable.  And so are people, no matter what their limitations seem to be. Human beings and human life are incredible.  They can’t be judged or valued.  In our supposedly advanced society, a child who would be born with Lucia’s handicaps would likely be aborted!  Just because the doctors, the parents, or whoever would presume that such a creature would only be miserable and pathetic and a burden to everybody.  Their assumptions don’t leave any room for the wondrous, miraculous, surprising powers of life and humanity, and they definitely don’t leave any room for God and faith.

She teaches that faith can be a true, transformative source of life if we let it.  It can, and should, be so much more than just something we do on Sundays. I remember the person I was before I re-converted to the Church, and for a number of months afterward.  I often fell prey to depression, despair, frustration.  I let doubt and my own sinfulness and errors get the best of me.  But I reached a point where I just completely threw myself into God’s hands.  I just let go, submitted, and let faith and prayer take me wherever they would.  And almost overnight, God brought me 180°!  I didn’t do it… I couldn’t possibly have done it myself.  I just let myself be with God, let God make of me what He would.  And neither I nor my life have ever been the same.

I found the same kind of “true joy” Lucia has found.  A joy that defies the world’s rather shallow and shabby definition of joy as being roughly the same as pleasure.  True joy is a most serious condition, often shrouded in tears and in strife.  I love and totally identify with this:

“I pray a lot and cry.  When young people in the church see me like that, they just leave me alone, and when I come out of the church laughing, they know I was praying.”

The world looks at the tears and the stuggles of a Catholic’s life and assume (there’s that word again) that Catholics are the most miserable and masochistic of creatures.  The people of this world want nothing to do with that.  They would rather take life easy, with pasted-on smiles, feeling and experiencing nothing of real joy.  And they miss the beatific smiles that light up our faces after we’ve poured ourselves out (literally, through our tears) in union with God, in our prayers, Sacraments, and/or meditations.  They can’t look with wonder at the world as we do in those moments.  Their souls can’t experience the levity, the enlightenment, the purity that ours do at such times.  They are too busy seeking out the next pleasure with which to try to fill up the emptiness inside them.  We must certainly pray for them.

We must remember that converting the world requires that we be converted ourselves. Conversion is not a one-time event.  It is ever ongoing for as long as we live in this world.  Stories like Lucia’s really help me to strive harder and set my sights higher.  Such stories put everything in perspective.  God bless our sister Lucia, and thanks be to God for speaking to us and inspiring us through her!

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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