Seeing in New Ways

In the Gospels Jesus often asks seemingly useless questions. He asks a blind man, “Do you want to see?” He asks a leper, “What do you want me to do for you?” He asks a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years and is sitting by the side of the sheep pool, “Do you want to be made well?” What answer was Jesus expecting?


If we are suffering with anxiety or depression, or just trying to to survive these last months of 2020, the attempt to just survive can contract our personal universe to a “safe” size. Our thinking patterns can become caught in overcontrolled ruts. We lose flexibility in favor of the fight/flight/freeze mechanism that leads to hypervigilance and shutdown.

Jesus invites us to see in new ways.

From My Journal

O Love
My One only

heart within Heart
sight within Sight
taste within Taste
touch within Touch
silence within Silence
lightening within Listening
delight within Delight
prayer within Prayer
resting within Rest

“Oh my darling, what happiness it is to live in intimacy with God, to make our life a heart-to-heart, an exchange of love, when we know how to find the Master in the depths of our soul. Then we are never alone anymore, and need solitude to enjoy the presence of the adored Guest.” (Elizabeth of the Trinity, one of her letters)

September 11 – Always Remember

This September 11 my Facebook is inundated with photos and stories and the determination that we “Never Forget”…

Never forget the terror attacks that took nearly 3,000 lives.

Never forget the lives we lost.

Never forget the courage of first responders who risked—and sacrificed—their lives to save those fleeing burning buildings.

Never forget the images that have burned themselves into our memories of that early September morning in 2001 when so much changed for our country.

This year as we celebrate Patriots Day we are also still reeling from the trauma of 2020 with no clear end in sight to everything tearing at the heart of our country. I feel God asking me to open my heart even further, to hold in the stillness of prayerful silence the darkness and pain so many are suffering in these months. To embrace in the refuge of my heart the never ending flow of people he wishes to direct to my spiritual hospitality.

How will we ever be able to forget 2020? Some of us are more directly suffering greater loss than others. Others are carrying the added burden of depression and anxiety which are become a mental health pandemic of their own.

We probably all wish we could close our eyes and pretend these things never happened. If only, magically, life could return to the way it was….

Instead, my Friends, let us walk forward, steadfastly, deeply grounded in God’s presence.

Here is a prayer from the book The Celtic Vision which helps me remember that God shields me with his all-encompassing love. His love is like a blanket that keeps me warm, safe, and close to him:

The compassing of God and His right hand
Be upon my form and upon my frame;
The compassing of the High King and the grace of the Trinity
Be upon me abiding ever eternally,
Be upon me abiding ever eternally.
May the compassing of the Three shield me in my means,
The compassing of the Three shield me this day,
The compassing of the Three shield me this night
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill,
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill.

Never forget…. And my heart cries out, “And always remember!”

Always remember that God is faithful.
Always remember that people are good.
Always remember that we can make a difference.
Always remember that a new day will come.

So today, let us pray:

Lord Jesus, Prince of peace,
we see our chaotic world today
with its anguish and fear.
We feel ourselves vulnerable
because we, too, are prisoners of the uncertainties
and difficulties of our history.
We raise our hands to you,
in this darkest of nights,
and entrust all humanity to you.
We are threatened by the storms of war,
but we want to remain unshaken
in the certainty that a new day will come;
because you, Lord, are always at work,
even when all is cold and dark around us.
Help us to think of peace, to hope in peace,
to live as persons of peace, and to build peace around us;
to promote a hospitable and welcoming culture,
and justice for the entire world.
Be with all those throughout the world
who suffer persecution for your name.
Give them courage in their adversities and strength to persevere in faith.
Enable us to nurture reconciliation and forgiveness,
so that peace may penetrate our thoughts and feelings,
making us credible signs of understanding and communion.
Lord, you conquered violence and death that we may live.
Help us become living icons of your love,
so that peace may truly be the home for all.


Prayer from Live Christ! Give Christ!

