For most of the Catholic world, Lent began with the solemnities of Ash Wednesday. For our household, however, it began on the cheerful Monday morning proceeding it. The Maronites, one of the eastern rites within the Catholic Church, God bless them, celebrate something called "Ash Monday." Apparently this has to do with how the days of Lent are counted. I must be honest and admit that I am not altogether sure how, exactly, these two extra days are divided up and spread over a six-week period. Really, it does make the whole first week of Lent seem rather schizophrenic. Ash Monday's fast and abstinence is immediately followed by "Fat Tuesday." The next day, of course, is Ash Wednesday. There exists one blessed day of reprieve before proceeding into the first Friday in Lent. It is a crazy schedule. Nevertheless, my Husband is a Maronite, and so, Ash Monday it is!
At least this makes life amusing... Almost as amusing as receiving remarks from random strangers on Ash Wednesday, said kindly enough to be sure, but rather like they are speaking to a half-wit, that there is something on your forehead. :-)
Two years later, I remember kneeling before the crucifix again. This time, I cried out to God in my brokenness. I had left the university, and a serious relationship, because I could no longer deny the call of Christ to convert. On Ash Wednesday of that year, I had managed somehow to slip out in time for the Noon day Mass. It was my very first Ash Wednesday service. Terror still mingled with uncertainty, but something about the imposition of the blessed ashes upon my forehead gave me the strength to do what I must. Soon thereafter, my parents were alerted as to my intentions. My life became a virtual prison, for I was placed under house arrest except for work, all of my belongings were constantly searched, and I was taken from pastor to pastor to try to talk me out of this decision. Although my intentions had been to join the Church that Easter, I saw Easter Sunday come and go, and it broke my heart. It became abundantly apparent what I must do. My parents had already given me an ultimatum: Remain the faith I was raised as and enjoy their protection or become Catholic and leave. At long last, I chose to leave.
Although I never again lived at home, my parents did eventually allow visits. Nearly a year later, and instead of anguish and concerns, the Face of Christ beheld the elated joy a newly baptised and confirmed soul. Later, it looked upon the face of an excited bride-to-be, and then, a radient wife. Over the years, that crucifix has seen a myriad of worries and anticipations. It has heard my fervent cries to God, as well as heartfelt thanksgiving. It is a fixture that has seen me through many of life's changes.
May you all continue to have a very blessed and holy Lent.
Praise God for this relatively short hiatus!
He has been healing my heart in many blessed ways over the past several weeks. Many miracles have taken place, most noticeably through a pilgrimage that I have recently returned from. Nothing is perfect, and to be honest, not much has changed externally in my life. Yet everything within me is recharged. My efforts at sanctification, through holy obedience according to my station in life, are being redoubled.
For a week, a group of about 40 of us went to a little-known Catholic shrine in South America where Our Lady had appeared to a Carmelite nun in the 1600s. As my Husband could not come along, I stayed with the other single or unaccompanied women in the same convent where all of this had taken place. That, in and of itself, was an incomparable blessing! Every day, we visited churches, convents, monasteries, the cathedral, the tombs of martyrs, and had daily Low Mass according to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite liturgy. We also walked the public square and held out fliers inviting the people of the city to take part in a grand procession commemorating the anniversary of the events.
The very first day of the trip, our priest in his homily spoke of authority. It was the most amazing homily I have ever heard. Father talked about all paternity being derived from God and how authority is, in a sense, an extension of and a participation in His divine authority. Aside from being stunned that a holy priest of God in today's era would also spend time in his homily to stress the necessity of wives to be submissive to their husbands and to obey them as the voice of God in their lives, the sermon impacted me in another deep and terrifying way... in regard to my mother. My heart was convicted to such an extent that, at the next opportunity, I pecked out an apology e-mail to my mother on my iPod and, by the grace of God, sent it successfully via the free wifi access at the place where we ate our meals. Shortly before the trip, my mother had tried in her way to reach out to me. It had been the first time I had heard from her in nearly two months, and I admit that I did not handle the surprise of it well. I had lashed out to her with all of the anger and pain in my heart over her latest abandonment of me. Shamefully, I had used her given name as a salutation (instead of her proper title) and had stated, amongst other things, that she ought not to call herself my mother at all if she did not intend to be one to me. Although I am still hurt that I seem to be my mother's daughter only at her good graces, I realised that I had been entirely wrong in my words and actions towards her. It was a great relief when, around dinner time, I learned that my apology had been accepted at least. Later, I went to Sacramental Confession, and was blessed to experience the healing power of Christ therein. That set the perfect tone for the rest of the week.
On the day of the procession, our group woke up in the middle of the night, took cold showers (the nuns were very "old school!") and spent the next several hours praying the Rosary throughout the streets of the city, along with thousands upon thousands of locals. That same day, my Husband wrote with some very exciting news... He had received three new prospective job offers, each better than the last. While we do not know yet, for sure, what our future holds, we have confidence that God already has it all mapped out and that He will provide. A few days later, too, one of my friends on the trip repeatedly invited me to visit her family, and her mother even joked that I was her new adopted daughter. Perhaps she will never know the joy of my heart over such a statement, but I praise God for it all the same! Many other small blessings happened along the way, but they would fill volumes of books if they were all to be recorded.
Each day, at every new Church we entered, and at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I prayed my heart out for the intentions of my Husband and me, for our family members, friends, loved ones, for a miracle in the life of a very special friend (someone who has been a tremendous blessing in my life as a personal mentor to me, someone whom I miss dearly), and even for all of you and for your personal intentions. It is my prayer that, even if in some small way, your lives have also been blessed!
The most beautiful moment of all however was when, at long last, I touched down at my final destination and almost literally ran into the arms of my beloved Husband! Life without him just is not the same. It is like a piece of myself is missing. My heart has never, and could never, love another person in the whole wide world in the same capacity as I love the man I married. I have decided that I really must stop this gallivanting across the globe... at least until next time! ;-)
May God continue to bless you all...
I am so happy to be back! :-)