Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Part of My Conversion Story I've Rarely Told

I decided to become a Catholic two decades ago, on December 26, 1991. I've told the story of my conversion to Catholicism many times, both a two-minute version and a 15 page version, and some in between, like on this blog. But there has been one strain of the story that I've almost always left out. I've been thinking about that a lot, and it is time for me to dig through that part of the story.

And as I do, I think of what Anne of Direction for our Times wrote in her book Mist of Mercy about a mystical vision she was given of purgatory. She writes this: "[S]ouls were voluntarily examining where they had rejected God in their lives, thereby rejecting His grace so that they would not have to change. Souls were helping each other understand where and how they had taken turns against Christ" (p. 155).  I have dug through this part of my story to come to grips with the issues I've had, and I write here and now to really appreciate what I've learned. I share it here in hopes that someone else may understand something they need to.

This part of my conversion story begins in earnest in early 1990 and really continued on after I entered the Church. Some background is fitting to explain how I got to this day in 1990, though.

Since college I was absolutely obsessed with getting married. To me, being married meant finding someone who would fill the gaping void I had in my life for positive attention, or this thing I called "love." The only "romantic" relationship I'd been in (and it turns my stomach now to call it that) was in the few years previous to this with a man 26 years my senior. With the exception of the day we met, he was in jail or prison the whole time. It was an awful, demeaning relationship, but I was willing enough to cash in my dignity for his attention, which was intense when he wanted it to be. At the beginning of 1988 I joined a non-denominational charismatic fellowship, and after a decent amount of time of soaking in the worship and the prayer of people there, I developed the strength to block this man out of my life. But my marriage obsession went on. Any man who actually expressed the slightest interest in me scared me half to death, however, and I panicked over not knowing how to get them to go away, so I was incredibly rude. For being so dead-set on marriage, I was pretty much a mess when it came to relating to men.

I found one man who seemed somewhat manageable. He was a member of my church and so we saw each other a lot. (There were only about 75 people in the whole church, including the children.) We were involved in quite a few of the same ministries. I really didn't find him all that attractive, but it honestly never dawned on me in those days that such a thing mattered. Although we never really dated in a way that felt remotely romantic, we did things together for several months and sort of very stiffly considered our relationship with a sense of being sweet on each other.

And then one day, he up and announced to everyone that he had a new girlfriend. (Later, I learned that someone had given him a "word from the Lord" that he would marry at age 30, and just before his 29th birthday, he found this girl to whom he eventually became engaged. They broke it off before they married, and he was single well past 30.) But there I was in 1990, at a birthday party in his honor, he with his new girlfriend in tow. I was incredulous. Fuming. Crushed.

And then a very unfortunate thing happened. I sat in a chair at this party, with my pastor on my left side and an empty chair on my right. Probably my pastor picked up on my feelings and wanted to cheer me up. But he used the following to do so: He told me "I have a word from the Lord for you. God has a husband for you, and he's going to fall in love with you and want to marry you. And you'll have a call to work in the mission field." I remember he followed this up with asking my opinion if this was a "good word" or not. Oh, pastor, that's a wonderful word I thought. With every ounce of earnest faith I took this as a promise from God Himself. And just then, who should sit down next to me in the empty chair but basically "the other" single young man in the church, Keith. And -- ohmygosh -- I knew that he wanted to be a missionary! It's him! He's the one God just promised as my husband! Wow! Thank you God!

You can see it already. This became a grossly painful deception in my life: total Satan bait.

Now, I do believe that God speaks to people. But folks, you've got to be extremely leery when anyone tells you that God just told them something for your life. I gained a lot of wonderful things from my time in that charismatic fellowship, but goofy things like this did happen to lots of people. People wound people in the name of religion all the time; the few cases of priestly pedophilia are certainly not the only instances of this.

My pastor was irresponsible in what he said to me, but I was also stupid for taking it in and immediately giving it a life in my mind with this new man. I didn't really care what God wanted for me. If I did, I would have waited to talk to Him about it for several weeks or months. I wanted what I wanted. I treated God as the one who fulfilled my dreams, like Cinderella's fairy godmother. I didn't even really know what Jesus being Lord of my life meant, although I would have emoted greatly over the phrase, calling it a fact in my life.

God can write straight with our crooked lines, though. If you read my conversion story, you can now understand when I talk about this friend, Keith, from my church who up and became a Catholic. His announcement to me about this came in about October of 1990. And it was then that I really had to seriously seek God concerning the hatred in my heart that I still harbored towards Catholics.

I didn't really see much of Keith after he was confirmed. He still came to our weekly Bible study, but I couldn't bear to even look at him carrying a huge Catholic Bible with a crucifix bookmark! But I still believed on some level that God meant for him to be my husband. He eventually said he was going to school to become a missionary, which made my heart jump up again. Only, he didn't explain right away that this school was a seminary, and he meant to be a priest. It was in fact a couple of years before he was forthright with me about that. But that's jumping ahead in the story.

