Life after Epiphany


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Meeting Place

I was condemned to death,
death well-deserved.
A shameful death, an execution.

I was given a cross
Assigned final toil:
to carry it to a place
of alienation
from all that is good
from Goodness Himself.
A place I had chosen
in which to spend eternity.

What’s this?
Your Grace?
That Cross became our meeting place!

– – – – –

(A dusty sketch from sometime back in my Novice year)

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Sometimes I think my most intense moments are lived in my car… (JGL 6)

Ever heard that song “Woke Up in America” by Matt Maher?

That song has been a little bit of a personal theme song, given my American convent adventure…  and the fact that Australia, as an island nation, is basically a rock in the middle of the ocean (even though technically it is NOT the rock to which Matt Maher was referring!).

So many of the lyrics just truly resonate with me! I really did wake up in America for the love of God, for something bigger than myself!

Tonight as I was driving along and rocking out to the song, though, I was struck by the fact that the preposition TO could also work there… instead of FOR. I woke up in America TO the love of God: my unique encounter with Him woke me up to the reality that His particular and personal love for me is deep beyond my comprehension… I woke up to this reality in such a way that it is far more than “head knowledge” now. Somehow this has become a lived reality for me, something that finally embarked upon that massive journey from my head to my heart, covered the distance and started to take root there.

I woke up in America TO something bigger than myself. I was confronted by the dreadful extent of my own selfishness. In my pride, I was scandalised by my own weakness. But living in community has a way of opening one’s heart to love others… slowly, almost against your will at first… until one sees that there is a world out there of people who need to be loved, people for whom I could be the instrument of God’s own love. Once again, what had been head knowledge started to penetrate my rocky heart.

I guess perhaps the impact of this is lost somewhat in the telling, but I was simply overwhelmed with gratitude for the incredible gift of my time there. Sometimes I get bogged down in the grief of the loss that came with leaving my Community, and the surprising extent to which the adjustment of resettling into lay life has been so very arduous. On this particular occasion, however, I was engulfed with an awareness of what an amazing blessing had been given me.

I think back upon that time, and I realise that it was about as far from “one size fits all” formation that you could get. There were particular experiences and lessons that my peers did not receive – experiences and lessons that were gifted only to me, custom-designed for my formation and salvation. I am sure that the reverse is also true. A gift… a delightfully personal gift… one that continues to form me.

As for Matt Maher – he makes FANTASTIC driving music. I sing, I dance at the traffic lights, I drum-beat the steering wheel… I must look like a lunatic! But the whole thing is a prayer 🙂 Mostly, its just time enjoyed singing praise… but every now and then there is a moment of significance, a moment of discovery, a moment of gratitude.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! His love endures for ever!

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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Getting real about my confusion… (JGL 5)

So its been 4 months and 1 week since I did my Audrey Hepburn impersonation.

Have you ever watched The Nun’s Story?

**SPOILER ALERT!!**

In the closing scene Hepburn (Sr. Luke) goes into a little room near the back door of the convent in which she has lived. Changing into some simple clothes, she removes her habit and veil for the last time, revealing a mess of closely cropped hair and a combination of fear and excitement that is palpable.

Her solitude in this scene is confronting. Her goodbyes have already been said, without demonstration, without delays. She steps out the back door and it is all over.

Similarly, I went into a small room to remove my habit and veil for the last time, donning simple, comfortable clothes and partaking of a hearty meal (it was breakfast time) to prepare for the long trip  had ahead of me. Alone, in silence. Well, not really alone – the Lord was with me. I was blessed also that, when I had eaten and changed and emerged from this little room, I had companions for my journey. My novice mistress and a dear friend of mine accompanied me to the airport, helped me get organized, and stayed with me right up until the sign “Passengers only beyond this point” jumped out at me, taunting me, as I took that final step away from the life I had known.

Lets not over-dramatize this. I had not, like Hepburn’s character, lived the life for 20+ years. I had been a novice, I was in my second year of religious life, and I had not yet made vows. It is, however, quite remarkable how quickly that place and that life became my home, and how difficult it has been to let go.

