Dawn was gently breaking over the city of Jerusalem. Located in the vicinity of our hotel, The Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, which is situated on the Via Dolorosa at the bend in the road between the 3rd and 4th Stations of the Cross, I could hear a rooster crowing from a nearby courtyard of one of the ancient stone houses. He was greeting the rising sun and majestically announcing the start of a new day, just as the Lord of creation had ordained from the beginning of the world.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth….and God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its Builder’s craft. One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge….. God has pitched there a tent for the sun. It comes forth like a bridegroom from his chamber … from one end of the heavens it comes forth; its course runs through to the other; nothing escapes its heat. (Psalm 19:2-7)
For from the rising of the sun, to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My name, and a pure offering. For My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:11)
Father Avitus and I had arranged to meet in the lobby of our hotel very early on that special morning, when he would celebrate Mass for just the two of us in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Father Avitus and I are old friends. Father Avitus, who is from Tanzania, had been sent by his African Order, The Apostles of Jesus, to minister to the sick and dying in the nursing homes and hospitals of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where I was living at that time. Within days of his arrival to America, the Lord had arranged for us to meet in a marvelous way. From that moment, the Lord put in my heart the desire to assist Father Avitus in his ministry. I served as a lector, reading the Holy Scriptures, when he said Mass at the nursing homes. Further, for several years now, we have been working together on a medical mission for Tanzania.
After living in Israel for two years, I wanted to share my precious experience of the Holy Land with my dear friend and fellow laborer for the Lord. So, my husband and I, invited Father Avitus during June 2010, to come to Israel for a twelve day visit. I knew that Father Avitus, as a Catholic priest, should celebrate holy Mass daily. Thus, I endeavored to make arrangements through the Latin Patriarchate to reserve a time at the important sacred Christian shrines throughout the country for Father to celebrate Mass every day of his visit. Then I planned to arrange our pilgrimage around the Mass schedule that would be assigned to us. During June, there are many Catholic pilgrim groups from all over the world travelling to Israel. Thus, the priests who lead these pilgrim tours, have set up their mass schedules at these shrines, many months, and even years, before their planned trips.
With such short notice, and considering the few days which we had available to spend in the Old City of Jerusalem during Father’s pilgrimage, I knew that it would be highly improbable that I would be able to reserve any of the many altars inside the holiest of Christian Shrines, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for Father to celebrate Mass. This large and extensive Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over the last five Stations of the Cross: 11th, the nailing of Jesus to the Cross, 12th, the Crucifixion, 13th ,the taking down of Jesus’ Body from the Cross, 14th, the Burial of Jesus in the Holy Tomb, and 15th, the Resurrection.
I simply could not believe what I heard when the secretary informed me that she was assigning Father not only to an altar inside the Basilica, but, to the altar at the Tomb of Christ! I was filled with immense joy! I thought, Lord, how gracious You are to give us this most sublime blessing, to receive Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion at the precise place where You rose up from the dead in Your glorified resurrected Body!
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid Him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. (Luke 23:50-54)
And He said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:5)
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. (Mark 16: 1-5)
But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but He has been raised. Remember what He said to you while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” And they remembered his words. (Luke 24:1-8)
With hearts full of joy, Father and I set out through the large iron gate of our hotel, all the while praising God for this new day, for we live in the resurrected life of the Spirit of Christ.
Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; Behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith in the Son of God who has loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit .For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
We made our way along the Via Dolorosa and walked through the narrow cobblestone streets of the Muslim Quarter, which led into the Christian Quarter, until we reached the entrance to the large courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We could see before us, just inside the huge doors, many lamps hanging over the pungent, chrism- drenched, Unction Stone, where Jesus’ Body, after having been taken down from the Cross, was laid and anointed before His burial in the Tomb.
In the center of the Basilica, underneath a large dome, is an area containing two small rooms: the Chapel of the Angel, with an altar containing a piece of the stone which was rolled away by angels at the Resurrection, and, the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher, which contains the Tomb of Christ. A marble slab covers the place where Christ’s body was laid and from which He rose from the dead. A vase with candles marks the spot where His head rested.
