Tag Archives: Spiritual Journey

Still Learning Perfect Joy from St Francis

St Francis of AssisiOne of my spiritual guides, St. Francis, continues to school me in this important life lesson: Perfect joy. As such, I’m resurrecting, polishing, and expanding a vintage post (2012) from my days at CCC of America.

I am more than just a bit acquainted with St. Francis. I attended a Franciscan school, have TOR (Franciscans, Third Order Regular) friends, and have even visited Assisi. In the event you are not acquainted with him, St. Francis of Assisi was the son of a prosperous merchant with dreams of Knighthood; yet called by God to rebuild the Church.  Reflecting once again on a powerful homily (at the Dominican Priory I might add), I know that I have so much more to learn from the Saint whose feast we celebrate today, October 4th.

At morning Mass a few years back, Fr. Scott was sharing a story from “The Little Flowers of St. Francis”.  Brother Leo and Francis were talking one cold December day when Brother Leo began wondering — of what does perfect joy consist?  The whole story is found here, but St. Francis began his response explaining all the things that one might consider perfect joy, but are not. Then he proceeded:

“If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, ‘What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall – then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy…”

I knew that day at Mass, as I still do today, that I have a long way to go in my strivings for sainthood. While Fr. Scott also mentioned that St. Francis did have an “interesting definition of perfect joy”, I know the core of St. Francis’ message. How do I know it? Because he finally tells Brother Leo what perfect joy consists of, after miles of bantering in the cold as they walked.

“Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

Of all the things that we could try to do, become, or gain in order to obtain perfect joy, here St. Francis reveals the simple yet challenging truth. Perfect joy consists of bearing all that occurs to us amidst our daily sufferings with “patience, joy, and charity…thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him.” Yes, perfect joy is as simple and as hard as accepting our Cross and sharing in Christ’s sufferings with patience, joy, and charity.

St. Francis still has much to teach me about perfect joy. But I hope you take comfort, like I do, in the beauty of our Christian faith. It is God who does the work in us. We do not have to try and climb the ladder towards perfection by our own strength or make the mountains move. HE gives us our crosses and then He tells us what to do with them (Mt 11:28-30):

* “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

HE gives us his yoke if we come to him. In return, we find rest and learn from the master of meekness and humility. He will give us all the grace needed to carry our cross, and if we allow it, through our suffering we will share in His suffering, as well as share in His GLORY. [Romans 8:17: “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.”] The Lord will do the work of transforming us to become the persons He is calling us to be through the daily carrying of our cross, and living out our vocations right where He has us.

The cross of Christ brought his suffering and revealed his glory. Transformative. There are many heavy crosses and burdens in our world – we need not look far to be confronted with suffering. And of course, we intimately know our own sufferings. So does God. We are not alone in our suffering – He is near to the brokenhearted. [Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”]

St. Francis, pray for us on our journey. When we struggle to accept the crosses God gives us, help us to experience God’s mercy and grace. May we find our rest in him, and perfect joy in his plan for our lives.

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The Fight for Life Continues

I can hardly believe its been 3 weeks and 2 days since that day.  On December 22nd, 2010, Mike, my nephew, Abraham, my BFF, Kelli, and I set off on what appeared to be a road trip to spend Christmas with our families.  Would that I have known how my world would have turned upside down such as this in that short of an amount of time…

Even though 3 weeks and 2 days seems a relatively short amount of time, I cannot believe how these days have packed in such intense extremes: joys and sorrows, laughing and weeping, grieving and celebrating, teaching and learning, giving and stretching, sweetness and snapping…on and on and on.  Each day contains too many things to really try to do justice in sharing more of it now.  And honestly, often times from lack of sleep, trying to deal with mine and others intense emotions, working with our Hospice Team and helpers to manage Mom’s care & meds, still settling Mike and I into the spare bedrooms, slowly discussing with the local awesome retired Priest our wedding preparations (FYI, no we don’t have a date or location as of yet – discerning that still), receiving the calls/emails/cards/visits from so many family and friends that love my Mom and want to express it while there is still time….well, I simply haven’t had the energy to write a blog, respond/read all my emails, return that last phone call, or respond timely to all the texts.  Thanks for your understanding, and please do not stop them!!!  As I am convinced more than ever that I am far from being alone in this, thank God.