When I left, I had absolute clarity  that although God had called me to live religious life for a time, that He was not calling me to make vows. That clarity was necessary, for without it I would not have been able to make the decision to leave. It was a beautiful mercy, that for that time I was able to see so clearly, for the Truth truly did make me free. I chose freely my path and did so with complete trust that the steadfast love of God would persist and that He smiled upon my desire to please Him in what I was doing. Although the FEELING of certainty is failing me these days, my intellectual capacity to choose to trust the Father who keeps His promises remains. I still trust in the clarity I was given at the time the decision was to be made and acted upon.

Nevertheless, for all that I choose to continue trusting, I still have a mess of feelings and confusion with which to contend. That disconnect between my head and my heart is causing disconcerting unease.

#1 gripe with the outside world? THERE’S NO SILENCE!! It really drives me nuts 😉

I live in a large family and it is unreasonable and uncharitable to lock myself away from them during normal living hours. I steal a few hours of silent, alone time in the wee small hours when I can, when I know its not going to make me an absolute zombie at work the next day.

But then there’s the question of how I use the little silence that I manage to procure whilst the world snores.

In the convent, the times and places of silence were designed to help me to be recollected in the Lord, to make every bit of time possible a meeting place with Him. It was prayer time!

Here? I know instinctively that I need the silence… but I get lost in my own thoughts so often and tend to run away from being alone with Him.

What am I afraid of?

I don’t want to let my intimacy with the Lord slip away into the night. My relationship with Him means everything to me. And yet even to cry out the words of Psalm 22 seems misplaced here – for it is not GOD who is doing the abandoning.

My God, my God, don’t let me abandon You! Help me to be faithful! Help me respond to Your grace!

Those times we would sit together in the chapel, and I would imagine we were walking together in the garden in the cool of the day? I long for those twilight “walks” again!

Teach me how to love You, how to abide with You, out here in the world since it seems that THIS and not the inside of a cloister is where You want me to be.

Meanwhile… I give thanks to the Lord amidst this confusion. I know that even this crazy time of being unsettled is itself a gift in the broader context of my salvation. A gift of providence from the Father who knows exactly what I need to ensure that one day I dwell with Him in Heaven.

Even in this whirlwind, I am experiencing God’s love.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! His love endures for ever!

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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give thanks to the Lord for He is good… (JGL 4)

… His love endures forever! I experienced God’s love this past week:

  • a difficult but fruitful conversation with my Dad
  • in a productive and reassuring meeting with my PhD supervisor
  • in the enjoyment of a beautiful view of the harbour one clear, sunny morning during the drive into work
  • in a renewed appreciation of God’s mercy to me
  • in receiving reassurance about my the positive state of my Dad’s health
  • in the arrival of another Mother’s Day where both of my grandmothers as well as my mother are all alive and around; I am so thankful for these beautiful women in my life!

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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give thanks to the Lord for He is good… (JGL 3)

… His love endures forever! I experienced God’s love this past week:

  • in the Father’s Providential gift of a new job
  • in time with my beautiful niece an nephews over the Easter Octave
  • in some beautiful, prayerful Masses throughout the Easter Octave
  • in the reception of Communion AFTER Mass one day last week when I had been unable to partake during the Mass due to having missed observing the 1 hour fast by about 10 minutes – Blessed be God in the gift of the generous priest who stayed back to ensure I could still receive our Lord!
  • in some wonderful quality time on Skype with a dear friend who lives on the other side of the world 🙂
  • in the terrifyingly beautiful sky yesterday afternoon during the strangest storm I’ve ever seen. Made for extremely dangerous driving conditions, during which the Lord kept me safe
  • in some financial relief from an anonymous benefactor as I settle back into lay life; she requested that her gift of money in an envelope be delivered to me with the message “its from Our Lady” – what a beautiful person this benefactor must be, and what a relationship with the Lord and His Mother she must have!
  • in a timely and inspiring homily
  • in a good amount of quiet to counter-balance the time spent with people over Easter

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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Thomas of Surry Hills – the blind taxi driver who discovered love

lovepoursitselfoutThere was a doubting Thomas living in Surry Hills, Sydney. He was a sworn enemy of the Christians in his community and determined to sabotage whatever he could of their activities that in anyway moved beyond the confines of the building in which they worshipped. Any initiative of theirs that involved public spaces or common property? He made it his mission to campaign against it.

