1. God’s Love as a Guiding Light
He can transform emotions and guide any wayward heart.
Up until the age of 24, I had no guide to help me navigate the wilderness of love and life. As a little girl, I was sure I wanted to marry my dad. Every evening as he came through the door, I would rush to embrace him. As I got older and stopped doing that, he told me how his little girl’s hugs got him through each stressful day.
My first boyfriend broke my dad’s heart more than he broke mine. He disrespected me many times by groping me in his car, and wanted to be physically intimate with me, even though I was often not comfortable with his actions. When my dad finally spotted a hickey on my neck, he flew into a rage and then broke down crying.His tears woke me up and gave me the determination to leave this boy. I thought then that love, in the form of my dad, both suffers and saves.
With the second boyfriend, I decided I would also suffer to save. He had an inferiority complex because I was a university graduate and he wasn’t, so I stayed with him for longer than I felt I was in love. I didn’t want him to think we broke up because I looked down on him. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He was a gentleman I looked up to and I felt great affection for… as a brother.
Many years later, at the age of 31, I met my husband. He was patient and kind, and incredibly cute. We would drink soya bean together after a late night movie, and I have never stopped feeling a tingling sensation inside me whenever he holds my hand. But the first few years of marriage was challenging. I discovered new, not-so-nice things about him that I would have wanted to know beforehand. His mother also made me feel very insecure and unsafe, due to her gambling habits. How did love trick me into this trap of a marriage?
Though I had never thought of leaving, it was also hard to embrace him as fully as I used to. I continued torturing myself with unforgiveness every day. Then, one day, while flipping through the church booklet we had designed for our wedding day, I read these lines: Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. A few pages down, there was also a line for the cantor, which says: What God has united, man must not divide. Filled with shame, I realised I had put a divide between my husband and I. God had brought us together and blessed our union, but I had been stubborn, refusing to accept my husband’s multiple attempts at saying sorry.
The Lord has always been merciful to me. He corrects me when I do something wrong, and prunes me to bear fruit, keeping me always connected to him, the true vine. How can I not show forgiveness when forgiveness has been repeatedly shown to me?
God’s presence—His love—can transform emotions and guide any wayward heart. He guided mine. When I allowed my husband the space and time to share, I realised there was nothing there for me to be upset about at all. He loves me as much as any man can, and truth be told, he loves me very well. We give things up for each other. I would give up sleep to do laundry, and he would give up his precious computer time to cuddle with me. How little we sacrifice for love, don’t you think? But a start is better than none at all. We have a lifetime together to strive towards the perfection of God’s love, helping each other to grow in holiness to gain our eternal sanctity. That is what marriage is for.
Now when I wonder about love, God’s love is my guiding light. His Word brings wisdom to steady my fickle heart, and to teach it His ways over my own.
- Do you learn about love from God or from man?
- What do you know of God’s love in your life?
- How does your love for others model God’s love and how do you share that love with others?
2. A Desire to be Fruitful and Awake
Gently he leads me toward the life-giving waters.
Reading my Catholic Women’s Devotional Bible, I come across the story of Bathsheba. The story opens with this:
Bathsheba squeezed the sponge moving it across her body in even rhythms as though to calm the restless cadence of her thoughts. Normally she looked forward to the ritual bath marking the end of her monthly period, but tonight the water soothed her skin without refreshing her spirit.
She should be glad for the cool breeze. For a lush harvest. But spring, the season of armies and battles, could also yield its crop of sorrows. Though her husbandUriah was a seasoned soldier, she still worried, wishing she could fall asleep in his arms. But he was camped with the king’s army some 40 miles north-east ofJerusalem.
Though Bathsheba was a woman from so long ago, I was surprised how much her story resonated with me. Sometimes, as if the body has a mind of its own, a desire arises out of nowhere, when all I intended was to bathe and clean myself. Other times, thoughts of worry and pining blind me to every good gift that is already present, sparking decline into a lust for that which is not mine to have.
How does godly desire differ from persistent lust?
