Called to be Extraordinary

Last August, our family received an unexpected, extraordinary blessing–my husband, Peter, was invested as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) at Christ the King Parish.

lay minister

My husband, the youngest in the group (also the one with the least amount of hair, go figure).

The invitation came subtlely enough–after noticing Peter in line for Confession before Sunday Mass, one of the existing ministers approached him to ask if he would like to serve as a Lay Minister. A thought he never really entertained before, Peter politely thanked him for the invitation and said he would have to check his schedule, or “try” to make it to the monthly formation sessions, or some other vague answer to mask his decline. Luckily, Brother/Kuya Robert was gently persistent, regularly texting and emailing my husband, inviting, encouraging, reminding.

As the weeks, months, wore on, Peter found himself having a change of mind (and heart) on the matter. A clincher was when Kuya Robert happened to mention in one email that one of the things that prompted him to approach Peter in the first place was the impression that he was a good father (as he would see how Peter was with the kids during Sunday Mass). This comment came just a few days after we had learned that I was again expecting, meaning that we (I more than he) were in the middle of all the emotional struggle that went along with the news of yet another pregnancy.

It was a confirmation in more ways than one.

And Peter, to his surprise, found himself blessed beyond expectations. The monthly formation sessions were more than enlightening (touching on such topics as confession, Mary, and angels, among others), and the brotherhood he found with these (mostly more senior) Catholic men is heartwarming. Just the other day, I was introduced to Kuya Jerry, and was touched when this complete stranger told me that he has been offering his daily rosary for the healthy and safe delivery of my baby.

A Holy Fraternity.

A Holy Fraternity.

As a single woman who had discerned if marriage was the vocation for me, I remember having prayed for a man after God’s own heart, one who would love Him and serve Him, one who would really lead our family closer to Christ and His Church. After 8 years of marriage, I see how God continues to stay true to His promise. And what I said to Peter all those years before still holds true today–that falling in love with him (everyday) just makes me fall in love with God even more.

I honor you, Peter, for always being grateful for the gifts God has given you; for honoring Him with your time, talent and treasure; for keeping Him at the center not just of our family but also of your career; for allowing His Spirit to move in your life, molding you into the Christian servant you are; for answering His call to give more, do more, be more; for inspiring our kids, and myself, to do the same.

What a wonderfully fitting way to celebrate the Year of the Laity!

The Year of the Laity, as declared by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, for the Liturgical Year 2013-2014

I’m sure the kids all agree with me–you are our hero 🙂


So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 3

(Finally, 3 months later. If you need to hit the refresh button, revisit related posts here, here and here.)

Around a decade ago, our community conducted a Life in the Spirit Seminar at a retreat house run by the Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation. During the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (a communal prayer in which we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit–which we received at our Sacramental Baptism–to be stirred up in us in a real and renewing way), the very hospitable sisters obliged when we requested for the Blessed Sacrament to be present for this activity.

Now, if you know what communal prayer means for charismatics, you’ll know that it is anything but silent. There is singing, raising of hands, spontaneous praising, speaking in tongues…people kneeling, standing, prostrate on the floor. Even back then, I understood that not everyone was comfortable with this kind of prayer, and no doubt some would raise eyebrows over the fact that this was how we prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. Not wanting to offend the sisters who were our hosts for the weekend, I asked a fellow servant at that retreat to call the sister to come and bring the Eucharist out of the room at my signal. I wanted to make sure that when she arrived, we would more or less have settled down after the climax of praise.

But for some reason, things didn’t go as planned, and Sister entered the room right in the middle of high praise. There was laughing, crying, praising, singing–everyone was just drunk with the Spirit, with the Eucharist right at the center of it all. As the one leading the worship that time, I couldn’t help but glance sideways at Sister by the door: oh no, oh no, oh no, what could she be thinking? Finally, the praising slowly faded into silence, I led them in prayer, then in song, then we all bowed down before our Lord.

We waited for Sister to make her way to the center of the room, but she remained frozen where she was. I thought, Oh no, was she that bothered, that scandalized by what she witnessed? After a few more minutes (which seemed like eternity), she carefully walked over and reverently retrieved the Blessed Sacrament.

When the retreat ended later that afternoon, I made it a point to go and thank Sister personally for having us, and wanted to explain (although I didn’t know how I was going to do it) what happened during the Baptism. As soon as she saw me approaching her, she gave me the warmest smile and, to my surprise, gave me a big hug. “You pray so well! I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to stay there and listen to your songs. It was like there were angels singing!”

