Tag Archives: Suffering

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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Reflecting on Good Friday

We see crosses everywhere — a charm on a necklace, printed on a T-shirt, on the Altar, hanging on a wall…etc. Such a commonplace “item” today, it all too often has lost the impact of what Christ really bore for our sins. However today presents a beautiful opportunity. To remember, to meditate, to mourn, to be grateful. For this is the day, this is the day when Christ laid down his life for ours.

May we too enter into the Lord’s passion, so that we can experience the glory of His Resurrection. I pray that these gathered reflections will bring you deeper into the mystery of Good Friday and the knowledge of the ransom paid for our sins. (Word of Caution: Some of this material is intensely descriptive of the violent acts Christ endured. Not for the faint of heart.)

His Sufferings

By this point in time, our Lord has already been betrayed by his friend, arrested, deserted by all his followers, examined by the Roman Governor, wrongly condemned to death on a Cross, and denied by Peter. The first part of His suffering, the agony, was extreme mental suffering. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that we cannot compare how we experience suffering to that of Christ, since in addition to having human intelligence, He also had Divine intelligence. Also, His “physical organism” was as perfect as any could be, so “it was much more sensitive to pain than our human nature, which has been calloused by crude emotions and evil experiences.” Now we come to the second part of His suffering – the torture of both His body and soul, which ended with His death. Combined, these sufferings constituted the “baptism wherewith I am to be baptized” (Lk 12:50).

The Scourging

Flagrum, like what was used during the Scourging

Pilate, then, took Jesus and had him scourged.” – Jn 19:1 The gruesome details of the scourging were left out in John’s Gospel. Another physician, Dr. Pierre Barbet, also a devout Catholic, wrote a riveting book called A Doctor at Calvary. In it, he “relied heavily on his close analysis of the Holy Shroud of Turin to recreate every stage of the Passion with heart-rending precision and detail.” On the scourging, this is what the Dr. Barbet relays: Jesus was bound to a column, probably with his hands above his head. They used a crude instrument, the flagrum, which was comprised of a short handle with several long, thick thongs attached. Near the end of each thong, ‘tali’ were inserted, which were balls of lead or small sheep bones. This tortuous device was designed to not only cut the skin with the thongs, but also dig deep wounds with the tali. Not one, but two executioners – one on each side – carried out the scourging. On the Shroud of Turin, there are more then 100, perhaps 120, marks from the shoulders to the lower parts of the legs. If there were two thongs, this means that Jesus received about 60 strokes apart from those which have no mark.

The Crowning of Thorns

St. Alphonsus de Liguori wrote The Passion of Jesus Christ. In it, he described the sufferings derived from the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus’ head. The Shroud of Turin shows evidence that it covered the whole head, shaped as a helmet rather then a wreath. This would have been driven against His head by blows with a stick. Considering the head is the most sensitive part of the body – with all the nerves and sensations of the body diverging from it – our Lord suffered extreme pain in this torture that lasted up until his death. What else of the Crown of Thorns has been revealed to other Saints?

  • To St. Lawrence Giustiniani & St. Peter Damian, that the thorns were so long that they penetrated even to the brain.
  • To Blessed Agatha of the Cross, “He very often closed His eyes, and uttered piercing sighs, like those of a person about to die.”
  • To St. Bridget, “So many streams of blood rushed down over His face and filled His hair and eyes and beard that he seemed to be nothing but one mass of blood.”
  • To St. Vincent of Lerins, the affirmation that Our Lord’s head received 70 wounds

Carrying of the Cross

When presented with the Cross, what reaction did Our Lord have? St. Thomas of Villanova said:

But Jesus did not wait for the executioner to place the cross on his shoulders. Of his own accord he stretched out his hands and eagerly laid hold of it and placed it on his wounded shoulders. Come, he says, come, beloved cross! It is now 33 years that I have been sighing and searching for you. I embrace you, I clasp you to my heart, for you are the altar on which I shall sacrifice my life out of love for my flock.

Dr. Barbet filled in what it meant when “Jesus carried his cross.” He carried the horizontal part of the cross, the patibulum, which weighed approximately 125 lbs for 600 yards from the Pretorium to Golgotha. It was carried against the nape of the neck, with arms stretched out and bound to it so that He could give no resistance. The marks on the Shroud can only be explained by the scraping of the beam against the back, which was more poignant during each of His falls.

