Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sound of Silence

I found an adoration chapel with perpetual adoration at Yonge and Steeles. I'm so excited because I have been craving spending more time alone, in peaceful reflection, in refreshing prayer, with Jesus...and now I can go right after work any day of the week!

When I went for the first time to this little chapel last week, I found it hard to concentrate at first, but I tried to really surrender this and started by meditating on a decade of the Rosary. I chose the wedding at Cana, where Mary says "Do whatever He tells you." I knew I really just had to pray about God's will and allowing whatever that is for me. (My boyfriend and I had just been talking about God's will the night before...it was mostly me ranting about how I don't get it. How are you supposed to know what God is telling you?)

After the decade I read over the daily readings and really got a sense of the importance of hoping, for waiting on God and keeping joyful. I realized that is how God is our strength. By not giving up hope we persevere and believe God will not abandon us, He will and is working wonders and His goodness penetrates all of creation more than any discouragement or disappointment or defect ever could!

"I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong  and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" ~Psalm 27

I realized how important it is to continually spend time with Jesus to be prepared for the battle of life. It is important to be docile to His Spirit and wait on Him as a soldier would on the word of his commander (in this case, a perfect and all-loving commander, so how could we go wrong listening to His command!?).

I still don't know exactly how God talks to me, but I know that the only way is to keep talking and listening to Him. It is a process, an adventure, it unfolds as it develops,by investing the time, just like getting to know anybody else.


Adoration of the Child by Gerard van Honthorst c. 1620


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Ways People Grow

On Saturday I participated in a "Defund Abortion Rally."  We were a small group of only four that stood outside a Toronto MPP's office holding signs that read "Defund Abortion" and "Not From My Wallet," as well as handing out pamphlets that contained information about abortion funding in Canada. 

Before I continue, here are some of the facts about abortion in this country: 

"Abortion in Canada is not limited by criminal law but by the Canada Health Act. While some non-legal obstacles exist, Canada is one of only a few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion.


"Abortions in Canada are provided on request and funded by Medicare, to Canadian citizens and permanent residents (as with most medical procedures) in hospitals across the country. Abortion funding for hospitals comes from the various provincial governments (their overall health expenses are however paid for in part by the federal government). One-third of hospitals perform abortions, and these perform two-thirds of abortions in the country. The remaining abortions are performed by public and private-for-profit clinics." *

And so what exactly goes on in the womb? 

At the moment of conception, the moment that sperm and egg have joined to become one entity, a completely new set of DNA is created. Half of this genetic information is from the mother and half is from the father, so that both equally participate in the creation of this new life-form. But yet it is completely distinct from it's parents, and from the the rest of humanity. The new being has a entirely unique genetic code that never existed before and will never exist again.

By 5 weeks after conception the brain, heart, spinal and digestive system have begun to develop. By the 7th week the brain has developed five separate areas, nerves and blood vessels begin forming, and the heart now has a steady beat while starting to pump blood through the body. By the 8th week the child has fingers and toes and within a few more weeks the distinct facial features are fine tuned. By 11 weeks the baby can make a fist and by 20 weeks the baby can hear and move around. At week 26 the little being has eye lashes and and fingerprints. The development continues to unravel at this stead pace, week by week new traits become expressed. **  

I find this unfolding absolutely incredible. The fact that the initial single cell is designed to divide and differentiate, specialize into specific organs and tissues, and that from the beginning it has human genes and left to it's natural process quickly develops into a human being, puts no doubt in my mind that this little being is in fact a person from it's conception. There is no magic minute in which this creature goes form being a non-person to person. Is there much difference between 5 minutes after the baby's birth to 5 minutes before? What about 5 hours, or 5 days or 5 weeks before that? 