And I just hugged her right back with all my might.

One of the stumbling blocks to a harmonious Church, at least when it comes to liturgy, is the notion that one has to choose sides–those that champion a more vertical orientation (traditionalists, orthodoxy) and those that fight for a more horizontal one (let’s call them progressives). One reader, after expressing his opinion that widening the horizontal reach should be considered more important, in the same breath admitted that the Church would cease to be relevant if it neglected to point us to a higher standard. After vacillating to and fro, his conclusion was no conclusion–that this tug-of-war will ultimately hit a deadlock every time, and that the only solution was compromise (which he argues, isn’t really a solution as it entails some degree of giving in from one or both sides).

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. –G.K. Chesterton

I agree, compromise isn’t the solution. But perhaps another “middle-ground” word better fits the bill: BALANCE. To realize that both orientations are able to teach us something, to have that openness to the possibility that we may not have all the answers. To ensure that in every celebration and in every occasion for worship, careful attention is given to BOTH the vertical and the horizontal. No, not a vertical that alienates nor a horizontal that tolerates, but one that challenges and embraces, respectively.

To be so open to the Holy Spirit that we are able to see and recognize worship that is pleasing to our Lord. Whether it be this–

Or this–

A Church that is both vertical and horizontal, teaching each other, and learning from each other. Giving the Father always what is best, what is true, what is sacred.

So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 2

(Related posts here and here.)

I am a Catholic Charismatic. I serve in the Praise and Worship Ministry of my community.

This means that I am very much used to leading a congregation in spontaneous prayer, even spontaneous singing (i.e. singing with words and music made up on the spot). The Charismatic Renewal is mainly about being aware (sensitive might be a better word) of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life and in the world, and consequently seeking to be led by the Spirit in one’s daily living. This surrender to the Spirit naturally translates to how a Charismatic prays, which may involve the raising of hands, expressive singing, spoken prayer, as well as praying in tongues. This is why you will rarely see a Charismatic leading prayer by reading from a pre-written speech. We trust that we will be given the words to say as led by the Spirit (see Romans 8:26).

From Catholic Center for Charismatic Renewal, Archdiocese of San Antonio

This description may seem to completely go against the idea of using “formula” prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, and basically the Mass as a whole. But allow me to share with you what the culture of the Charismatic Renewal did for me, and how it changed the way I celebrated Mass.

I think the shortest way to tell this story is to quote the past 3 popes on what they thought of the movement.

The Catholic charismatic movement is one of the many fruits of the Second Vatican Council, which, like a new Pentecost, led to an extraordinary flourishing in the Church’s life of groups and movements particularly sensitive to the action of the Spirit. How can we not give thanks for the precious spirituals fruits that the Renewal has produced in the life of the Church and in the lives of so many people? How many lay faithful—men, women, young people, adults and elderly—have been able to experience in their own lives the amazing power of the Spirit and his gifts! How many people have rediscovered faith, the joy of prayer, the power and beauty of the Word of God, translating all this into generous service in the Church’s mission! How many lives have been profoundly changed! For all this today, together with you, I wish to praise and thank the Holy Spirit. —Blessed Pope John Paul II, to the National Service Committee of the Italian “Renewal in the Spirit,” Rome, Italy, 4 April 1998

The Movements and New Communities are like an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in contemporary society. We can, therefore, rightly say that one of the positive elements and aspects of the Community of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is precisely their emphasis on the charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit and their merit lies in having recalled their topicality in the Church. —Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, at the meeting of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities, Rome, Italy, 31 October 2008

I don’t think that the charismatic renewal movement merely prevents people from passing over to Pentecostal denominations…No! It is also a service to the church herself! It renews us.–Pope Francis, en route to Rome from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, 28 July 2013

(Quotes taken from ICCRS and CNS.)

Hope, Faith, Love.

There are 3 words in “Catholic Charismatic Renewal.” And while some catholics might question the “Catholic” and squirm uncomfortably at the external signs of “Charismatic,” very few can deny that there is a true “Renewal” taking place (go here to read some true-to-life stories of renewal). And that was what the movement did for me: it opened my eyes, ears and heart to the spirit behind the prayers, removing the veil of familiarity and allowing me to discover the movement of the Spirit in the composition of these prayers that I had been hearing (but probably not listening to) since I was a child. Sure, I can pray with my own words “as led by the Spirit,” but I believe it is the same Spirit directing my heart towards Heaven as I fervently recite a centuries-old prayer that was written by someone also led by the Spirit.