Nailing to the Cross

The cloth Jesus had worn was stripped away, also tearing open the wounds that had firmly been stuck to it. Although the Scripture’s literal translation were that his hands were nailed to the cross, the dragging of the body would have probably torn the skin. So the 1/3″ thick, long, square yet pointed nails were likely driven in the middle of each wrist. There was only one hole from the nail wound in the feet. It must have been driven in through the back of the feet, a much easier passage.

Words from the Cross

Our Lord spoke only seven times from the Cross, so they are appropriately called His Seven Last Words. The one that had caused me to be perplexed was what he cried out in the 9th hour. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” – Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34. I used to wonder, “How could the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, have felt abandoned by His Father?” It was more then just repeating the Psalm of David, written a thousand years before, prophetically referring to Him (Psalm 21:13-19). Archbishop Sheen explained:

Sin has spiritual effects such as a sense of abandonment, separation from God, loneliness. This particular moment He willed to take upon Himself that principle effect of sin which was abandonment. It was not that His human nature was separated from His Divine nature; that was impossible…in taking upon Himself the sins of the world He willed a kind of withdrawal of His Father’s face and all Divine consolation. …the moment when leaning on nails He stood at the brink of hell in the name of all sinners. Christ’s cry was of abandonment which He felt in standing in a sinner’s place, but it was not of despair. The soul that despairs never cries to God…The greatest mental agony in the world, and the cause of many psychic disorders, is that minds and hearts are without God. Such emptiness would never have a consolation, if He had not felt all of this as His own. There is hope (the end of that Psalm is one of victory).

Piercing of the Side

“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” – Jn 19:34. “The blow of the lance which was given to the right side reached the right auricle of the heart, perforating the pericardium – it was therefore not just a wound to the side, but one in his heart,” Dr. Barbet described. The blood came from the heart, the what appeared as water was the pericardial fluid.

Death on the Cross

The specific cause of Christ’s death was asphyxia, or suffocation. The positioning of the body on the cross made it hardly possible to breathe: The whole weight of the body dragged on his hands above him, and with his arms raised, it created a relative immobility of the sides which greatly hindered exhaling. Dr. Barbet likened what happened within His body — the contracting of the muscles to rigidity and the lungs filling with air which could not escape — to strangulation. The only way He could have escaped for a few moments from the battle for air was to try and lift His body upwards, using His feet for support.

In God’s mercy, the story does not end here. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” – Is 53:5. As we await the celebration of His Resurrection still, I will leave you to continue to meditate on the price He paid for you. A blessed Good Friday to you, friend.

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Our Angel

But He said to me, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

This passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has come to me so many times in my life.  As my mother still lays dying, simply awaiting the birth of her Grandchild, Jacob, (more on that later) I am grasping this profound scripture on a whole new level.

Many people have told my Mom throughout her 2 battles with Cancer that she is an inspiration.  She would tell you, “I’m just me.”  My sweet Mom did not feel like she was stronger, most definitely not more “heroic” then any other person fighting for life — she was simply doing ‘what needed to be done’ to sustain the life she so desperately wanted to still share with us that know and love her.  Yet, she is a hero to many–I told her last night that she was mine–for leading a life uncommon and leaving a legacy of love that will continue to be passed on from generation to generation in her honor.  In a world fraught with so many problems, tragedies, persecutions, etc…a beautiful, pure, light such as my Mom seems so rare, and thus that more precious.

As for me, I first learned love and truth from my earthly parents – and I thank them for the beautiful example they have set.  Not perfect, as no one is except in Heaven, but as good as they could possibly try to be.  And as I continue to receive so many beautiful messages for Mom, my family, and myself, about how the love we have given has made even a small difference in someone’s life, well, it is extremely humbling.  Mom always believed in treating people the way you wanted to be treated.  How drastically would this world change if people actually followed that “Golden Rule”, based on the premise that they actually love themselves in an ordered way and know also how to carry themselves with dignity?

Back to St. Paul, I know more about weakness then strength.  I read kind and thoughtful messages from dear friends saying such things like how ‘courageous and strong’ I am, and quite frankly it is nothing at work in me except God that provides those appearances.  I know that’s probably what my Mom feels, and definitely what St. Paul was referring to in my opening scripture.  You see, as a friend of mine discussed with me the other week, it takes a more strength (to assent from your human will) to surrender then to hold on.  It seems the natural thing to try and hold on and control things, but through experience and being disciplined, I have learned that the more I try and hold on, the more turbulent things become.  Letting go is the hardest thing to do, and just when it appears that I have seemed to make even the smallest progress in that area, the Lord asks me to go deeper in trust and let go, or detach, from something even greater or harder.

