Divine Mercy Sunday

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Since mercy is kind of my thing, I figure I should write about it.  Only, all I can think of are answers to the question, how did mercy become my thing? Mid-life crisis?  PTSD? Exposure to pesticides?

I have other things I am passionate about including cats, dogs, and color-stay lipstick.  Unlike mercy, those things make sense to me.

For most of my life, mercy felt above me like one of those words at the top of the hierarchy that I could never reach.  It was like the incense used during Holy Days that rose to meet the cherubs at the top of cathedrals.  It was an enigma, because I never took the time to contemplate what it meant, how it’s shown, and its source from which salvation hinges.

Now I understand that mercy isn’t just my thing, it’s all of ours.  It never rose to the spires of churches, it descended from the heavens reaching down to each of us.  It’s forgiveness, do-overs, compassion, and kindness.  I have been on the giving and receiving ends of these things my entire life, but I didn’t always recognize it as mercy.

I knew the relief from the burden of sorrow when shown forgiveness. I knew the hope of having another chance.  I knew the tenderness of comfort and the warmth of simple kindness.  I knew giving these things to others always made me feel better, taught me more about who I am, and had significance unlike anything on my to-do list.

Without mercy, I know I would have no shot getting into heaven. Mercy is like the golden ticket from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  It gets you access to the most magical place if you choose to redeem it, practice it, and share it.

Saint Faustina had a special devotion to divine mercy and joined the convent of Our Lady of Mercy in Crackow, Poland.  She came from a poor farming family in Poland who struggled terribly during World War I.  Growing up, she had only three years of rudimentary education.  That fascinates me, because I have tried to read her diary and it’s challenging, either proving its divine nature or my devolving brain.  Still, I love to read quotes from the notebooks compiled into her diary about the visions of Jesus she had.

In her diary, Saint Faustina wrote the words that Jesus spoke to her, “This Feast emerged from the very depths of my mercy, and it is confirmed in the vast depths of my tender mercies.  Every soul believing and trusting in My mercy will obtain it” (420).

I believe and trust in his mercy, because at some point my eyes were opened to it.  That has been a game-changer for me beyond my recognition of the genius of color-stay lipstick.  It became my thing not because it was suddenly available to me, but because I finally recognized it as having always been there, rescuing, comforting, and offering me redemption despite my unworthiness.

Saint Faustina also acknowledges the importance of works of mercy in her diary.  “Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for me.  You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere” (742).

So maybe you’ve never considered mercy your thing before. Consider it now.  Like Saint Faustina wrote, consider it “always and everywhere.”

 

Have you heard of Divine Mercy Sunday?  Do you do anything special to honor it?

Miss last week’s post?  Read more about Saint Faustina https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=510 and Divine Mercy Sunday  http://www.divinemercysunday.com/

 

 

Dog Days of Mercy Work

Reunited and it feels so good,” are lyrics from the 1978 song by the vocal duo, Peaches & Herb.  But upon returning a stray dog, the lyrics that played to the song’s melody sounded more like, “Reunited, and it feels like crud!”

It was far from peachy.

When I found the elderly dog, he was thin, filled with fleas, and uncharacteristically aloof for his breed.  After twenty minutes of convincing him I wasn’t a serial killer, he reluctantly succumbed to my coaxing him into the backyard. Within minutes he escaped and sat stubbornly in middle of the road.  I directed cars to drive around us while begging him to follow me.  Perhaps, the dog binge-watched Criminal Minds before running away, because he clearly knew the finer points of stranger danger.  After getting him into the backyard for the second time, I  jammed logs in the passage in the gate he eluded, creating fine fence folk art that I am sure would become the envy of my neighborhood.  Then I went back inside to post his picture on lost-dog websites.

Desperate to ease his obvious discomfort from fleas, I took him to the vet. While getting him in the car, he severed the leash with his teeth like a geriatric Cujo.  Off he ran into the street for the third time that day, prolonging our misadventure.

With a half-leash dangling conspicuously from his collar and an additional leash that I held tight, we managed to get flea control medicine and a rabies vaccine from the vet.   Then we drove to the groomer to get the dog we now called Buddy a bath.  (Sometimes, I called him B-A-D).