The Renewal is not just a way for the Spirit to teach us a new way to pray/worship, it teaches us how we are supposed to pray in the first place–led by the Spirit, and filled with the Spirit.

I firmly believe that any Catholic Charismatic who is called to deeper faith will appreciate and embrace the magnificent beauty of the Liturgy (with all its rules), and of the Church as a whole. And any community that does not lead its members Rome-ward must ask themselves what still makes them Catholic.

Love for the Church and submission to her Magisterium, in the process of maturing in the Church supported by a solid permanent formation are relevant signs of your intention to avoid the risk of favoring, unwittingly, a purely emotional experience of the divine, an excessive pursuit of the “extraordinary” and a private withdrawal that may shrink from apostolic outreach. —Blessed Pope John Paul II, during the National Congress of the Italian “Renewal In the Spirit,” Rimini, Italy, 14 March 2002

Pray, worship–with all the life and zeal and joy of the charismatic renewal. But take on the responsibility of attaining a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Church–Her Creed, Cult (Liturgy) and Code. It is well and good that the heart behind our worship is evident–why not engage the mind as well? It can only lead us closer to worshiping the Lord in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24).

You must love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. –Mark 12:30

Let those who know, love. And let those who love, know–that they might love even better.

Two sides, with two different temptations. What is the answer, then? Not one, nor the other, but BALANCE. More on this in Part 3!

So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 1

Last week, I wrote a post about the dilemma of Liturgy being either too vertical or too horizontal. I must admit, I was a bit nervous over how some of my readers from the West–mostly Catholic bloggers themselves and mostly (if we’re naming them) veering towards the right side of the liturgical spectrum–would react. I’ve read enough from their blogs to gather that there is much disdain towards radical changes in Liturgy, and though some won’t say it, over a lot of the changes brought about by Vatican II. I deeply respect these readers and writers (and not just because *cough, cough* they follow my blog), which is why what they’ve written had me struggling with my own faith expressed through Liturgy. It was an honest searching I was led to, and am still on. And while I cannot say I already have the complete picture (there should never be an end to learning), I feel the instance I shared immediately prior to this post was a milestone for me, as far as knowing where I stand is concerned.

So with a deep breath (and a Hail Mary), I clicked on the publish button. And waited if anyone would unfollow me.

To my surprise, no one did (as far as I know…do those show up in notifications?). What’s more, I saw a number of those bloggers actually like my post (I don’t get a lot of those). Well, well, pat on the back, well done, Pauline!

Until some FB contacts messaged me to say that they liked it, too. And, since we’ve already named them, suffice to say they most probably belong to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Hmm, a post that managed to please everybody. Can only mean one of either 2 things: that I’m a really, really good writer…or a really, really spineless one.

So, for the record, here is where I stand.

I love Liturgy. I love that what we do every Sunday has ties to rituals that date as far back as the early Christian communities. I love how it is so rich in symbols and poetry, and that it is the beautiful marriage of Scripture and Tradition. I love that, no matter where you are in the world, even if the mass is celebrated in a language you do not speak, a Catholic can still follow what’s going on, know when to kneel, sit or stand, and receive the same extraordinary grace being offered at every mass across all nations. And not to forget, that apart from all these, the mass is the Mass–Christ’s Sacramental giving of Himself to all those who hunger and thirst for something bigger and beyond anything this world can offer. If only for this, I love the Mass.

And because it is Sacrament–a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace–it is but fitting that we give our utmost in ensuring that the Liturgy we follow is appropriate, is commensurate to the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated. And this is how we must see efforts to elevate the celebration in its vertical orientation: while we can never truly give God the kind of heavenly worship He deserves, it won’t stop us from trying to get as close to that level of worship as possible.

And that is how, even though I was born pre-Vatican II, I feel I can appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass, and Sacred (Latin) music. It is called sacred for a reason–it is a language, music and way of doing things specifically set apart for this purpose. And when done reverently, deliberately, devotedly? Wow. Chills down my spine.

And this is how I choose to think of these staunch defenders of the “traditional way”–they are pushing us, not letting us give anything less than the best, the highest we can give (thank God for that…and for them).

Now, here’s where the “however” comes in.

