Category: biography


A New Direction

important_announcement

It has been a wonderful adventure posting on Catholic With A vengeance, getting fired up for the faith and defending her to the last. The support of my readers has been a gift of encouragement and strength to me. Sharing my views and insights has been an incredible joy. It is with a heavy heart I inform you that Catholic W/ Vengeance will be ending.

For a while now, I’ve noticed a gradual move into a new direction, away from apologetics and more towards more contemplative, spiritual and biographical writings. In order to retain the purity of the goal of Catholic W/ Vengeance, I’ve created an entirely new blog. I’m not going away- only moving! Catholic W/ Vengeance will not be deleted. It is here to stay. Forever. There will just not be any new content added.

Here is the address for my new blog:
http://drawmeafter.wordpress.com/
Trahe Me Post Te, is Latin for “Draw me after you.” taken from the Song of Songs 1:4 and a perfect description of God’s relentless quest for my love. You will notice that some older posts from Catholic W/ Vengeance have been moved there. This is because they fit the new blog better than this one. There is a more interior side of my faith that God is calling me to explore, a deeper aspect of my relationship with Him. I desire to share with you and it’s my sincere hope you will accompany me on this new journey. God is working on me and making inroads into my steely cold heart. Please be companions with me along this process, this arduous and long road to sainthood.

Returning from Mass around 5:30 in the evening, I set down my car-keys and checked the mailbox. Nothing was there. A sinking feeling came into my heart as I realized it wouldn’t be until Monday that my newly ordered, 4 volume set of breviaries arrived. Not that the wait particularly bothered me as I currently had an old crinkled volume IV from the church’s library in my custody. Still, anticipation boiled within me. I longed to feel the weight of each volume in my hands and smell the newly printed pages while chanting the psalms. 

All day, I believed that my breviaries awaited me on Monday. I made dinner, said my Legion of Mary prayers and began surfing the internet. Finally a thought came to mind. I forgot to feed that cats! My mother entrusted me with this duty before embarking on a trip with her sisters. The poor babies were probably starving by now. Curse my negligence! Stealing into my mother’s empty room, I turned the light on and saw a rectangular cardboard box sitting on her bed, two envelopes on top of it.
Excitement surged forth as I read “Amazon.com” on the sides and saw the curved arrow on the logo. I cried out “It’s them! They’re here!” Like a child on Christmas morning who just sited the biggest shiniest gift box with their name on it, I seized the box. My brother, Kevin came in the room wondering what all the shouting was about. All I said was “My books are here! They’re here!”


My fingers trembled as I retrieved a pair of scissors yet Kevin easily tore the box’s lid with his finger. He pulled out a smaller, white box, paused for a moment, then handed it to me saying, “You should be the one to open it.”
In black letters, the words were written across the white box: “Liturgy of the Hours” Without a doubt, they had arrived! Blue, red, brown and green, they lined up inside the box, waiting to be freed by my anxious hands. Carefully, so as not to hurt them, I turned them to the side and let them slide out onto the couch. One by one, I investigated them. They were perfect! At once, I felt unified with the entire Church, enrolled in the camaraderie of countless priests, seminarians, monks, nuns and lay people. God’s hand was in my hand. He gently led me to a piece of tilled land, the fruit of which I was yet to discover.

(By the way, I later discovered that my father fed the cats at 5:30.)

The glistening tabernacle silently greeted me, sending forth an arch of gold, yellow and bronze light. I sat down and opened my book of hours. Nothing could be heard, no birdsong outside nor distant lawnmowers roaring,-not even the shuffle of feet as others entered the church. Periodically I glanced up at the abode of my Lord, perhaps nervously but more likely, full of thoughts. Sally, one of our sacristans, approached. Her neatly cropped hair and white shirt shone like silver beneath the bluish stained-glass window. Seeing me paused, with the open book, she said:
“Sing.”
And so I began chanting as she slowly opened the tabernacle, retrieved a golden container of already consecrated hosts. Beside it, was placed a small silver monstrance holding a larger, exposed host. She knelt down in reverence before closing the tabernacle and bringing the container to the sacristy. Immediately, I realized that a priest wasn’t available to say Mass today, that we would be holding a communion service led by the deacon instead. Anxiety gripped my heart as I thought of our parish priest and the sickness in his family that kept him away at this time. Ringing out the psalms, I asked God to watch over him. A thought suddenly came to mind. I stopped chanting and turned to Sally who now sat behind me. My heart thudded. The odd request lingered on my lips. Nervously, I asked:
“If it is allowed, can you open the tabernacle so that we can adore the host?”

