The Smiling Man

With love and praise to the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Sunday

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Originally posted in 2016:

The 1990’s were for me a time of spiritual searching. I had always believed in God and had always been able to speak to Him as a Friend and Father. However, at this time I had many unresolved questions about destiny, my purpose, life in general. I was at the time of life that many of us eventually encounter, when we search for deeper meaning and purpose in our existence.

In church one day, during this period of questioning and searching, I found a prayer to the Holy Spirit written by Cardinal Mercier, a Belgian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, who lived from 1851 to 1926. The prayer was short and simple and promised to be a life-changer if said faithfully every day. The prayer card quoted Cardinal Mercier as follows:

“I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:

‘O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me know only Your Will.’”

Cardinal Mercier went on to say that if you said the prayer daily, you would receive the serenity, consolation, grace and strength of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of trials.

I didn’t know much at that time about the Holy Spirit, except for what most Christians know: He is the Third Person of the Trinity, He came to the Apostles at Pentecost, and at Confirmation He infuses us with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (awe). But all of these were only facts I had learned in Catechism class, not truths that I felt or understood on a deep, personal level. However, I decided to say the prayer every day and see what happened.

What gradually did occur when I put my trust in the Holy Spirit transformed my life and my relationship with God in ways I never imagined. I didn’t get all the answers to every question I had, but insights started to emerge – not the faltering human attempts at reason that the conscious mind produces, but serene, gracious, perfectly wise and loving answers that I knew were coming from a Source far greater than anything in my own power. I knew with deepest certainty that they were the true answers, because they reflected only the highest values and motives that I knew to be Truth, even at times when my human, conscious mind had been thinking just the opposite or had no answers at all.

Other changes began occurring. Because of the loving wisdom I was now perceiving in my life, God’s love became truly personal to me, a tangible thing, not merely the abstract concept I had grasped only partially before, which had consisted of thoughts like, “Yeah, I know God loves me. He has to love me, since God is Love and He created me.” Now God’s love and guidance became a real, vibrant force, not an idea or theory. Now when I heard Scripture being read or a sermon being given, I was grasping them with an understanding that really related them to my own life. I became aware that I was surrounded by love, protection and guidance from unseen sources that were as real as anything that existed in the material world – actually, more real! The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit took on meaning as powerful graces that were alive and working in my life and were mine for the asking, not just words to be memorized. I entrusted my life and my future to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and asked Him to bless me with the gifts necessary to do whatever work God had planned for me.

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At this time, I was also doing a lot of dream work, studying about dreams and keeping a dream journal. Many times, I would pray and meditate upon a question at bedtime and see what insights I might receive in my dreams. I was a vivid dreamer, and would often have detailed dreams full of personal symbolism and meaning, which I faithfully recorded and worked on interpreting (more about dreams in a future blog article)!

In March of 1995, I began praying to the Holy Spirit at bedtime, asking Him: “Please help my unbelief, and show me what serving You will mean to me.” I also requested that the Holy Spirit would show me a way to visualize Him that would be more personal than the customary depiction of Him as a dove, tongues of fire, or wind, which were hard for me to relate to. I asked Him to send me a “Divine dream.”

On the night of March 25, 1995, I received an answer in the form of the following dream, which I call “The Smiling Man:”

In the dream, I am in a building that resembled an office building. I don’t know where or why I am there. As I walk through this building, I pass a man who is looking at me with a big, friendly smile. I don’t recognize him as anyone I know. I am wondering who he is. He certainly seems to know me, since he is smiling at me in such a familiar way. So I ask a woman nearby who that man is. She replies, “Oh, that’s the Holy Spirit!” I am thrilled and awed to be seeing Him, yet I’m surprised that he looks like a mortal, human man.

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I don’t recall now exactly what He looked like, but the thing that stands out in my memory was that radiant smile He was directing at me. He looked like an ordinary person – no fanfare, no great rays of light beaming from Him, no resplendent garments, nothing “biblical” in the least – just an ordinary man with a beautiful smile.

In the next scene of the dream, I am starting a new job in that same office building, and I am introduced to the group of men for whom I will be working. They all look like the man who had been identified to me as the Holy Spirit! I remark to someone standing nearby, “Well, since they all resemble the Holy Spirit, at least I’ll get a chance to see what it’s like to work for Him! I’ll see what kind of a boss He is!” There the dream ended.