Keith showed up at some pivotal moments, including taking me to the Christmas Eve midnight Mass that was the crux of my conversion. I never even told him of my decision to convert at the time; I wrote it to him a few months later. When it came right down to it, this warped prophecy of my marriage to him was not enough to convince me to embrace Catholicism; that was a completely separate work of grace. But it did help me open my heart to explore what the Church proposed. So, God did redeem some parts of the mess my pastor and I made that day.

There were other aspects that didn't go away quickly, though. Even after I came into the Church, I was still left wondering what of my charismatic experience could be trusted. I still dearly wanted to believe that God meant Keith as my husband. All the while he was in his early formation, and then in Africa on mission, I wrote to him, often a couple times a week. I learned to give my heart to him, and I learned to love him. He came back stateside a few times, and eventually insisted to me he wanted to be a priest. I never quite believed him, but I learned enough about loving to tell him that if that was what he wanted, then I had to honor him and want that for him, too.

The story gets stranger, though, because eventually I learned -- yes, by something I would say God spoke to me -- that he is a person of same-sex attraction. Once when he was home I finally simply asked him point blank if he was gay, and he told me yes. Even then I'm not sure I completely gave up "faith" that God has promised me him as my husband. Although my love for him morphed, it really still to this day holds true. Then one day when I lived in Japan, he sent me a letter unlike any I'd ever gotten from him. I understand that he was struggling to own his own identity. But this letter was brash and defiant and hurtful. He said his superiors suggested he postpone ordination and then he'd left the seminary and was living with a lover in England. It was absolute multidimensional heart-break for me, even though by then thoughts of marriage had completely evaporated. I've never heard from him since.

My spiritual life felt like a heap of rubble. I was Catholic, but felt no joy in prayer or sacraments. Experiences I had trusted in, ways that had brought me healing and good in the past now seemed a froth that had dried up and fizzed away. But again I'm a bit ahead of myself.

Before I left for Japan and while Keith and I were still friends, I made a postulancy visit to John Michael Talbot's order, the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. This order integrates celibates, singles and families. While I was there, along with quickly realizing that I was not ready to respond to such a vocational call, God made something about my view of marriage abundantly clear to me, although I still didn't understand it at the time. The parable of the seed and the sower spoke powerfully to me one day. As you recall, some of the seed sown fell among thorns. What struck me was Jesus' explanation of this seed, as Mark has it: "but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word and it proves unfruitful." This phrase "the desire for other things" hit me like a ton of bricks. Jesus was telling me my desire for marriage was "the desire for other things."

Oh. My. I was so good at being religious and telling God that all I wanted was His will and His way, and how could marriage be wrong and blah, blah, blah. But I realize now that I still had no clue that marriage meant giving the gift of oneself, and receiving the gift of another. I didn't realize that if I didn't possess myself, I couldn't give myself. I was looking to get something from someone else first, to make me complete. I wasn't looking for God, even if I was asking Him to supply this "thing". I didn't get that He alone makes me complete. That it had to be His love that enabled me to possess and give myself, and to receive another. That He was the "one thing" I needed.

Oh, I said those words. I believed those words. But -- what a Catch-22 for me -- I only learned slowly that His love penetrates our hearts when we live in union with Christ's Church. Our hearts cannot hover outside and away from the Church or we hover outside and away from Christ. Some blessed people grow up with the love of Christ's Church as the foundation of their family. I did not. I have had to allow this love to soak me as an adult.

After I left Japan I came to Steubenville, and almost immediately I found myself soaking in healing graces. My experience here had the academic life and the charismatic dimension that gave me peace and security, and a rich Catholic life that gave me soil in which to grow by leaps and bounds. I asked God to be in charge of what people I met, and within two weeks of arriving I landed a job working for Dr. Scott Hahn and was immersed in the crazy chaos of the office in his home, and in an intense theology of the Church as the family of God. I also met the man I eventually married. Most importantly, I found my heart's home here.

I am still discovering union with Christ in His Church. I am still receiving myself from Him so that I have myself to give as a gift. I am still learning that it is His love alone that I seek, but that I find it in loving and being loved by those God gives me. I imagine my love will always limp, but let the limp bear witness to how I was healed of complete paralysis.

I know now that if God wants to tell me something, He'll make it clear, but that my primary concern is with obeying His Word which belongs in the context of the Church. I know that I can trust the Lord with my life, and this means not needing to have my way. God knows the way to make me very happy, and ultimately I'll take my dream to the cross to gain His dream for me, because I know His is better.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spirituality of the Lay Apostles of Jesus Christ the Returning King

For about six years now I have been drawing closer to the Lord specifically because of following the spirituality of the Lay Apostles of Jesus Christ the Returning King. There's nothing particularly complex about this movement in terms of spiritual disciplines one takes on: A daily offering, weekly adoration, monthly confession, monthly prayer group gathering, and a commitment to live as Jesus taught in Holy Scripture. The aim of the apostolate is to pray and work for the conversion of souls.

