Led Through the Dark Valley – A Cancer Journey With Jesus

My online friend of many years, Susan Baker Swehla, has had an astounding life in Christ. An amazing woman with a deep faith in God, she has been accompanied throughout her life with His grace and help. From her birth in Japan to a Japanese mother and U.S. Marine father, to coming America, the death of her mother when she was eight years old, chronic illness, and her later conversion, her faith in the Lord has been great and is an amazing witness to what Christ can do in your life if you let Him. She has allowed me to reproduce the story of her cancer journey here and I’m honored. Susan’s faith is an inspiration to me and I hope to you as well.
In September of 2011 I was diagnosed with Stage Four Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Yes, breast cancer. It was also found in some lymph nodes underneath my armpit. When I found out, I wasn’t shocked or mad. I didn’t cry or yell. My words to God were, “Really? I already have one disease to deal with,” rheumatoid arthritis.
I did the breast check in the shower every once in awhile, but seriously I did not see this one coming. My paternal grandparents lived until their 90’s, but it was my mother’s side that I did not know anything about. My mom died of aggressive lupus, but I did not know what my maternal grandparents died of. And they were both deceased by the time I was born. So the journey began in this unknown territory.
I received all kinds of advice from well-meaning people. Go to the Cancer Center of America in Chicago, or the Burzynski Institute. Don’t get chemo, radiation or have surgery, eat organic food, and the list goes on. I yelled in my head, “Stop!” I didn’t want to spend hours doing research, I just wanted to go forward and get done with it. So I prayed, “Abba, you are God and the Lord of all. You are going to have to be bigger than all of this. I need to be able to use the doctors at Mercy Hospital. I trust that you gave them their gift of wanting to help heal people. I want to be able to go to Fareway where my all three of my sons worked, buy groceries come home, and cook supper and be with my family here in Des Moines. Amen.”
Mark 5:34 – And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
I had a port put in my chest wall for the IV. I had an MRI and Pet Scans. The results showed a tumor in my breast as well as a large mass in my ovaries. The aggressive chemo treatment began. It knocked me on my butt and made me stay home for several months. I starting losing my hair, so I had my oldest son shave the rest of it off, and I was okay with it when I looked in the mirror.
I took a sabbatical from my bible studies and book clubs. I had been very active, and now I didn’t feel well and wanted to stay home. In December, I came down with shingles, a very painful illness and to this day I still have neuropathy because it was treated too late. I take medication to keep it at bay.
Many wonderful people were praying for me. I felt covered in prayer. My sisters-in-Christ came to the rescue and brought meals over. The nights were long, and I prayed and prayed, however, I felt a darkness surrounding me. Where was God? “Are you there? I can’t hear you, feel you or see you. Have you abandoned me?”
I continued to trust and not give in to my emotions. At the end of March in 2012 I had my last chemo treatment and was now getting ready to move towards my surgery date. I met with the gynecological oncologist. He was so kind and very knowledgeable. He took the time to explain everything. He said that we were hoping that it was ovarian cancer and not breast cancer that had metastasized. I said, “Why can’t it just be a cyst?” He looked at me and said as gently as he could, “I know what I see, and I am good at what I do. I’m sorry Susan.”
I decided to have a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy, and to have both surgeries at the same time. I would be in surgery for six hours with both doctors. I opted not to get the reconstructive surgery. My womanhood was in my children and family, my breasts and uterus were no longer needed for my physical body.
On Holy Saturday, ten days before my surgery, I went to my St. Monica’s Mothers Prayer Group. I went to the home of Rosemarie where she also had the traveling image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that day. We prayed for our children for a half hour, and then Rosemarie told us to take our time to pray to Our Lady. I needed to get home, so I went up to Our Lady and placed one hand on her breasts, and the other on her uterus, and began to pray. The other ladies came up from behind and laid hands on me. We prayed for about five minutes and then took our leave.
I later found out after my surgery that Rosemarie had opened her eyes and looked at the image of Our Lady and saw a tear coming down from it. She wiped it and it was an oily substance as has been reported with other weeping statues. She told me that it was for me, but I told her she was the one that saw it, so it was a gift for her to see, and perhaps for me; that our Lady has such compassion and love for her children.
The night before the surgery my sisters-in-Christ had a prayer service for me. I know they were a strong and mighty army of prayer warriors. The day of my surgery I began to get a little anxious and said to myself, “What have I gotten myself into having two surgeries in one day. I will be laid up in bed for weeks.” The surgery went well, so well in fact that the gynecological oncologist came skipping into the waiting area where my family was and happily proclaimed that there was no cancer in my ovaries. It was a cyst.
I believe that God heard my prayers, and Our Lady’s intercession, and changed the cancer into a cyst. My surgery was on a Tuesday. I got up and started walking and moving the best I could. My sons walked down the hall of the hospital with me and I got stronger. I was released on Friday, and never spent one day in bed. My recovery was speedy and complete. My husband said I was having way too much fun when I was supposed to be in bed on medical leave. All those prayers were answered. God is so faithful and merciful. Praise His Holy Name!