David rose from his bed, unable to sleep. Pacing across the palace roof, he gazed at the city below. In the half-light he noticed the figure of a young woman, bathing in the garden below him. Wet hair curling languidly against skin white as lamb’s wool. Breasts like rounded apples. He reached as though to steal a touch.
Even if it were just an imaginary touch, David was led to steal what does not belong to him. In contrast, our God’s love for us, expressed through the wisdom ofSolomon, says in 11:24 - For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
While lust steals and destroys, a godly desire nurtures and creates. God uses our deepest, most authentic longings to steady our heart and cultivate patience, whereas lust breeds impatience and dishonesty, welcoming evil. A properly placed desire is courageous, visionary and blessed with expansive creativity, whereas lust entraps and creates tunnel-vision, shutting out every good possibility.
Knowing God’s wondrous love, I begin to ask myself, each time I feel tempted to slide into the whirlpool of sin: God’s love intends for me to bear fruit. Will what I do now bear fruit?
In times of stress, when my need for relief sometimes brings me back towards toxic habits, I picture Jesus walking in the desert for 40 days. I think about my fellow Christians, fasting to pray for the souls in purgatory. I see how I can lift up my stress and suffering as an offering to God, and as a prayer for my brothers and sisters, instead of taking the easy - and irresponsible - way out.
In song of Solomon, 8:6 it says: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. God fights my battles. He is a seal upon my heart. He knows that I sometimes look for the right things in the wrong places. Gently he leads me toward the life-giving waters instead. For He has plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future.
- Do you know what are the God-given desires of your heart?
- How has God’s love strengthened you against sin?
- What do you know of God’s love from the Bible?
3. Showing Up for Confession
The priest is not there for himself, but for me and for God!
As a community worker in the mental health sector, people often share deeply personal things with me. A young man experiencing job anxiety as his pornographic addiction spirals out of control; an exhausted, abused mother worried that her son is learning violence from his father and older brother; in-laws mistreating a foreign wife after her husband passed on; an intelligent graduate struggling with his gender identity; boyfriends becoming suicidal after relationship breakups and vice versa; as well as many others. The themes are often the same - pain and suffering, coupled with self-blame and deep personal shame. They come to me for help, but most of the time, I cannot release them from their circumstances. I can only try to alleviate their pain, by listening in together to help them reach a deeper place of internal resource. On occasion, when there is external help available, I direct them there.
Sometimes, I do wonder if I am giving these people more help than if they were to confess their sins to a priest. This may seem prideful and arrogant to say, though the question arose from authentic curiosity on my part.
My past experiences with confession - with approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation- have been mixed. Sometimes I don’t know what to say. Other times, I come with a specific sin or wrongdoing I have committed, hoping to receive judgement, understanding and forgiveness. I don’t always feel like I receive these things, which in turn discourages me from going back for future confessions.
Yet, ever so often, after distancing myself from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, aSomeone will draw me back. This Someone, this Presence, I know to be on occasion Jesus, on occasion a friend or an acquaintance through whom the Holy Spirit speaks and draws me back to the Source.
The ideals of the Sacrament of Reconciliation speak deeply to me. I want to be in communion with my God. I want Him to judge me for the things I have done wrong, even as I hope he understands why in my human frailty I did them. I seek His forgiveness to be whole again in my relationship with Him. These yearnings of my heart will never cease, just as the frowns on my face and the dis-ease of my soul cannot be straightened and cured by mere human beings. And yet, we are all we have - men and women in church as brothers and sisters, deeply flawed but also capable of great love and God-glorifying endeavours.
In Genesis it says God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Why then, if God had made man in His own image, can I not see my priests in His image? What is wrong with my priests? What is wrong with me?
My reflection has brought me to this: that we each have a part to play in theSacrament of Reconciliation. The priest, God, and me. The priest, as confessor, brings my confession to God for me. He is my conduit and he is my help. God, through the priest, communicates his judgement, his understanding and also his forgiveness upon me. He wills that I be reconciled to Him and to my fellow brothers and sisters. My reflection, I am ashamed to say, has brought me to this fact: that I am only required to show up. Every other aspect of confession is prepared for my sake. The priest is not there for himself, but for me and for God!