Probably the most striking feature of the apostolate is that it involves a series of locutions given both as monthly messages and in book/booklet form, to a woman known as Anne. Some people immediately have stickles about private revelation, and I can appreciate that. Anne has sought and received permission from her Bishop to engage in this apostolate and spread the messages, and this is the Catholic way to be "kosher" about these things.

Of course one needs to discern well, because the last thing anyone needs is to listen to a charlatan. But on the other hand, we need to admit that mystical phenomena are not spooky, unchristian, or all that rare. The key, as I see it, is that mystical gifts are meant to augment one's living of the gospel. Not add, not detract, not confuse, but call one to follow Christ just as the gospel does, but perhaps with a personal edge to it that makes you say "Wow, this really helps me." I'm personally convinced that what Anne passes on is genuine.

I've wrote about the first time I heard Anne speak here. And the second time, here. And the apostolate website is here.

This spirituality has been quietly humming along in my life for years, and has established me in grasping basic things like consistent spiritual practices (monthly confession instead of sporadic confession, and simple daily prayer that has mushroomed dramatically, for example). But as it tends to happen when one is humming along with the Lord, suddenly I've realized what a treasure I have been given in this apostolate. It is not so much that the messages give me more than the gospel could (of course) but they help me hear both Scripture and the liturgy and shake my head and say "yep, that's real!" Sort of like how someone's description of how to get from the Brewer's stadium to Lake Michigan makes sense if you've either been to Milwaukee, or seen someone's video who has been down the route, or listened to someone who has traveled it. Dry directions on a page are still true, still trustworthy, but it's the conveying of the experience through someone else that gives one an inner resonance.

This really helps me. Maybe it will really help you, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

With Divine Recompense He Comes to Save You

I originally wrote this post in September of 2009 but left it unpublished because at the time it was too soul-scraping for me to share it. As I read it through tonight and edited it a bit, it still brought tears to my eyes -- tears of joy. I want to let it be known that God is the Author of my hope.

Thus says the LORD: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water. Isaiah 35:4-7

This was the first reading this last Sunday, and when I heard it, I found myself gripped and shaken. I find myself gripped and shaken quite a bit lately, and frankly there is only so much of this I can take before I have to pay serious and often trembling attention to the heart that is trying to tell me something by its resonance.

So, I'm just going to say that this is a very challenging post for me to write.

That reading from Isaiah is not a new one to me. The images in Isaiah of the burning sands becoming pools, of streams in the desert, and of the blind, deaf and lame being healed have always caught my attention and set off a longing in my soul, like seeing a promised Beauty towards which I have long been traveling.

But this Sunday when I heard it, what struck me was not a wonderful Something that was somewhere else. It was a Someone here, now. That word, recompense, jumped out at me with great force.

For what could God possibly come with recompense to me? Does that concept even make sense?

....How can I dive into telling this story? Maybe head-first is the only way.

My father was very strange. I have few memories of him before my parents divorced; I was so young and he spent a lot of time commuting to distant towns and even distant states trying to stay employed as a teacher. He taught academic stuff when and because he had to, but at heart he was a band teacher and a choir director. Actually, that's not quite right. He loved music (trumpet and piano) but he hated teaching. He could not handle interacting with students, or anyone else for that matter. He was an alcoholic, but I'm not exactly sure what the chicken/egg progression was with the drinking and the social skills.

When I was 23 and had worked out forgiving him for what I had mistakenly understood as his attempt to ruin my life by his alcoholism, I took him out for his birthday. It was the only time, minus once when I was four, that I can remember being alone with him, without my brother. I arrived at his house, and presented him with a recording of some music I'd written. I remember him standing with his back to me for several minutes as we tried to carry on a conversation. He wasn't doing anything, he simply literally could not face me. He insisted we go to Denny's, because birthday people got free meals. It seemed he couldn't bear the thought of me wasting money on him. Later, we sat in his car and he told me things about himself I'd never known, including that he had been diagnosed with the same mental illness as my sister.

Just imagine for a moment being 23 years old and never realizing that your father is mentally ill. It didn't even hit me like a sudden flash of insight and realization, as if all the pieces of his strangeness suddenly made sense. All I can say is I had come to accept him, with great begrudgingness of course, in the way all children somehow look to their parents and accept them as the standard of normal. My "normal" seemed to require a confusing disconnect from what my senses told me.