Letting go of my Mom is the hardest thing that has ever been required of me.  But seeing how greatly such an angelic woman has suffered, well, it provides the necessary motivation to surrender.  My Dad, 3 brothers and their wives, myself and my fiancee, Mike, have all made our peace with Mom.  We have shared all the love, tears, laughs, and words needed, and told her to go Home in peace.  All that she asks about now–as her earthly light fades, and her heavenly one increases–is about Jacob, who will be the newest addition to the family of my brother, Paul, and his wife, Pilar.  I imagine this baby, Jacob, wrestling in Pilar’s womb, with his frequent starts and stops, much like Jacob in Biblical times wrestled all night with an Angel.  As many refer to my Mom as an Angel, I pictured the two, Jacob and Mom, in a tug-of-war, with Mom praying for him to arrive quickly, and Jacob resisting leaving the comfort of his mommy’s tummy to enter life as we know it.  And poor Pilar is caught up in the mix of it!

Well, God-willing, we will hear of Jacob’s arrival soon.  As my Mother laid crying in her Hospice bed the other morning, I asked her what it is that she wanted before she passed away.  All she kept echoing was, “I want to see Jacob, I want to see Jacob, I want to see Jacob,” as the tears streamed down her face.  I told her God was listening to her, and we prayed as my brother, Jeff, led us into trying to help usher that child into being born.  Well, as of the last we heard at around 9:00 pm EST last night, Pilar was having contractions 15 minutes apart and Paul was pre-loading their bags into the car to be ready.  I am up in the middle of the night with much anticipation, as I await the news about Jacob, and wait to see how it will affect my Mother’s delicate state.  Her body is shutting down now as the Cancer grows and takes over.  I hate Cancer, I hate it.  But I love my Mom and God, and know we all will get through this as so many before us have, and many after us will as well, God forbid.

But there will be one more Angel, or I think of her now as standing more with the Saints, Eve Marie Sanchez, in Heaven to intercede for suffering Cancer patients and families.  She will be powerful in prayer, and loving as ever – true to always how she has been, and perfected in Love for all eternity.

I am quite certain that I am sharing some very personal thoughts and family moments with you here and now for a purpose greater then I can now understand.  I know undoubtedly that there are people who need encouragement and to experience GOD’S LOVE for the first time, or again; and even in her preparations to leave this earth, it is amazing to see how the love in and around my Mother is still doing that.  I am in awe, and know that people will still respect my family and the suffering that are also going through even now.  I write to process these things as well, and it is something healing for me, and hopefully for my family too.

I will bring this to a close now.  As my Mother’s first Grandchild, Alyssa, my niece, holds a special relationship with my Mom.  At only 13-years-old, I am very proud of the sweet and faithful young lady she is growing into (good job, Jeff & Annette!).  She has shared many beautiful writings with us over these trying months and weeks that have moved many adults to tears.  The last one she wrote before they left my parent’s home on Monday is what my Mom said that she’d like to go with her in her casket.  Since a public tribute it will become, I felt it honoring to both my Mom and Alyssa to share it here and now, as it says everything much more simply and perfectly then I am able to at this point.

On the front of the paper, Alyssa drew a picture of a lovely Angel, and it says, “My Grandma”.  On the back, it says that which my Mom is longing for as well as what I will leave with you for some time now (I will be with some of Mom’s family coming in soon, and attending to some of the many loose ends to wrap up as time allows…):

You will have long hair in Heaven.

You will have the most beautiful dress in Heaven.

You will have nice long legs so you may dance in Heaven.

You will have wings to show you are free and can fly in Heaven.

You will have the brightest smile for when you look down at us – our day will be wonderful!

You will have a halo to show you are an Angel, but you don’t need one to show you are one now.

I love you, Grandma,

Alyssa

Your 1st Granddaughter

UPDATE as of 6:15 AM on 1/18/11:  I just got a call from my brother, Paul.  They are at the hospital, and Pilar is dialated at a 4 out of 10 right now.  She is having pretty severe contractions right now, and they will not be going home – this baby is coming!!!  But it will still be awhile.  Poor thing, she is exhausted, not having slept in 3 days, and has even gotten sick in her labor.  Please pray for God’s will, including strength for Pilar, support for Paul, speed for Jacob, steadfastness for Mom, and peace for us all.

Finally, this beautiful song from Audrey Assad, has also been speaking to my heart.