Psalm 91 – You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shade of the Almighty, Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust. He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, He will shelter you with his pinions, and under his wings you may take refuge; his faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come. You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see. Because you have the LORD for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold, No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You can tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon. Because he clings to me I will deliver him; because he knows my name I will set him on high. He will call upon me and I will answer; I will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and give him honor. With length of days I will satisfy him, and fill him with my saving power.
Life’s journey continues on with all its joy, challenges and trials. God has given me a rich life, not materially but with treasures that are priceless; my husband of 31 years and my children with three daughters, three sons, three son-in-laws and six grandchildren, and God willing many more in the future.
I go to a weekly bible study, two Catholic book clubs, adoration, and any classes that will further my spirituality. When I go to adoration I’ve told my kids, I am going Son bathing! Basking in the light of His love. I try to go to daily Mass a few times a week. I pray for moral courage and the Spirit of Truth in my life and purity of mind, body and soul.

There have been many God-incidences in my life. I no longer believe in coincidence. I can look back now and know God has always been there throughout my life, leading me to Him. I thank Him for his unconditional love, His mercy and the peace He alone gives me. I think of Him all the time. I would love to tell you that I pray the Rosary and read scripture every day, but in my human weakness I fail.

Every day is a new opportunity to start over fresh and try again in my faith walk. And remember, I am a spiritual being more so than a human being, for He has made us for Himself to live with Him for all eternity. I look back and see my mother with her Buddhist prayer beads, I have my rosary beads. She had her Buddhist shrine at home. I have a Catholic family shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I pray for my Japanese ancestors and I pray for my birth mother’s intercession. I know I have a family here on earth and I have a huge family in heaven, with Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Communion of Saints.
We are blessed with a wonderful faith. Rich in scripture, oral tradition, the Saints, the papacy, the sacraments – especially the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith – and all the smells and bells. It is my strong desire to be faithful to the Holy Father and the Magisterium.
1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Abba Father loves us from all eternity. He deeply desires a personal relationship with us. We are the adopted sons and daughters of Him who is King. Therefore, that makes us princes and princesses. And what girl doesn’t want to be a princess? Our family album, the Bible, promises the story does have a wonderful ending, and we will feast forever at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, and we will live happily ever after with the King.
Rev 19:9 – Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
Susan only has four weeks left of preventative chemo treatment and she says. “I pray that the cancer never comes back. Though I know it is His will done and not my own. I go forward joyfully, living, loving and liberated. This journey had many rough roads, but God always brings good from it. Along the way I have met many wonderful people and experiences. I am blessed.”

Quick Book Review: Praying Scripture for a Change

Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

“Lectio Divina is an integral part of the Church’s game plan for the renewal of faith in our times.” Praying Scripture for a Change

I finally finished the book Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina, by Dr. Tim Gray.  I ordered it a couple of months ago from Interlibrary Loan and even though it is a short book (only 120 pages) I’ve had a lot going on in my life, and had to renew it for another month.  Waiting for my son in the dentist’s office while he got a root canal, was an excellent opportunity to read through it and take copious notes.  I really liked it and will add this to my books every Catholic should read.

It is really hard for some reason to find information about how to do Lectio Divina (or divine reading – praying with the scriptures) properly.  A lot of websites have co-opted this method of prayer, which can lead to infused Contemplation, and have mingled it with Eastern prayer methods/Centering Prayer.  Eastern prayer methods, and it’s offshoot Centering Prayer, are not really compatible with true Christian prayer which is not an “emptying of the mind” but a “love look with the heart.”  Christian prayer is a conversation between persons who love each other.  Eastern prayer is a technique, not an exchange between lovers.