My father's core belief, as communicated to me at least, seemed to be of his own worthlessness. He did his best to say he believed better of me, and in fact as a follower of the Twelve Steps, he occasionally would honor me with an apology for his drunken disruptions of my life. He in fact told me he loved me, and those words were otherwise never voiced in my family. Ever. I am sure now that his distancing himself from me was a way of wishing me "better than him" for my life. But I was left with an enormous sense of guilt for being intelligent, having friends, and achieving any sort of success, because I intuited these things would make him feel worse. Our mutual love of music was one of the only shards of commonality that lent itself to "conversation," if you can use that term for my one-word answers to the couple predictable questions he asked each week at our weird, scheduled visitations. It was a rickety bridge that never really succeeded in connecting us.

When my father died in 2001, I cried not because I would miss him as much as because I had always missed him. Potential for a positive relationship with him disappeared like a tiny round blue flame whose going out is only noticed by one who had hopes for it.

Life goes on. God has done wonderful things in my life for many years. But lately I am very struck by something new God is doing.

When I was a kid I started finding refuge for my life in God. But I also learned to use religious stuff as bricks from which to build a fortress to protect myself. God was faithful and patient, and kept watching for chinks in my fortress walls to try to bring me peace. I will never forget a comment my husband made to me before we were married, when I was a graduate Theology student. He called my study of Theology a "hobby." Hobby? I snorted with lightning bolts flashing from my eyes. These ideas, these truths about God are the most important things in the world, and I am giving myself to study them! How dare you think this is just something I amuse myself with! But in my heart I knew he was right, and it was like a stinging slap into a reality I barely knew. I played with ideas for comfort. Religious ideas, and sophisticated comfort, but, all the same...

I was very much like Simon and Garfunkel's rock. You know, a fortress deep and mighty who could not countenance much talk of friendship and who identified people with devastation. I truly loved God, but I wrapped myself tight in ideas about Him in an effort to make contact with His love for me in return. And of course, I did not succeed, because that isn't how it works.

The most basic Bible verses tells how it does work: Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. To encounter God's love we must encounter God's people. I've spent a lot of time acting like my father, standing in the room with my back towards everyone, for lack of knowing that one should turn around.

The shocker for me this year has been to experience this encounter with Christ afresh, and to be challenged by it in the deep parts of my personal history, so deep that after weeks or months I am still trying to catch my breath and allow myself to take it in.

I've been learning that Christ comes to us now in the same mode He did when He was born: the Incarnation. This physical world has a sacramental nature to it now, because Christ has entered it. The Church is the first sacrament, because it is the continuation of Christ's presence in time and space. We don't encounter God's love through ideas, we encounter it through people and events. This is what sacraments, what the Church, are all about.

A whole string of people have brought me to the experience of Christ I have today. My husband provides my baseline, enabling me to face out into the world. My son and daughter have each stretched my capacity for being human. But the Lord has also placed in my path a man who, like my father, is a musician.  It is actually in the light of his face, so to speak, that I have been forced to take another look at what aspects of my past need to stop informing my present. I almost imagine my father looking down on me from the next life and saying, "Marie, I asked the Lord to find someone who would remind you enough of me so you'd know I was thinking about you, but who was able to show you a way of humanity I simply couldn't." Joe's ability to lead, to pull confidence out of us (ok, out of me), and his orientation towards people as the whole point of living just exude from him like leaves grow on trees. Or like streams and rivers flow... from the desert... making pools appear in the burning sands. It's an awful lot like how bread and wine are normal things until God gets hold of them. Actually, it's exactly like that. What is perfectly natural to him becomes a call, a sign, a promise of conversion to me.

This is what I call evidence. Evidence that God sees, that He knows, that He counts all of our hairs, saves each of our tears, and that He builds from dismantled fortress walls something completely different. A highway, I think, for our God (Is. 40:3). It is evidence that He is the Redeemer.

Thank you, Jesus, that you are my Redeemer.

P.S. The Father's Day after I wrote this post (June, 2010) was the first time I was able to feel happy, peaceful emotions for that celebration. I realized I am so much my father's daughter! Being able to accept him and understand how in fact he loved me, under all the weight and pain he carried, freed me to respect him and to sort of re-write my understanding of his place in my life. Thanks be to God.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Remembering the Irritating Nice Woman at St. Matthias'

I was doing a little mental association during Mass this morning. It's the feast of St. Matthias, and many years ago when I belonged to Risen Savior Fellowship (a non-denominational charismatic fellowship) in suburban Milwaukee, there was a St. Matthias parish just around the corner from us. I belonged to the evangelism group, and we'd meet once or twice a month or whatever it was and go out in pairs around the church to knock on doors, offer to pray for people, try to engage them in conversation and ultimately "get them saved" by having them repeat a sinner's prayer.