Sometimes, when I feel like I am burdening the priest, I appease myself in the knowledge that the priest is there not for me, but for God. And then, as I share my sins and seek forgiveness, I realize the priest is there for me too. He is a human representation for me and for God. He is with me in the flesh, just as Jesus is in the bread and wine at every celebration of the Holy Mass.
God is at our deeper place of internal resource, and I have come to believe that the Sacrament for Reconciliation helps to take us there.
- What helps you to show up for confession?
- Do you believe that God is present in the Sacrament?
- How will you approach the confessional, knowing that you are approaching God for his forgiveness?
4. Christ is a Martyr and Witness for Humanity
Not by our efforts, but by Christ’s, do we succeed at Lent.
These days, obesity has gotten a hold on me. I am someone who has struggled with my weight and body image for as long as I can remember. I would exercise excessively, and then eat excessively, in extremes over the years. I believed that my worth was tied to the state of my body. That if I could control my body, I could control my destiny. Or that if I was not seen by anybody, or not required to be fit for school competitions, that I could let my body go. Pay no attention to it and let it grow fat and unhealthy and dirty even, similar to how we throw food in dustbins without a second thought.
My conversion to Catholicism in 2008 introduced me to the season of Lent. Since then it has been a personal favourite in the Catholic calendar, though not always the most easy, or successful. The practice of Lent is a practice of self-control over the sensorial aspect of our human experience, a good reminder to curb impulsiveness and cultivate mindfulness, gratefulness and contentment. Catholicism has also taught me that my body is a temple in which I worship and glorify my Lord. These teachings and practices helped me reconsider the way I relate to my body, by showing me how I can honour the Lord my God in my everyday life.
I look atJesus on the Cross often and I muse how He allowed himself to suffer such excruciating pain in His Body. He is God. In a way, He didn’t have to, but He also had to, because he loved us so much. As much as He loves Justice and Mercy, as much as He is Love from which all good things come. He became Man, walking like us, talking like us, living and suffering like us, to show us a different way. That Man can love God with all his heart and mind and soul, that Man can love his neighbour as himself, so much as to die for him on the cross. I see Jesus on the Cross and my heart can’t help but be activated for the good I am called to do in this world.
One evening, as I was working out at the gym, I listened to an episode on Fr. Mike Schmitz Catholic Podcasts titled “A Martyr for the Faith vs. a Victim of Circumstance.” The point he made was simple - a victim is a victim of something that prevents him from living a full life. A martyr, whom may also be known as a witness, is a martyr for something that brings meaning and purpose to his life. A martyr for Jesus is also a witness for Jesus. A martyr for humankind is also a witness for humankind.
This was my Easter Alleluia. God in Jesus is a witness to humankind, and to me, to all I can be for myself and for others in this lifetime. Just as He died for me, He is also living for me, then as the son of Mary and Joseph, now as the resurrected Son of God.
His witnessing of my life calls on me to be better person. No longer am I a victim or a prisoner of my circumstances. Instead, I am a martyr and a witness to the love of Christ, and to the importance of mental health in community. He has guided me to discern a vocation for myself, and given me a meaning and purpose to life. My patron saint is St. Frances of Rome. She is someone who had always wanted to be a nun, to lead that simple life close to the Lord. But life had her live a different path - that of a wife and a mother and an organizer of charitable services.
St.Frances of Rome teaches me to discern and to see the difference between what I want to do and what God wants me to do. Her life calls me not only to look deeply for God in prayer, but to also carry my devotion to Jesus by living with the suffering of our world. St. Frances shows me that such a life need not be restricted to those bound by vows. That God in His Easter Alleluia has a plan for all of us to live meaningful and fruitful lives.
- How do you honour God in your earthly body?
- As you contemplate Jesus on the Cross, do you recognize how he has been martyred for you? Why do you think he did so?
- What are you living for on this earthly plane that is honouring the Sacrifice ofGod?