Upon awakening from this dream (it was the middle of the night), I immediately closed my eyes again to see if I could get back into the dream or see some imagery to expand upon the dream. After a few seconds of lying there with my eyes closed, I suddenly saw an image of a page with writing on it that looked like a piece of verse. I barely had time to read it before it faded and I woke up completely. I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the words of the verse:

“Every time you hear selfless human words,

Feel loving emotions,

Or help another soul,

I am there.

My Truth is in everything you do with high motives.

Live your life with spiritual Light –

You will know Me.”

These beautiful words made clear to me the meaning of the dream: The Holy Spirit had looked like an “ordinary person” because He wants me to know that God is within every person we meet. We don’t always recognize Him  — as I didn’t recognize the man in my dream as being the Holy Spirit — but He knows us intimately and loves us with an unsurpassed love, symbolized by the man’s bright, beautiful, loving smile.

In the dream I was working for men who also “resembled the Holy Spirit” and I was curious to see what working for Him would be like, what kind of “boss” He would be. To me this part of the dream symbolizes that when we serve our fellow humans, we are serving God as well.  The opportunities to serve God are often disguised as ordinary tasks of daily life.  This answered my bedtime prayer of asking the Holy Spirit to “show me what serving You would mean to me.” (Thank You, Holy Spirit!)

As Pentecost Sunday approaches, I share this dream as an encouragement to anyone who has not yet discovered what a wonderful Friend (and “Boss”) the Holy Spirit can be.  I urge you to seek Him out, ask Him to manifest in your life and draw you closer to Him. He will enlighten and guide You and share His marvelous gifts with you, if you will only open up and let His light in. As the dream symbolized, by serving our fellow humans and living in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will find true happiness and peace, and we will know God.

Happy Pentecost!

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7 Steps for Sharing Your Talents & Gifts-Pt. 1

This 3-part series is a repost from 2016, for those who might have missed it the first time around! Here is Part 1:

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God is holding a universal, never-ending talent show — are you a contestant?

“When I stand before God at the end of my life,” said American humorist and best-selling author, Erma Bombeck, “I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” Yet many of us find it easier to be generous with our money than with our time and talents. Giving of ourselves feels frightening and risky, and we tend to put our own feelings before God. Like a mother bird with her fledglings, God wants to push us out of our nest of complacency to use the talents He has given us. We want to try our wings, but lack confidence in our ability. But God is always nearby to answer our call for help. When we trust in Him, He gives us the strength and courage to spread our wings and soar to greater heights.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…the light of the world. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all…so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt. 5:13-15, NLT). Let your light shine!

What are some benefits of sharing our talents and abilities?

  • Giving glory to God for the gifts He has given us
  • Bringing joy to others
  • Inspiring others by our example to share their own gifts
  • Finding personal fulfillment and satisfaction
  • Improving and enhancing our talents by using them
  • Opening up new opportunities for us

What if you are not sure of your own unique gifts and abilities, or perhaps you know where your talents lie, but are uncertain about how to share them with others? In this series, we’ll discuss 7 steps for determining your gifts and the best way to use them.

This week we’ll tackle Steps 1 & 2, which are important preparation steps:

  1. Pray for guidance to determine your own unique abilities and how God wants you to use them to brighten others’ lives and find personal fulfillment. Here is a suggested prayer: “Heavenly Father, I thank and praise you for the gifts and talents you have given me. Help me to recognize them and use them according to your will. I might not think they are remarkable, but I know you give only perfect gifts. Give me the confidence to turn mine into a personal triumph — not necessarily in the eyes of other people, but in your eyes. Help me to be open to any opportunities to use my gifts. Remove from me any selfishness, conceit or false humility, and keep me aware of my dependence on you, the origin of all good things. I trustingly place all I have into your loving care. Amen.”                                                                                                                            
  2. Leave your mind receptive to God’s answers and guidance. When we ask God our questions, we need to make sure we give him room to respond. God’s answers come in various, sometimes unexpected, ways, so we need to keep alert and open. Some suggestions:
  • Spend time this week in quiet reflection about what you most love to do and what you think you do well. Quieting the mind is necessary in order to hear the still, small voice that will give us the insight that we seek. Even if you can spare only a few minutes a day, it will make a big difference.
  • If you are already familiar with meditation, use whatever technique you prefer to open your mind to God’s guidance.
  • If you are not an experienced meditator, at least try to sit quietly for a few minutes and clear your mind as best as you can. Sit in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted, turn off your cell phone, close your eyes. When thoughts pop into your mind (and they will!), try to just “witness” your passing thoughts without getting involved with them. It’s not easy to turn off the mind’s endless chatter, so don’t get frustrated if your mind is not entirely blank the whole time.
  • Inspiration and ideas may bubble up spontaneously, either during your quiet time or at random times during the day. Often when we ask God for guidance, we will receive it in the course of daily life by something that we see, read, or hear from other people.
  • Carry a small notebook, digital recorder, or use your smartphone to instantly record any ideas while they are still fresh in your mind.
  • Dreams are also an excellent source of Divine guidance and inspiration. Immediately upon awakening, be sure to record any dream insights you have. If you wait too long, you may forget them as your mind becomes immersed in the concerns of the day.

