You and I were made in the image of God; that is the essence of our Christian faith. This means that we have many God-like attributes and are capable of loving deeply, caring for others and trying to live a proper life.
As we all know, what happened in the Garden of Eden those many years ago, made it necessary for a Saviour named Jesus Christ to be born. The advice given to our first parents not to eat from the tree of knowledge took away their innocence and has left all of us open to temptation.
It is human to be tempted and we must learn that there is always another chance offered to us. Our God is a God of mercy and love. If we sincerely repent of our mistakes and indiscretions, He will forgive us. The more difficult effort may come in the ability to forgive ourselves.
You have heard the phrase: "To err is human; to forgive is divine". We know this and yet how often in our families have we held grudges? How often do we 'take our time' in saying 'I forgive you' to someone who has hurt us? If we are truly trying to live a Christian life, we must make the effort to accept an apology immediately and sincerely, with no grudges held. As well, when we know that we have hurt someone we care about, let us be ready to offer our own apology quickly.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a treasure. To be able to hear the words: "I absolve you of your sins….in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit" brings the gift of peace to a penitent's soul. We walk away from a good confession with a lighter heart, rejoicing that we can begin again to live the way God expects. A monthly confession is the best way to stay on track.
Our future is in God's hands. Only He knows the hour that we will leave this world and begin the journey towards eternal life. We know that our bodies will remain but our souls will continue. We owe it to our souls to be prepared for the end of our time on earth. Confession cleanses the soul; a purified soul is our responsibility if we are trying to follow Christ in our daily living. Of course we will fall; He knows that.
The true secret of happiness is peace of mind and heart. Confession is the best source of that peace. We taste a little bit of heaven each time we offer our souls to be cleansed through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
JOAN LEVY EARLE
When I became widowed for a second time in 2013, I decided to move back to my hometown where my mother, my son and my two grandchildren resided. The hand of providence assisted because I phoned the landlord of my 91 year old mother's apartment building and was pleasantly surprised that there would soon be a vacancy right across the hall from Mom.
I started packing and booked the mover. My mother and I chatted on the phone each day, and though her health wasn't great, her mind was alert and she was excited that I would soon become her neighbour. Just two weeks before the move, my mother died. She had a short hospital stay, thank God, and she was prepared spiritually to join my father, who had passed away five years earlier.
It was a tough few weeks; settling my furniture and helping my sisters to clear my mother's two bedroom apartment of her possessions. There was comfort knowing my mother had lived with the anticipation that I would soon be so much closer. I also felt that God had chosen this home for me, and I accepted His decision to take my mother home to Him.
I miss her terribly, of course, but the building is conveniently located close to my parish church, and walking distance to a shopping centre. I remember Mom saying that I should try to find a place close to my church, because church is a priority in my life. I had not even considered her building in the beginning, but one day, during a visit with her, a voice in my head said: "Call your mother's landlord." I argued that I didn't have time, with a train to catch, and would do it later. "Call the office now," the voice repeated. Well, I finally gave in, and within a half hour, the decision had been made. With the apartment across the hall soon to be available, it really seemed to have been ordained from heaven. I had checked out a few other buildings but none of them measured up to the place where Mom had lived for twenty years.
I won't ever forget the smile on my mother's face as she said good bye to me that day. There would be no nursing home for her; I would be her caregiver. We were both looking forward to the future. But God had other plans for Mom.
St. Josemaria Escriva said: "It is not simply enough to accept God's will; we must be ready to embrace it." I trust that God saw that my mother was tired, and her time had come. Although it was not easy to become orphaned and widowed within a six month period, I am happy that I can easily attend daily Mass, and the memories of the good times spent across the hall with my parents bring a special joy to my heart.
And when my grandchildren visit, they often remark that their great- grandmother used to be just across the hall. It's a special memory that warms all of our hearts.
Joan Levy Earle
The life of a farmer has to be one that is dependent on God. For this vocation to succeed, there should be good weather for planting, proper weather conditions for the growing season and rich soil to yield a bountiful harvest. The farmer depends on God's providence in order to prosper. The parable of the sower always makes me think about farmers who must struggle with a small acreage, and work diligently to yield a good living from their efforts.
