the-lord-heard-my-cry

The Lord Heard My Cry

In a split second, my life was about to change drastically and within that brief time, the Lord heard our cry.

 

Accused

In John’s Gospel – when the accusers of the woman caught in adultery left one by one, she might have been relieved to be spared a death by stoning, but still, she had to face Jesus.  

 

“So He was left alone with the woman before Him” (John 8:9).  

 

Imagine how she felt at that moment, all alone before Jesus knowing that she was guilty of mortal sin?

 

In death, I will stand alone before Jesus, before the Light that will shine on my soul – revealing all its interior facets.  There will be no shadows.  Before Him, my being will be unmasked, stripped of the walls I’ve erected, and the webs I’ve spun around myself unraveled.  Who can bear it?  The truth of my heart will face the Truth.  Will He find faith?  Will He find hope?  Will He find love?

 

 

At the Brink

In a split second my vehicle went airborne, bounced on its top on the highway median, and crash-landed on four wheels on the southbound parallel freeway. In that moment a singular clarity urgently rose within me, “I’m not ready to die!”  This instant lucid realization expressed a wordless, desperate plea to God for my life.  A prayer. I had not prayed in well over a decade.  When the vehicle stopped, the world around me stood still and silent as I struggled to breathe.  I sat strapped and gasping inside the crumpled metal for what seemed like an eternity – alone and aware.

 

 

Lost Years

“Will I survive this crash?  What shape will I be in if I do survive?”  Fear and uncertainty flooded my mind stranded there on the highway.  A song came from somewhere in my remote memory, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor, blessed be the Lord.”  This gentle melody cut through the daze and confusion until help arrived. 

 

Looking back I’m struck that in that moment, beyond the fear that gripped me, I felt a deep sense of loss – that I had misspent my life.  I had squandered the chance to live the life for which I was created.  Grasping at the irretrievable opportunities of the life I was meant to live was like that sinking feeling when a balloon slips out of my grasp, and I watch it rise higher every second with no hope of getting it back. 

 

When I walked out from the emergency room later that evening, shaken but whole except for minor scrapes and bruises, I knew God had heard my plea.  I was given a second chance at life.  I prayed, “Lord, you have a plan for my life, I want to live that life.”  That was the decision that changed the trajectory of my life.

 

 

Life Choices

Three other important decisions that opened a path before me, which set me in a definite direction. God sent Christians to provide opportunities for me to make these choices.   

 

  1. The decision to follow Jesus: At a weekend retreat where I experienced a real encounter with Jesus, I committed my life to Him.  
  2. The decision to open myself to the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit: After the weekend retreat, a friend invited me to attend a weekly prayer group meeting.  While attending that prayer group meeting, I re-engaged in the Faith.  They offered a six-week teaching series on the Holy Spirit, and at the end of the series, I asked Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit.  I experienced a personal pentecost.
  3. The decision to be a Catholic: I had been away from the Catholic Church for over a dozen years. Experiencing a renewed faith which was very personal, I was attracted to the worship style in evangelical churches.  Meanwhile, I found myself in a moral dilemma in which I knew what the Catholic Church taught, but I did not want to follow the teaching.  God’s grace helped me to prevail, and I chose to listen to the moral teaching of the Church concerning my situation. I made up my mind to commit to be a Catholic and to follow the teachings of the Church in living my life. 

 

These three decisions vitally impacted my life because they opened the sources of grace that led me into a new life in the Spirit.  

 

 

Face to Face

I need grace to persevere in the spiritual life.  To obey the Father, to follow Jesus, to be led by the Holy Spirit, and to practice the Catholic Faith continue to be daily decisions in my life (imperfectly and many times poorly executed).  

 

We are all made to share in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity.  We are created to know, love, and serve God – to live in relationship with the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  This is God’s generous invitation to us.  This life with God frees us to grow in using our gifts and directing our energies to love and serve others day by day.  We live in His presence and meet Him face to face in prayer.

 

In prayer, each of us stands before Jesus, who is the Light that illuminates our soul – to drive away darkness from all its hidden corners.  Nothing is shaded.  Before Him, our heart draws curtains open, lifts veils, and exposes our deepest wounds, especially the noxious ones.  We bare the truth of our heart to Jesus, who is the Truth.  Listen to Him.  With Him, we walk by faith.  In Him is our hope.  Through Him, we can truly love.

 

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). 