Next in the series: Determining your talents and abilities.

 

 

Bernadette of Lourdes: Saint of Simplicity

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Bernadette Soubirous

PART ONE OF TWO

On January 9, 1844 in Lourdes, a town at the foot of the Pyrenees in southwest France, two-day-old Bernadette Soubirous was being baptized. Much to the embarrassment of her relatives, she wailed incessantly throughout the entire ceremony. “All she does is cry,” her godfather complained on the way home. “She’ll be a bad one!”

Bernadette, the first child of the miller François and his wife, Louise, spent the first 10 years of her life at the Boly Mill, which her father operated. Then, in 1854, the business fell on hard times. The family, which now had grown to six, was evicted and forced to move into the dungeon room of a former prison, considered too damp and unhealthy to house criminals any longer. Despite their extreme poverty and deplorable living conditions, the Soubirous were devout and close-knit family.

Spirited, fun-loving Bernadette was petite and pretty, with a round face, beautiful chestnut hair and gentle, velvety dark-brown eyes. As the eldest daughter, she cheerfully and efficiently performed all the traditional family duties expected of her. Although of delicate health, she was to all outward appearances an ordinary, unremarkable young girl. But on February 11, 1858, when Bernadette was 14, she had an experience that would change her life beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

While gathering wood in the grotto at Massabielle, she saw an indescribably beautiful young lady dressed in a white veil and a white gown tied with a blue sash, standing in a niche above her. The Lady had a rosary on her arm and golden roses on her bare feet. She smiled at Bernadette and held out her arms in welcome. The astonished girl fell to her knees, instinctively reached for her rosary, and began to pray.

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The Lady of Lourdes (“Aquero”) as described by Bernadette

This was the first of 18 apparitions occurring over a five-month period. During the third apparition, the Lady spoke for the first time. With a tender smile, she asked Bernadette, “Would you have the kindness come here for 15 days?” At Bernadette’s consent, the Lady added, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.”

For many weeks, Bernadette had no idea who the Lady was; she referred to her simply as “Aquero” (“that one”). When, at the urging of her companions, Bernadette offered the Lady pen and paper to write her name, the Lady laughed gently and replied, “It is not necessary.” On February 25, at the Lady’s direction, Bernadette unearthed an underground spring, which ever since has been a miraculous source of spiritual and physical healing.

“Aquero” finally revealed her identity during the 16th apparition on March 25, feast of the Annunciation. Folding her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, she said: “Que soy era Immaculada Counchetsiou (I am the Immaculate Conception).” So as not to forget, Bernadette silently repeated the unfamiliar words all the way to the rectory, where she dutifully reported them to the pastor, Fr. Peyramale. It was only after the priest explained the meaning of the words to her that Bernadette finally knew that “Aquero”  was the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In July 1866, Bernadette left Lourdes forever to join the order of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, where she took the name Sr. Marie-Bernarde and served as Infirmarian and Sacristan. Her health continue to decline steadily, and she died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. She was beatified on June 14, 1925 and canonized on December 8, 1933. She is buried at the Convent of St. Gildard at Nevers. Her body remains mostly incorrupt to this day.

THE SPIRITUALITY OF BERNADETTE

Bernadette’s holiness was humble, straightforward, and unpretentious. She possessed no great knowledge of theology; she was, in fact, a poor student who struggled to memorize her lessons. Her nurse, Marie Lagues, became so frustrated trying to teach the young Bernadette catechism, she threw a book across the room and shouted at the crying girl, “You’ll never know anything!”

Bernadette did not perform heroic deeds or suffer martyrdom; she died quietly in a French convent after a long and painful illness. She did not seek out suffering or extreme mortification, but accepted with grace and courage the many trials, pain, and humiliations life handed her.

She has been compared with St. Therese of Lisieux, who was 6½ years old when Bernadette died in 1879. In actuality, Bernadette was living the “Little Way” years before Therese was born. Yet, unlike Therese, who left such prolific spiritual writings that she was declared a Doctor of the Church, Bernadette has been called “the most secretive of all the saints,” because she was not given to deeply analytical, sentimental, or effusive discourses on spiritual matters. She lived her faith naturally and instinctively.