Lectio Divina is an ancient technique developed by a monk that starts with a slow, careful reading of the scriptures, followed by meditation, then prayer and then contemplation.  Christian meditation is not a relaxation technique but a “chewing” on of the scriptures to gain what you can from the text.  It is to figure out what the scripture means and what God is trying to tell you.  This leads to prayer and then a time of quiet with God that may, if God brings it to you, Contemplation.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It is simple, easy to understand and perfect for anyone truly wanting to know how to pray with the scriptures.  One thing that caught my attention was Dr. Gray’s explanation of the fact scriptures are not written like modern day books that practically throw away words, but each and every word was written in scripture to be important and link to other places in the bible to make a cohesive whole.  Over a long time you slowly gain knowledge of this and can gain greater insight into how God works and what He is trying to say.

In practicing Lectio Divina, I think the hardest part is deciding which scriptures to use.  The steps themselves are easy and flow into each other, especially after reading Dr. Gray’s text.  Buy this book, or find it in your library or through Interlibrary loan, but I highly recommend it and will be practicing Lectio Divina myself as often as I can.

Christmas Gift Idea #3

Prayer Primer : Igniting a Fire Within

Here is another great Christmas gift idea, one of several books I want to tell you about.   Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Prayer Primer.
As you have heard many times, I am a big fan of Fr. Dubay who passed away in September.  This great little book presupposes no knowledge of prayer but will help even those experienced in it.  Do you want to learn how to start or about different types of prayer?  What about Eastern forms of prayer, are they compatible with Christian prayer?  How do you teach children to pray?  How do you assess your progress or deepen your prayer?  This is the book for you.
I’ve linked to The Catholic Company, another (obviously) Catholic business you may want to support.
Disclaimer: The Catholic Company or Ignatius Press do not pay me for this recommendation.  I just really love this book!  Go to both of their sites and buy stuff!

Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM May He Rest in Peace

I’m deeply saddened to learn about the death of Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM.  I have been a fan of his books and TV series for a long time.  There was no better teacher on contemplative prayer.  While so many modern “teachers” were teaching what they they called contemplative prayer, but what was really mixed with “New Age” and “Eastern” techniques like “Centering Prayer”, he was teaching deep, deep prayer truly faithful to St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the masters of Christian contemplation.  You don’t “empty your mind” with mantras and all that nonsense, you allow God to fill you with Himself.  You don’t have control, God does.  You don’t put yourself into an altered state of consciousness, you allow God to lead you to places unknown.  Which only comes after a long, faithful prayer life.  And a life of truly living His will.

I know Fr. Dubay is looking down at us and praying for us that we take the time to learn to truly pray. Here are some resources I would suggest:

Prayer Primer : Igniting a Fire Within
Great for beginners but helpful to everyone.

Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel-On Prayer
A deep book but one that will truly teach you about St. Teresa of Avila & St. John of the Cross and the stages of prayer that you should aspire to.  It is a kind of road map to show you were you are and what to expect on your prayer journey to God.  You can’t progress well if you don’t know where you are going and how to get there.  You can use this as a companion book when reading the actual works of these great saints.  This is a masterpiece for the spiritual life.

Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within
This fantastic book shows you what to look for in a spiritual director and what to expect in spiritual direction.  Since it is so hard to find a good director, this book is excellent in guiding you in the spiritual life.  Written in a dialog format it is not hard to understand and really challenges you do better in your walk with Christ.    

Here is a list of other books available that he has written. 

If you go to EWTN’s Audio Library  and type in “Thomas Dubay” in the series search box, you’ll find 6 different TV series he did for the network.  Choose one that interests you.  I would suggest the series on Contemplation.  Then either listen on your computer, or if you have an iPod, or other mp3 player, save them on your computer and transfer them to your player.  These shows go really in depth and if you want to learn what Contemplation is all about this will give you the nitty-gritty.

Take this holy man’s death as an invitation to read or listen to his works and learn how to advance in your walk with God.  Now that he is with Him, I’m sure that if we say a quick prayer to ask Fr. Dubay to pray for us we will advance even further.  Thank you Fr. Dubay for all your work.

The Stations of Light for Easter

The Easter season is in full swing and I thought you might be interested in something you may not have heard of: The Stations of Light, also known as the Via Lucis, or the Stations of the Resurrection.