Tabernacle of the Heart III: “You are like a lily growing in the valley”

“I’m overshadowed by his love,
growing in the valley!”
“Yes, you are my darling companion.
You stand out from all the rest.
For though the curse of sin surrounds you,
still you remain as pure as a lily,
even more than all the others.” (Song of Songs 2:1-2 TPT)

The valley, in this passage, is that dark and sorrowed place where the curse of sin has run rampant as weeds taking over a garden.

I have had valleys in my life.

Valleys of illness. Valleys of weakness and limitation. Valleys of disappointment. Valleys of sin.

The Lover whispers to his Beloved in the Song of Songs:

“For though the curse of sin surrounds you,
still you remain as pure as a lily…
growing in the valley.”

In the deepest valleys of our life we remain united to Jesus, tabernacles of God’s abiding on earth. Even in the valleys of our failure and our sorrow, we are beautiful to him. Lilies.

Lilies are white, symbols of purity.

I wondered for years how I could be a lily when I knew I was no longer perfectly clean as on the day of my Baptism. Jesus knows that we will journey into the valley where we will be scratched by thorns, confused, lost, manipulated. We’ll make detours. Mistake weeds for flowers. Be bitten by insects. Fall in the heat of the valley.

We all carry within us the virus of the Fall.

We begin immature and self-centered as any child, and any neophyte in the spiritual life. As lilies of the valley we are small flowers, often hidden in the midst of the weeds of the valley. But not hidden to our Lover.

He can see us. He overshadows us with his love.
He knows our hearts.
He knows every part of the journey we’ve been on, and everything to come.
He knows that we depend on his love. That we can’t achieve anything on our own.
He reaches into the thorns to find us, his lilies, his companions.

The cross is the symbol of the valley, his arms outstretched and nailed to the wood show us the extent he will go to find and save us and claim us for himself.

He arrays us in beauty: “Observe how the lilies of the field grow” (Mt. 6:28).

Catherine Doherty, the founder of Madonna House Apostolate, is an example of living as the lily in the valley of failure and deep rejection. Catherine Kolyschkine was born in Nizhny-Novgorod, Russia, on August 15, 1896 to wealthy and deeply Christian parents. Raised in a devout aristocratic family, she grew up knowing that Christ lives in the poor, and that ordinary life is meant to be holy. Her father’s work enabled the family to travel extensively in Catherine’s youth. At the age of 15, she married her cousin, Boris de Hueck. Soon, the turmoil of World War I sent them both to the Russian front: Boris as an engineer, Catherine as a nurse.

The Russian Revolution destroyed the world as they knew it. Catherine and Boris became refugees, fleeing first to England, and then in 1921, to Canada, where their son George was born. In the following years she experienced grinding poverty as she laboured to support her ailing husband and child. After years of painful struggle, her marriage to Boris fell apart; later her marriage was annulled by the Church.

Catherine’s talent as a speaker was discovered by an agent from a lecture bureau. She began travelling across North America, and became a successful lecturer. Once again she became wealthy—but she was not at peace. The words of Christ pursued her relentlessly: “Sell all you possess, and come, follow Me.” On October 15, 1930 Catherine renewed a promise she had made to God during her ordeal in the revolution, and gave her life to Him. She marked this as the day of the beginning of her Apostolate. With the blessing of Archbishop Neil McNeil of Toronto, Catherine sold all her possessions and provided for her son, George. In the early 1930’s she went to live a hidden life in the slums of Toronto, desiring to console her beloved Lord as a lay apostle by being one with his poor.

As she implemented this radical Gospel way of life, young men and women came to join her. They called themselves Friendship House, and lived the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the members of Friendship House responded to the needs of the time.

Misunderstanding and calumny plagued Catherine all of her life. False but persistent rumours about her and the working of Friendship House forced its closing in 1936. Catherine left Toronto, feeling her work had failed. Through the seeming failure and great disappointments, she heard the voice of Christ beckoning her to share His suffering.

