Answer to a question in the Oremus class

One of the members of the large group who are attending, a man name Steve, has asked the same question for the past two weeks – “How do we know that God is speaking with us?”. The first time Steve asked the question, I thought it was a question as part of his role of facilitator. The second time he asked the same question, I felt it might be a question he is struggling to answer for himself. So I decided to write all the ways that I am certain that God has spoken to me, and to explain each one as succinctly as I can.

I am similar to most folks who have felt the presence of God in the natural world – a beautiful sunrise or sunset that takes away the breath, a nighttime traveling across the Arizona desert where the overwhelming number of stars can be seen, the beauty of a flower, the delight in seeing a hummingbird or other natural creature – I have been scooping toads and frogs from the pool all summer and have taken time to talk with them ( “frog whisperer” my daughter calls me) – of course the toads and frogs just look at me and do what they want, the mystery of the wind which moves the trees, the happy laughter of children, the delight one sees on children’s faces – so many things in the natural world which we all know are a message from our Creator.

The first time I realized that God spoke through Scripture was during a class for women at the parish we were attending. We were assigned three readings in Scripture. Our teacher, a nun, told us that God would have a message in one of those passages just for us. The first two readings were in the New Testament – I don’t remember which books. I remember thinking the passages were beautiful. The last reading was from the Book of Exodus, Chapter 4. In Chapter 3 Moses comes into the Presence of God. In Chapter 4 after being told that God had a job for him, Moses tells the Lord, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” I had been struggling for a long time with an inability to communicate effectively. My husband even complained about the way I spoke. A good friend, my art teacher, had said something I disagreed with, but I couldn’t defend my position.

When I read the passage from Scripture, I began to sob and continued to do so for some time. I knew that this was God’s message to me. I wasn’t broken or defective, as I had thought I must be. God had a task for me, so I needed to set about it. I spent the next few years learning all I could about how women were socialized, how women learned to speak. I realized that I needed to change the way I communicated. And so I did. My life is more comfortable now, both with my husband and my friends. Though I am still not good at arguing, at convincing someone of the “rightness” of my thoughts – I just don’t think fast enough, I am content that I am who God created me to be. I have learned that I am good at writing and expressing myself through the written word, and that most of the time, I can hold my own when I speak orally.

A couple of years after the class I left the Church. I had had a disagreement with our parish priest. The disagreement escalated until I was no longer comfortable going there. I tried attending another parish but was told that I was to go to my own parish, that I was not welcomed in the new one. So for nearly twenty years, I went to Mass only when I went with my parents for a celebration or family event. I tried living as a Christian and thought that since I had been raised in the faith, I should be okay. I prayed; I read the Bible quite often.

When my dad died as a result of someone’s violence toward him and my mom, who were both quite ill, I was devastated. I spent the nights after dad’s death, feeling guilty about what had happened, for my sister Christine and I had hired this person and worked with her, trusting her. I would often hope after dad’s untimely death, that my life would not be a long one, even counting the years I might still be required to live. I continued to read the Bible, but I am sure I didn’t understand much. I thought the words were beautiful and strangely comforting at times.

One night during this particular summer, I had a dream. In the dream I was in a very white room. There was a party, but I could see no one except one man who was standing against a wall across the room. I knew it was Jesus – I don’t know how I knew. In my mind I heard the words “In Jesus there is freedom.” When I awoke the next morning and remembered the dream, I started searching through the Bible for those words. I thought I must have read them somewhere, but couldn’t find them. So I thought that perhaps it was time to go back to Church. I didn’t know which one. I didn’t want to go to the Catholic Church,, as my experience had been so unpleasant. I would watch the Hyde Park Baptist Church on Sunday mornings and loved the preaching. But as I thought about a choice, I knew I had to go somewhere where the Eucharist was. That meant I had to return to the Church of my youth. So began another journey back to the faith. It was difficult, but as time went on, I knew it was the right choice.

This summer I was reading in the Bible. I had been studying a book “The Catholic Guide to the Bible” by Fr. Oscar Lukefahr. He instructed the readers to read a passage in Genesis that would give us a “flavor” of the particular story he was relating. We were to read Chapter 45 which describes Joseph (of the many colored coat) announcing to his brothers who he is. Joseph said “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with ourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” I began to sob, for I understood now why God had allowed what had happened to my dad. By my dad’s death, his children were saved for eternal life. All the guilt that I had felt for the last ten years, vanished in an instant.