Similar to the Stations of the Cross that many pray on Fridays of Lent and during the year, the Stations of Light have 14 stops, but you meditate on Christ’s resurrection and what followed. It is prayed during the Easter season, but I don’t see why you could not pray it during the year, especially on Sunday.

I think this devotional is just beautiful and I love praying it. Here is a quick list of the Via Lucis, the Way of Light:

1. Jesus Rises from the Dead
2. The Women Come to the Tomb Encountering an Angel
3. Peter and John Visit the Tomb with Mary Magdalen
4. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalen
5. Mary Magdalen Proclaims His Rising to the Apostles
6. Jesus Appears on the Road to Emmaus
7. Jesus Gives the Disciples the Power to Forgive
8. Jesus Confirms the Faith of Thomas
9. Jesus Eats with the Disciples on Tiberias Shore
10. Jesus Forgives Peter and Commissions Him
11. Jesus Gives the Great Commission to the Disciples
12. Jesus Ascends into Heaven
13. Mary and the Disciples Keep Vigil for the Spirit’s Advent
14. Jesus Sends the Holy Spirit

You can find the Stations of Light online at the Archdiocese of Detroit website and in a few books such as one by the well-known author Ann Ball, Stations of the Cross/Stations of Light and this absolutely beautiful book, Journey into Joy: Stations of the Resurrection

The Divine Mercy Novena

When I first came back to the Church 14 years ago one of the first devotions I discovered was the Divine Mercy.  I was fascinated by the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul.  The depth of love she had for our Lord was incredible.  As was the depth of Jesus’ love for us.  I was so touched at the image of how he would immerse us in an ocean of His Mercy.  How he loved all sinners.  This is still my favorite devotion, even though I have gotten a bit slack praying the beautiful prayers and the wonderful Chaplet.  I find it also aids in another Beautiful Way of Prayer that I have written about before.  I also make sure I don’t forget each Good Friday to begin the Divine Mercy Novena which ends the Saturday after Easter.  The next day is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Jesus Himself asked St. Faustina to pray this Novena, and it is He who wants us to pray for all these souls.

Each day of the Novena you pray for a different group of souls…

First Day (Good Friday)
Today bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners,
and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me.”
Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion show us Your mercy, that we may praise the omnipotence of Your mercy for ever and ever. Amen.

Second Day
“Today bring to Me the Souls of Priests and Religious,

and immerse them in My unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave me strength to endure My bitter Passion. Through them as through channels My mercy flows out upon mankind.”
Most Merciful Jesus, from whom comes all that is good, increase Your grace in men and women consecrated to Your service,* that they may perform worthy works of mercy; and that all who see them may glorify the Father of Mercy who is in heaven.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the company of chosen ones in Your vineyard — upon the souls of priests and religious; and endow them with the strength of Your blessing. For the love of the Heart of Your Son in which they are enfolded, impart to them Your power and light, that they may be able to guide others in the way of salvation and with one voice sing praise to Your boundless mercy for ages without end. Amen.

* In the original text, Saint Faustina uses the pronoun “us” since she was offering this prayer as a consecrated religious sister. The wording adapted here is intended to make the prayer suitable for universal use. 

Third Day
“Today bring to Me all Devout and Faithful Souls,

and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. These souls brought me consolation on the Way of the Cross. They were a drop of consolation in the midst of an ocean of bitterness.” 
Most Merciful Jesus, from the treasury of Your mercy, You impart Your graces in great abundance to each and all. Receive us into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart and never let us escape from It. We beg this grace of You by that most wondrous love for the heavenly Father with which Your Heart burns so fiercely.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon faithful souls, as upon the inheritance of Your Son. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, grant them Your blessing and surround them with Your constant protection. Thus may they never fail in love or lose the treasure of the holy faith, but rather, with all the hosts of Angels and Saints, may they glorify Your boundless mercy for endless ages. Amen.

Fourth Day
“Today bring to Me those who do not believe in God and those who do not know Me, 

I was thinking also of them during My bitter Passion, and their future zeal comforted My Heart. Immerse them in the ocean of My mercy.”  
Most compassionate Jesus, You are the Light of the whole world. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who do not believe in God and of those who as yet do not know You. Let the rays of Your grace enlighten them that they, too, together with us, may extol Your wonderful mercy; and do not let them escape from the abode which is Your Most Compassionate Heart.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls of those who do not believe in You, and of those who as yet do not know You, but who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Draw them to the light of the Gospel. These souls do not know what great happiness it is to love You. Grant that they, too, may extol the generosity of Your mercy for endless ages. Amen.