I must also say that what the Priest told me in Confession the other day has perfectly captured what I’ve been living.  The Christian life, and our experiences within it, is meant to be “played like a team sport.”  He explained it using this metaphor:  I’m a Cheerleader at the top of a Pyramid, and all the others are supporting me to do my thing up on top.  Well, unlike my sister-in-law, Jennifer (who we picked up from the airport last night as we dropped Paul off at his hotel for a 6:00 am flight back to Dallas) who as a high school 4’11” Cheerleader did this frequently, I’ve never physically experienced standing at the top of a Pyramid formation.  Frankly, just thinking about it makes my knees quiver a bit, ha ha ha.

Yet this morning, with my sister-in-law, Jennifer, here for a short visit and spending time with Mom and taking care of her needs with my Dad now up too, it gives me a short bit of time to write and reflect.  I actually was trying to sleep, since 4 hours or whatever it was between the things Mom needed to be comfortable, but with too many things swirling in my head, it was time to write.

Some people love the thrill of standing on someone’s shoulders, or whatever they do up there, at the top of a pyramid formation.  As for me, being a “solid girl” as Grandma used to say as she touched my powerful physique (wink), I’m used to being lower in the base to support the tiny girl on top.  I’m used to that, it’s comfortable, and I can do it well, I humbly admit.  Now being asked to climb up a few levels quite suddenly, well, it’s a whole other routine now.  Bit-by-bit, with your prayers and God’s grace, I’m “getting my sea legs”, so please continue to pray.  So many wonderful family and friends have been supporting me, it sometimes is overwhelming.  From something that appears as small as a whispered prayer, to dropping off a meal and giving a hug, to the huge blessings such as the local wedding shop owner coming to our home with 10 dresses (1 of which is now MINE – and no, pictures will not be posted here since Mike visits my blog) so that my Mom could cross off the 1 more important “Bucket List” item of dress shopping with her daughter…well, all I can say is that, “He loves us.”  But this really isn’t about me, now, is it.

I know you want to know how my Mom is doing, so I will give you a brief update.  We’ve had her set-up on Hospice for about a week now, and they have been a tremendous support.  I really like the team of caregivers we are working with, such a relief.  They told us the only thing we can do wrong is not to call them, so we’re getting pretty good at that.  🙂

Mom doesn’t have a lot of pain at this point, thankfully it is more discomfort.  She is on lots of medications to help everything possible, but probably the best one she takes is what they call the “wonder drug” – a steroid that helps manage her pain and increase her appetite.  And she certainly has been eating better and more in the past week.  From one day to the next last week, Dad and I saw her legs stop functioning enough to support her, and that was really hard to witness.  She is bed-bound now, which is beyond difficult for an almost 64-year-old ‘Life Lover’ who likes to get-up-and-go.  I believe that between that and her own emotional battles, let alone what the ugly Bone Cancer is doing to slowly destroy her body, it’s causing a lot of Anxiety and rightfully so.  So we’ve been working with Mom’s nurse to get the dosage right on something to “take the edge off.”

Sleeping through the night is always a difficult thing for all of us.  God help me if I ever take for granted again the simple comforts of being able to turn over, get up and go to the restroom, move my own pillows, grab my own glass of water, etc… Yesterday I called the Nurse telling her we needed a new sleeping aid, as the Ambien stuff just isn’t cutting it, and believe me, we’ve tried.  Last night, we gave her something new, and after a couple of dosages according to instructions, Dad said the restlessness finally abated after an hour.  Yet, throughout the night she still will wake up and ask for things.

Although she is “cloudy” from the meds, she still is mentally coherent mostly.  And she of course still pulls out that dazzling signature smile, will make us laugh, or start coughing from laughing herself.  She doesn’t complain, only asks for what she needs, and doesn’t say all that much anymore.  Again, that’s really hard to witness from a woman who even talks to herself out loud.