~ ~ ~

“We can do that as long as I’m here,” Sally answered.
I didn’t check the expression on her face, whether it was joyful, eager- or baffled but gladly knelt down when the heavy metal doors were opened again, revealing the silent little host in its silver casing. Feelings of littleness and aggravation at my sins hit me full force. I really was no one and nothing compared to Our Almighty God who deigned to descend from heaven and dwell with us. I finished my prayers and remained kneeling on the floor for several minutes as love gently emanated from the small host, washing over everything like the sunlight, making cold places grow warm again. And at that moment, love was enough. He was enough.
Shuffling emerged behind us and glancing over my shoulder, I saw a man with sparse hair, glasses over his bright eyes and a white collar. Slung over his arm was a long, white garment. A priest! Rather flustered, he asked about the time of the Mass, explaining he got lost on the way to the church. Sally instantly sprang up to help him and followed him down the aisle. Hurriedly, not considering propriety, I closed the tabernacle, dropped upon one knee and said farewell to my Jesus, knowing I would see him again in just a few moments. My mind leaped and ran in circles as I absentmindedly followed them into the sacristy.
“Is there anything I can do?” I blurted out.
The priest was already throwing on vestments and I eyed the floor, worried I’d interrupted him somehow. I always worried about this. However, relief flooded my heart as Sally answered,
“Yes, you can take these hosts, put them in the tabernacle, lock it and bring me the key.”
As she placed the round, golden container in my outstretched hands, I bowed down and closed my eyes like a samurai receiving his sword in some epic movie. I walked gingerly, like a chemist carrying concentrated acid. I shivered expectantly, like a young, virgin girl pregnant with the Savior of the world. The thing in my hands was infinitely more precious than gold, jewels, the finest spices, more weighty than the universe. Every instinct in me wanted to loudly start singing: “Pange lingua gloriosi.” I sang it in my heart instead.

ciborium

The School Building

The school building filled with the sounds of raucous youth and footsteps running in the hallway. Peacefully I fiddled with the ribbons in an old, cracked, green breviary marked “volume IV”. His eyes bright and inquiring, James spoke to me from across the library table. Our conversation was animated and filled with jokes. Every once in awhile, I stopped to be sure the right color thread marked the proper place: Thursday: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer… His fingers worked adroitly at tying together a pink and black rosary. My failed bunch of knots and poorly-gaped beads lay on the table between us. It was something we agreed not to mention.

Later on, bored, we strolled through the building, peering in each classroom. Stumbling upon an empty room standing with all the lights on, we wandered in. The chalkboard showed the large words: Trinity. Adam and Eve. Garden of Eden. My hands found a brown, untitled book which described the Mass in Latin and English, published right after the Second Vatican Council which so many assumed removed Latin from our timeless sacrifice. But right there, in bold red and black, the ancient words flowed, marked with illustrations of a priest in typical 60’s vestments. The book captured James’s interest as I explained to him the parts in Latin.

I grabbed a stubby piece of chalk then scribbled on the chalkboard: “In nomine Patris, Filli et Spiritus Sancti.” It felt so natural, working the letters, speaking and teaching their meaning, like I was made for this!
James began laughing and pointing. “Look at where you wrote that,” he said. I stepped back and viewed the chalkboard. Above what I had written, was the large word: Trinity. How apt… A big smile crept across my lips followed by laughter. God is good.

 

 

 

Image

 

 

This weekend was powerful. Yes, that is the word to describe it: powerful. This is the third year in a row where I attended a young women’s retreat with the campus ministry of St Augustine, sponsored by the Universities of Miami and Gainsville, FL. Though I’m long past being a college student, these retreats have been so meaningful, revealing things about God and myself.