*Our Lord’s original words here were “the pagans.” Since the pontificate of Pope John XXIII, the Church has seen fit to replace this term with clearer and more appropriate terminology.

Fifth Day
“Today bring to Me the Souls of those who have separated themselves from My Church*,

and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. During My bitter Passion they tore at My Body and Heart, that is, My Church. As they return to unity with the Church My wounds heal and in this way they alleviate My Passion.”  
Most Merciful Jesus, Goodness Itself, You do not refuse light to those who seek it of You. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who have separated themselves from Your Church. Draw them by Your light into the unity of the Church, and do not let them escape from the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart; but bring it about that they, too, come to glorify the generosity of Your mercy.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls of those who have separated themselves from Your Son’s Church, who have squandered Your blessings and misused Your graces by obstinately persisting in their errors. Do not look upon their errors, but upon the love of Your own Son and upon His bitter Passion, which He underwent for their sake, since they, too, are enclosed in His Most Compassionate Heart. Bring it about that they also may glorify Your great mercy for endless ages. Amen.

*Our Lord’s original words here were “heretics and schismatics,” since He spoke to Saint Faustina within the context of her times. As of the Second Vatican Council, Church authorities have seen fit not to use those designations in accordance with the explanation given in the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism (n.3). Every pope since the Council has reaffirmed that usage. Saint Faustina herself, her heart always in harmony with the mind of the Church, most certainly would have agreed. When at one time, because of the decisions of her superiors and father confessor, she was not able to execute Our Lord’s inspirations and orders, she declared: “I will follow Your will insofar as You will permit me to do so through Your representative. O my Jesus ” I give priority to the voice of the Church over the voice with which You speak to me” (497). The Lord confirmed her action and praised her for it.

Sixth Day
Today bring to Me the Meek and Humble Souls and the Souls of  Little Children,

and immerse them in My mercy. These souls most closely resemble My Heart. They strengthened Me during My bitter agony. I saw them as earthly Angels, who will keep vigil at My altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. I favor humble souls with My confidence.    
Most Merciful Jesus, You yourself have said, “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart all meek and humble souls and the souls of little children. These souls send all heaven into ecstasy and they are the heavenly Father’s favorites. They are a sweet-smelling bouquet before the throne of God; God Himself takes delight in their fragrance. These souls have a permanent abode in Your Most Compassionate Heart, O Jesus, and they unceasingly sing out a hymn of love and mercy.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon meek souls, upon humble souls, and upon little children who are enfolded in the abode which is the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls bear the closest resemblance to Your Son. Their fragrance rises from the earth and reaches Your very throne. Father of mercy and of all goodness, I beg You by the love You bear these souls and by the delight You take in them: Bless the whole world, that all souls together may sing out the praises of Your mercy for endless ages. Amen.

Seventh Day
Today bring to Me the Souls who especially venerate and glorify My Mercy*,

and immerse them in My mercy. These souls sorrowed most over my Passion and entered most deeply into My spirit. They are living images of My Compassionate Heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell. I shall particularly defend each one of them at the hour of death.
Most Merciful Jesus, whose Heart is Love Itself, receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who particularly extol and venerate the greatness of Your mercy. These souls are mighty with the very power of God Himself. In the midst of all afflictions and adversities they go forward, confident of Your mercy; and united to You, O Jesus, they carry all mankind on their shoulders. These souls will not be judged severely, but Your mercy will embrace them as they depart from this life.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls who glorify and venerate Your greatest attribute, that of Your fathomless mercy, and who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls are a living Gospel; their hands are full of deeds of mercy, and their hearts, overflowing with joy, sing a canticle of mercy to You, O Most High! I beg You O God:

Show them Your mercy according to the hope and trust they have placed in You. Let there be accomplished in them the promise of Jesus, who said to them that during their life, but especially at the hour of death, the souls who will venerate this fathomless mercy of His, He, Himself, will defend as His glory. Amen.