Father went into the sacristy to get vested to celebrate Mass. I waited outside the door of the Sacristy for him. It was about 7:30 in the morning, and there were some small pilgrim groups at various altars inside the Basilica, where the priests that accompanied them were saying Mass. I pondered how awesome it was, that in just a few moments, I would be inside the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher, which was barely big enough for three persons to stand in, all alone with Father Avitus, who would be celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
All of a sudden, a wondrous, generous thought entered my mind, and a deep feeling of bountiful love welled up in my heart. Unexpectedly, I was filled with an intense desire to share Holy Communion with another member of the Body of Christ. I sensed the Holy Spirit was moving in me and prompting this beautiful intention. It must not be only Father and me, together in Christ’s Tomb, who would receive our merciful Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He must be shared in Holy Communion with another one of our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ! Aware of this remarkable prompting, I began praying silently for this desire to be realized, while waiting for Father Avitus to come out of the sacristy.
Fully dressed in pure white vestments, Father came out to me, and we turned towards the Tomb of Christ, to begin our two-person procession into the tiny Chapel. As I turned, I saw a woman, who had not been there before. She looked at me with yearning and pleading eyes, with her arms held up in front of her chest, with her hands pressed together in the prayer position. She did not have to say one word to me, as I completely understood that she desired with all her being to join us at Holy Mass in the Tomb of Christ. My heart leapt for joy as I fully appreciated that the Lord had immediately answered my silent prayer! Further, I truly believe, as Jesus surely would know of the woman’s intense love for Him, and her heart’s desire to receive Him in Holy Communion, He stirred up in my heart, through the Holy Spirit, love, to want to share Holy Mass with her, and even to pray for this to be fulfilled. In every way, I felt the Lord’s Will had been done!
The three of us processed in single file to the Tomb of Christ, where we entered into the Chapel of the Angel, and then passed into the tiny sanctuary of the Holy Sepulcher. Father prepared the altar on the marble slab, which covers the sepulcher, for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He asked the woman if she spoke English. She shook her head and responded, “no, Italiano.”
Father began the Mass and we lifted up our hearts, minds, and souls, to the Lord with all our strength of love and adoration. The woman responded in Italian, as I responded in English, to Father, as he said the Mass. Even though we came from different countries, Tanzania, America, and Italy, and all spoke different languages, in the Body of Christ, we are one in the Lord.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4: 4-6)
When the time came in the Order of the Mass for Holy Communion to be distributed, we could not “come forward” to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion from Father as the chapel was so tiny. We could only kneel, which we did, and Father held the sacred Host high and stated, “Ann, this is the Body of Christ.” “Amen” I replied with all my faith, and then I received our Lord on my tongue with all the love I had in me. To our astonishment, there was another Host under the first One. Father lifted this second host and placed it in my mouth and so in the Tomb of Christ I received a “double portion” of Holy Communion, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, of the risen Jesus Christ, our Lord!
“But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her.” (1 Samuel 1:5)
Now, the sacristan had been told, that there would be only two persons attending Holy Mass in the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher that morning at 7:30, the priest and me, thus, only two wafers of altar bread were required to be consecrated at Mass. When the sacristan prepared all that was needed for the celebration of the Mass, he did not know that the Italian woman would join with us, and that there would be three persons in the Tomb. Yet, the Lord had prepared everything according to His good pleasure and perfect Will, as we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.( Romans: 8-28)
At the moment Father Avitus distributed Holy Communion, there was not just two hosts but rather three hosts! The Lord provided one for the Italian woman who loved Him so much and two for me for *to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her.” *
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might, which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:18-23)
* I am named Ann, which comes from the Hebrew name of Hannah, meaning “favor” or “grace.” As I am writing this account I am suddenly recalling something quite mysterious that happened just last night. While I was lying in bed before falling asleep, for no apparent reason, I contemplated my own name! I do not know why I thought about my name Ann? I was pondering how it came from the Hebrew name of Hannah. I said to myself last night while lying in bed, “I like the name Hannah. I would have liked to have been called Hannah.” Then, just this morning, another mysterious thing happened. I went to my local church and attended the 8 am daily Mass, and the Old Testament scripture verses that were read were 1st Samuel 1:1-9 which include: “But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her” (1 Samuel 1:5). I can only conclude that these two mysterious “coincidences” of last night and this morning and their perfect timing and relation to the writing of this account today are of the Holy Spirit and serve to confirm that this writing is of His inspiration and according to His perfect will. Thank you Lord for all your gracious and abundant blessings!