Last year was bitter. Bitterness mixed with sweetness in the three days I described as “like holy week” a dismal crucifixion of myself leading to resurrection. This year, praise God, was sweetness, and as I said, power. The goal of this retreat was first, listen to God, be open to his call. This is especially important for my vocational discernment, which has had its fair share of ups and downs, mostly due to my own stubbornness. It seems that even when God puts a good, beautiful thing in front of me, I deny it in my own pride. And this hurts Him more than anything. With this retreat, I vowed no more. No more saying I was too unworthy or not strong enough. We aren’t called because we are worthy or because we can do it. If so, the world would be filled with careless priests, nuns, monks and married couples who are very strong and very worthy but horrible at what they do. There is a certain power in weakness, in saying “No, God I can’t do it but I trust you anyway.”

The second goal of the retreat was to examine my spiritual motherhood of priests. How well have I been praying for the ones God entrusted to me? Have I served their needs selflessly- or used ulterior motives? Unfortunately, along with the selflessness, those selfish motives can trail behind, the awful thought of “Aren’t I so wonderful for doing this?” The first morning reflection coincidentally (or not) was on Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. I decided to take my spiritual sons and offer them back to God, asking him to even remove them from my care-if it pleased him. The best way we can honor what God gives us is to offer it back to Him.

The retreat had a huge overarching theme that hit me over the head: Behold the Lamb of God. It started at Mass. As the priest lifted up the broken host and chalice, saying “Behold the Lamb of God” I looked into his eyes. Focused on the Eucharistic Lord held up before him, there was longing, anticipation, and excitement. My heart began to pound as I imagine the priest’s excitement. It wasn’t until the second Mass that God led me to understand. This anticipation was Christ’s own anticipation, of communing with us, becoming one with his bride. More specifically, it’s how he feels about me. At last, I could tangibly see and feel the love of God, taste and see the goodness of the Lord and after 6 years in this journey, it led me back to where I began, in the Eucharistic presence.

After the Mass, I drew a picture of what Jesus had conveyed to me. The Ecce Agnus Dei with streams of water pouring out. The book of Revelation (ch 21 and 22) speaks of a spring of water, the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb. In the power of the Mass, the waters of life are opened and pour out upon all creation. We, who are thirsting for God, for life, happiness and meaning, come and drink. It is the only thing that will satisfy us, the only thing for which we are truly made: A glimpse at the face of God. This powerful message is what propels us towards a new way of life and being.

Mixed into the passages about the streams of water in revelation, is profoundly nuptial imagery. At that time, the new Jerusalem is shown to St John, beautiful as a bride bedecked in jewels, free of all stain, lovely to behold! Wherever we hear “behold the Lamb” we should also hear “behold the bride”. Jesus is not only the sacrificial lamb who takes away our sins, he is the Bridegroom who thirsts for us. The great thirst we feel in times of desolation is but a taste of the thirst God has for us. We almost are brought to feel His own passion and thus, it’s in those times, we are conformed to His heart in a special way. The anticipation of Jesus before we receive communion is the same anticipation a bridegroom feels before the moment of the wedding. If we understood how deeply Jesus longed to be in our hearts, we would faint from love! His love for us is unquenchable. He will go to the ends of the earth, through unspeakable torments then to hell and back for us. He did it once before…

 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

–          Revelation 22:17

 

It has been brutal. For the past year and a half, a struggle ensued for my mind and soul. Constant spiritual warfare wore me down to the point where, on most days, I could barely hold up my head. Going to Mass became a chore. Something was seriously wrong within my soul. All this time, it seemed God was distant. Watching me, yes, but with his back turned the other way. I wandered in the desert like the weeping Israelites, praying and hoping for the streams of life.

During the worst times, I could barely pray. Nothing gave me the joy and consolation I formerly felt. Even throughout Mass, everything remained numb, dead inside. Seeing Jesus in the priest’s hands: the solution to all my ills, I begged Him for deliverance, remembering in my mind the most-dreary verse of Psalm 88: “Friend and neighbor you have taken away, my one companion is darkness.” What the melancholy King David sang thousands of years ago, I felt in my heart this day.  Asking God for His grace, I decided to snub the devil by taking up even more prayer.