This particular gentleman – and we’ll call him Thomas in honour of today’s Gospel, was in the process of bringing a lawsuit against the local Baptist church in his area when he discovered that due to serious illness, he was going to rapidly lose the use of his eyes. He was a taxi-driver by trade and this meant the loss of his livelihood.

One of his neighbours, a member of the very Baptist church on the other end of Thomas’ legal action, learned of his condition and began a huge fundraising campaign to raise the money for surgery that could salvage his sight. He was a little taken aback, of course, but refused the money and opted  against the surgery. Love never takes offense, and neither did the Baptist community. They simply asked if there was anything they COULD do for him.

He responded that since he had lost his livelihood, he would appreciate a little help with his household expenses. Expecting occasional cheques of $10 or $20 here or there, you can imagine how stunned he was at regular cheques of $400 or more – substantial living assistance. This constituted a very real sacrifice on behalf of the community providing the money… this all took place during the worst of the global financial crisis; yet nothing was asked or expected in return. Thomas had never encountered such unconditional, sacrificing love and it began to change him. He began to learn what real love was. His atheistic objections to Christianity slowly weakened and disappeared.

In 2012 he became a Christian and joined the community that treated him like a brother, before he had even realized that he was!

What a beautiful example of love our non-Catholic brothers and sisters have set for us here in authentic love that pours itself out for another. When Our Lord showed His wounds to Thomas, He was showing the badges of authentic love that pours itself out. It was this love that enabled Thomas then to see.

Fr. J shared this little anecdote as one component of a multi-pronged homily today for Divine Mercy Sunday, Low Sunday in the Easter Octave. Fr. J, if you ever see this – thank you! You were ON FIRE today 🙂

And thank you for the reminder regarding the formula for the Act of Contrition during the sacrament of Confession. It was SO GOOD to see so many lining up for confession today!! God is so good, He is working wonders in the hearts of ordinary people all over our diocese – what a privilege to see that work in action today! We all need His Mercy – the love that pours itself out.


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Did not our hearts burn as He talked to us on the road? An Eastertide Scripture reflection

This beautiful Emmaus Painting can be purchased as a print from the original artist, who has other work for sale also: http://www.emmauspainting.com/

I LOVE the Emmaus pericope.

Our human experience is so often characterized by our confusion at what is happening to us and around us. We get preoccupied with trying to make sense of it all and without our recognizing it, Jesus draws near.

How often we are oblivious to His presence!

Nevertheless, Jesus walks with us. He is present to us in our pain and confusion. Perhaps He is silent sometimes – but He is there.

Verse 16 tells us that the eyes of Cleopas and his companion (Luke himself?) were kept from recognizing Christ. I wonder if God doesn’t do this sometimes to help us see our need for Him, to help us desire Him more? Just like the lover in the Song of Songs, whose relationship with His beloved is characterized by alternating periods of presence and absence… yet even when He is absent, He leaves behind his fragrance, the rememberance of Him… is He ever TRULY absent?

The question He asks next seems indicative of an invitation to prayer. Jesus knows the answer to the question He asks – He is the Risen Lord, after all! He asks the question to prompt a conversation. Jesus wants us to bring our troubles to Him, even though He already knows about them. He helps us to reflect thoughtfully… and then He asks us to listen to Him.

The thoughtful reflection is important, but the crucial step is the listening, for it is then that our hearts burn. We are made for union with God. God is our ultimate end, our absolute good. It makes sense that as we listen to Him, something inside us starts to sing. “Only the lover sings” as Josef Pieper would say! Yes – something inside us starts to sing, and our deepest desires are revealed to us. The Lord knows our desires – but do we? Really?