How often do people hear the word of God go in one ear and then float out the other? Isn't this like planting in poor soil? So often people attend church services, listen to the word of God and leave in the same darkened frame of mind that they brought into church that day. The words of scripture should always give us a lesson in truth and fill us with hope. Like the sower who planted the seeds in fertile ground, we have to sit in those pews with open hearts, ready to put into action the messages that Christ is teaching through those who minister to us. When our hearts are open, our souls can be nourished. Healthy souls cultivate happy, peaceful lives.
Those who allow the Holy Spirit to guide them through each day will be blessed with confidence. All we need to do is to watch the evening news for a few days and we might become discouraged. Christians are being killed in Nigeria, corruption is discovered in the sporting world and people are fleeing their homes in the Middle East.
Maybe we cannot do more than make a donation to assist with those suffering from the earthquake in Nepal but we can do something for the suffering in our own communities. Through time spent volunteering, we become the bearers of Christ's word in action. Each kindness we extend plants a seed of hope in an organization or in a neighbour's lonely heart. It might be a little time spent with a shut in or a visit to an older relative in a nursing home. We can offer our time in so many ways and this will spread that 'agape' style of love that is needed everywhere.
Pope Francis is calling for a new evangelization; we are asked to be joyful witnesses of our faith. Each of us has gifts and talents that can be shared. Blessed Mother Teresa believed that we can change the world, as she said, "one person at a time."
Joan Levy Earle
Although we welcome the seasonal changes, we have to be prepared for adjustments in our routine that arrive with each new season. Although our daily tasks need to be revised, imagine how boring life would be if we did not have these challenges. As a Canadian, I rejoice in the new life of nature each spring, and yet, I cannot wait to see the glorious colours of autumn. My difficulty comes with the summer heat. Humidity plays havoc with these older joints and the hotter days do not inspire creative pursuits. I must learn to take time to "smell the roses" as the old saying goes. At the moment, I am loving the chance to smell the lilacs.
About twenty years ago in our community, someone suggested that our citizens plant lilac trees and then a few years later, a lilac festival was held. Although the festival is no longer a reality, the residue remains. For two wonderful weeks, one can take a walk along the waterfront and many city streets, and breathe the scent of the mauve, purple and white lilacs that were planted in abundance. These blooms are short-lived but my hope is that in heaven, they will bloom much longer. To me, there is no more beautiful fragrance.
Just a few weeks ago, Christians celebrated the feast of Pentecost. I found a beautiful description of how this Third Person of the Trinity can make a difference in our lives. It was written by St. Josemaria Escriva and can be found in his book: Christ is Passing By, #130. He says: "The Holy Spirit performs God's works in the world. He is, as the liturgical hymn sings, the giver of gifts, the light of hearts, the soul's guest, rest in work, and consolation in sorrow. Without his help, there is nothing in man that is innocent and worthy, because it is the Holy Spirit who cleanses what is stained, cures what is sick, enkindles what is cold, straightens what has gone astray, and leads man to the door of salvation and eternal joy."
Of course, none of this assistance is possible if we are totally self-reliant individuals who feel that we are in complete control of our lives. Yes, we must be prepared to work diligently and make use of the talents and education we have acquired. But there will come a time in everyone's life when the invitation will be offered to feed the soul. May we be prepared to welcome the Spirit that wishes to dwell within us, and know that special comfort that only God's love can provide.
Joan Levy Earle
Image Wikicommons: Lilac, Syringa_vulgaris1
Joan's Message of Hope
Think about how gratifying it is to plant a seed, nurture it with water and weeding, and in a few weeks, discover the beauty of the flower that has bloomed.
We can consider Christian baptism as a very special seed, providing a seed of faith in the soul of a child. Caring parents will nourish and help that seed blossom by attending regular church services, saying grace over daily meals, and listening to a child's night prayers.
Of course, our world has become fast-paced and now, Sunday seems just like any other day. What was once a family day reserved for shared activities, is just like all the other days of the week. Attending church services is not always the first choice on the agenda for that day.
I remember the saying in the 1950s that was credited to Father Patrick Peyton, a strong promoter of the rosary prayers. He said: "The family that prays together, stays together." There is much truth in that statement. Regular Sunday worship is an important tool for healthy marriages. I can attest to many Sundays in the early years of raising my own children when the sermon that Sunday just happened to contain the answer needed to heal my hurting heart. The early years of every marriage are a time of learning and compromise. I was a stubborn young wife who needed to learn many lessons. Thank God I was married to a patient man!