Now was not the time to let up. It was time for heavy artillery. Eucharistic adoration. If the local parish didn’t have exposition, I’d go into the church, before the silent tabernacle and voice my complaints and regretfully, not enough thanksgivings. Adoring the sacred host, the Real presence of the Lord is a remedy of peace, a soothing balm on the wounded soul. When you have one foot in the grave, in front of the tabernacle is where you need to be.

Another weapon: The Divine Office. A very ancient and powerful prayer, using the Scriptures, prayed in union with the entire church. It ensures the name of God be blessed at every hour… and the devil hates that! You don’t need to pray all five in a day as monks do. Start with Vespers or Evening prayer, which is easiest. Work your way up. Try chanting, in monotone or with accompaniment. As St Augustine advises: “He who sings prays twice.”

The spirits of despair and anger had encompassed me. There seemed no place to run. Last night, I struggled through my rosary, feeling suffocated by the evil and sin which weighed down heavy. Feelings of worthlessness, weariness and stress hung over my brow. It is no consequence that during the darkest times, Mary came to me, a quiet and serene presence. There is such power in the Mother of Christ, Our Perpetual Help. She crushes the serpent’s head. Wherever a public rosary was offered, I’d try best to make it.

But I am here to proclaim that God does wondrous things, even when we’re on the brink of giving up. We are always ready to give up, but Our Lord, He never gives up on us. Frayed, at the very end of my rope, I attended the rosary and adoration service at a nearby parish in Winter Haven Florida. The priest there is known to be very nice. He once heard my confession on the spot. I asked him before the service if he had time but he was understandably busy. After the service, I approached him and told him about this spiritual warfare I’d been going through, asking for his prayers. Even before we spoke, he could tell something was up. I glanced away, explaining that I’ve been thrown into so much confusion that I wasn’t even sure if I committed sins or not. He offered to bless and then absolve me!!

Taken totally by surprise, I knelt down before him, my eyes on the white stole hanging from beneath his robes. The power to forgive sins. Next to the voice of your husband, saying “I love you,” there is no better sound than a priests voice saying “I absolve you.” To me, it’s Jesus saying “I love you.” Totally beside myself with gratitude, I kissed the priest’s stole, thanked him profusely and skipped out of the church like a giddy fool.

Finally, I knew what it felt like to be that one leper, who showing himself to the priest, found he was completely healed. My heart racing, my face aglow, I ran and told everyone nearby of God’s goodness, of the healing power Jesus Christ gives through His “other Christ’s”, how God always comes through when we least expect it, how His love endures even in darkness. And that is why I wrote this for you today.

I have figured it out, the reason why I feel such a burning love for priests and the priesthood: Because it all reminds me of the true Beloved of my heart, Jesus Christ. You see, all along, I have wanted to marry a priest! I speak here of the heavenly High-priest who I am madly in love with, who I want to walk with me, who I want to stand beside… who I want to be my Husband.

It is religious life!

God sometimes uses real-life examples to teach us about Himself. This I firmly believe. Yesterday, while at work in the deep hours of night, I thought about how small and miserable we human beings and our souls must be in sight of the greatness of God. I then asked Our Lord, “If it is possible, tell me, how do you see my soul?” I immediately got a mental image of my cat Pete. No, Our Lord wasn’t saying He saw me as something like His pet, He was conveying in simple way that even my mortal mind could understand, the manner of His love for me.

First of all, let me tell you how much I love Pete. I think about that cat all the time- even more when away from home. I think of how, when I come home in the morning, he is there watching, his golden yellow eyes glowing playfully, his little white feet poised in the air as if unsure whether to come closer, his heart probably purring with delight. When feeling great loneliness, sometimes I whisper his name. And how, when I see Pete, scampering up to me, ears pricked, holding one of his toys in his mouth, I bend down and say “Hi honey, you are such a good boy!”