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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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Letter from my Dad

My Dad sent out this email last night, and as he sat crying at the computer, I rubbed his back and told him that I’m sorry…

Greetings,

I would like to thank everyone for praying, sending cards and emails, visiting and phone calls, and bringing her meals.  Just for loving her and accepting her as your friend.  We are sorry if we ever did anything to offend you.  I personally feel that the time is growing very close and, if it is not for a miracle, she’s going to be called home to be with God.  We both love you and pray for your special needs.  I’m trying to spend as much time as I can with her; she is still the joy of my life.  2011 is going into our 44th year of being married.
Friends Always
Eve & Rich Sanchez
As we did this, my dear friends – Karla, Sefanit, Kelli, and Mike (my Fiancee), called from my home in Carrollton, TX, to “FaceTime” chat with us on our iPhones.  Their joy, prayers, laughing, love, talking with my parents were so special.  They all tag-teamed my Condo to pack things that I will need (since I hadn’t ‘planned’ on staying here at my parent’s home in Lady Lake, Florida, but don’t want to be anywhere else currently), which Mike will be bringing to me when he drives here this weekend.  Please pray for him, it’s been a loooong week for all of us since he left, and will be making the 20 or so hour trip with just our Guardian Angels to join him.  Thankfully he likes to drive!
I want to also thank each one of you for taking time to write, call, pray…etc.  I wish that I could write to/call each of you personally to express my gratitude, but as my Dad said, we love just spending time with her.  I think of the things she has loved and has done for me as she raised me so lovingly, and now I do them for her.  She instilled my love of reading, so from time-to-time we pick up George Bush’s autobiography for me to read to her.  I always loved when she read to me.
I put on a private “concert” for my parents in our living room, with my new Christmas gifts – a Martin guitar, and a “refurbished” Fender amp from a dear friend I play music with.   I told Mom that someone had paid me $1 million to bring me off of tour to come and do this little house concert, and it made her laugh.  Dad held her and sang to her, and she closed her eyes during many of the songs.  I think they are awake now, so I’m going to be with them.  You never really realize how precious each moment truly is until you are hanging on to each one of them.
Mom & Dad

My dear parents

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Brokenness

"Breaking Bread"

"Take and eat, this is my body given up for you"

Today I have been given the image of brokenness to ponder.  Writing through it helps me gain clarity, hence the blog post.  This image kept coming to me throughout the morning, starting with the visit of Mom’s Eucharistic Minister, Rocco, and his wife Liz.  They didn’t realize that I would still be here at my parent’s home – not even I did – so he didn’t have three hosts for all of us.  He told Dad and I that he would break one to split it between us.  And we had a sweet little Mass service at my parents’ home, with Mom receiving the communion and Dad and I splitting the other one.

Thinking about that image more, it becomes a beautiful Metaphor.  And when I say Metaphor, I don’t mean it the way my precious almost 9-year-old niece, Anna, understands it.  This story is too funny, I have to pause to add this tale of comic relief.  This conversation happened yesterday before the rest of my family departed to tend to all that God calls them to, allowing for this time for Dad and I to share with Mom:

Anna and I sat on the couch in the living room, while my 15-year-old nephew, Abraham sitting near us made some funny comment, as is usually the case.  Anna asked, “Is that a Metaphor?”

Abraham replied, “Yes, it is.”

Somehow I felt Anna might not yet fully grasp what that word that she’s heard from her older sister, Alyssa, meant.  So I asked her, “Anna, do you know what a Metaphor is?”

Matter of factly, Anna replied, “Yeah, it’s an animal – like in the movie, Percy Jackson.”

Trying not to laugh, because sometimes it embarrasses her, I asked her more about that “Metaphor”, and she continued to share how it was mean and pounced on the sheep in the movie.  I had a feeling she was thinking of a Minotaur, but hey, I often get those confused myself, and I’m 34-years old…but I digress.

Back to brokenness…  The Lord calls us to imitate him, and as Christians, Catholics, or any type of Believer, we say that we will.  Yet, something we so easily profess with our lips often becomes quite a struggle when presented the opportunity to put into practice.  Still, Jesus, of all people, publicly showed the ultimate act of brokenness – crucifixion although not guilty – laying down his life that we might share in eternity with Him.