Usually my evangelism partner and I headed to an apartment complex nearby, and had brief interactions, if any, with those living there. But one day we headed off in a different direction and stopped at a house that was next door to the Catholic parish. A woman lived there, and though I don't recall many of the details, I know that she had some official capacity at St. Matthias. She might have been a nun, but I don't remember her wearing a habit. She invited us in, and I remember staying there far longer than any other residence I'd ever visited in this capacity. She was happy, welcoming, warm, and open to us.

It's hard to describe exactly why this sticks in my mind some 22 years later.

I didn't know many Catholics on a personal level before I became one, but it always seemed to me there was this "something" about them that bewildered me. And whoever this lady was we visited that day, she had it, too. She didn't realize that we were armed with the "Two-Question Test" specifically designed to trip up Catholics into confessing that they, well, weren't Protestants. "If you died tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?" Catholics inevitably say no, and then we'd whip out 1 John 5:13 and tell them that by believing in Jesus they could know they have eternal life, which we'd misunderstand as meaning the same thing as dying and going straight to heaven. Then the second question: "If God were to ask why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?" The Catholics would usually give some answer that had to do with their moral life, and then we'd pounce and tell them that it's all a matter of faith in Jesus and not about some delusion that you could earn your way to heaven, silly pagan.

I don't remember if we engaged this woman with the Two-Question Test or not. I certainly didn't, as I was generally the mute tag-along to my friend Mike who did the talking. But I remember this woman talking about her service to Christ, and her treating us as equals, as fellow Christians, and talking about her own life.

She wasn't ready to shred our beliefs like I, at least, was internally thinking about shredding hers. It didn't seem right that she wasn't on the defensive. It didn't seem right that she was open to us. All of this irritated me. She was enjoying this human exchange -- such an obnoxious Catholic thing to do! I was simply uncomfortable.

I remember others in my Fellowship citing the same uncomfortability, even around those who were now "part of us" but had once been Catholics. "There's just something there" our pastor's wife said once of her own ex-Catholic daughter-in-law, with the sense that she was talking about something deeply questionable.

Perhaps the greatest grace God can offer a person through us is to provoke questions in his or her soul.

Friday, May 11, 2012

More from Anne, a Lay Apostle's Book Lessons In Love

This is an excerpt from the book Lessons in Love: Moving Toward Divine Intimacy by Anne, a lay apostle. See for more about the apostolate of Lay Apostles of Jesus Christ the Returning King.

pp. 91-95

Suffering with Love

Suffering pain and being tempted to bitterness... how is it that these things proceed into compassion?

The divine pain includes a build-up of love that inflates like a stretched balloon inside our hearts. The experience of love increasing is one of near agony and the recipient feels as if he will be annihilated by the extent of the anguish from the love he feels.

One wonders, how did Jesus cope?

Now this love, as stated, seems to grow and grow through the recipient's life experiences of pain, bitterness, betrayal, and all things that are repugnant to us in our humanity. Who would choose such experiences? Who would sign up for them? Surely, only Jesus Christ and yet each of us who directs our steps after Him does so in willingness to accept at least some of His life experience.

On the outside we see suffering. Our humanity trembles with the weight of the suffering. At times, we are certain we will be overcome. But, if taken with heaven, our heart fills and fills and fills on the inside.

We must accept, believe, and trust that Jesus supports the soul as it is being filled and stretched to a seemingly unbearable limit. and then, the Lord Himself, at His pleasure and in accordance with His holy plan, opens a valve and love begins to flow out to others, on and on, further and further into the world, creating the most delightful and inexplicable divine ripple effect.

My brothers and sisters, how patiently Jesus has prepared us for love, how tirelessly and scrupulously He forms us, stretching the heart steadily in order to make it strong enough for its ultimate purpose, perpetual and complete intimacy, which is, as we said, a cloudburst of love.

Because this love is divine, it must flow along the river of the divine will. We, in our humanity, often would like to direct its flow toward those whom we think it would be humanly pleasing to love and be loved by. And yet Jesus, in His wisdom, puts His hand up, knowing that our love, divine in nature, will be like seeds among rocks, wasted and dishonored. Oh that we could follow His will from infancy, but then again, it is in the departures from His will that we experience the lovely reconciliation with all its opportunity for humility and compassion. God's plan is so vast.

Now, why does Jesus seem to require such searing suffering in order for us to be filled with this love? I am not sure, but I know that suffering produces compassion. Our willingness to accept suffering and humiliation for love of Christ, our refusal to turn our backs to Him or turn our gaze away from Him is what insures that this balloon will be filled. Temptation comes with suffering and persecution, it is true, but we will resist temptation with God's grace. And His compassion for the suffering of others will fill us.