Is one lifetime enough to requite and reciprocate Infinite Love?

This post also appears in The Well.

fruits-of-holy-communion

7 Fruits of Holy Communion

(Written on June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown)

 

Corpus Christi

By Chinese standards, the city was small, and we found its one and only Catholic Church tucked away on the second floor of a simple three-story building in an obscure residential area.  The Chinese priest knew right away that we were foreigners as we took out our Missals and followed along with the Chinese-language Mass that he was celebrating.  

 

When our family presented ourselves to receive Holy Communion, he declared, “Corpus Christi” as he held up the consecrated Host to each of us.  We responded, “Amen.” 

 

I was surprised to hear the Latin words for “Body of Christ.”  If the priest would have said it in the Mandarin language, as he did to the other communicants, we would have understood his meaning even if the words would have sounded alien to our ears.   Although his spoken Latin sounded alien to our ears, it was familiar to us in an odd kind of way.  

 

I realized later that it was the priest’s way to be hospitable to us by closing the language gap between Chinese and English.  No matter the language, Catholics know that when the priest utters, “The Body of Christ” and puts the consecrated Host on the tongue or the hand, we receive Jesus Christ Himself.

 

 

Sacramental Communion

As parishes are beginning to offer Mass publicly again, Catholics look forward to returning to the table of the Lord and receiving Jesus sacramentally.  In the Eucharist is the full and real presence of Jesus, and in Him, we receive every spiritual blessing.

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”  (Ephesians 1:3)

 

What a gift is the Eucharist!    The sacrifice of the Lamb of God made once and for all is made present at Mass – Jesus’ Body and Blood given up for the forgiveness of our sins.  In agape love (self-giving love), Christ totally gives Himself to be consumed by us, that we may be filled with His Spirit and His life. 

 

“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324).  In the small white Host we receive on our tongue or hand is everything we need to live a life of love and holiness.

 

Source and Summit

We believe that Jesus truly comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament, but are we aware of the effects that Holy Communion has in us when we receive worthily?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1391-1398 lists these fruits of Holy Communion:

 

  1. Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus.
  2. What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism.
  3. Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is “given up for us,” and the blood we drink “shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins.
  4. As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins.
  5. By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin.
  6. The unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens the incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism.
  7. The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.

 

Sacrament of Love

All of the saints loved Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

 

St. John Vianney said, “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist.  If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.”

 

St. Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church wrote, “Therefore you could not be given the body without being given the blood as well; nor either the body or the blood without the soul of this Word; not the soul or body without the divinity of [Jesus], God eternal.” 

 

Mother Teresa often talked about the tenderness, humility, and love of Jesus in the Eucharist.  She said, “When you look at Christ on the cross, you see how much He loved you then. When you look at Christ in the Eucharist, you see how much He loves you now.”

 

 

Response to Love

When we experience the privilege of receiving Holy Communion, we receive Jesus and His offer of love to each one of us.  This infinite love requires a personal response on our part.  What is agape love – Jesus’ total gift of Himself to us – if no one receives it? 

 

Our first response is one of receptivity.  As we open our mouth or palms to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we must also choose to open the door of our heart, so it can be filled with Jesus Himself.  Our hearts are made for Him, because our hearts are made for love.  We come to love Jesus because He first loved us. 

 

Therese of Lisieux writes, “Keeping myself open to the rays of the Divine Host, in this furnace of love, I shall be consumed, and Lord, I shall love You.”    

 

When our hearts surrender to this Love, they are inevitably filled with gratitude.  In loving Jesus back, we are changed by the reception of this one Holy Communion.  Our openness and response to reciprocate Jesus’ love provides the needed grace to love our families, co-workers, and neighbors with the same self-giving love we accept from Christ.

This post also appears in The Well.

watching-clouds-go-by

7 Ways of Giving Time to Our Children

(Written on May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown)

 

Extra Time 

My high school daughter and I have recently completed four TikTok dance videos. She says I look grumpy in them. My robotic movements and serious face come from my lack of dancing talent and from concentrating on the upcoming body motions. I am sure that her enjoyment comes in part from watching Mom being so awkward in these videos, and in part from teaching me the sequences of hand and feet movements.

 

Before the quarantine, she never thought to invite me to get in on the dance-videos as she made them with her friends, nor would I have wanted to waste my time learning dance moves for a social media video.