I laugh at Pete, I sing to him, I seat him on my lap and scratch him behind the ear- where he likes it most. Time and money, I spend on his behalf. I hate to see him sick or hurting. When Pete once scratched a spot behind his ear so hard, it began to bleed, I took him in my arms and felt such pity for him! I know he couldn’t understand me. I know he doesn’t comprehend my love and care, nor my little praises and baby-talk but somehow, in some innate way, he must know I am his “Momma” who won’t let anything harm him.

Just like this, God must think of me. In His heavenly realm, sometimes far away, He must miss me, grow lonely and speak my name. Like a little animal, I am so scared to rush into His arms- more hesitant that I should be, untrusting as I should not be. God provides. He showers me with gifts, blessings and more of His time than I deserve. Seeing what I treasure the most, He brings it to my attention, sometimes in quiet whispers. When I do good for His glory, Our Lord certainly bends down and says “My darling girl.” Other times, when I do evil, He must use the “water bottle” of chastisement.

God loves everything about me, because He made me. He loves my dark brown hair and eyes that shift from grey, to green then to blue. He rushes home to me, eager to hear my voice and to see me kneel, albeit awkwardly, in prayer. Like a housecat, I bring Our Lord gifts, things that should be worth to Him about as much as dead animals- but netherless, He treasures them! He cherishes those moments when I try to tell Him what I need but can only murmur and whimper. My “Father” He will let nothing harm me.

How beneath God’s glory are mortal men! Men are to God like dumb animals are to us. And yet, He always regards our fleshy weakness, our imprudent minds. I could never become another cat and have a “conversation” my Pete yet God already lowered Himself, becoming a man to commune with us! God is simply crazy in love with us. He is crazy in love with me. Not simply a being beneath Him or someone used for benefit, not only a best friend or an associate, no God sees me as His “Honey”, His “Little darling”… One uniquely made and uniquely His- the apple of His eye.

 

Pete, the apple of my eye.

Pete, the apple of my eye.

mother of priests

 

It was my fault. I asked for it. Yes, some years ago, I asked that the Lord would make me the spiritual mother of a priest. In His greatness, He chose first to show me exactly what that meant. You see I thought this vocation entailed nice theological discussions, gentle mentoring, sending packages with cookies, crying at ordinations, joyously partaking of the altar and assisting with advice. My vision of sunshine and roses was shattered in the month of May, 2013. God showed me a way laden with pain and sorrow, which was not a flowery image but an echo of Calvary.

Without divulging the events of the past month,  I will tell you that after pleading so long, it was finally shown to me the requirements needed to be the spiritual mother of a priest. The mother of a priest lives in uncertainty, trusting everything to God who sees beyond the human realm. She is not Pollyanna- but Mary who hears a prophecy of arrows, tends a poor and bruised child, hated from birth, walks with him to the rugged cross and sees him buried in the cold tomb. She who would be mother to a priest must feel the pains of the mother of Christ. She must lose him for three days, find him in the temple, declaring independence from earthly things, must watch him be scorned, rejected and despised, stripped of everything so that he even cries “My God why hast thou forsaken me?”

Priesthood is a bloody, painful affair, fraught with dark nights, the sweat of Gethsemane, the agony of Calvary. Brave enough, a man must give himself up, but as Christ died completely, in body, soul and spirit, upon the cross, so a man must utterly die. More sorrowful still, the mother of that man who must witness it all.

In a short time, compared to the whole span of life, I relived Mary’s seven sorrows. I lost something that was cherished immensely and buried it in the earth. I said goodbye to my dreams and desires, to my complacence and happiness. In turn however, I gained a trust in God, a closeness to Blessed Mary and a promise of future resurrection. We live the gloom of Good Friday and wait through the emptiness of Holy Saturday so we may rejoice at Easter Sunday. It is always darkest before dawn and so the darkest eve of despair gives way to glorious, golden sunrise.