Who loves like the Trinity, humanly present in the Lord's humanity? Nobody. Jesus, in not only His Passion and death but in His life, experienced a constant, steady, relentless filling of His human heart with divine love. Surely the divine pain Jesus felt must have been nearly unendurable. I believe that in some ways the Passion might have provided mystical relief, a final outpouring of love so unlimited that it became a roaring river that never diminishes.

In our own experience, we will find that the Lord opens the valve to release this love that He has packed into us, when He needs to, and therefore, because it is His, we must be willing to love whomever Jesus wants to love through us at His every whim.

Jesus, the Lover, always alert, watches His beloved. If the beloved shows signs of weariness or discouragement, the Lover moves swiftly to refresh and encourage.

There are times when the beloved, that is, each one of us present in this distinct and separate relationship with Christ, rejects assistance. We have all had the experience of someone whom we may characterize as difficult to love. Often by this we mean that someone does not find it easy to accept our love, perhaps because of a feeling that he is unlovable. There will always be those in our lives who give us the feeling that we are trying to love a cactus plant. If we get too close, we get hurt. Jesus experiences this, too, of course, with each one of us to different degrees at different times in our lives.

The Lover, Jesus Christ, feels the pain of His beloved acutely, suffering with us the pains of our humanity. How baffling for Him, humanly speaking, to be rejected, and yet how patiently He awaits acceptance. His whole presence in each relationship could be viewed, among other things, as a study in patience. We, the beloved ones, entertain so rarely the truth of the constant gaze of love that follows our every breath. This is perhaps a blessing because when the strength of the Lover's gaze is remotely understood, the beloved one can feel helplessly inadequate in the love equation. How can one return such pure love? How can one measure up, protecting the pristine nature of the exchange? Clearly, without grace, one would simply drift away, such would be the hopelessness of the situation.

To protect the relationship, Christ infuses into His beloved puffs of pure love through an action of the Holy Spirit. There is no limit to the amount of growth possible in love, even which we remain on earth.

The beloved becomes more and more disposed to the Lover and gradually, in the same way, learns to become more and more alert to the Lover's whims and communications. This is to be desired, because, even while this disposition increases the divine pain of separation, it increases the capacity for storing the treasures that come from the Lover's heart.

We must all strive to be first, recipients and then storehouses of the Lover's gifts. When others see the salutary effects of these gifts, they will also seek the Lover. This love must be accepted and stored for the benefit of this recipient, the beloved one, but also for the benefit of all those around the beloved, such are the magnificent emanations from pure love.

The Lover is always fully engaged with us. That does not and will not change. The process we desire or strive for is to enter into the gaze, to become fully engaged with Him in a constant exchange.

Distractions fade as one progresses because the walls of the gaze become more pronounced and more adept and repelling those things that seek to tear the beloved away from the process.

An action of grace from the Trinity preserves the recipient of the Savior's love.

Craving love from each other is a good thing. This makes us like Christ who craves our love. Yet, in this time, many feel ashamed that they crave love from others. The greater the love we feel for others, the greater the craving for a reciprocal response of love. Our craving does not insure that we will receive that which we crave, any more than the Lord's craving for love from each man is satisfied.

Happily, Jesus teaches us as much in rejection as He teaches us in acceptance, that is, the experience of rejection, being so consistent with the ongoing experience of Jesus Christ by humanity, enables us to further identify with the crucified Christ.

When the Lord suffered Calvary, He suffered or experienced near-total rejection. This was His experience of it in His humanity, even though we know that not all mankind rejects Christ. Did this cause Him to return rejection or abandon His love for us? No. On the contrary, in the acceptance of those who rejected Him, Jesus set an example of heavenly and unconditional love. Jesus' acceptance of the rejection of others in no way diminished His craving for the love of humanity. He craved love in both His humanity and His divinity until the moment of His death. He continues to crave our love and safety.

The more we possess Christ, the more we recognize Christ and love Him in others.

This pain of separation then extends at times to others who also possess Christ. In other words, those who have grown to love Christ identify Him in others. They respond to His presence in others, even though they may not know what it is they are drawn to or what it is they are craving. How terribly confusing at times, but how wonderfully exciting that we can have this heavenly experience to any degree at all while remaining in our humanity. This is truly another foretaste of heaven.

Dear Homilist

Dear Homilist,

I want you to tell me about Reality. Look into those readings and bring out for me what is most real, what connects these deepest realities to my life, or what can if I am open to it.

Colossians 2:17:  "Reality is found in Christ." By "that which is most real" I do not mean the concrete. I see these concrete realities. I live surrounded by them all the time. These are signs of things. They did not make themselves; they do not give themselves meaning. Ultimately, God is the Creator, and even though human beings do produce new things they themselves do not make themselves nor give themselves meaning. Reality is what comes from God alone and draws to God alone.

"Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." Yes, a firefighter does this by running into a burning building to rescue a person and therefore we should pray for these heroes and be grateful for them. But the heart of the gospel is not to just admire some other schmuck somewhere who is actually doing what Jesus asked because, heck, I sure could never do that.