 

 

Inside the Box

With a virus on the loose, the fragility of our lives flies in our faces, and the primary place we want to be is at home with our loved ones. Remaining at one location simplifies our life in some ways. Before the quarantine, we juggled time and space to actualize our daily plans, but now we only shuffle time to manage a schedule. For parents staying at home with our children, life became more hectic with meals, school, work, and entertainment, not to mention relational issues that demand our immediate attention – sometimes, all at once. At the end of each day, many of us are exhausted.

 

 

Wasting Time

“Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Psalm 90:12)

Many families have taken a proactive approach to intentionally take advantage of unstructured time at home. Cindy initiated a family morning prayer. Shelly reads books out loud to her children after some pseudo schoolwork. Kim taught her daughter how to use a sewing machine.

 

Because we are home all day with family, there are plentiful opportunities to waste time on loved ones. By flipping our mind and heart switches, we can embrace opportunities to squander time together. This is time spent with each other where there is no agenda besides being present to one another. It is time that is not considered productive in any measurable way. Do you know how to waste time with a loved one? Here are a few simple ways:

 

1. Be flexible with your schedule for the day.

2. Lavish others with your full attention and push aside tasks in order to listen actively.

3. Relax. Do not rush yourself or your loved one, even with trivial matters.

4. Stop and smell the pancakes or listen to a robin or to the rain.

5. Savor the daily small (or big) moments. Empathize, respond, and engage in interactions.

6. Be calm and be yourself.

7. Remember that the experience of God’s love and mercy, to a great extent, comes from the love shared among family members.

 

Our life consists of a series of moments. We cannot add nor subtract the time allotted to us, but we can choose how to use it. There is a quote that goes, “Love is spelled t-i-m-e.”

 

 

On the Ground

Our first venture out of home quarantine was to a neighborhood playground on a sunny and windy day. While the children played on the swings and slides, I lay on the cool green grass and closed my eyes. My mind focused on upcoming tasks, “I should have put the load of laundry into the dryer and put the next batch into the washer before we left,” and “What shall I make with the ground beef thawing in the refrigerator?”

 

The children excitedly chattered as they plopped on the ground beside me. With them came that outdoor sun-exposure smell,  freshly acquired. For a long moment we silently watched clouds move swiftly across the blue sky. Their shapes drifted from one nebulous form into another. Looking over, I saw my children’s eyes bright with calm inspiration, like clear pools reflecting the passing clouds and sky above.

 

“It’s like I can feel the earth rotate,” one remarked. “But it is really just the clouds moving!” another piped in.  If moments could be saved in a bottle, this would be one of them.

“Let’s take the long way home,” I said eventually. In the next instant, they were up and running in front of me on the sidewalk. I watched them flee toward home, swifter than the clouds.

This post also appears in The Well entitled, “Watching cloud Go By.”

act-of-spiritual-communion

An Act of Spiritual Communion

(Written on May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown)

 

Eucharistic Fast

No Mass, no Eucharist. While we do have Mass and we do have the Eucharist, being in quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic prevents many Catholics from receiving Holy Communion. For several weeks now, Catholics have been worshiping virtually from their living rooms with the Body of Christ.

 

Most of us simulate being ‘at church’ on Sunday by getting out of our pajamas, standing, sitting, and kneeling at different parts of the Mass. We sing the hymns and engage in the prayers and responses. Then we make an act of spiritual communion. For us, it is reading from the screen a prayer composed by St. Alphonsus Liguori:

 

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.

 

Spiritual Communion is more than a prayer; it is an act. An act means to move, to do something, to take action. An act of faith is involved – believing that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. It also involves an act of love – asking Jesus to unite Himself to us. On our part, the action we take is to open our hearts.

 

 

Mary, Mother of Christ

The Angelus gives us a simple model of how spiritual communion leads us to receive Jesus.

 

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit, in overshadowing Mary, initiated the spiritual communion within her.

 

Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Be it done unto me according to Your Word.

 

Mary was interiorly disposed to receive – her faith and love of God provided an opening by which God is granted accessibility to her.

 

And the Word was made Flesh:
And dwelt among us.

 

Jesus was incarnated in her womb, and she gave birth to Him nine months later.

Mary, fully disposed and open to the will of God, is filled with the Holy Spirit. She receives Jesus in the flesh into her body.

 

To follow this model: I open my entire self to God, and the Holy Spirit comes and acts within me in spiritual communion. When I am privileged to receive the Eucharist, Jesus comes to me in sacramental communion.