This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent, 2013. In the late morning, I attended Holy Mass at my local parish church.
In the afternoon, I felt very fatigued from the very busy Thanksgiving week. Even more so, I was worn out from the intense trials and heavy crosses of this entire year, which had accumulated to the point, where I was very weary mentally, emotionally, and physically. I went to my bed, shortly after three pm in the afternoon, to take a needed rest. Even though I was so tired, I recalled that this was the hour of Divine Mercy, and so I wanted to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, for the Lord to have mercy on the world.
Indeed, I felt too exhausted to get up and find a rosary to use to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. So, I began to pray the chaplet while lying on my bed, using my fingers instead of rosary beads, to recite the chaplet. I did truly want to get down on my knees by my bedside to pray, but I was just too weak. The Holy Spirit reminded me of the following scripture passages:
Psalm 3: “You are a shield around me, O Lord, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud and He answers me… I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear … Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! “
Psalm 63: …. “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You … On my bed I remember You…”
Psalm 4 …. “meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still… In peace I will both lie down and sleep…”
In recalling them, He gave me peace about praying this holy chaplet while lying on my bed instead of on my knees. I began to implore our compassionate Lord to pour out His mercy upon this hurting world.
After a while, as I was praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the salvation of the world, without realizing it, I slipped into sleep.
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:21.)
Just as I was waking from sleep, I heard a Voice speak to me interiorly, saying: “Suddenly, there Is no more time.” I heard this remarkable message clearly! I repeated it in my mind several times so I would not forget it. I pondered what it could mean. I then proceeded to finish praying the remainder of the Divine Mercy Chaplet more fervently for the salvation of sinners.
The next day, December 2, 2013, I went to the Miraculous Medal Shrine, in Philadelphia, and during prayer before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and during the Holy Mass, I sought light and understanding from the Holy Spirit as to the meaning of this message.
The Holy Spirit led me to understand that this message, “Suddenly, there is no more time” is a warning to the world that He desires I share with all readers of this blog and website. The Lord is saying to all of us: “Now is not the time to sleep! Stay awake! Be prepared! Time is short! Be vigilant and unceasing in prayer for the conversion of sinners! Watch and pray! Be as the wise virgins and keep your lamps trimmed and filled with oil and burning!”
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you. ‘Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.’” (Matthew 25)
In these strong words spoken to me, on the First Sunday of Advent 2013, while I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Jesus is stressing the urgency for us to prepare ourselves, to be ready to “meet the Bridegroom when He comes”, and to pray unceasingly for the conversion of sinners, during this “eleventh hour” of His Mercy, before the day of His Justice dawns.
This urgent warning is in keeping with Jesus’ words to St Faustina to whom He gave the Divine Mercy Chaplet :
You will prepare the world for My final coming. (Diary 429)
Speak to the world about My Mercy … It is a sign for the end times. After it will come the Day of Justice. While there is still time let them have recourse to the fountain of My Mercy. (Diary 848)
Tell souls about this great Mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My Justice, is near. (Diary 965).
I am prolonging the time of Mercy for the sake of sinners. But woe to them if they do not recognize this time of My visitation. (Diary 1160)
Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy. (Diary 1588)
He who refuses to pass through the door of My Mercy must pass through the door of My Justice. (Diary 1146).
In addition to these words of Our Lord, Sr. Faustina gives us the Words of the Mother of Mercy, the Blessed Virgin,:
You have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior, but as a just Judge. Oh how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great Mercy while it is still the time for granting Mercy. (Diary 635).
Further, as I sought His counsel about the meaning of “Suddenly, there is no more time,” the Lord revealed to me today, while I was at the Shrine, that the Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent cries out this same urgent warning!
Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
Gospel of Matthew 24:37-44
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
COME LORD JESUS!
O COME, O COME EMMANUEL!
(A poem I received October 21, 2013 from Jesus
while in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament)
Waiting in the silence
all alone with Thee
knowing if I’m quiet
I will hear You speak.
Your words of love to me,
while my heart’s embracing
Your wounded, bleeding feet.
Just like sister Mary
who chose the better part,
I sit in complete silence
to hear words from Your Sacred Heart.