*The text leads one to conclude that in the first prayer directed to Jesus, Who is the Redeemer, it is “victim” souls and contemplatives that are being prayed for; those persons, that is, that voluntarily offered themselves to God for the salvation of their neighbor (see Col 1:24; 2 Cor 4:12). This explains their close union with the Savior and the extraordinary efficacy that their invisible activity has for others. In the second prayer, directed to the Father from whom comes “every worthwhile gift and every genuine benefit,”we recommend the “active” souls, who promote devotion to The Divine Mercy and exercise with it all the other works that lend themselves to the spiritual and material uplifting of their brethren.

Eighth Day
Today bring to Me the Souls who are in the prison of Purgatory,
and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are greatly loved by Me. They are making retribution to My justice. It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.”   
Most Merciful Jesus, You Yourself have said that You desire mercy; so I bring into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls in Purgatory, souls who are very dear to You, and yet, who must make retribution to Your justice. May the streams of Blood and Water which gushed forth from Your Heart put out the flames of Purgatory, that there, too, the power of Your mercy may be celebrated.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls suffering in Purgatory, who are enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. I beg You, by the sorrowful Passion of Jesus Your Son, and by all the bitterness with which His most sacred Soul was flooded: Manifest Your mercy to the souls who are under Your just scrutiny. Look upon them in no other way but only through the Wounds of Jesus, Your dearly beloved Son; for we firmly believe that there is no limit to Your goodness and compassion. Amen.

Ninth Day
Today bring to Me the Souls who have become Lukewarm,
and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: ‘Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.’ For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy.” 
Most compassionate Jesus, You are Compassion Itself. I bring lukewarm souls into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart. In this fire of Your pure love, let these tepid souls who, like corpses, filled You with such deep loathing, be once again set aflame. O Most Compassionate Jesus, exercise the omnipotence of Your mercy and draw them into the very ardor of Your love, and bestow upon them the gift of holy love, for nothing is beyond Your power.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon lukewarm souls who are nonetheless enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Father of Mercy, I beg You by the bitter Passion of Your Son and by His three-hour agony on the Cross: Let them, too, glorify the abyss of Your mercy. Amen. 

If you want to learn more about this beautiful devotion and the Chaplet please go to EWTN.  I hope you will find it as fulfilling as I do and I wish you and your family a beautiful and blessed Easter .

Lectio Divina – Learning to Pray with the Scriptures

Lectio Divina means “Divine Reading” and is an ancient form of prayer that uses scripture passages as a basis of meditation and prayer. It has been a recommended form of Christian prayer for centuries.

Pope Benedict XVI said in 2005:

“I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church – I am convinced of it – a new spiritual springtime.”

The FishEaters website has the best explanation of how to do Lectio Divina that I have come across. It is excellent and gives you a good history of this method of prayer as well. Most of the sites that I have seen that write about Lectio Divina try to incorporate it with Eastern forms of prayer, which are not Christian, so I was happy to find this one.

While the author of this prayer guide is a big proponent of the Douay-Rheims translation of the bible, which is the Catholic bible used until 1970, you should feel comfortable to use any Catholic bible you have. In fact, it is a good idea to own several translations to compare passages. Beside the Douay-Rheims translation, there are two other excellent translations you might want to explore: the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (RSV-CE, commonly known as the Ignatius Bible) and also the Jerusalem Bible.

The RSV-CE is the Bible used by some of the best and most faithful Catholic bible scholars, and is one of the most accurate translations in English. There is a new Second Edition that has a bit more modern English, as well.

A good Catholic bible commentary was recommended to help understand passages for prayer. An excellent commentary you should check out is the Navarre Bible. It is the best commentary for laymen that I know of. It comes in individual volumes of the books of the bible or in clusters of books.

Like all new things, Lectio Divina, takes a little bit of practice, but in a short time each stage will flow easily from one to another without much thought. Praying in this format will bring great peace and blessings to you and help you in your quest for closeness with God.

Here are a couple of other links that may be useful as well:
Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer
What is Lectio Divina?

UPDATE:  Here is a great article from the National Catholic Register about using modern technology to aid us in Lectio Divina  – Wired For the Word of God:  Lectio Divina in the Digital Age

and a beautiful article from a Carmelite Prior General about the Fundamental Elements of Carmelite Spirituality in which Contemplation and Lectio Divina play a major part.

