|Vicka and Jacko, looking at the Blessed Mother|
More Joy in Heaven...
When I was little, my mother took me to a Catholic mass and asked “did you feel God in church?” I said “no, but I do in the backyard.” Thus began my life journey seeking God in nature. We never went back to church, although my mom was a believer, my dad was raised protestant, we just never went to church. As a young woman, I was a "nature girl" – fiercely independent, ultra-liberal, very vocal in politics, even lived in the Alaskan wilderness for several years. For most of my life, I didn’t know anything about religion, and didn’t want anything to do with it. I was certain that “Christians” were completely delusional, stupid and brainwashed. The idea of a virginal birth was so ludicrous to me, I actually laughed and mocked it. I searched intensely for God in nature, sure that this is where the answers lie.
My mother died of lung cancer when I was 22. The best I could say to her as she slipped away was “in the whole course of the universe, I’ll be right behind, if there is an after -life.” But I firmly didn’t believe that there was. Once, while boarding a bush plane and distraught over the killing of Alaskan wolves, I brazenly cursed the name of Jesus Christ, blaming all the evils of the world on our western “male-centered” culture. I hated the way mankind was destroying the earth, and I think I even hated all humanity. Later I came back to California, and was married in 1990 to David, a wildlife biologist (also agnostic), and in 1993 we had a son. Two years later, I went to mass for the first time in my life. I didn't know why. In hindsight, I see clearly how God led me along the way.
It was a couple weeks after that mass, when I first believed that God became one of us. I was 34. Father Patrick had said "every new Catholic I meet has someone praying for them in heaven, or someone who has just died." Me: "ok, whatever." Over the course of three weeks, I read all the gospels in my mother’s huge, old, dusty, 1950s picture bible that I had hidden in my closet. I had never read the bible, and didn’t know any Christians except far-away relatives. I walked around in a daze for about a week at the thought that it could all be true. I started reading the Pope's book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, and David was livid, and threatened to leave me. This was big. In the past, I had said prayers, half-heartedly, at protestant prayer meetings that I had been “dragged” to. The fact that nothing had ever happened to me was “proof” to me that Jesus was pure fiction. But this time was different... very different... I believed it.
During the next few days, like a flood of fire, God poured the Holy Spirit into my heart. I was in a state of what I can only describe as total amazement (shock really) that this was happening, and told my husband that I would be content to die right then. He was furious - did not understand - but he came to believe eventually. His journey was much different - God treats each of us so uniquely. For him it was slow and steady, gradually building him into a pillar of faith. For the past 13 years he has been working as liturgy coordinator at our church, and this year also as religious education director of St. Joseph's parish. But for me, it was a plunge, an immersion - a feeling of unimaginable bliss – reflecting, but infinitely surpassing human love, and completely fulfilling the deepest longing of my soul. I had never even known that part of me existed.
This experience culminated when I went to Midnight mass on Christmas Eve 1995. I didn’t know anything about the Church, when to sit, stand, kneel, or why. I felt the presence of God in my heart like lightening, and I knew everything there was absolutely real. I stood in the back of the church with tears streaming, and said, “Lord Jesus, I know you’re there, but Mommy, are you there too?” It’s impossible to describe - like stars inside – but I knew beyond a doubt that my mother was alive, somewhere, somehow.
Throughout that night, this Spirit poured deeper and deeper into my heart, until I was completely immersed. God my Creator took up his home in my soul, and I could only welcome Divine Love, now eagerly exploring His new home inside me. This was a love like nothing on this earth – perfect fulfillment, ecstasy - union with God. This was so sweet and all-consuming that for all my life I will live for that moment. Jesus forgave me so much – I think that there is nothing worse than what I had done to Him in my past. It is a total mystery and will forever be the greatest experience of my life.
Had I been single, I would have immediately consecrated my entire life to Christ forever. But I was married, and a mother, and I have often reflected on that. The marriage relationship is an earthly reflection of God’s grace and our ultimate union with Him. I think that sex is not a right, but rather, a singular privilege of marriage. It has been corrupted by all of us to be a self-serving act, but is designed to be self-giving. We are eternal, but our earthly purpose is to learn, know and love God and to love others made in His image. Marriage is meant to be a sacred gift of total self-giving - you literally give yourself away and accept the awesome possibility of creating a new person made in the divine image. It comes with temporal earthly pleasures, but tremendous responsibilities... and eternal consequences.
Marriage can be hard... very hard. Men and women are vastly different, but can sanctify one another. I believe it is through these very difficult struggles, sacrifices and constant forgiveness in marriage and family that we learn to give up ourselves and our selfish desires for the benefit of others. To become more like Christ as we share in His divinity.
The reason for existence is to love purely and perfectly. Because we are fallen creatures who are not faithful to our true selves, it is necessary to sacrifice ourselves for love. In fact, the meaning of the word “sin” is, “missing the mark.” But we are made for divinity, for true One-ness with our Creator and with each other. For many of us, that means marriage and union with a spouse. But Scripture says it can be even better to give your life to Him and live for Him alone rather than the daily struggles that marriage entails. God’s grace is far more than what is needed to sustain us. The paradox of the Christian life though, is that a "higher" life means going lower... facing our true selves. We can only do this by trusting in God’s perfect mercy and love. I feel as St. Paul did: “I boast in my weakness!” Because Christ’s strength is in me, and THAT is infinite and eternal, I can now say with truth and confidence, “I’m not afraid of anything.”