In this simplicity lies Bernadette’s appeal. She is a model we can emulate, someone whose common-sense spirituality is down-to-earth and approachable. In fact, Bernadette herself insisted on learning about the faults and spiritual trials of the saints, which humanized them and inspired her to overcome her own shortcomings. Similarly, in this series we will explore the virtues and struggles of this charmingly simple, humble saint.

Mirror of Mary

Like Mary of Nazareth, Bernadette’s life was one of poverty, humility, obedience, fortitude, and total dedication to doing the will of God. In his excellent biography, Bernadette Speaks, Fr. Rene Laurentin writes: “Chosen by God, Bernadette splendidly demonstrated the happiness of the poor. This child, unknown or disregarded, would be proclaimed blessed by all.” Father Raffin, a witness at Bernadette’s beatification process, stated: “She delighted in saying that if she had been chosen…by the Blessed Virgin, it was because of her littleness, her lowliness, so that all honor would revert to the Blessed Virgin and to the glory of God.”

Humility

Bernadette did not take pride in the great spiritual favors she had been accorded or feel she deserved them; yet neither did she resort to contrived displays of false humility. Her attitude was well-balanced and tinged with good-natured humor. “The Blessed Virgin picked me up like a pebble,” she would remark. Bernadette’s humility was the result of her awareness of being only an instrument of the Divine, of being nothing without God’s great love. “I was like a broomstick for the Blessed Virgin. When she no longer needed me, she put me in my place behind the door,” she said, adding happily, “Here I am and here I’ll stay!”

For Bernadette, poverty was a means of preserving humility. “I want to stay poor,” she told a journalist who was laying out before her the prospect of wealth. She repeatedly turned down gifts of money that well-meaning people tried to press on her and her family. “It burns me!” she would say.

Even in the convent, she received many visitors who wanted to see her and hear about her extraordinary experiences. These visits became a great trial to Bernadette, who wanted nothing more than to remain hidden and be just an ordinary nun. She did, however, dutifully see visitors when directed to do so by her superiors.

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Illustration of the grotto and miraculous spring at Lourdes during an apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Bernadette Soubirous

One evening, a woman named Felicitie Benoit visited the convent and hoped to meet the famed visionary. While taking a walk with a short, unfamiliar nun, Felicitie asked if she could see Bernadette. “Oh, Mademoiselle!” the sister replied, “Bernadette is just like everyone else!” Felicitie later repeated to another nun her request to see Bernadette. “What?” the sister said in surprise. “You didn’t recognize her? Why, just a little while ago you were strolling with her!”

Sr. Marthe du Rais, a contemporary of Bernadette’s, described her humility: “When she received undeserved reprimands, she would say, ‘The good Lord sees my intentions. Fiat!’ and preserve the same serenity of soul. She remained friendly as before towards people who had caused her pain.” But Bernadette was realistic enough to know that pride is an elemental part of human nature. During a discussion on self-esteem, she made a circle with her thumb and forefinger and said, “Let her who doesn’t have any, put her finger here.”

Acceptance

What hurt Bernadette most was feeling useless and being called “good for nothing.” But she accepted this without bitterness, remaining always grateful to God for the many graces she had received, and to the Congregation at Nevers, whom she felt had accepted her out of charity. Like Therese of Lisieux, she wanted to do great and wonderful deeds for God, but was prevented from doing much because of poor health. She once referred to being sick as “her job.” Believing she was a burden on the motherhouse, especially as her health deteriorated, she would say, “I’m good for nothing. The only thing I can do is pray.”

Obedience

Obedience did not come easily to Bernadette, because of her quick temper, strong will, and exuberant personality. She found it hard to adjust to the strict and confining life of the convent, and sometimes reacted spontaneously despite her best efforts to conform. She would get discouraged, but this only caused her to depend more totally on God’s grace. “How I need the help of God!” she would exclaim.

Perhaps the hardest test of Bernadette’s obedience was the strict order of her superiors at Nevers not to speak to her fellow nuns about the visions of Lourdes. She naturally would have longed to share her extraordinary experience, and the other sisters were bursting with curiosity. Yet, with unflinching  obedience, she kept silent about it.

“Above all, the depth of her obedience was dependent on its relationship to God,” writes René Laurentin. “He is the one whom she obeyed in all things.”