 

 

Come at Least Spiritually into My Heart

It is Easter, but we feel like we are still fasting because we are not able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. These past months, our desire for Holy Communion has increased with every passing Sunday. We have come to a greater appreciation and deeper gratitude for the Blessed Sacrament: the gift of Jesus Himself. We have also learned and practiced the act of spiritual communion.

 

The beauty of the act of spiritual communion is that it is not confined to specific times or places. We can make this act whenever our hearts turn to Jesus, anytime, anywhere, and as often as we want to be with Him. When we ask Jesus to come spiritually into our hearts, He comes. Each act of spiritual communion increases our desire to receive sacramental Communion. We yearn to receive Jesus Himself – His real presence in the flesh – into our bodies.

 

We all wait in anticipation for the moment that we can return to Mass in our parishes and again receive Jesus in the Eucharist. It will remind us of our First Holy Communion. Jesus waits in the Blessed Sacrament. He too waits in anticipation to spread the table for us and satisfy our hunger.

 

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

This post also appears in The Well.

for-such-a-time-as-this

For Such a Time as This

(Written on March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown)

 

There are exercises for value-clarification that ask, “What three things would you take if you were to be stranded on an island?” A similar question is, “What would you save if you had only two minutes to get out of your burning house?” These exercises are meant for us to identify what we consider essential in our lives when choices are severely restricted.

 

The coronavirus pandemic that has gripped our collective life has thrown us and our families into a situation where our choices have been limited and our usual freedom of movement impeded. We all have had to make decisions regarding what are and what are not important in the face of quarantine, social distancing, and staying at home.

 

Lean Times

The initial trend showed that toilet paper was of utmost importance. Soon after, people bought a supply of food with long shelf-life as directives to stay home were enforced. Most activities which are the staple of family life such as church, work, school, sports, and extracurricular activities have been cancelled, and individuals find themselves at home with family members.

 

We have seen online and in social media an explosion of creative ideas and ways to make the time at home with each other livable and even enjoyable. Husbands, wives, parents and children, all have had to adjust to what seems like an indefinite weekend together at home.

 

Being in closed quarters with our family for an extended time reveals patterns of our relationships with each other that usually operate by default. The stresses we experience at this time may exacerbate unhealthy patterns, while the challenges may reinforce loving ways.

In the face of instability and changing conditions, keeping our hearts on what is essential will help us let go of micro-management and rid ourselves of the burden of over-responsibility.

 

Critical Role

Without over-simplifying or minimizing the challenges of caring for loved ones at home, women, i.e., wives and mothers have a critical role to play. For a time such as this, the feminine genius* rises to the challenge. The feminine genius is a term by Pope St. John Paul II to describe the special capabilities of women such as kindness, sensitivity, gentleness, and receptivity.

 

The feminine genius, the Saint says, gives “women an influence, an effect and a power in the world.”** He adds that “women who are imbued with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.” What is the practical implication of this in our homes?  

 

The immediate needs of our families right now at home are pragmatic, like meals, snacks, wholesome activities, and entertainment. These can easily occupy all our energies. Let us take a moment to shift our focus on the relationships with our loved ones and take the relational-approach. This approach entails mindfulness in voice, tone, body language that communicate hospitality and welcome. It sends a message of value and affirmation to our loved ones to communicate their significance to us.

 

How can I be an understanding wife to my husband in this situation? How can I be a loving mother to my son or daughter in this interaction? The influence, effect, and power women have are evident in many areas of our society. Realistically, the most influence, effect, and power we have are felt in our homes.  

 

Essential Relationship

Lest we forget, as Christian women, our most significant relationship is with God. Our identity as a beloved daughter of the Father underpins the feminine genius. Jesus shows us how to approach God as “Abba” and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us with spiritual gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1831). 

 

We need these spiritual gifts if we are to operate with feminine genius. There is no other way but grace, because our relationship with the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control within us (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit, when nurtured in a feminine soul, produces the feminine genius.

 

Women, who are the heart of the home, strive for a culture of life and love in our families not only during these challenging times but always. Let us call on our Father for help and strength every day. May our influence be that of order, our effect be that of peace, and our power be that of love. Our families can flourish as we receive grace to become the essential instruments of God’s love for our spouses and children.

 

*Feminine genius taken from “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” by St. Pope John Paul II

**Quotes from closing message of the Second Vatican Council

This post also appears in The Well.