These scientific facts are things to consider. Of course there are other factors that play into pregnancy in the nitty-gritty reality of life. And certainly an unexpected new person growing inside a woman can be a scary thing to face. That is, besides finding pregnancy fascinating from a scientific point of view, I wholeheartedly believe that it has to go beyond cold-hard facts. There must be compassion and understanding for mother and child, two vulnerable people. I really believe that defending life in the womb and the well-being of women can be effectively combined, as seen in such examples of Sisters of LifeCampaign Life Coalition, and Secular Pro-life

But my point in this reflection is actually something a little different. I wanted to share my experience at the rally and other such events I've been too. To be honest, I've often found being there difficult. I've been afraid to engage with passers-by, especially ones that held a very different perspective. I've felt hesitant to face the outdoor elements and make the effort to go out and stand on the street with controversial signs. But as the old saying goes, we have to face our demons, our fears, our insecurities and recognize that there are bigger issues that are worth fighting for. Defending life, especially the very innocent such as the unborn, but of everyone, young and old alike, is a sacrifice for me. But sacrifices are the things in life which bring on person growth, and build "character," as people call it, and, in turn, build a better future. I really believe that seeking personal growth and that promotion of the growth and care of others, and of society is much of what life is all about. I was especially struck and convicted of this today, especially when I read the Gospel Acclamation: "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you." I'm not at all perfect at this, but caring for others is a daily goal worth working on. 


Mother Theresa with a Baby

*From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_Canada, and in turn from Canada Health Act Annual Reports 2010-2011. Government of Canada. 2011 and Abortion Policies: Afghanistan to France. United Nations Publications. p. 84

** "Fetal Development." Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002398.htm

Friday, October 4, 2013

All Your Creatures

I was so happy to look in the calendar and find out that it was St. Francis of Assisi's day today. I love St. Francis for his harmonious/humble spirit and love of nature.  He also wrote lovely prayers such as the famous "Make me a Channel of Your Peace." The following is an excerpt from another of his compositions: 
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,especially Sir Brother Sun,Who is the day through whom You give us light.And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.   
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.   
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,by which You cherish all that You have made.
The Indie/Christian band Gungor actually made a  lovely song inspired by this piece. I think the music they put it too really suits the peaceful, praising feeling of the prayer

I also have a particular love for the beauty of creation. I find it so inspiring and fascinating and endlessly exiting. Here are a few pictures I've taken over the last few months that contain lovely creatures:



 An ocean floor, complete with starfish and sea cucumber (Ottawa Museum of Nature)


A posing frog and a peek-a-boo frog (ditto)


 A sleepy snake (Toronto Zoo)


A cautious beaver




A nibbling squirrel (Kanata, ON)



Noticing the little things is what I think it means to be childlike....at least I find appreciating the bits of beauty and cuteness of the things around me go hand in hand with feeling happy and blessed and even trusting God more....I'm so just so happy that God made animals...especially the little, furry ones! 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

If I had a million dollars...

....I would buy a villa in Italy, I'd have my own sewing room and a huge garden, I'd get a pet dog and cat and hedgehog and llama, I'd travel the world, I'd pay off all the debt of all my friends and family...but then I remember how every time I buy something that I really, really wanted and had put so much dependency on, I feel a sort of depression. I spent so much of my time as a kid thinking about and hoping for some material possession, but then when it is gained it's never quite as satisfying as hoped. Then one has to start obsessing over the next thing...but it never works; it is never is enough. The things that really fill that deep sense of longing are some completely other kind of thing...

***

 "My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts; Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come , and I fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, the gold is mine, says the lord of hosts. The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts."

For some reason the daily mass readings from this past Friday really struck me. This quote was from the first reading, taken from the book of Haggai. I must admit I was not even aware of the the existence of this little biblical book. And the excerpt is kind of repetitive and plain. But still, I found it very profound.

Firstly, the constant reinforcement of the "Lord of hosts" really emphasized the sweeping Grandeur of God. He is not the king of few, but of the masses. He is not just up in the sky, rather He is everywhere, all the time. Secondly, even though the Lord is majestic his spirit is still here, right in and among us always, and so we have nothing to fear. And so, even if our "house" is poor and failing, the Lord, who is both the great king over all and the closest presence to the smallest of the small, promises to make it greater, to bring it wealth and the see it thrive. The psalm also exclaims this idea of this rich home of God: " Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain and to your dwelling "(Ps 43). The psalmist then speaks of the resulting joy and the inspiration to praise. That is a lovely thought isn't it? But what does that mean? What really blew me away is how it was realized in the the New Testament.