Nourish Your Soul

Ever since I came back to the Church 14 years ago, I have been interested in learning how to pray well.  I always seemed to be grasping at straws though.  At first, prayer was a quick spontaneous message to God or short written prayers.  I recently found a piece of paper with those little Morning and Evening Prayers that I had stuck in a book. They were nice little prayers and a good place to start.

Next, I had to relearn the “Our Father” since I could only remember part of it, and I needed a booklet to learn the Rosary, with a little refresher course on the “Hail Mary.”   For a long time however, I was pretty dissatisfied with my prayer.  If I had been more disciplined that would have helped, but I knew there was something more – I just did not grasp what it was.  Some people said that that was all there was.  You talked to God, maybe listened for some sort of feeling, and that was it.  You were not to expect anything that awe inspiring.  Oh…maybe there were some people who did, but they were extraordinary.

I wasn’t really comfortable with this answer.  I generally felt that there had to be more.  That there was a relationship with God there, but I needed to find it.  I just did not know how.  What did you do to get closer to God?  Oh, you followed the Commandments as best you could and you went to Church but….there was something else…but what?

I read lots of books on prayer and they were all very nice.  I had some lay spiritual directors, but they were not very well trained and I was left disappointed.  The books said to just talk to God and I did this.  I talked to him in the car, and when I did stuff at home. I tried to find a consistent prayer time to spend with Him. I went to Eucharistic adoration and daily Mass at times.  I read the bible and tried to get “lights” from it, which is reading a passage and seeing what strikes you and what it says to you in your heart.  And yet something was still missing.  I knew there was more.

Then, one woman I saw a couple of times for spiritual direction was actually pretty helpful and suggested that I read Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel-On Prayer.  I had thought that this was a book that was going to be too difficult.  That it was for someone who was advanced spiritually.  St. Teresa of Avila would be hard.  She would be so lofty and and above my head that I would just be wasting my time.  The spiritual director though, told me that that was not the case.  And while someone who was just beginning might not want to delve into it, it would be a good idea for me to read.  She was right.

The basis of this book is that these two saints, especially St. Teresa, really think it is necessary to learn what you are striving for in prayer, where you want to go.  Kind of like a road map or a picture of where you want to travel to.  If you have no idea, how will you get there?  It is VERY helpful.  It is not the kind of book you read in an afternoon.  You take it in small bits and think about it.  St. Teresa and St. John explain about what you are aiming for – and that is Contemplation, which is a true gift from God. It is not a technique – it is something God gives you.  This is not an Eastern form of prayer, this is true Christian prayer and it is what I knew there had to be.

While I am reading this book – and I’m still reading it – albeit slowly , I discovered a few weeks ago that Fr. Dubay has some audio series on EWTN about prayer.  The two I’ll mention to you are Contemplation and Prayer Quest.  You can listen to these free MP3 series (13 half-hour shows each) either online, save them on your computer to listen to later, or save and transfer them to an MP3 player.

Fr. Dubay’s series on Contemplation is just excellent.  I listened to it while I was in the car, and you can’t get any better explanation on this form of prayer than here.  He really goes in depth about what it is, and how to recognize when Christ is calling you to a deeper form of union with him, and how to foster this in your life.  It is a pretty complete package.

Prayer Quest discusses our thirst for God, what are the impediments to growth in prayer, mediation, and time pressures among other topics.  I have just started to listen to them and they have already helped me a great deal.

Karen over at CatholiciCast has Fr. Dubay’s series laid out for you to see easily here and here.

You might also find helpful,  Prayer Primer : Igniting a Fire Within by Fr. Dubay.  This book is simple,  especially for beginners, but everyone would benefit from it.

Remember, prayer is a journey that you are on until you meet the Lord face to Face.  You will have missteps, fall-backs, confusion and the occasional frustration, but if you keep at it you will progress.  You need to have a willing heart, more silence in your life and helpful reading such as the Bible.  Don’t give up, just keep trying and God will provide.

Photo: www.grkat.net

Counting the Blessings – Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi to all of my handful of faithful readers. You are faithful, right? You’re not? Then sign up for my RSS feed. You can read about RSS feeds in the “Never Miss a Post” box on the upper left. Someday, I will write about my love for my iGoogle homepage but you can check it out now by going to www.google.com/ig and seeing all it has to offer, including the Google Reader for feeds.