Unfortunately, dogs have to wait two days after their vaccination before they can be groomed.  So, no bath for Buddy.  We settled on a new bed and, still smelly and itchy, went home.

By day three, I decided that Buddy was a true stray.  No one appeared to be looking for him, and the condition of his skin, with patches of hair missing from the flea frenzy beneath his fur, made me skeptical of ownership.  Of course, I was getting attached, too, and maybe less eager to find his home.

But it wasn’t to be. His owner saw one of my Facebook posts and contacted me.  This is where I had to practice not being judgmental, despite feeling justified.  I asked the owner to text a picture of the dog as proof of ownership.  Buddy isn’t the only one who’s seen Criminal Minds. She sent an adorable picture of him with her child.  I shared my conflict about the dog’s condition with two animal-rescue experts, and they advised me on how to best handle the return while advocating for his care.

When Buddy saw his owners he greeted them with the same enthusiasm I had seen when he was yanking me around the neighborhood on walks (while I prayed he wouldn’t eat through another leash).

It was bittersweet, exhausting, emotional, adventuresome, and messy.  It was also an embodiment of several works of mercy: (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit those imprisoned (even if they are in your backyard), comfort the sick, admonish sinners (by encouraging the owner to get flea medicine, identification tags, and a microchip), instruct the uninformed (the expert guidance given to me) counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful (I needed a lot of both when I returned the dog) be patient with those in error (I gave the benefit of the doubt despite my inclination to judge) and, prayer, because I petitioned for the right thing to happen.

When the young child opened his front door and the dog ran in, I knew the right thing happened.

Reunited, and it felt so good. 

At least, it did for Buddy.

I know on the surface it looks like I just rescued a dog, but like so many times in daily life, it encompassed many opportunities to give and receive mercy.  Do you ever think of the kindnesses you do as mercy? 

Miss last week’s post?

 

Light: Out of the darkness

 

As a native Floridian, winters are hard for me.  It’s not just the closed toe shoes and the cumbersome layers of clothes that make me feel constrained liked a mummy wrapped in fleece.

It’s the darkness.

The shorter days, gray skies, and the browning emptiness leave flowers blighted and bare trees somber.  I don’t notice how much it affects me until spring arrives, and I am awed by the glorious light. I catch myself staring out the window. I see the green growth of new leaves on the mounds of sticks sprouting up from the earth and the reliable bloom of azaleas bursting bright with joy, but it’s the light, pervasive and ethereal, that captivates me.

It reminds me of my relationship with God.  How at times, he seems dormant and, despite my efforts to seek him, I feel alone wandering in a thicket of weeds.  The weeds of life are everywhere: dissatisfaction with our jobs, difficulty with our children, disappointments in our marriages, and disillusionment with our lives.

I hate the weedy parts, feeling out of touch with someone who I know is so beautiful.  They scare me and remind me of the fear and abandonment Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was knowingly awaiting torture and death.  My problems pale in comparison.  Still, I know they matter to him, just like Jesus’s did to our heavenly father.

During these times, I try to trust as Jesus did.  Thy will be done.  But mostly, I feel like a toddler writhing out of a winter coat.  It’s like Jesus is hibernating in my heart, and I badly need him to come out and warm the chill that aches me.  I am desperate for his light that helps me navigate the nuances of life.  And despite my wrangling, there are times he just seems asleep in the tomb, with that big heavy rock that might as well be a mountain sealing it closed.

This is the darkness I fear most, that’s the hardest to endure, and the loneliest feeling I know.  It’s also when I cling tight to my faith, remind myself I am rooted in his love, and redeemed by his light.  Knowing this doesn’t make the time in the dark any easier, but it reminds me that like winter, it will pass.

Light always returns. Once again, I see the bloom of his love, the light of his hope, and the color of his conversation that without words communicate his preeminent presence.  And because of that darkness I so dreaded, colors are more vibrant, the sun brighter, and the flowers more fragrant.

As nature dances briskly in the breeze, barefoot I step out of the shadow into the light that is no longer just a promise of what awaits, but the fulfillment of what was always there.

 

Lent is a time to grow closer to God, to weed out all of the distractions and disillusions that keep us from him.  How do you stay close to God when he feels far away? Did you read last week’s post?