The acclamation reads: "The Son of Man came to serve and to give life as a ransom to all." In the Gospel itself Peter first recognizes Christ as "The Messiah of God," that is, that foretold savior. I don't think I ever paid so much attention to the Gospel acclamation before, but the one from this Sunday also continued on this theme and really jumped out at me: "Though Jesus Christ was rich, yet He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich."

I've rarely found the readings so mind blowing, but this theme of humanity's utter poverty and God paying our debt for free so that we can be rich again, was one of those startling occurrences. Interestingly, I had been struggling with prayer. I hadn't prayed for a few days and I could feel something missing. I craved it, but I never expected the gift of this much consolation.

I described this experience to my boyfriend with an unique analogy. Incidentally, around this same time I was also eating rather poorly (well at least poorly for me, who can't eat gluten and dairy and sugar or anything normal people eat). I had been eating too many grains and nuts and some sugary fruit, and my body was not happy with it. I started to crave vegetables and I knew they were healthier and more nutritious and so much more refreshing than filling my body with tasty but not-the-best comfort food. My craving for veggies was similar to my craving for God. Sorry God, for comparing you to vegetables...

...but that fact remains that those things that are true and beautiful and actually good for us are the most satisfying. God really intended us to be with Him and to live in His abundance. He loved us so much he didn't let us live in dire, dirty spiritual muck and poverty. It doesn't mean we will be millionaires or that our lives on Earth will always be comfortable and cozy. But I've come to realize that real treasure is not a tangible thing. We are not doomed to endless cycles of grasping over shallow, finite things followed by deep discouragement. There is an infinite truth that the mind and the heart and the soul can soar in, thrive in, and find ultimate happiness in. So it doesn't matter how much money or stuff we have....because there is a far better wealth awaiting us. That is a truth that will keep me going even on the most seemingly hopeless days!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Peace, Not Pieces

I  finally found a job! I've just finished my first couple of weeks at my first ever 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job. But not so long ago, for what seemed like weeks without end, I was unemployed, unable to find work and had too much time to think. I am a thinker; part of my personality is being a head-in-the-clouds, idealistic thinker. But all this time and lack of stimulating activity got my already over-analyzing  brain going in circles. I can only take so much solitary pondering time before I start having an "existential crisis." 

It is kind of a cliche. I've officially hit quarter life and I for some reason I can't stop myself from asking: why do I exist? What could my measly actions ever accomplish?  What is the meaning of life?


Just as I plunge into this mental vortex of doom and am sure that my life is falling apart, into little pieces, strange things begin happening. And by strange I mean uncanny, seemingly coincidental and possibly even miraculous. No matter how much I think entropy and chaos is going to pull apart myself and the whole universe, there always seems to be some organizing force, some ultimate grand design and some great power gently recreating a masterful cosmos. 


In other words, whenever I start thinking there is no meaning and no God my brain wants to self-destruct, but this usually does not last long. A realization that there must be a prime mover, a great designer, a first cause reassures me. Gentle breezes, quiet beauties and kind gestures from others re-enter my notice. God whispers his invitation.  


Spending more solid time in prayer, reading and meditating on scripture and pausing in those moments when things seem grim, has blossomed beyond my expectation. Most recently, this all crescendoed in finally being offered a job, and one that I actually was happy to get, as well as my boyfriend graduating and being offered a job, spending a wonderful weekend celebration with my family and the feast day of St. Anthony, all within the span of a few days. 


Providentially, a few months ago a friend lent be a little book called Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Father Jacques Philippe. This incredible, yet simple booklet had an amazing impact on me from the moment I ventured into its pages. It begins: 'Apart from Me, you can do nothing, Jesus said (John 15:5). He did not say, "you can't do much," but, you can do nothing.' (Interestingly, this is also a lyric in a song by Catholic singer/songwriter Emma Fradd, that I have been listening to quite a bit.) The book continues saying the essential goal is:

 ...not principally to impose a lot of things on ourselves,  as good as they may seem with our own intelligence..Rather, we must try to discover the disposition of our soul, the profound attitude of heart and the spiritual conditions that permit God to act in us. It is only thus that we ca bear fruit -- fruit that will last (John 15:16).
 And a final except: 
Our minds are sometimes so clouded over by that which is not going well, by that which (according to our own particular criteria!) should be different in our situations, that we forget the positive. Moreover, we are unable to profit from any aspect of our situations ..in order for us to draw closer to God, to grow in faith love and humility. That which we lack is, above all, the conviction that "the love of God turns to profit all that he finds in me, the good as well as the bad" (Saint Therese of the Child Jesus)."  