Often we hear parents of newborn children comment: "We will not christen our baby. It will be up to him to choose when he is older what path of faith he will take." In my opinion, they are denying this child that initial seed of faith that can be nourished and grow, helping to guide that child into responsible adulthood.
Baptism also provides a welcome from the church community. Every time I witness a child being baptized during Sunday Mass, I thank God that the church has been blessed by another member. Young children may become restless in the pews, but we should encourage their attendance, as there is nothing more heartwarming than seeing young families offering an hour each week to praise and worship the Lord together. They give us hope that the church will endure.
Joan Levy Earle
Image: Barry Durrant
Joan's message of hope
We have just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost and how glorious that time is for the Church. Jesus promised us an advocate to walk with us on our journey here on earth and so He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us.
When we contemplate the mystery of the Trinity, we might have difficulty with understanding how God can be three persons in one. Yet, part of the reality of true faith is acceptance of this mystery. God chose to come to earth in the form of a human, to be present to us to establish our faith through the Apostles He chose. Born of a woman through the miraculous incarnation of the Holy Spirit to Mary, He lived for thirty three years and then, He died, suffering for our sins, and rose from the dead so that we who believe in Him, would be offered eternal life.
Then He sent us Himself, through the Holy Spirit, so that we would never be alone. To contact that Spirit, residing within our souls, we simply have to open our hearts and believe in His presence. We are invited to tune into that Spirit and gain confidence on our difficult days when the enemy of hope wants to devour us. We can also celebrate our good times by sharing the joy of the Lord with everyone we meet. The Holy Spirit refreshes, consoles and comforts us. Let us always be grateful for this gift.
The battle between good and evil does exist. Through the gift of this Holy Spirit, we find answers to our prayers. Look for the signs of this Spirit walking with you in your daily life.
Each time we make the sign of the cross, when we enter a church building, or before we begin our prayers, let us believe God is our Father, Jesus is our brother and the Holy Spirit, our guide throughout life.
How blessed we are to have so much support in the Trinity. As it is written in Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? The Lord is my life's refuge, of whom should I be afraid? When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies themselves stumble and fall."
You will never lose hope if you are ready to trust in God.
Joan Levy Earle
Last week, I wrote about my friendship with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and how she taught me more about her Son, Jesus, through the prayers of the rosary.
I also mentioned a favourite saint, Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. If any of you saw a movie called The Da Vinci Code, you know that the villain was apparently a member of Opus Dei. I did not bother to watch this movie; my spirit sensed it would be a source of negativity so I avoided it. It may have provided amusement for many fans of Tom Hanks, but I prefer to watch him in light, romantic vehicles likeSleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail.
The point is that Opus Dei was not shown in a good light, which was another reason for my personal boycott. We should all make our own choices and not just follow along with the crowd, especially when our decisions might not benefit our lives.
Life is a gift. Ask someone who has just been given the diagnosis of a terminal illness. No doubt, they will make plans to experience some of those special things that are on their bucket list because time is now running out for them.
Every day that we wake up, we should embrace the 24 hours before us, and do and say what we know will encourage others in our family. I have been widowed twice and thank God daily for the opportunity of being married to faith-filled husbands whose example strengthened my beliefs. I also regret that I took their love for granted on occasion; how I would welcome the chance to share one more hug of thanksgiving - in person!
St. Josemaria Escriva had this to say about how we spend our days:"Sanctity is made up of heroic acts. Therefore in our work we are asked for the heroism of finishing properly the tasks committed to us, day by day, even though they are the same tasks."
If God is for you, who can ever be against you? And trust me, you will never know a greater advocate!
Joan Levy Earle
The appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 provided another lesson for Catholics and showed the awesome mystery of God's power. Nothing is impossible for Him.
On May 13 of that year, Mary came to bring a message of hope and consolation. So often there is criticism that Catholics worship Mary and pay too much attention to her. How can one possibly ignore the woman whose YES to God brought us the gift of Jesus Christ? Those who know and love Jesus should also respect His mother.
For my life, discovering the friendship that Our Lady offers brought an increase of faith. I believe that she gave birth to a new love and respect for Jesus into my life. I did not always feel so strongly about Him. He was more of a legend to me for my first two decades. I converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1967, but it took many years and some nudging from other stronger Catholics before I saw the truth. Through the meditations of the mysteries of the rosary, I gained a new awareness of the life of Christ. These prayers reflect upon biblical stories that I had never taken the time to read. I am grateful for the lessons learned through the rosary meditations and to Mary for her encouragement. Sometimes, I can actually feel her smile of approval.