 

 

Stillness — the action of finding God

Be Still. God knows I heard this often as a child.  I remember one time my mom promising me a new doll if I would just sit still for ten minutes.  When you are a kid, ten minutes is an impossibility, a lifetime, a duration that exists in fairytales along with “happily ever after.”

Stillness remains a challenge for me.  By far, the hardest part of writing is getting myself to sit down.  I reheat my coffee, let the dog out, tell the cats they are pretty, stuff my face with white cheddar popcorn, nibble chocolate, check email, Facebook, scoop kitty litter, and reheat curdled coffee again.  Then, I sit, twitch, and fidget for a bit before I succumb to the stillness that begets words. It’s like an exorcism.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I am part of a group of women at my church who will be hosting a retreat this month, and we chose this as our theme.  It’s not a message we hear often, and it is certainly counter to what society encourages. Stillness is a renegade concept, a weapon that destroys the inauthentic notions of life.  I associate it more with someone like Yoda in a galaxy far, far away than I do anyone on our planet.

Our world teaches us our value is tied to busyness.  Go faster, be efficient, do more, be more, make more, and have more.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t be still.  Don’t stop and smell the roses.  Get them in the ground and check it off your list. Or better yet, pay someone to do it.  Your time is too valuable.  You need to be producing.

The message is clear, if you are still, the world will pass you by.  You will be considered slovenly.   You will miss out.  You will fail to measure up. You might as well be a concrete statue for pigeons to stoop (and poop) on.

When we believe these messages, eventually our motion spins out of control.  We lose touch with who we are called to be, the things we enjoy, and who matters most. We get lost and dizzy from all our spinning.  And tired.  So many of us are tired.

Last year for Lent, I challenged myself to spend ten minutes a day in stillness with God.  I was terrified.  I didn’t want to commit to such an endeavor and not honor it.  Usually, the things we need most are the hardest to do, the least appealing, and met by the most resistance.  But I decided to be brave and embrace the stillness that always eluded me.

And you know what?  I didn’t turn green like Yoda or get soiled by pigeons.  I didn’t even feel like demons were being dispelled from my body like I do when I sit to write.  I didn’t miss a single day of my commitment.

Contrary to what we may think about motion, the real action begins with stillness.  I was more calm, aware of myself, closer to God, and felt a genuine sense of peace.  It was so much more of an intentional way to pray.  I even read scripture before I started my timer so I felt more deliberate about my conversation with God.

I continued my habit for a while after Lent and then slowly traded the stillness for the unregulated motion that’s so much easier to fall into.  Like a child, I resist.  But I know that stillness waits for me, wants for me, and will embrace me anytime I am willing to surrender to its calm.

And the reward for stillness is far greater than a new toy.  It is a chance to sit with the knowing that is God.

Want more to help you on your Lenten journey read this.  

Bucket List or not?

My son asked me the other night if I had a bucket list. This struck me as funny at first.

After all, he’s eight– what the heck does he know about a bucket list?  He doesn’t even have all his teeth.  I am 40 and don’t think much about them.  Of course, I saw the movie and understand the expression, but I can’t say I ever bothered to make one.

Partly because when I make grocery lists, I inevitably leave them on the kitchen counter and when I get home I find they are only useful for checking off the items I forgot to buy at the store. I am not sure what happens if you lose your bucket list. Do you forget what’s so important for you to see or do, the way I forget to buy Q-tips? Read more

Simbang Gabi and Memories

My first experince with Simbang Gabi started like this: Mama tomato and Daddy tomato are walking along the road (presumably to shop for a new topsy-turvy for their growing family), when they notice that Baby tomato is quite far behind (probably from admiring the cute cherry tomatoes they passed.) Daddy tomato yells to Baby tomato, “Ketchup!!”topsy-turvy_enl

Get it?  Like Catch Up — ketchup?!

I didn’t get it at first because I am kind of slow (like Baby tomato).  Once my husband explained it to me though, I thought it was funny.  Of course, I added the part about the topsy-turvy and the cherry tomatoes to spice it up a little bit – salsa anyone?

The priest used the tomato joke to explain a tradition in the Filipino community that includes a Novena to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in anticipation of Christmas, called Simbang Gabi.  It is nine days of going to mass and then celebrating after with food, traditional dance, and songs. The last day of the Novena falls on Christmas Eve. Read more