I had come back to the faith the summer dad died. My sister Jean, who died in 2010, had been a faithful daughter of the Church, as far as I know. My sister Christine, who died in 2014, had been married in the Church and then divorced her husband because of his abuse and alcoholism, when he tried to hurt her and her child. Because Christine remarried in a civil ceremony, she thought herself “unwanted” by the Church, though I and others tried to dissuade her. After Christine had a heart attack and was hospitalized for bypass surgery, she called me, afraid that God didn’t love her enough to let her live. I persuaded Chris to speak to a priest before she was taken to surgery. Christine never woke up from the surgery.

Just this past winter my youngest sister Jill was hospitalized after falling at home and breaking her arm. She has been disabled for some years. Jill had pneumonia and CDIFF, suffers from gout and diabetes. Jill was frightened that she would die. She told me that she had done some bad things and was afraid that she would not see her family in heaven again. I asked Fr. Tim to come and anoint her, which he did. Jill now wears a crucifix that I had given her all the time, I take her Communion whenever I can. She is still quite ill, but is holding her own.

I went to Confession this past week and saw Fr. Sang. I expressed my concerns about my sister Jill and how resentful I am, at times, that I am the one left to take care of her, even though she does not live with me. I had not had much of a relationship with Jill until my sister Jean died, as Jill is eleven years younger than me. But I have found myself growing in compassion for my sister. Fr. Sang told me that when I feel those things – compassion for example – that is a sign of God at work in my heart. He said that I should open myself to those feelings and let God do His work. Fr. Sang said much more, but that is what I remember right now.

Father Becker once told us in a homily that there are no coincidences. Everything that happens is a result of God’s work, of God allowing or ordaining it. So many coincidences in my life, and they all have a purpose. Each coincidence is a message from God – that is what I believe.

So often in Confession, what I have been told by the priest is so appropriate to the situation I find myself in, that I know God is sending me a message of love, that He is directing me.

My life has changed dramatically since my dad’s death. The freedom that I was promised in the dream ten years ago has come to me. I am still struggling to be the person God created me to be, but as Fr. Sang has told me, stop struggling, just relax and let God do His work in me. I am God’s child, and He is directing my life, helping me to grow as He wants. When I am unsure about the direction I am going, Fr. Sang says to talk to God about it. If my decision gives me peace, then God is saying “that is what I want for you”.

Oremus Matthew 14:22-33

In this Scripture passage Matthew 14:22-33 we come on the scene after Jesus has fed the 5000. He sends the apostles away, across the sea of Galilee to Genesserat. The wind picks up, the waves rise and after many hours the apostles are exhausted – having been awake and busy for probably 24 hours. They have still not reached their destination. In the early morning hours the apostles see what appear to be a ghost, walking on the water. It is Jesus who calls out to them, telling them not to fear. Peter, always the one to speak out, tells the Lord to command him to walk on the water toward Him. Peter is invited but as soon as the “going gets rough”, begins to sink. Jesus saves Peter, of course.

What does this passage show to me? I couldn’t help but think about my discontinuing taking Communion to Jill as the temperatures are so high. Is this an example of my “not following Jesus when the road gets rough, of not trusting that He would take care of me”? I don’t have an answer to that. Should I not use the brain God has given me?

I did ask the priest in Confession and he said that God calls us to make decisions like this, that we shouldn’t put God to the test.

Oremus Luke 17:11-19

Luke 17:11-19

Jesus and his disciples are traveling to Jerusalem, perhaps for some Jewish feast day. They approach a village which is on the way, perhaps they need to purchase food or are looking for water. It could have been in Galilee or even Samaria; the story doesn’t tell us. Though Jews often didn’t travel through Samaria, Jesus did.

Ten lepers approach Jesus, calling to Him from afar. Perhaps they lived outside the village. Some villagers – relatives, friends, kind individuals – may have set out food and supplies for them. The lepers do not come close though, as the Law prohibits their closeness to healthy people. They must keep their distance. They ask for Jesus help to cure them. The lepers had heard, even in their forlorn state, that many people had been healed by Jesus. They take the chance – curious that they are in a group – to ask for Jesus help. Once Jesus hears their request, He tells them to show themselves to the priest, a requirement for returning to society. While the lepers are on the way to the priest, they realize they have been healed. But only one man, a Samaritan – who was doubly outcast by the Jews – went back to the Source of his healing to give thanks. He fell on his knees before the Lord thanking Him for his healing. Jesus makes mention that ten were healed but only one returned to give Him thanks.