Soon after she left Toronto, Father John LaFarge, S.J., a well-known Civil Rights Movement leader in the U.S., invited Catherine to open a Friendship House in Harlem. In February, 1938, she accepted his request, and soon the Harlem Friendship House was bursting with activity. Catherine saw the beauty of the Black people and was horrified by the injustices being done to them. She travelled the country decrying racial discrimination against Blacks.

In the midst of widespread rejection and persecution, she found support from Cardinal Patrick Hayes and Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York. In Harlem, a small community formed around her, but again, her work ended in failure. Divisions developed among the staff of Friendship House and in January, 1947, they out-voted Catherine on points she considered essential to the apostolate. Seeing this as a rejection of her vision of Friendship House, she stepped down as Director General.

On May 17, 1947, Catherine came to Combermere, Ontario, Canada, with her second husband, American journalist Eddie Doherty, whom she had married in 1943. Catherine was shattered by the rejection of Friendship House and thought she had come to Ontario to retire. Instead, the most fruitful and lasting phase of her apostolic life was about to begin. As she was recovering from the trauma, Catherine began to serve those in need in the Combermere area, first as a nurse and then through neighbourly services. She and Eddie also established a newspaper, Restoration, and eventually began a training centre for the Catholic lay apostolate.

At a summer school of Catholic Action that Catherine organized in 1950, Fr. John Callahan came to teach. He was to become Catherine and Eddie’s spiritual director and the first priest member of Madonna House. Under his guidance, in February 1951, they made an act of consecration to Jesus through Mary, according to St. Louis de Montfort. Mary, Mother of the Church, became guide to their lives and to their apostolate.

Catherine’s lifelong passion to console Christ in others propelled her forward. Again young men and women asked to join her. Graces abounded. In October 1951, Catherine attended the first Lay Congress in Rome. The Papal Secretary, Msgr. Montini (later to become Pope Paul VI) encouraged Catherine and her followers to consider making a permanent commitment.

On April 7, 1954, those living in Combermere voted to embrace a permanent vocation with promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, and the community of Madonna House was established. The following year, Catherine and Eddie took a promise of chastity and lived celibate lives thereafter. From these offerings, an explosion of life took place and Madonna House grew. On June 8, 1960, Bishop William Smith of Pembroke offered the Church’s approval to the fledgling community at the blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere.

Catherine had a faith vision for the restoration of the Church and our modern culture at a time when the de-Christianization of the Western world was already well advanced. She brought the spiritual intuitions of the Christian East to North America. Lay men and women as well as priests came to Madonna House to live the life of a Christian family: the life of Nazareth. They begged for what they needed and gave the rest away. At the invitation of bishops, they opened houses in rural areas and cities in North and South America, Europe, Russia, Africa, and the West Indies.

I found this prayer of hers, doubtless written during a sleepless night, moving:

The night was dark. I lay awake. Does anyone understand the horror of dark nights, when all is quiet as if it were dead? I faced the past and shuddered; the future and shrank. Seventeen long years of pain and suffering, seventeen years of hell, and nobody knows! Indeed, I am a failure in all things—in married life, in motherhood, in any work for humanity.

Lord, as I think of all these failures, I wonder if by any chance it would be possible to find anyone who has made a bigger mess of life than I. I am sure not! Jesus, Master of all things, how do you stand such as I?

Oh, I am not complaining about my fate. How could I? For all that has come to me is well-deserved because I am such a sinner. My sins are always with me and before me, as are the graces I have lost. I often think of these graces. Are they lying there, crying, because I haven’t made use of them? Or have they been picked up by chance? Who will know the end of this mystery? Death alone will solve it.
— April 25, 1937

Brian Simmons in his book The Sacred Journey states that we are to be lilies not merely in a vase, but lilies among thorns: “when the curse of sin surrounds you.” Although we may not have experienced the type of failure that Catherine Doherty lived during her life, all of us have met rejection and felt we’ve made a mess of something in our life. We may cry out, “But, Lord, I am hurt as I walk among the thorns.”