I also know now that the devil ruthlessly attacks those destined for the seminary door, before they have even stepped foot in it. God taught me how to put up defense, asking for the shelter of his angels. The fragile, sheet-metal casing of my heart, He hammered into shining, iron armor. With the ore of my soft, pampered hands, He chiseled a broadsword. And with that sword I will slash the devil. I will not forget but fight, my every prayer forming a fortress for our future priests. The sorrowful mother is wounded- and allows herself to be so. She lets the serpent bite at her heel so she may savor even more the moment when he is crushed. She endures crucifixion so her face may shine even more radiantly at the resurrection.

And when the mother of a priest kneels before the altar, wearied by that battle, the copious blood of Christ washes over her. The sweet, Eucharistic chalice is balm to her wounds, polish upon her sword, fire within her heart and the pledge of forsworn victory.

 

Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Companion at the Cross, Ewe of God’s Lamb, Light of Confessors, Queen of Apostles, Mother of Priests,  pray for us.

The day after my ill-fated encounter with the lady spiritual director, I went to visit another one. You could say I am pretty serious about this spiritual direction thing. I have realized I am the type of person who learns best by example. Regrettably, few people set a good Christian example in my life. Around the age of 13, I learned by example that Christians were better people than everyone else, they were holier, richer and nicer- and by nicer, I mean they had nicer things.  All too soon, I learned I couldn’t be that way, for I was sinful, poor and lacked nice things… No shiny car with a “Jesus” bumper sticker on it, pretty dress to wear on Easter or blonde hair shot with “good-girl” highlights. I remember being told that if I suffered- or was sad, I possessed little faith and this sent me running to the altar-call basically every Sunday.

Fast forward about 10 years and I am Catholic. I am Catholic because I was shown Christians were people just like everyone else but they TRIED to be holy. They could be rich or poor and the nicest “things” were virtues and sacraments, given as gifts from God. Three people figured majorly in my conversion to faith: Brad Poole, Father (now Monsignor) Stanley Deptula and Father Brian Brownsy.

Brad was my first Catholic friend- my first real Christian friend too. He was first to tell me that if I were the only person on earth, Jesus would have still died for me. I learned from Brad that suffering didn’t mean a lack of faith; it meant God loved you and wanted you closer to Him. God desires our hearts and being Christian isn’t just going to church on Sunday, it is a life journey.

Father Stanley taught me about the mercy of Christ. Instead of shunning my idiosyncrasies, he saw a soul that hungered for God. In his office, I had my first confession and though I was terrified, he remained patient and even allowed his two dogs to sit nearby, because they gave me peace. This powerful sacrament and kindly gesture showed forth forgiveness- and a God who gives second-chances.

Father Brownsy was my first Christian teacher. His Masses were the first I attended. He revealed the Sacred Scriptures, how they instruct us day-by-day, and showed me a beautiful world of prayer and liturgy. To these three people, through whom God’s grace so brilliantly shined, I am forever indebted.

It has been five years since my entry into the ancient, beautiful world of Catholic Christianity and I’m still in great need of examples. Left on my own for so long, I have grown dull, stunted and confused. Yes, I study the faith constantly and perhaps know more doctrine, Scripture and history than your average Catholic, but without a stability of spirit, it means little. Thus, spiritual direction!

I sat down with this new spiritual director and spoke to him and he spoke to me.  He was far removed from the lady I met yesterday, expressing gentle love instead of harsh condescension. In short time, he revealed two issues: First, my true happiness would come only if I depended wholly on God- and His will for me. Second, people aren’t naturally capable of love- they must be taught how to love. I must learn how to love so that others could in turn, see love within me. …and this guy didn’t even know about my dysfunctional childhood issues! See the problem is that I want what I want. I wish to choose my life, to become better- often independently of God’s will. I can’t save myself- and this scares the living heck out of me!

There is a realization that I haven’t been taught how to truly love, I mean I think I’ve been taught how to truly love but I really haven’t. This is because I keep resisting it. I keep expecting everything to change around me instead of changing myself. Moreso, my problem is I like myself but I don’t love myself. My life and my existence must be seen with God’s eyes and not man’s eyes whose perception of truth changes every day. So there you have it: two issues brought before the light. They hang on my heart like twin weights of pride and fear, begging to be loosed. As I set these goals and continue seeking spiritual direction, please, if you read this, pray for me.

That is what we Christians do.