I hope you all are doing well and will be having a great Thanksgiving with your families. I leave you with a post that I wrote in August, Thank You Lord. I was thankful then and am just as thankful today. May the Lord bless you and your family, and if you are traveling – stay safe.

A Beautiful Way of Prayer

The main way that you grow in your relationship with Christ, and in the Catholic faith, is through prayer. Many people think that prayer is difficult, and they are intimidated by the thought of it so they don’t pray, or they only pray “stock” prayers like the “Our Father” or “Hail Mary.” Their relationship may not grow, so they get frustrated and give up. Prayer however, should be as easy as breathing. Talking to God as if he were your friend, concerned about you, is a start. Common devotions are also a help. Some of these common devotions are the Rosary, the Sacred Heart, or the Divine Mercy.

A friend of mine on Facebook, Vinny Flynn, posted the following today. I thought it was a beautiful way of prayer and I’m going to incorporate into my prayer time myself. Vinny is kindly allowing me to share it with you and I urge you to try it.

Several years ago I happened upon a method of praying that has become a daily practice. It began with the Divine Mercy image, the now well-known picture of Christ with red and pale rays streaming from His Heart. I had become accustomed to praying before the large image of the Divine Mercy that hung in my office, imagining myself in the midst of those rays as I intoned the familiar prayer, “Oh Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you.”

On this particular day I was praying for a family member, and I found myself mentally placing him in the rays, asking the Lord to let him stay there all day to be soaked and saturated with grace in this outpouring of God’s mercy. Looking for a way to remember this intention throughout the day, I dug up a photo of him and stuck it in the corner of the frame so that it was right below the rays – a visual reminder that would prompt me to renew my prayer each time I looked up and noticed it.

It made my prayer seem so much more real that I soon purchased a much larger, unframed image. I glued it to a thick piece of cardboard and, within a few weeks, there were pictures tacked all over it: my wife and children, other family members, the Pope, special friends, anyone I wanted to remember to pray for.

A variation of this photo prayer soon emerged. My wife and I decided to assign a specific day of the week to pray in a special way for each of our children (very easy to do since there are 7 of them). So we gathered photos of each and set up a little “prayer table” on which we could display a different photo each day. This became especially powerful during Lent, as it prompted me to also give up something specific for each child on his or her prayer day.

But as meaningful as these two types of prayer were, the next variation that evolved proved to be the most fruitful for me and has become a permanent part of my daily prayer life. Years earlier I had learned that praying the Liturgy of the Hours (the 4-volume set of prayers known also as the Divine Office) is not reserved exclusively for priests and religious, but can be a fruitful practice of daily prayer for laity as well. I especially love to “pray the Office” in front of the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic adoration. One day, concerned about a friend who was in need of prayer, I found a photo of her and put it in my breviary so I would remember to pray for her the next morning at adoration. It was the first of many photos that I now keep in my breviary.(It doesn’t have to be a breviary; any prayer book or prayer journal would serve the purpose just as well.)

How do I pray using the photos?

I just look at them. “Prayer,” wrote St. Therese, “is a surge of the heart.” I just look at the pictures, one by one, and let my heart surge to God for each person. A photo captures much of the essence of a person. As I gaze at each photo, the person it represents becomes present to me, complete with personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, memories, conversations, specific needs, etc. Sometimes actual words of prayer come to mind and are offered; sometimes there are no words. Essentially I am simply lifting each person up to God in whatever way and for whatever period of time seems called for. It varies from day to day. Sometimes a brief glance and momentary entrustment of the person to God is sufficient. At other times, the same photo may bring a flood of thoughts and a longer period of prayer. I just let it happen, trusting that the Holy Spirit is directing it all.

I am now in the habit of carrying a small digital camera with me when I travel; and when someone asks for prayer, I say, “Sure! Say “cheese.”

If you have ever watched the lovely Divine Mercy Chaplet on EWTN at 3pm then you have seen Vinny and his family, who sing the Chaplet. It is beautiful. Vinny’s website is MercySong.com and he wrote one of the most profound but simple books I have read entitled The 7 Secrets of the Eucharist.

For more information about the Divine Mercy devotion please check out the official Divine Mercy Website by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who have been the official promoters of this devotion since 1941.

St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, through whom Christ brought us this wonderful devotion, wrote a profound diary that you will find here: The Diary of St. Faustina.