(In Part Two: Bernadette’s characteristics and challenges)

 

 

God’s Peace

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Some years ago, a friend confided that she had a lot of trouble praying and meditating in her house, because her husband had retired and was home much of the time. Their house was small, and he often had the TV or radio on, and so there was always background noise, even if she went into another room. She did not drive, so she couldn’t go to a quieter place except for the times that I took her with me to attend a Holy Hour in my parish’s 24-hour chapel, or on Sundays when she and her husband went to Mass. I said I understood, because although my husband worked, on the days he was home I had much the same situation. Neither of our husbands was the type to engage in shared prayer sessions, and besides, there are times when one needs to have private time with God.

Shortly after this discussion, during my meditation time I heard the following words in my mind: “Better to get God’s peace in a noisy house than to go without it in silence.” (I modified it somewhat in the above picture quote to make it more generally applicable).

I shared this message with my friend, and we had to admit the truth of it. God’s peace and presence must be found in our hearts and souls; it is not dependent on anything external. There are many people who live busy lives and work amid much commotion and noise, and yet they manage to maintain their inner composure and have a wonderful relationship with God and other people. On the other hand, many of us know reclusive people who live alone in what are probably very quiet homes, yet they are bitter, lonely and isolated, empty of any inner serenity or joy.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t seek solitude and silence, ideally on a regular basis. Our minds and souls need this rest, this respite from noise, confusion, interruptions, and the many demands of modern life with its overload of information and dependence on electronic devices. It is essential that we disconnect from our devices for a period of time each day, take a break from work, from TV, video games, social media and other diversions, and spend some quiet time with God in prayer and meditation. But for some people, it can be very difficult to find a few quiet minutes of uninterrupted solitude.

Moms with babies and toddlers, people with demanding careers, busy students, caregivers for the seriously ill or disabled, or even retired people like my friend who find that the unaccustomed constant presence of their spouse takes a good deal of adjustment — these are some of the circumstances that can make quiet time with God a real challenge. As much as we might crave God’s peace in our hearts, we all have times when this seems difficult to find. But if we realize that we can still attune our minds and hearts to God, no matter what our surroundings or circumstances, we won’t need to feel upset or guilty when life doesn’t give us many moments of privacy and silence.

We can take advantage of every moment — waking or sleeping — by making our very lives a prayer. Here are some tips:

  • While doing repetitive chores like housework, gardening, bathing or feeding a baby, etc., talk inwardly to God about your feelings, problems, challenges, goals, and your concern for family, friends, and the troubles in the world.
  • Take advantage of commuting time to pray or listen to inspiring, soothing music or audiobooks that make you feel more peaceful and closer to God. If you’d like to read the Bible but find it too time-consuming to sit down and read it every day, you can find a good recorded Bible and listen to it during your commute. If you’re in your car, any of this can be done without jeopardizing your safety — listening to a recording or speaking to God is no more distracting than talking to someone in the passenger seat or on a hands-free cell phone. If you’re on public transit, you can put on your headset, close your eyes, and immediately be transported mentally to another, more peaceful place.
  • Before starting your workday, during which you know you will have no time to pray or quiet your mind, silently offer to God as a prayer all the day’s work, the little successes as well as the annoyances and irritations. God will take them all and use them for your greater good. He will guide your efforts and decisions throughout the day, if you ask Him.
  • You don’t have to be down on your knees or in a church, or even in a quiet room to talk to God. God has no hearing problem; He can hear you even in the midst of a noisy crowd or while you’re running the vacuum cleaner!
  • If you are able to drive or are within walking distance of a park, a nature trail, or a church or chapel, take advantage of this change of scenery to put you back in touch with your inner life. It’s hard not to feel close to God when you are out in the beauty of nature, or in the peaceful hush of a chapel. Even if you just walk or sit without words, God will know what is in your heart.
  • Years ago I used to do a lot of embroidery, and I found this a wonderful time to pray silently or listen to inspirational music or prayer recordings. My personal favorites at that time were the wonderful music of John Michael Talbot, or praying along with a rosary cassette tape. Whenever I was working on an embroidery project that I intended to give someone as a gift, I thought about and prayed for the recipient as I stitched. I always liked to think that I was stitching lots of “good vibes” into it along with the thread, and that these would bless the person who would eventually receive the gift. You might try this if you are a “crafty” person who likes to make things for other people.
  • If you live in a noisy environment, get yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. You can listen to non-distracting background music, soothing sound effects (water, birdsong, wind chimes, etc.), or white noise while you pray, and the noise of your surroundings will be much less intrusive.
  • Remember to listen as well as talk when you dialogue with God. We need to create a quiet space in our minds for God’s still, small voice to get through. Although it is much easier in a quiet environment, of course, it can be done anywhere. God can speak to us in many ways, and He will use any opportunity. So invite Him to do so, and then be alert for the many ways God will use to answer you!
  • Not only our waking moments can become a prayer — even our sleeping hours can be a means of attunement to God. Before you go to sleep at night, take a few moments to talk to God and ask for guidance and enlightenment while you sleep. This can come in the form of a helpful dream, or you might wake up with the answer to a difficult decision or situation clear in your mind.