This simple truth is one of incredible freedom. Peace has been much easier to maintain with the realization  that God is the source of all that is,  and everything that we can  accomplish is only because of Him. Whatever goals and pressures we put on our selves just pale in comparison to his vast, in fact infinite, love and mercy. I realized recently that Our Lady is a great example of humility and trust in this fact. She would never have imagined that she would become the Mother of God. She must have had  very different plans for her life. Yet she did God's will wholeheartedly without  the need to fully understand all the implications, over-analyse it or incorporate her own agenda. 


Anyhow, now I have a job. It's what I felt so anxious without. It seemed like the job was all I needed to get to put all the disjointed pieces of my life together. But of course, now I'm working and that comes with it's own set of trials and frustrations. It's another stage, but not the end of the road.  It's another opportunity to practice trusting in God, any situation is, and in practicing that comes peace.  I'm discovering that it's not that God is there and sometimes isn't, or things are sometimes good and sometimes not, or sometimes there is peace and other times there are pieces. Rather, God's goodness is constant, He never abandons us and He never stops offering us His peace. We just need to change our perspectives to notice.   

Friday, March 15, 2013

Anxiety Turns to Joy

It is Lent. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, for 40 days Catholics are preparing to celebrate Christ's death and resurrection. Like Jesus' 40 days in the desert, we spend this time praying and  fasting so we can shed distractions and attune our focus on God.

Since I was a kid, I remember following the custom to "give something up" for lent. Back in my childhood days it was usually something like chocolate or tv shows. It was the tradition and I didn't think about the deeper meaning behind it much. As I got older, and began to take my faith more seriously, I started to realize that there is in fact a profound reason why we abstain from pleasures we are attached to: If there is a God that loves us so much that he died for us, the least we can do is work on getting over our candy addiction and redirect all those thoughts and energy to building a relationship with Him.

Of course, like Christ's time in the desert, the Lenten road is not always smooth; There are temptations. Keeping to our resolutions, what we gave up or took on, is not always easy. Sometimes it can even seem impossible. Unlike Christ, we easily give in and believe those lies whispered to us. One little failure and  we are further tempted to become discouraged and give up altogether. For me, sometimes I try to take on too much, or I want to just "get there" already, and just be holier, better, closer to God. After a little mess-up, I realize how little and imperfect I am and I become afraid that it this road is impassible, that I'll never get there.

Last Sunday the Gospel was the story of the prodigal son. This famous tale recounts the life of a man and his two sons. The younger son, tired of work of his father's farm, decided to claim his share of the  inheritance and leave in search of a more exiting life. After squandering his wealth and ending up dirt poor in a pig sty, the son realizes that he should just admit his mistake and return home. His Father welcomes this youngest with open arms and holds a feast in honour of his return.

In his homily, the priest asked the congregation, "Will you accept the Father's forgiveness?" Every time we fail, no matter how badly, God is waiting for us always to return to Him. The priest encouraged his listeners to go to confession and emphasized that God is waiting to forgive us. Can we accept it, though? Can we swallow our pride and  humble ourselves enough to admit our mistakes?

This lent I'm learning a little more each day that this whole journey is about just that: humility, acceptance of our imperfection and reception of God's perfect love. It is about becoming small. We need to shrink to let God in more. It is about the little things too. We need to learn to love more in every little task we do, no matter how mundane it may seem. It is about letting  God guide us and be our source of strength. We need to let go of trying to be in control, because we can't be, and trying to control everything all the time is exhausting and impossible and therefore anxiety provoking. On the other hand, letting the One who is truthfully in charge is freeing.

Madonna House foundress, Catherine Doherty, says puts it wonderfully:

"Sometimes thoughts creep into my mind like shadows, whispering, "You're going to have a whole day of problems." But I don't have to listen to those voices. I know that I don't have to face all those problems at once. Everything is a work of love done for Christ's sake, and all I have to be concerned about is doing the duty of the moment. This is where my anxiety turns to joy."