The mystery of your heart will only reveal itself in time as your give yourself over to, as your align yourself with, the Divine Designs for your life that unfold even among the thorns. The lily of the field remains small and pure, simple and simply at the service of the One who knows and cares about its destiny and the way he will use her to be love in a world so desperately in need of his love.

Photo by Océane George on Unsplash

We are Mary’s beloved children and she won’t turn us away

As the summer slips into fall, we are experiencing more and more moments of uncertainty and fear. What will the rest of this year bring? To be honest, right now, we might feel afraid. The world is an uncertain place. We worry about the safety of those we love. And our emotions? Mine are on a roller coaster. I struggle with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, and that means that even in the best of times I experience radical emotional ups and downs—so you can imagine what I’m feeling now!

It’s not just me, though. Everyone knows what it’s like when we can’t seem to fit what’s happening in our lives into the previous plan we had for ourselves and others.

But with this new month, Our Lord is offering us comfort in the midst of our distress: he is putting our beings, our lives, our worries, everything into the loving arms of his Mother. September brings us beautiful Marian feasts, some of which aren’t very well-known. For instance, this past Tuesday we celebrated Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd. On September 8th we’ll celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On September 15th we mark the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. There are other Marian celebrations in these early days of September, including the Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 12th, and Marian titles that are celebrated locally in cathedrals, monasteries, and cities, such as Our Lady of the Woods in Galloro (September 5th), and Our Lady of Good News in Sicily (September 16th).

Think about how a mother protects her child, soothes its brow, distracts it with songs of maternal love, enfolds it in caring. Our Mother will enfold us, all of us, in her special caring. Just as children run to their mothers to kiss their “boo-boos” away, so can we run to our Mother and pour out our fears, our pain, our distress. She will listen. She will care. We are her own beloved children and she will not turn us away.

The Feast of Mary’s Nativity and the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows are two twin celebrations that can bring comfort to us in these September days. Traditionally the seven sorrows of Mary are these:

  1. The prophecy of Simeon
  2. The flight into Egypt
  3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple
  4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
  5. The crucifixion
  6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
  7. The burial of Jesus

Each of these was a moment when Mary had to let go of her plans or any ideas she may have had of what she thought should be happening.  

Our “sorrows”—and there are many of them in these months of the pandemic and racial unrest—are similar. We think we know who we are and what God is asking us to do and we do our best to make that happen. And at the very moment when we feel sure, secure, pleased with ourselves, the plans break down, sometimes mercifully so.

Sometimes we may feel that when things are falling apart that we are falling apart, that our life is falling apart. But the call that God had given to Mary at her nativity, the joy of heaven at the birth of the one who would be the Mother of God, endured through the sorrows she bore in her life.

Our sorrows don’t change who we are.

They may be a moment of transition and transformation. We may grieve our loss and mourn through periods of desert journeying, but our sorrows do not negate the dream God had for us as we came forth from his creative Love, a dream he is bringing about in us even now. That is something important to remember.

From the celebration of Mary’s Nativity, we can remember that at our birth also  God’s pristine plans for our good and his delight are imprinted in our destiny. Again and again, we have to remind ourselves to let our plans go in order to let the eternally desired destiny willed by God for us to unfold.

Marian feast days come from a long and venerable tradition within the Church of honoring the Virgin Mary in her different ways of being with God, with Jesus, and with the world. Her love extends to all of us in all our ways.

If you are wondering what your life is meant to be—or that of someone else you care about—if carefully laid plans or self-images are falling apart, look back to the moment of creation and birth. The Trinity sang a song over you, has a plan for you, desired you, delights in you even now and will forever. The breaking apart of all we think should be is often the divine path back to the source of our own beauty, call, and happiness.

Holy Mary, help those in need.
Give strength to the weak,
comfort the sorrowful,
pray for God’s people.
May all who seek your help
experience your unfailing protection.