We must not forget why we set these rules, these standards in the first place. We do so because we want to leave little room for halfhearted, empty worship. But we must also realize that we do not have the same vantage point as God’s, who “does not see as human beings see…but looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Who are we to say that this worshiper singing the Our Father with her hands lifted up is not singing from the heart, or that this penitent touching the feet of Christ’s image on the cross is not desperately seeking His pardon and healing? Our eyes can only see what the body does, and our ears can only hear what the mouth speaks. Perhaps for most of the time, this perception is sufficient to spot those who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far away from Him (Isaiah 29:13), but for a certain remainder of worshipers, we cannot see what the Lord sees, and therefore cannot tell them that their worship is not fitting, not pleasing to the King.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up. –Luke 18:10-14

Don’t. Be. A. Pharisee.

There is a place for rules in Liturgy. But when it comes down to choosing between the rules and the person–the heart that is worshiping–choose the person. Consider the heart.

I really didn’t expect this to be as long as this. But, to reiterate, there really is so much to be said. Hope to see you soon for Part 2. But till then, here’s something you might want to read. I actually found myself echoing the sentiments I’ve already written about here.

The Cross is both Horizontal and Vertical

Since early this year, I have been mulling over a particular issue like a piece of corn stuck in between your teeth–refusing to be ignored, demanding your full attention to pick at it until it finally comes out and you get to see just how big it is. These past few months, I think I’ve finally plucked it out, and am beginning to see that it was a much bigger piece of corn (lodged in an even bigger gap between my teeth) than I had originally thought.

vatican daily

It all began during the coverage of the papal conclave last March. During one of the many episodes of Vatican Daily shown over EWTN, I chanced upon an interview with prominent blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (or Fr. Z). One of the topics covered included the implementation of the Roman Missal’s new English translation, and it was during this exchange that I first heard the phrase that eventually snowballed into months of searching, praying and contemplating for me: bad liturgy.

I was curious from the get-go, but quite unsure where to look or whom to ask about it. Months later however, the persistent little piece of corn wouldn’t go away. As if serendipitously, I found myself coming across articles and blog posts talking, again, about bad liturgy. More than one writer has defined such as trite homilies, empty hymns, even hand-holding during the singing of The Lord’s Prayer (something I thought was done only here in the Philippines)–basically anything that, they feel, falls short of the reverence and careful attention that is due the Mass.

Shallow sermons, singing that distracts rather than delivers? Oh yeah, I know about those. But to add hand-holding to the list made me think back to the charismatic masses I’ve attended over the years, masses that involved clapping, spontaneous praising (even during consecration), and hand-raising…have we been guilty of making the liturgy *gulp* bad?

No words.

Bad liturgy in its most obvious, haphazard form is easy to identify–a priest who takes too many inappropriate liberties, a commentator (again, not sure if this is an exclusively Filipino function) who, bless her heart, insists on leading the singing, even if it’s in a key only she can sing, a lector who brings drama and suspense to the reading of the Word, and a choir who thinks they’re singing at a concert and not at mass. When a servant draws more attention to himself than to God, in the everyday but more so at Mass, then the heart is far away from God (or at the very least, not as close as it should be).

But during those rare occasions (I’d say I could count them all with one hand) that I attended a truly charismatic liturgy, with a priest leading the congregation in Spirit-filled and Spirit-led worship that was joyful, heartfelt, moving and still reverent all at the same time, with a choir singing in unison with the whole congregation, each one with hearts and hands lifted up, every single person worshiping, loving, belonging–there was no one but Jesus at the center of these gatherings. Heart, mind and body all engaged in magnifying the Lord, in awe of His glorious Presence, ecstatic over His gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

Were those occasions, by any definition, bad liturgy?

I then did some reading: on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s actions to make the Traditional Latin Mass more accessible to those who might seek it, on Pope Paul VI’s post-Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass (the only mass I’ve every known, really). Eventually, I was also reading articles and documents on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal as a whole (like I said, that piece of corn turned out to be bigger than expected).

I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the mass. The radical changes brought about by Vatican II understandably and certainly made the Church’s horizontal reach wider and more accessible–people are more involved in the serving and the celebrating than they would have been in a Traditional Latin Mass. But what if these changes, in an effort to reach out more, brought down more than what they bargained for?

In the Church’s efforts to become more horizontal, has it messed with our orientation towards the vertical? Should the Mass, in the first place, primarily be horizontal, or vertical in its direction?

Having been a Catholic all my life, a part of me wanted to stand and fight for Tradition, for universality, for carefully prescribed order. But having been renewed and enriched within the Charismatic movement, I couldn’t just dismiss the importance of charismatic worship.

This is how I pray. Am I doing it wrong?

There is so much to be said about this topic, many things I’ve read about, and even more that I believe God has allowed me to see with eyes both informed and renewed. But let me end this post with a key moment where I felt the Lord reveal a truth to me.