I think of that single host, which I know undoubtedly is Jesus, being broken and split between my Father and I.  And right now, Jesus is tending to us both in order to carry our shares of this “burden” right now.  It brings us into the mystery of Calvary – in the blending of sorrow, hope, agony, peace, pain, humility, divine assistance, sacrifice, death, resurrection, and ultimately triumph…

I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.  Sometimes tears just roll down my face when I realize what lies ahead, as my heart “readys” itself.  Sometimes I just walk over to Mom, kiss her on the cheek and watch her smile, and it makes me smile.  Sometimes I want to lose it when I become impatient and frustrated because I am just tired, and have perhaps a thought such as, “she may never hold the children Mike and I want to have” crosses my mind.

But Mom told me on New Years Eve, “I will always watch over you.”  Dad, Mom and I cried as she shared this, and more from her tender heart.  I don’t know much, but I can tell you that I believe more then ever heaven is real.  I also know that my sweet Mom will be eventually return there, as we all were created to do.  She will be so happy, no longer suffering, and will be back with all of our dear friends and family that have gone before us, and with God, his Angels and his Saints.  These things we know, but they do not always comfort us as we struggle with detachment.

I have to share that we honestly have no idea how long we have with her, or from one day to the next how she will be.  Mom continues to fight and gain strength, and I will let y’all know when we feel like things are really declining.  Just as Mike, Abraham (my nephew) and I arrived here, she had a bad allergic reaction to the new Chemo pills the Doctor had just given her for 2 days, and it was scary.  But now that her 6 days of Steroids (which are hard on her – not being able to sleep) are finally over, I think she will be better.  We just take it day by day, which is how we are called to live anyways.

Thanks for all your comments, emails, phone calls, texts, and the like.  I may not always be able to respond, or do it in a timely manner, but know that I receive them with the love that I know prompted them.  I will try to use my blog to periodically give updates– it’s easier then trying to constantly re-tell something we are living and sometimes need a break from – I’m sure you understand.  Thanks for the advice from experienced dear friends and family too, and all the offers to do whatever, whenever, and the phone is “always on”.  I am humbled and blessed by the incredible network of support God has provided.

I’ll just wrap up by relaying about the love that is so tangible to us right now.  I can almost taste the Love, it can be felt so strong.   God is Love.  You know that I, like other people, utter prayers out of love while never really knowing what they do for another; but it brings love, hope, courage, fortitude — whatever virtue or fruit of the spirit that the other needs.  Only in heaven will we truly understand.  In God’s time, Mom will know how her love touched and transformed so many lives.

Feel free to leave messages here, on her Facebook wall, in a card or what not to let her know how you have been touched by God’s love through her.  She loves to hear all those things, and even needs them sometimes just like we all do.

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The Lamb That Was Slain

Melito of SardisBishop and Early Church Father

What can compare with experiencing the mystery of redemption?  As we enter into this most holy time, I have discovered two powerful reflections to share in the hopes that they may also speak to your heart.  The written piece is a compelling Holy Week meditation found in the Office of Readings of the Roman Catholic Church for Holy Thursday.  It comes from an Easter homily, “On the Passover,” from one of the greatest 2nd century Church Fathers, St. Melito of Sardis. Though his writings were extremely popular, this timeless work was lost until the 20th century.  How blessed are we that it has been recovered!  The other reflection is a moving compilation of sites and sounds that have been pressed upon my heart this week: “He Loves Us” sung by David Crowder, paired with heartrending scenes from “The Passion of the Christ”.

Lamb that was Slain, Early Church Father, Melito of Sardis

There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover: that mystery is Christ, and to him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin’s womb, and was born a man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen man upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt man’s destroyer, death, a fatal blow.

He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, as he had ransomed Israel from the hand of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. He sealed our souls with his own Spirit, and the members of our body with his own blood.

He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own for ever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.

It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.

It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night.

On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.

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Windows of Opportunity

Affectionately remembered as a “Cheerleader for Life”, Leo Buscaglia is the dynamic speaker featured on the thought-provoking video referenced above.  In the late 60’s, he was a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California.  Profoundly impacted by the suicide of one of his students, he started an audit course called “Love 1A” which later led to the inspiring published works and lectures – often embodying searing truths at the heart of their messages.  I consider those truths “searing” because they are simple, straight forward, and resonate deep within.  As such, they can truly serve as an impetus to better ourselves – if we allow them to.