Dear Homilist, please teach me how to be "the firefighter" in reality. Teach me about prayer and fasting, teach me about witnessing to the work of God in my life, laying out for public consumption all that God has poured into me. Teach me how my spiritual offerings, in union with the grace of the Holy Spirit, pour out that love of which there is none greater -- the very love of God received by me and given again. That's what truly saves lives.

We have a mission. Jesus told us to make disciples and preach the gospel to every creature. I can't do that unless I learn about Reality, which is God's immense love poured out for me and through me for the salvation of souls. Dear Homilist, please take the mission seriously. It's your job to give us the equipment to save souls by handing on the Word of God, illuminated by the Paschal Mystery. The Word needs to go into your burning brazier of love, your heart, and be ministered unto our hearts like a lit coal touching other coals. Please, please, don't tell us to be nice. I can read a fortune cookie and get that. Stoke the fire of love in us, with all the sacrifice and risk and intentionality and selflessness and ardor (and everything else) that entails for our part.

We can all get caught up looking at mere shadows. Keep your eyes on Reality, and point us there.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Grace of Intimacy

The following is an excerpt from the book Lessons in Love: Moving Toward Divine Intimacy by Anne, a lay apostle, published by Direction for our Times. For more information on this apostolate, visit

pp. 79-85

I believe intimacy is when two souls meet to the accompaniment of a special grace. This only takes place in the Lord's will. Grace creates an opening, an opportunity, and a pure exchange takes place. This can happen through words, a steady gaze, a momentary glance, or a physical touch. We know this is happening when something goes and something comes back and both are changed, altered in some way.

Here is one example of what intimacy is not.

There are times when, through proximity, we are allowed what I will call glimpses of knowing about someone. Families are the easiest place to identify this phenomenon. These moments are moments when we have light regarding another's interior condition, his pain, his vulnerabilities, his weaknesses. Usually in families and usually amongst people of good will, these glimpses of knowing create greater compassion and respect for others. In people of bad will, these glimpses will be exploited to gain power over another. It should be noted that amongst people of good will, there is emotional safety and amongst people of bad will, there is emotional danger.

The greater the goodness in people, then, generally speaking, the greater the emotional safety.

These glimpses of knowing are precious and should be protected and respected.

I draw a distinction between moments of intimacy and glimpses of knowing in order to elevate intimacy to its proper level because it is possible that a person will experience only a handful of such moments in his life.

Now the intimacy between God and man, the Savior and the saved, happens in prayer or in special moments of grace when perhaps for an instant one senses God's presence and one knows he is loved. In these moments, two beings are open, God and the person. An exchange takes place. Something goes out and returns, in grace that unites and confirms, alters and blesses. Both the Creator and the created feel joy. Great courage comes to the created one in this exchange.

With regard to intimacy between people, this exchange can be allowed by heaven for many reasons:
     To encourage each other in God's will.
     To decrease the isolation of serving in exile.
     To both teach and learn about pure heavenly love.
     To confirm a heavenly ordained bond so that God can be glorified between two people by His plan for their joint service.

In heaven, everyone is open to both giving and receiving God's pure love. It is for this reason there are no barriers in heaven.

This pure intimacy is perfectly in tune with the timelessness of heaven so it is not lost when one person dies or both die. It will always exist. It exists in the divine will which is the heavenly Kingdom, so it never passes away. Rather, when both people arrive in heaven, the intimacy between them continues and naturally advances.

There are no limitations to this love and consequent intimacy. On earth, this can take place between two children, a man and a woman, two men, two women, a parent and a child, two siblings or a husband and wife. Intimacy is in no way limited.

In this way, we understand that there can be a marriage with no intimacy because of a lack of openness to God's grace.

Saints experience this giving and loving constantly in heaven and people experience it steadily on earth as they increase in holiness. Such joy is available to God's children.

Because this experience is so special, it stands out. Many recall these moments, even if they do not understand exactly what took place. These moments can come at times of great suffering, great joy, at moments of sorrow, or simply moments of quiet. Intimacy usually sneaks up on two people when they least expect it, startling both with its intensity.

Now a husband and wife in a sacramental union are intended to share moments of intimacy such as this. The grace will be available to them but it must be accepted by both people and then shared. It is a flowing out of this grace that can take place during the physical expression of sexuality in a marriage, but it is not a given that such a flowing out takes place as many are open to the physical expression of sexuality but not open to the emotional and spiritual expression of love in their sexuality.

To depart from marriage, we must deal with the situation where God wills and then allows intimacy between and man and a woman who are not husband and wife. There clearly should be no physical expression of sexuality between them. This is a given, of course, but it must be stated, particularly at this time in history as it seems that we are able to talk ourselves into just about anything. Any sexual expression between the two people not in a sacramental union must be considered as a misfire, a mistake which takes away from the heavenly goals of the intimacy as opposed to taking the two further into the goals of the intimacy.