I would like to say something about Christian unity. My dad was Protestant, and my mom Catholic. When I hear of fighting between Christians I am heartsick. I received the Holy Spirit after reading the gospels, so I know that it's true that it's the Word of God. But then, I went to mass and I know that Jesus Christ lives there... it's His home... the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church. No mere man-made organization could have been so vast in scope, time, distance and unwavering in doctrine. It is what it humbly proclaims. Jesus promised that "the gates of hell will not prevail against My church." I believe Him.
Hell has attacked the Catholic Church, as we all know. And now, the Spirit is moving in Catholic faithful in a way never before known. Graces given only to the greatest saints in the past are now waiting at the door of every Catholic heart that dares to face the world in love and welcome them ALL into the family of God. Our strength is Christ Himself, who feeds us in the Eucharist- His very body, blood, soul and divinity given for the world, and our courage is given through His mother, who loves us all and calls us all home to her Son.
One of the greatest treasures of being Catholic is Mary. I remember lying on my bed nursing one of my babies to sleep. My mind suddenly flashed back to impure images I had seen in my past. I said “Mary help me.” Immediately my mind was at peace and God’s grace swept through me, and the sleeping baby started to literally glow - so unexpected – as if she said, “THIS is what it’s for.” Mary is so powerful and loves each one of us so much, her purity is perfect and she desires to guide us through this very confusing world. God has given her power over satan because of her perfect love for both God and humanity – and she has been given to us by Jesus Christ as our mother. Catholic means ‘Universal’ – she is a real mother for the whole world, and for every person. I love my heavenly mother Mary!
At Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children with a message for the world. She said "God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart." She spoke of the coming wars – a punishment for man’s turning away from God, and Russia's newly developing error of God-less communism. She asked for many prayers for Russia and the world. She said, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Over 70,000 people witnessed the “miracle of the sun” when it spun in the sky and terrifyingly seemed to plunge to earth. It was raining hard, but afterwards, everything was completely dry. In our times, millions believe she has been appearing to six visionaries (then teens, now adults) everyday for 30 years (June 24, 1981) in Medjugorje, a small town in Croatia. She speaks of a coming warning - a correction of conscience - to every person on earth, a miracle for the world, a permanent sign and possible chastisement. She assures us of God’s love and hers, and continually calls us to PRAY, love, sacrifice, confess and to return to and follow Jesus.
The Holy Spirit that pierced my soul that night 16 years ago is now an ever-present warmth inside, like a glowing fire that never leaves me. Sometimes the flame ignites into a raging fire, like when I sit down to pray the rosary with my family. Mary asks us to pray the rosary, because it takes some time (at least 15-20 minutes), and we need to spend undivided time with God. The repetition of prayers is only an outward sign, to “mark the time,” if you will. The deeper (real) meaning is that it is precious time spent with God in contemplation of one of the four profound sets of mysteries of Jesus life: the Joyful Mysteries of His life on earth, the Sorrowful Mysteries of His passion and death, the Luminous teachings of the Kingdom of God, and the Glorious Mysteries of His Resurrection.
The fire of the Holy Spirit is always in me, but sometimes God and the Blessed Mother manifest in a new way. Like this past spring of 2010, after my family prayed the rosary every night for three months – a real struggle with three boys – I was praying it very slowly in my bedroom, and I smelled the unmistakably strong scent of roses. That is Mary’s sign to her faithful children. I honestly never thought it would happen to me. But it did, and it took my breath away. It was so amazing.
I have never written these things for anyone except my priest in 1996. I know there must be a reason that I feel compelled to tell it now. I don’t know how Jesus judges souls, but I know His judgment is perfect. Mary says this is a time of mercy. In 1930s Poland, before the Nazi invasion, Jesus told St. Faustina (a simple, humble nun) that now is the time for Divine Mercy – unfathomable graces poured out on ANY one who turns to Him, no matter what they've done. He said that this time of mercy is given to the world as His last plea to humanity, and He gave us the Feast of Divine Mercy to be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. He also said that "from Poland, I will bring forth the spark that will prepare the world for My final coming." This year, on May 1, 2011 (Divine Mercy Sunday) we celebrate the Beatification of John Paul the Great – the most beloved pope of all time, and the most-seen person in all of history. Perhaps the Holy Father’s Canonization will be the beginning of a new era. Pope John Paul II always said "be not afraid," and told us all of a "new springtime" coming soon for the Church and for the world.
God has forgiven me everything, and I know it’s not my job to judge others. But I want to say that there is nothing to fear in turning to God. Just believe it (faith), and ask (prayer). Saint Francis said “I would rather be judged by Jesus Christ than my own mother.” As one who has experienced His indescribable love and mercy, I know he waits for every soul He created. I have many other stories that I would be glad to share with anyone who is interested. I pray for you all, and hope for your eternal happiness. I am here for anyone who wants to talk, now or in the future. Be not afraid. “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who turns to Christ...” I know... heaven threw a celestial party for me.