Although I have not taken the opportunity yet to listen to all the talks in this series, “Born For Love”, I have already been affected by Buscaglia’s passionate message in the video showcased.   The simple truth at the core of this lecture concerns something we all try to avoid but each must face in our turn – negative life events.  The research on this that he referenced is from Richard Tedeschi at the University of North Carolina, and confirms that which we likely believe already:  Negative occurrences in our lives affect us more deeply than positive ones, and can serve as  “windows of opportunity for growth”. (That fits so nicely with my blog theme, doesn’t it?).  Due to the drastic nature of negative events, people are “pulled off their usual path” that they have become entrenched in and begin to challenge their habitual operations.  The research further reveals that events of a positive vein do not have the same effect, as they “do not change our basic notions of living and what life is all about to the degree that negative experience do.”

Beyond the psychological aspects of those statements, many forms of Religion lead us to these same conclusions – that suffering can become a teacher, instructing us in a new way, even a more abundant approach towards living.  The Catholic belief of “Redemptive Suffering” proceeds one step further, in that our sufferings can be joined to Christ’s.  Pope John Paul II was a courageous witness to suffering, not only “in seeing its mysterious purpose in the Providence of God” as Fr. Hardon ascribes , but also in leading by example through publicly embracing the acute suffering brought on by the Parkinson’s Disease that slowly deteriorated his body.  Note that more of Fr. John Hardon’s reflections on JPII and Suffering can be found at http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Martyrs/Martyrs_006.htm

There is a passage in the book of Sirach that never fails to provide an eternal perspective on suffering.  It is from Chapter 2, verses 4-6:

“Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient.  For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.  Trust in him, and he will help you:  make your ways straight, and hope in him.”

It reads so poetically, but speaking as someone getting her shorts scorched in “God’s Big Sizzler” right now, it can seem overbearing at times.  No wonder the keys of patience, trust, and hope are presented in that short passage, so as to unlock the rewards of humble endurance.  Being tested in the “furnace of humiliation” provides us an opportunity to access that which is of great worth in the Spiritual realm: It becomes the means by which the presence, quality, or genuineness of the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love are determined in our Spiritual Journey.  How deep does our love run, how much are we willing to decrease that He may increase?

Even if I wrongly seem indignant upon receiving it from time to time, I appreciate the wisdom of my parents.  The youngest of four and the only girl, I will forever be “their baby”.   Sharing a similar spirituality, I find the advice of my Father is often like a dart striking the Bullseye.  I’d like to say that I’ve only heard this one once, but spirituality is not the only thing we share (i.e. stubbornness).  That is, “The very things that you are praying for, God is trying to do. But you are fighting it, because you want it done your way.”  Suffering, or negative life events, is often one of God’s most effective ways of reaching us: Breaking through distractions, breaking us down, re-prioritizing our lives, revealing our weaknesses and exposing them so they can be exposed to the light and dealt with.  For those with enough courage and dependence on grace, we can embrace the growth offered.  As I type, I’m thinking of ways to crawl through my current window of opportunity and allow change to take hold.  After all, I desire to become a better version of myself, no longer avoiding that which hinders me.  I hope that you too will not allow your window to pass by, as life has a funny way of bringing us back to important lessons that we fail to grasp them the first or even fifteenth time around.

In one of her Podcasts last week, Joyce Meyer had some powerful truths that also spoke to me.  Her friend reminded her of one of the definitions for brokenness, “to bring to birth”.  That’s why it hurts so doggone much, because something of great value is trying to be born amidst our pain!   The other helpful definition that she provided was for meekness, or “strength under control”.  What a beautiful spin on that which we often confuse with being overly submissive or compliant to the point of being taken advantage of at times.   Meyer also provided the cut-and-dry response to the advice that my Dad lovingly provides, that being, “If you really want God to use you, stop telling him how it has to be!”  Preach it, sister.  Joyce’s no-nonsense messages make me want to rush out and print up some goofy bumper stickers, such as “Suffering ain’t for Sissies”.  Maybe my next post will be on catchy bumper stickers.  I saw one that had me laughing alone in my car the other day, “God doesn’t believe in Atheists”.  Word.

Back to Buscaglia, he raises some valid points worthy of reflection.  Is there something drastic that has happened, whether recent or not, to “shake you out of your apathy”? If not, simply tune into the media as news casts and newspapers reveal occurrences each day that are meant to shake you up.  Just one example, but I believe that this economic downturn presents us with countless opportunities to overcome apathy, reevaluate our priorities, and try and positively impact our families, our communities, our culture.  It starts with us.  If we avoid opening the windows to change in our own lives, with what validity can we advise our fellow man on how to progress along his own journey? As Gandhi stated, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

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