Both parties in this situation know this instinctively. Sexual actions outside of God's will can only damage intimacy. We see this in worldly relationships. Premature sexual sharing endangers relationships as opposed to strengthening them and this is a misuse of God's treasure.

Intimacy is a foretaste of heaven and moments when pure love is exchanged in intimacy are timeless and ageless. These moments are preserved, never to be lost. In heaven, we will begin with these moments with each other and proceed deeper into them as well as proceeding in pure love and intimacy with others. All relationships in heaven are this way, that is, they are perfectly intimate because each soul is united to Christ so it is Christ united with a soul that loves Christ united to another soul. This is possible here on earth. The greater our unity with Christ, the greater our capacity to recognize and love Christ in others.


The Creator created each one of us with such love and such tenderness. The bod between God and each one of us is there, even when it is not honored by us in our humanity. The Father's total devotion to each one of us is actively expressed in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ crucified in the timelessness or the eternal present that is truth, longs for comfort from each one of us personally. The hunger of the Lover for the beloved can only be satisfied by one person, that is, the beloved. It is not possible for any one or any thing to provide the consolation that can quench the thirst poor Jesus crucified feels for each one of us. God, in His pure love, desires a love response from each of us in this way.

Imagine the Lord's painful longing on the cross. Because of this true bond of intimacy, between the Creator and the created, God is vulnerable to being wounded in the person of Jesus Christ. The longing He feels for each one of us insures that He feels a painful craving for, as an example, my love. My love and devotion will satisfy His longing for me, but it will not satisfy His hunger for the reader's love.

I am saying that our devotion to Him will console Him in His pain, but nothing can replace His ache for each individual and this is why the vertical relationship between Jesus Christ and each person is irreplaceable and unrepeatable.


We want to be everything we can for Him, understanding that the Lord craves love from each member of humanity. to satisfy Him, something that becomes our heart's greatest desire, we seek to obtain for Him all that His heart desires and that includes each of our brothers and sisters. This, my friends, is why we work to bring souls to Jesus. Our love for Him and our love for them, our brothers and sisters, prompts us always to seek reunion between each of them and Jesus Christ. Our love for each of our brothers and sisters is part of the pure love that flows out from the Father and is returned by us.

When we love someone with pure love, we want them to experience joy and safety and peace and security. We want them to know they are loved and to possess this love in their heart. There is no greater joy for one who loves than to see the object of his love happy and secure, at peace with themself. The true lover desires this so much that he becomes selfless in his love. He becomes disinterested in even staking a claim on the happiness possessed by the beloved. I am reminded of St. Therese saying that she did not care if Jesus knew that the sacrifices that consoled Him came from her. This stated, the purity of love is such that it insures a connection between the two.


Upon examination of these relationships, the world I would sue to describe them is secure. These secure love relationships allow the beloved, meaning each one of us, to proceed out and continue returning love for hostility. God is all love so He can only love, but we, as His apostles, provide for Jesus so many sources of grace obtained and drawn from our sacrifices and our efforts to align our wills to His. God draws from our holiness to convert others. It is all about love expressing itself in commitment and ongoing sacrifice to the commitment. We must be like Jesus, the Lover, who exhibits the perfect willingness to suffer for His beloved ones, even at the hands of those beloved ones.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

May 1 Message from Anne, a Lay Apostle

On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.

May 1, 2012
My dear apostles, be assured that the Father blesses your work. You may not see the blessings that are given to your work. You may not see the advances that come for the Kingdom because of your work. But the Father blesses both the servant and the service, day after day. Remember that without the full knowledge of the Father's plan, you lack the ability to evaluate the impact Heaven is achieving through your service. Dear apostles, so committed to Me, please trust that the Savior is bringing about exactly what is needed for the Father. Serve on and I will continue to bring you courage when you need courage. I will bring you strength when you need strength. Please do not be tempted to think that there is only a limited amount of strength or courage and that you will run out of these things one day. I, looking through time, watched you serving Me faithfully, and from the cross I obtained every possible grace that you would need. If you have a struggle tomorrow, then you know that I have already obtained the grace for you to both endure it and overcome it. By overcoming it I do not mean that you will not suffer because, as you know, your King suffered. No. that is not what I mean. We are working together and we are suffering together. I suffered on the cross and you honor My suffering as you suffer through your life. Truly, I say to you, that when I suffered on the cross I honored your suffering and created for you a way. We are humble in suffering, dear apostles. We are humble in service. And when you come to Me and I present you to the Father as a faithful servant, you will be humble in the great triumph that will be ours to share for eternity. I am with you. I will not leave you to suffer alone.