Anointing of the Sick

Fr. Gene leaving after a beautiful family time to see her Anointing of the Sick, and share our thoughts and tears with one another, experience LOVE in a whole new way

Well, I’m getting sleepy now, so I’ll end with an excerpt that I received from St. Faustina’s Diary this morning.  If you don’t know, St. Faustina was the one that Jesus revealed a lot about his Divine Mercy to.  This is quite paradoxical to what the world screams out to us- I’m sure it may raise some eyebrows. But this is what He reminded me about redemptive suffering, and for those striving to follow the Lord, you may find the spiritual meat also satiable…

From the Diary of Saint Faustina

“Jesus says; ‘My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone. I want to see you as a sacrifice of living love, which only then carries weight before Me. You must be annihilated, destroyed, living as if you were dead in the most secret depths of your being. You must be destroyed in that secret depth where the human eye has never penetrated; then will I find in you a pleasing sacrifice, a holocaust full of sweetness and fragrance. And great will be your power for whomever you intercede. Outwardly, your sacrifice must look like this: silent, hidden, permeated with love, imbued with prayer. I demand, My daughter, that your sacrifice be pure and full of humility, that I may find pleasure in it. I will not spare My grace, that you may be able to fulfill what I demand of you.”

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Open Wide the Doors!

“Doors will be opening for you in many areas of your life”

That was the message tucked inside of my fortune cookie this afternoon while out lunch with my Sweetie at the local Asian Bistro.  “Now there’s one for the blog,” I thought.  Over the past year since I began this journey that I’ve been blogging about here and there, I’ve opened various windows presented to me as other doors closed. Those windows have let in a refreshing breeze and rays of sunshine into my life.  Yet there are doors I feel that are being prepared me for that He wants to open in my life, and yours, if we will allow it.

Walking by faith is not always simple at times.  In my prayers I tell God that I want to do His Will.  Then shortly thereafter my will often chimes in, since after all it has so many “great ideas” of its own on how to participate or not in God’s plan.  Thankfully we serve a merciful God, who desires good things for his children, and can make up for where we are lacking.

Painting of the Mystical wedding of St. Catherine of Siena by Lotto Lorenzo

I’m grateful to a dear friend who gave me a booklet of St. Catherine of Siena, Mystic and Doctor of the Church, with a treasury of quotes to inspire my writing. It didn’t take long since I received “Sermon in a Sentence” yesterday, with that extra nudge from my fortune cookie, to incite this post.  In St. Catherine’s famous Dialogue with the Lord, he expressed to her, and reminds you and I today:

“I will fulfill your desires, but do not fail…in your hope in me. My Providence will never fail you, and every man, if he be humble shall receive that which he is fit to…receive from My goodness.”

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The Purpose of the Desert

Our journey has begun, one that will persist for forty days and forty nights.  This journey does not consist of trekking out into a foreign land, but rather voyaging inward – setting out upon the familiar soil of our hearts.  A critically acclaimed expert, no one is more qualified than our Guide to lead this expedition: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.” This time exists so that we, as the Church, can unite ourselves during Lent to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.

Os Hillman has done a beautiful meditation on the The Purpose of the Desert. As it has done for me, I hope that it will help you along your journey:

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. – Hosea 2:14

If you have an important message to convey to someone, what is the best means of getting the message through?  Have you ever tried to talk with someone who was so busy you could not get him to hear you?  Distractions prevent us from giving our undivided attention to the messenger.  So too, God has His way of taking us aside to get our undivided attention.  For Paul, it was Arabia for three years; for Moses, it was forty years in the desert; for Joseph, it was thirteen years in Egypt; for David, it was many years of fleeing from King Saul.

God knows the stubborn human heart.  He knows that if He is to accomplish His deepest work, He must take us into the desert in order to give us the privilege to be used in His kingdom.  In the desert God changes us and removes things that hinder us.  He forces us to draw deep upon His grace.  The desert is only a season in our life.  When He has accomplished what He wants in our lives in the desert, He will bring us out. He has given us a mission to fulfill that can only be fulfilled after we have spent adequate time in preparation in the desert.  Fear not the desert, for it is here you will hear God’s voice like never before.  It is here you become His bride.  It is here you will have the idols of your life removed. It is here you begin to experience the reality of a living God like never before.  Someone once said, ‘God uses enlarged trials to produce enlarged saints so He can put them in enlarged places!’

He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. – 2 Samuel 22:20

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