Most of all, if we realize that God’s peace is a matter of openness, an attitude of being willing to unite every moment of our lives with the One who created us, who knows and loves us more intimately than any human ever could, we won’t have to become frustrated or anxious when our outer world does not align with our idea of a peaceful life. God’s presence, love, comfort and serenity don’t require ideal situations to permeate the mind and soul. Although we should never stop trying to find peaceful moments in our daily routines, just invite God in and He will make Himself at home — even in your noisy house!

 

In Honor of Mother Teresa

 

Mother Teresa

As you may know, Mother Teresa of Calcutta (actually, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta since her beatification in 2003), will be canonized a saint in Rome this coming Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016. In her honor, I would like to post the following words that she reportedly had hanging in her room and/or in the home for children she ran in Calcutta, India. They are based on something called “The Paradoxical Commandments” by Dr. Kent Keith, but Mother Teresa put her own spin on it. Her version is as follows:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten.

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

Says it all! Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us. Help us to be unselfish, serene, generous and joyful as you were.

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Part 1

 

Are you having trouble forgiving someone? Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore this challenge and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.

                                                            What is Forgiveness?           

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards the person(s) who offended us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and ponder on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems, but we can still let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love [charity], not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” — Christians recite these words every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging. Why is it so important to forgive others?

  1. It blesses the person who offended us.
  2. We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example
  3. Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

                                                                    Preparation

  • Pray for the gift of being able to forgive: Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in his/her heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

FoldedHandsonBible

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Seek inspiration: Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared [Psalm 130:3-4].

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more [Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean [Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins [Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good. [Romans 12:19-21]. 

  • Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process. Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part II, we’ll examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Tree (“The Writing” Excerpt #1)

BarrenTree with Title

“The Writing” (with a capital “W”)  is my term for the inspired words I sometimes have received over the years during meditation, especially when I’ve asked for guidance, help or comfort for a particular situation. They did not come from my own conscious thoughts, but flowed spontaneously from a “still, small inner voice”, a Source much more wise, serene and objective. Where I was upset, these words would be calm; where I was angry or resentful, they would be compassionate and forgiving; where I was fearful, they would be unshakably confident.  I’ll be posting them from time to time as “Excerpts from The Writing.” Here is the first one I will share, which was received some years ago at a time when I was feeling particularly stagnated and useless. I wanted to share it in the hope that it might encourage someone else going through a similar phase right now:

“A fruitful tree will sometimes be afflicted with arrested growth and tired, droopy leaves, tested by drought, wind and storms. It will ask itself, ‘Why is this happening? I’ve tried very hard to grow and give of my fruit. I guess I must have done something wrong. I should just give up and forget about every fruit I could have grown!’

“This tree asks itself over and over how it can return to the state of fruitful and productive growth it once had, because it feels useless and put-upon and shriveled up. But no matter how much it tries, nothing changes. The tree stays barren.

Your gifts are like this tree, which has no trouble bearing fruit when conditions are right, but which gets withered under constant heat, or grows too many leaves and not enough fruit when atmospheric conditions are not favorable. This is what happens with your gifts. When conditions are unfavorable, they go dormant and seem to exist no longer.

Blossoming Tree

“A time will come, however, when the sun will shine, the gentle rain will fall, and the troubled period of dormancy will pass. It will turn this tired old tree into a newly-blossoming thing of great beauty. It will want to grow again, and it will see itself bear wonderful fruit. 

“You will feel better, you will see your life improve, you will open your mind to light and truth once again and share that light with others.” 

Much later, I came upon this verse from the Psalms:

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper. [Psalms 1:3]

If you are tired and fearful right now, and sure that you will never grow or be productive again, realize that this is just your perception, not truth. You are experiencing a necessary dormancy, just as vital to your continued growth as it was for the tree. Trust in the cycles of life, and know that the breath of God will infuse new energy into you when the time is right.

 

FruitTree