One time during mass, at the height of all my questions about liturgy, I found myself praying to the Father to guide me on how He rightly should be worshipped, on what was most pleasing to Him. I prayed, and as my husband took my left hand and my son held my right to sing the Lord’s Prayer, I prayed even more. Was this appropriate? Was this bad?

At that precise moment, my eyes glanced upon an elderly couple seated at the front pew to our left. The lady was in a wheelchair parked in front of the kneeler, right at the edge of the pew. While everyone else was standing, her husband was down on his knees–the best position to be able to hold the hand of his wife while praying the Our Father.

Our Father…give us…forgive us…as we forgive…

Cannot, should not, Liturgy be both?–horizontal, reaching out and going out of our way to include those who might find it hard to pray, but still ultimately directing all hearts vertically up to the Father, Son and Spirit? On one hand, ensuring the sacredness and solemnity of the Mass while also being aware of where the congregation is coming from, and on the other, bringing one’s own cultural and personal background to the table but also educating oneself on what is acceptable conduct for Sacred Liturgy.

Does this not make us universal, catholic? Teaching and helping each other to pray, to the best of each one’s ability?

I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you were called. With all humility and gentleness, and with patience, support each other in love. Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all. —Ephesians 4:1-6

Like I said, there is still so much to be said, to be shared. I do not even claim to have it all figured out, so please pray with me–to be redirected if I’ve got it all wrong, and to be anointed if what I have written is a voice that needs to be heard.

Fit for a Priest

Even as I pulled up the parish driveway earlier this evening for mass, I already began to wonder what was up.

Firstly, there was this HUGE banner (no, make that small billboard) with a man’s face plastered all over it, and the words: “Welcome, Fr. —-! From your parishioners.” The face and name unfamiliar to me, I thought, “Must be some convention or something, with this big shot special guest speaker-priest.” And it looked like a convention, too–with about triple the usual number of Thursday mass attendees (all of us 40 minutes early), and all of them in their Lector’s uniforms, and church organization shirts…what was going on?

You’d think they were waiting to see the pope!

Then this man in a “One in Faith and Service” shirt started gathering the people seated on the pews. “Let’s all go to the front steps to meet Father as he comes up for mass! He’s on his way right now!” And easily around 30-40 people are up on their feet, walking towards the main entrance of the church.

Oh, now I get it. We have a new parish priest. And this being his first mass here, all the church organizations were here to greet and welcome him.

Well, that’s nice 🙂

And as I barely catch a glimpse of a figure in white vestments walking towards the church, I hear the eruption of enthusiastic applause and…a marching band. Yup, a cymbals-clashing, trombone-hooting, snare-drumming marching band.

Oh wait, there weren’t any baton twirlers. #cheapskates

I have no words.

My parish, apparently, is the welcoming committee to end all welcoming committees.

After getting over the initial shock of hearing a band play to welcome a new parish priest, (and I’m sure Father had to get over his own shock as well), I decided that I appreciated the gesture. Let me rephrase that–it wasn’t just a gesture of welcoming, but the overall attitude of acceptance, of embracing this new, essential member of our family.

All the fanfare could have meant any one or all of the following:

It must have been hard to leave the parish you’ve been ministering to for the past 6 years.

It must be daunting to replace such a well-loved parish priest (who spearheaded the building of the church, the formation center, the crematorium as well as the adoration chapel).

Living away from your family must be a continuing sacrifice for you.

Is it ever hard at all to go, to stay, to leave, to obey?

And with all these frightening possibilities, I felt the whole parish greeting this new parish priest with warmth, with genuine affection, and even this early on, with gratitude–

Thank you for being our shepherd.

After a solemnly moving mass, Father gave a simple introduction to his person. At the end of his short speech, he summed up what he planned to do for the next 6 years of assignment in our parish in one sentence: “I am here to bring you closer to Jesus.”

If the band was there as a gesture of embrace, then I would be first to say, “Let the band play on!”

Priests prostrate at ordination

Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption here on earth…What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods…Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest and they will end by worshiping the beasts there..The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you. – St. Jean-Marie Vianney

Even if you and I may have a thing or two to say about this priest and that priest who, in our opinion, is less than ideal for the job, the fact remains that a supernatural grace has been bestowed upon them, imprinted on their heart and soul, never to be defiled nor removed, even in cases of discharge from the ministry (see CCC #1583). Rightly so, because indeed, what a great gift we have been given! A pastor, a shepherd, guiding us who are lost, feeding us who are hungry, and absolving us who have sinned.