How often do I thank Jesus for all He has done for me? – Not enough.
Lest I forget today Lord – thank  you for saving me, thank you for healing me, thank you for putting so many kind and wonderful people in my life, thank you for your Church, for the gift of the Eucharist, for my family. You give me everything.

Oremus John 3:22-30

John 3:22-30

In this passage we once again see John the Baptist. He is still drawing some to his baptism of repentance. But his disciples are puzzled and even questioned by some Jews. The man whom John had pointed out as being the “lamb of God” was also baptizing in a place not far from them. Why? John reminds his disciples that all comes from God. That he is only the messenger, the friend of the bridegroom – who is Jesus.

Several things jumped out at me: “No one can receive anything except what is given from heaven”. The gift of imaginative prayer comes from God. For this I am so grateful.

John says again: I am not the Messiah.” Why then do his disciples stay with him? He once again clearly identifies Jesus as the Messiah.

“He must increase. I must decrease”. Christ must grow in me. I must open the door for Him.

Oremus John 20:19-29

Gospel of John 20:19-29

It is Easter Sunday. Peter and John have been to the tomb of Jesus. It was empty just as Mary Magdalen had reported. There were no soldiers about; the large stone that had once covered the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away. Inside the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid were only the cloths which had once covered His body – He was gone.

Peter and John returned to the place they had been staying, their hearts broken that even in death their beloved Teacher and Lord had been reviled and hated enough that someone would disturb His final resting place. None of the men could eat – even the sight of food made them nauseous; their minds reeled in confusion at all that had happened over the last few days.

But John – young, impressionable, courageous John, who had stood by the Cross as Jesus suffered and died – still held out hope. The napkin which had been covering Jesus face had been rolled, as though Jesus had gotten up from the table for only a moment and would soon return. No argument could dissuade him. Jesus is alive, John argued.

Mary Magdalen had now joined the group with an incredulous story – she believed that she had seen Jesus alive, walking about, speaking with her. Grief can do such strange and awful things to the human mind. Surely, Mary’s imagination had taken hold of her after all the suffering that she had watched and endured. Well at least Mary had found some comfort in her grief with her imagination!

And so the day passes – filled with a grief which drains the body of every desire, a grief which turns close friends from love to hate and back again. No one could speak without accusing one another; no one could understand the motives of one another; it was difficult even being in each other’s presence.

But still the disciples stay together. What else are they to do? All, that is, except Thomas. No one knows where he has gone. It matters not – Thomas is as consumed with grief, at the loss of Jesus, as are they all.

Night has fallen and with the setting of the sun a cool breeze flows through the open windows. But with the darkness comes fear, that creeping coldness which turns the familiar sounds of the night into sounds of imminent danger. The doors to the house are locked, but will the locked doors protect them, will they hold back the authorities who would come with armed men as they did for Jesus? Will this be the disciples last moment of freedom? Will they soon follow Jesus into death?

A warm and brilliant light now fills the room and in the disciples presence stands their Lord – “Peace be with you” he says. Joy overflows their hearts at the sight of Jesus, alive and well. He stands among them – but how can this be? In wonderment and awe they reach out to touch Him – He is alive! His flesh is warm to the touch. His voice is calm and as clear as they once heard him speak. His eyes are alight with love. After a time Jesus leaves them alone again, promising to return. What a difference his visit has made! No longer are the men afraid and grieving – the Lord is alive – risen from the dead! There will be no sleep tonight – their voices are full of joy and excitement  – they have seen the power of God just as their Lord had promised!

Fast forward a week, no doubt with much time spent at the Temple praising God. Now Thomas is with them. He cannot; he will not believe what he is being told. What madness has come over his friends? Somehow they must be brought back to reality. Thomas tells them all that he will not believe until he sees and touches Jesus for himself. Thomas argues with the others – yes, Jesus fed thousands, healed the sick, raised the dead and even walked on water. But this – this is different. No man can raise Himself from the dead!

Then Jesus again appears in their midst. He directs His gaze at Thomas, who is speechless now. Can this really be? Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your fingers in the nail marks, your hand in my side”. Thomas eyes tell him all he needs to know. Tears and sobs come from him, as he recognizes His Lord, and all the days of grieving and anguish are washed away. There is no fear, no confusion and no doubt. From now on, Thomas’ days are filled with joy.

Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed. – That is me.

The Lord wants me to have peace – the peace that comes from knowing Him, from knowing that He has it all figured out, that He has it all planned – I need not worry. Just follow – lay my pain at the foot of the Cross and keep on walking in the path God has set before me. Thank you Lord for your goodness to me.

How can I, so broken and so unworthy, be so loved?

Oremus Genesis chapter 1

canary

Today’s reading was the first chapter in the book of Genesis. I read the chapter as suggested and saw words and phrases that I had not recognized before. I didn’t spend much time with the passage, as something from the Magnificat struck me earlier. I am afraid that I am failing in what we are supposed to be doing, as I haven’t written that much lately as required. We are meant to read, meditate and keep a prayer journal of our thoughts and the responses we “hear” from God. I haven’t even been spending that much time meditating much less keeping a journal. I don’t know why.

This morning when I came upstairs to “get Mr. Bird up”, I found him dead. He has been ill a long time, his feathers didn’t come in right, he couldn’t fly up to his perches anymore and he didn’t talk much, but this morning his water dish was empty. I pray that I didn’t kill him through carelessness. I have been the one taking care of Mr. Bird, though he was Larry’s friend first. Larry didn’t do a really good job of caring for him. It was me who fed him, gave him water, made special food for him. But perhaps I failed him at the last. At least now Mr. Bird is flying free in heaven.

Oremus Dt:7:6-8

deuteronomy 7The reading today was from Deuteronomy, Chapter 7 verses 6-8. In this reading God is reminding the people that He has chosen them, not because of anything special about them, but because He loves them.

Before doing this particular reading, I went through the Magnificat prayer for today. The opening hymn was so beautiful and I connected with it, that I began to cry.

Well I know your trouble,

O my servant true;

You are very weary –

I was weary too.

But that toil shall make you

Some day all my own

And the end of sorrow

Shall be near my throne.

Sometimes I am so weary, weary of what is happening in the world, weary of being without my sisters, weary of all the problems – though in my life, my problems seem minimal. How can I be weary?

Oremus John 4:7-19

Jesus and the woman of SamariaThe reading today was from John, Chapter 4: 7-19. It is the story of the woman at the well. We studied this story last year in our Scripture study class.

At this reading I couldn’t help thinking that she did give Jesus a drink of water when she said, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” She would have had her jug to carry water and perhaps even a cup to drink from should she get thirsty.

Jesus tells the woman that if she knew who He was, she would have asked Him for a drink and He would have given her living water. I can’t help but think that I am giving Jesus a drink when I take Communion to Jill, as I was originally scheduled to do today. But how often do I ask Him to give me one too? I want this living water, this help to live my life, to help me on my journey back to Him.

But as I consider the rest of the passage, I realize that Jesus is giving me the living water, because I am sharing Him with others.

At times while I am meditating and praying, I am close to tears. I just want to be held in His Arms and let out all my frustrations, my fears, my tiredness and pain.

Jesus, please keep giving me the living water. I am so needy. I cannot live without your living water.

Oremus Psalm 23

I missed writing a reflection on Psalm 27 which was the 2nd reflection for the week.

Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd

restful watersWords which “jumped out at me” – He leads me beside still waters – such a beautiful image – in a green pasture with a softly flowing stream, everything is at peace. Sometimes I feel that way. The Psalm goes on to say “he restores my soul”. I wondered if at night when I am resting, if the Lord is restoring my soul, giving me strength to live another day, to do the work He is calling me to do.

And “He leads me in right paths for His name sake”. When I follow the path He has set before me, I honor Him. Is that not what I have been called to do – to praise and honor the Lord? It is what I am striving to do.

Oremus Isaiah 26:8-13

The reading today was from Isaiah, Chapter 26, verses 8 through 13.  At first this particular passage confused me. As I read in other Bibles, I came to understand that this was Isaiah’s prayer. And I began to see in it, my own prayer – that the wicked would realize that all goodness came from the Lord, that justice was why they were called to their positions of power and that seeking to harm the righteous who disagree with them only brings the wrath and judgment on God onto them. This is so appropriate for our own times, as those who seek to follow the Lord are under condemnation by the authorities who seem to seek only their own power and prestige.