The journey on earth is long and arduous at times, and it would perhaps be cruel if the Lord were to heighten our desires but never to satiate them. Whilst our desire for fullness of union with God, and the ability to see Him as He is, can never be realized until the next life, we can receive a foretaste of this union at the Mass, our portal as it were into the heavenly banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb.

This very account is the Scriptural basis for the structure of the Mass. The Mass consists of a celebration of the Word where we allow the Lord to speak to us through Scripture, and the priest in his homily seeks to help us understand the Gospel message by explaining the Scriptures in the broader context of Salvation History such that we can see how it points to Christ. Then we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, a representation (in the Hebrew understanding) of the once and for all Paschal Sacrifice. Time and space diminish in their relevance – all of the angels and saints are truly present at each Mass, where heaven is united with earth, and it is NOT a repetition of the Sacrifice that transpires – rather it is the very same Sacrifice – we become mysteriously present at Calvary.

It is here, in this place, during the breaking of the bread, that we are able to recognize the Lord and understand what He has spoken to us.

“O Sacred Banquet – in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is recalled and the pledge of future glory is given to us!” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Do you desire intimacy with Christ?
Come to Mass and meet Him there!


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charity begins at home… Pope encouraging grassroots change

We saw major steps in ecumenism and cultural interchange with Pope Benedict XVI. This movement on the “big picture” was truly beautiful and enriching for the Church.

It certainly seems as though we are now receiving enrichment of a different kind; Pope Francis in his preaching and in his public messages to date seems to be honing in on the individual and his/her relationship with God.

Pope Francis’ recent Twitter feed is my case in point:

pontifextwitterfeed

And most recently: “Never speak poorly of others.”

These tweets are all short extracts taken from recent homilies and addresses. Each speaks to an aspect of one’s personal relationship with Christ and the nature of how that relationship expresses itself in relationship with others. It is the encounter with Christ that is important! Pope Francis is inviting each one of us to take a good look at ourselves, to stand as we are before the Lord and to receive His love and mercy and seek to live out the love we have received. His messages are simple but important…  and potentially very powerful in their effect, if we take them to heart.

Its almost like Pope Francis is acting as a personal spiritual director to every single individual in the Church throughout the world! How amazing that such a thing is even possible! Changing hearts. This can only be done by the Holy Spirit. It seems that He is working through our Holy Father in this way… we need to open ourselves up to these graces!

Both the “big picture” and the “grassroots growth” need attention. Each of us needs a shepherd to help lead us to Christ as individuals, and we also as the People of God, as a Church, need a shepherd. Both men are different, and the Holy Spirit has given each individual holding the Office of Pope a different task. Isn’t encouraging to see that all of us are being well tended?


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subverting shame – a symbol of love

goodFridayVenerationCross

Crucifix laid out for Good Friday veneration.

 Shame is a lie.

Likewise, discouragement is a device of the evil one and must be seen for the deception it is.

Shame is our instinctive response to an internal acknowledgement of inadequacy or wrongdoing. Discouragement is a response to an awareness of shame. A spiral of lies.

Before Jesus shouldered our sin upon Himself and died to reconcile the world to Himself, the cross was the instrument of the most shameful death in society. Crucifixion was the execution of choice for criminals and agitators; there was nothing dignified nor heroic about it.

Setting humanity straight in more ways than one, Jesus subverts everything we think we know about the world. The Cross had no power over the Creator of its makers, nor the nails over the Lord of the man who hammered them into place.

A friend of mine wrote a wonderful song, a reflection on this very point. Her song was called “Not by Nails” and it speaks of the Love which held Our Saviour to the Cross. God is love, and Jesus is God. Jesus was physically nailed to the Cross but it was Jesus’ own choice to be bound by that physical reality. Love and obedience carried the day. Jesus did the Will of His Father out of such a pure, personal, particular and preferential love for you, for me, for each individual that ever has or ever will live that we can’t even begin to fathom it.