A priest–whoever he may be–is always another Christ. – St. Josemaría Escrivá

As I made my way to the parking lot after mass, I heard the band strike up another round of brassy tunes. And then suddenly, jolting me yet again…

Boom!! BOOM!!!

Fireworks. Wow.

He still brings me flowers, Part 2

(To better understand this part of the story, read Part 1 here.)

Bride Of Christ

Realizing that my relationship with God could be likened to marriage opened so many doors for reflection and exploration. It was a profound eureka moment for me, understanding for the first time how the grace of this Sacrament enables us, as the catechism puts it, to help one another attain holiness in our married life (CCC #1641). I discovered that all this time, I had somehow felt that those who lived consecrated lives (religious, clergy) had an enormous advantage over those who were married when it came to aspiring holiness, an advantage that affords them almost a monopoly on sainthood. (Yes, I am aware that there are saints who were married, but when I tally the ones who were against those who weren’t, the other end of the seesaw easily touches the ground.) But beginning to see how the Sacrament not only works for you to bring your spouse and your children to Christ (which was easier for me to see), but as an actual means to lead you closer to God (I know this, but I think it is only now that I understand it), I felt this leveled the playing field somewhat.

Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is He who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with His will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other…(CCC #1620)

I will surely expound more on this topic of Marriage as a path to holiness on later posts, but for the meantime, let me share with you a not-so-little gift I received last week.

This story is largely a continuation of Our Love Story, (Part 1 and Part 2) that is, mine and God’s. If you’ve read these previous posts, then perhaps you have an idea where I’m going with this. If you haven’t (or don’t have the time yet to read them), allow me to summarize as best I can.

At age 16, I decided to consecrate my youth to the Lord; a decision which, among other things, had me treating God as my significant other (or as any teen would call it, my boyfriend). Add to this my special relationship with St. Thérèse of Lisieux who constantly professed her being the “spouse of Christ,” I wanted nothing else but to follow in her manner of loving the Lord. I loved Jesus passionately, romantically, devotedly. And He made His presence felt in surprisingly miraculous and tangible ways (such as the time I received my Love Note From A Savior).

This is so much prettier than the ring I actually wore as a teen.

Admittedly though, when I got married, I was a bit confused. Was this right? Could I still love Jesus in the same way, now that I have a husband? I remember, during those early months of dating, whenever Peter would sincerely profess that he “loved me so much,” I would reply with a simpler “I love you.” I had been so used to saying “I love you so much” to Jesus, I wasn’t sure if it was right to say it to anyone else. I felt I needed to reserve that for Him.

Eventually though, I discovered new ways of relating to God–as Father, as Healer, as Provider, as Savior. None of them of lesser degree or import, but still worlds different from Lover.

During my months of spiritual darkness, I found myself longing desperately for that passionate, unreserved love from the days of my youth. At a time when I had felt so empty, so incapable of love, I presented this prayer to my dear friend Thérèse at every Tuesday novena at our parish: Bring me back to that Love again. I beg you. Let me love Him the way you loved Him. 

And this is why this revelation, that God calls me to love Him as faithfully as I would my husband, was mind-blowing for me. It was an answer to my prayer! It was God telling me that our love need not have changed. It was Thérèse showing me that it is possible to still be the spouse of Christ even as a married woman (we did start out as boyfriend and girlfriend, after all). It was Jesus bringing the romance back in our relationship.

And now, finally, we come to what happened a week ago.

What's in the box?

What’s in the box?

Last Monday, the 9th of September, I came home to a mystery package that was delivered to our home. I opened the long, white box, and found 3 exquisite, long-stemmed pink roses. Enclosed was a card with the following inscription:

God loves you, Pauline!

“If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.” – St. Thérèse de Lisieux

The first thing that entered my mind was: “Who knows where I live?!!” But a moment or so after getting over various security implications, I began to see these flowers as they were.

Flowers from my Spouse in Heaven.

And Thérèse’s trademark for answered prayer.

“After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will raise up a mighty host of little saints. My mission is to make God loved…” – (from Thérèse’s Story of a Soul)

The roses that were showered upon me.

The roses that were showered upon me.

P.S. I have since learned that the flowers were sent by a friend who also has a special devotion to St. Thérèse. But you will agree that knowing she sent them doesn’t make me marvel less at the value of this gift. The timing of the flowers’ arrival just a few days after experiencing this clear movement in prayer (which of course she had no way of knowing) still shows how our Romantic God had planned the whole thing.