Prayer is a necessary tool for peace of mind and soul. It does not have to be formal prayers; a simple pause to feel the presence of God as you take a walk through a field, a smile of acknowledgment as you pass by a church, or a heart full of gratitude as you turn out the light by your bedside, can be enough to begin to enhance your relationship. Practise finding ways to tune into God's frequency every single day, not just on Sundays.
St. Josemaria Escriva said: "An effective custom of achieving presence of God is this... your first appointment every day should be with Jesus Christ."
Escriva founded Opus Dei on October 2, 1928. The philosophy is simple that one should live each day in service to the Lord. Whether you drive a taxi, teach a class or work in a hospital, if you offer your daily work for Him, you will find true peace of soul. The problem with humankind is that for many souls, the purpose of life is not simply to strive to do our best each day, but to seek power, prestige or profit, no matter the cost.
How beautiful it can be to live life in service to God's will, being aware of the needs of our neighbour and making every effort not to intentionally hurt anyone.
It is possible to live this way. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you can find the way.
Joan Levy Earle
In the Canadian Catholic Church, the month of May is often referred to as the month of Mary. Perhaps we like to focus on her because we celebrate Mother's Day in our country on the second Sunday of this month, and many First Communions for children will be planned around the same time. Also, the Church remembers Our Lady of Fatima every May 13th, and the Feast of the Visitation on May 31st.
Mary the Mother of Jesus is a woman we can emulate for many reasons. Her acceptance to bear a child, conceived through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, has been a mystery to questioning minds for centuries. As believers we trust these unexplained truths as a matter of faith. We do not worship this holy woman; we see in her one of the greatest examples of love and devotion and we enjoy the friendship that she offers to us because of Her Son.
Imagine the burdens that she and St. Joseph faced when they had to flee from their home in order to protect their son. Then later, during the time of the scourging, Mary suffered the pain of knowing that Jesus did not deserve even one of the blows that He received. His crucifixion must have broken her heart. Yet, by the grace of God, she stayed at the foot of His cross until He died.
So often, a mother must endure the sickness of her children. It may be a non-life threatening illness, and yet, she wishes that she could suffer in place of her offspring. On some occasions, a surgery will be needed and extra prayers give this mother her consolation as she waits for the results. For me, taking my rosary beads from their little case, and praying with Mary in a hospital chapel for a positive outcome, recently provided the comfort I needed while my daughter had major surgery. God blessed our family with a positive outcome.
May all those mothers who are carrying the burdens of a sick child in their hearts, find some consolation by turning to the loving and Immaculate Heart of Mary. When you pray: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee," try to picture her beautiful smile and trust that she is near you. Be filled with confidence that she will assist you to have the courage and strength you need to pass through your difficult time.
God bless you and your loved ones this coming week.
Joan Levy Earle
We are living in a time of seasonal change. For those of us in Canada, that will mean new life in nature as spring begins to blossom. For my friends in New Zealand, autumn is now approaching.
I love the seasons. They provide variety to everyday life, and we can compare them to the seasons of everyday life. Think about a deciduous tree and how it lies in wait with its bare limbs through winter and then, as the sun warms this winter tree, new buds appear.
It is the same for us when we are born, our parents' love acts like the sunshine for that hibernating tree. We grow and learn our life lessons from those around us who love us, and suddenly, we arrive at the summer of life.
For the tree, summers pass quickly and it is the same for us. We live our twenties and thirties and forties in such busyness that this time passes quickly. Then, we arrive at the autumn of our lives; the time of middle age. For some, this is glorious, and like the magnificent autumn colours that we enjoy as the leaves change, we too are changing. Our lives are more fulfilled now from the tasks we have accomplished through that fast and furious youth.
As the season of winter approaches, the trees lose their leaves. They remain strong and though naked, they will prepare for their season of waiting. It is the same for those who have arrived at their seventh and eighth decade of living. They await the ultimate change that will come; the end of this chapter of their life.
For all who believe in eternal life, the final season should be one of joy. If they are fortunate to have had children, their life is rich with the love of grandchildren whose love can be unconditional. For the elderly, their hearts are often filled with wonderful memories of times shared with families and friends.
Let us think of death as another seasonal change. We all know that after winter comes the joy of spring, and new life. It is the same for faithful Christians who will enter an eternal springtime when their final day has been lived.
Joan Levy Earle