Horror is juxtaposed with beauty. That Holy Face which was Transfigured has, for a time, become disfigured. (Pope John Paul II writes eloquently on this reality in Vita Consecrata.)

As a child, I understood on some level my complicity in Christ’s death, but rather than solemnly contemplate in silent gratitude the gift of our salvation and the means by which it was wrought, I used to get very upset about the brutal way in which Jesus was executed. It took some time before I started to learn that love was more than a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is the choice symbolized by the Cross.

Before Jesus died for us, shame was the only appropriate response to sinfulness and inadequacy. In dying, Christ won for us the freedom to choose between  continuing to dwell in that shame, or a radically different response: love… and the trust and the gratitude that go along with it. I no longer look to myself and my weakness. Yes – my weakness is there… but I’m not scandalized, I’m not ashamed. No… I no longer look to myself. I have Christ ahead of me and I choose to look to Him, to He who is Love.


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turn on the ignition!

image

A lot of us are sitting in the driveway in beautiful cars, tanks full of gas, oil in the crankshaft, fluid in the radiator… and we’re sitting there saying “I wish I could go places!”

Turn on the ignition!

Listening to a talk on “Fanning the Flame of Faith” by Alex Jones, I was struck by this remark that he made. How impotent we make ourselves!!

We are so blessed in the Catholic Church to have all we need. We have the Truth, revealed to us in the twofold deposit of faith in both Scripture and Tradition. We have the Sacraments. We have the Saints to show us how the Lord can be followed in every circumstance. We have the Blessed Mother to intercede for us to her Son. We have the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us by virtue of our Baptism… but none of us can benefit from these things or help others to benefit from them if we don’t turn on the ignition!

What is the ignition?

Well.. next time you hear one of our Protestant brothers or sisters talking about a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, DO NOT ROLL YOUR EYES and assume that this is buzz-word rhetoric. Our brothers and sisters in other denominations of Christianity differ with us in some very crucial ways, but on this point they are 100% correct.

You and I – each one of us – needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The ENCOUNTER with Christ is the spark that is ignited when the starter engine turns. The starter engine is the movement of Actual Grace – the Holy Spirit at work. Turning on the ignition, then, is surely represented in the action of begging the Lord for receptivity to grace.

The Mother General of the Community to which I used to belong once said to me that the first task of the New Evangelization is RECEPTIVITY TO GRACE. As a religious Novice, cloistered away from what one would generally consider the “mission field” of the New Evangelization, this made a profound impact on me. We need to RECEIVE from the Lord so that we can give to others. We have nothing, NOTHING, without Him. He asks us to give generously, but He first gives that we may then give to others! The life of a Novice is prayer, domestic work and prayer, study and prayer, more prayer. That prayer is less a talkative prayer and more a listening prayer. That prayer is receptivity in action. As a Novice, I was uniquely placed in the privileged position of being able to contribute authentically to the apostolate of my Community by being receptive to grace.

I often think of St. Paul, and the years that passed between his conversion and the beginning of his missionary journeys. Paul needed to be formed and strengthened in the Lord. He needed to receive before He could give.

Now, the Lord has called me away from religious life, but not before teaching me why He called me to that life in the first place. He wanted to give me something precious. The cloistered environment on the other side of the world were precisely the lengths to which He went to enable me to receive the gift He wanted to give to me. Here, out in the world again, I need to concern myself with sharing this with others. Giving myself to others is limited in its usefulness, for I am nothing and He is all. No – I want to give CHRIST to others! Paul tells us “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

Crucial lesson from this: the receptivity cannot stop! My time in cloister is behind me now. But to live a life of effective, authentic service to His People out of love for Him, even as a lay person, requires fidelity to prayer in that inner cell that my patroness, St. Catherine of Siena, teaches us all about. Every day I need to turn on that ignition again, I need to beg the Lord for receptivity to grace and then I need to spend time in prayer with Him, receiving Him that I may share Him with others.

We can really go places. The Lord wants to take us there! So turn on the ignition and see what wonders He works in you!