And, as John, Your most beloved,
I lay my head upon,
Your warm and tender bosom
and feel your beating Heart.
Your love and mercy flows
from Your pierced side,
enraptured in the silence
You draw me deep inside.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)
It was raining steadily as I drove my car from my husband’s hometown of Baqa along a remote winding country road in the area of Israel known as the Triangle, whose villages are mostly populated by Arab Muslims, with the occasional Israeli kibbutz interspersed between them. Each day my husband would leave to go to work near Tel Aviv and my children would head off to attend their American International School near Netanya. As a family we had left everything behind – country, American family, friends, neighbors, church and school, house, and possessions, in our sudden and unanticipated move to my husband’s homeland.
After my husband and children departed each day I was left alone in our new “home” to build a new life for myself. I felt very much as an alien in the country, not yet having found my place amongst the peoples of the land. I was feeling terribly lonely. I missed my prior life in America where I was totally “at home” with no language or cultural barriers and where I lived in full community – especially with my “family in Christ.” I knew my way around at home, had a happy, fulfilling daily routine and was fully connected with others. Every day I would attend Holy Mass at my local parish church where I prayed with my brothers and sisters of the “household of God,” and received the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion and was both spiritually and physically united with the Body of Christ.
Some days I would assist a close friend and Catholic priest from Tanzania in his ministry to the sick and dying of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, serving as his lector for the Scripture readings at the Masses that he would say at the nursing homes. Often, I would “make rounds” with Father, or on my own, to the rooms of the nursing home residents, to console and encourage them through their illness and loneliness by reading passages from the Bible, praying for and with them, or simply sharing time with them, talking and listening, being present to them in body and one with them in spirit and heart.
As the cool rain poured onto my windshield, my own warm tears flowed down my face, and waves of homesickness washed across my lonely soul. How I yearned, in that moment, for the companionship with a brother or sister in Christ with whom I could talk and share my heart. The dreary grey sky, soggy wet road, and dank dampness of the car seemed to permeate my soul, and I felt a profound loneliness and sense of alienation.
As I was driving along I saw a middle-aged Arab Muslim woman in her traditional dress walking in the rain along the roadside carrying atop her head a plastic bag which was filled with something. She was carrying some items she had likely purchased in the nearby village, and she was walking home to her own village along the roadside and using the bag as a kind of umbrella. As I passed her I thought, “Oh! I should have stopped to offer her a ride!” The thought came too late and the cars behind me made it difficult to stop and turn around. I also considered that she might not feel at ease with a stranger or foreigner stopping to pick her up. I also did not know how to ask her in Arabic if she wanted a ride. I would never know if I had missed being a “good Samaritan” to her. I apologized to the Lord for thinking and acting too slowly, as I continued driving towards the intersection where the rural road intersected with the highway.
As I was stopped at the red light I saw another middle-aged woman standing in the rain. Sensitive to having missed the previous opportunity to be charitable, I rolled down my window and in English asked the lady if she would like a ride somewhere. She understood me and she quickly ducked out of the rain and got into my car. I asked her where she was going. “Yerushalayim,” she responded in Hebrew. Sensing her English was not so strong, I spoke slowly and clearly to her informing her that I could take her as far as the entrance to Even Yehuda along Highway 4, where I was heading. That would be approximately a half hour drive together and a third of the way to Jerusalem. It would take at least one hour from there to get to “Yerushalayim,” if someone else picked her up at that point, immediately after I dropped her off. She nodded in agreement.
We drove for a while in silence, except for the tapping of the raindrops on the windshield, and the whooshing of the tires from the wet road. Out of the side of my eyes I saw the Israeli passenger peering above my head. I glanced up to see what she was looking at and then I realized she was studying the Face on the holy card that was tucked into my sun visor. Her eyes caught mine, and clutching her hands to her heart, my Jewish passenger exclaimed with exuberance and love, “Yeshua!”
I reached up and took the prayer card with the holy Face of Jesus from my visor and handed it to her. Her face was radiant with joy. Jesus had connected me on that dark and dreary afternoon, which fully reflected the sadness in my soul, with a sister in faith. I was enthralled and astonished at the loving- kindness and goodness of the Lord. Tali, slowly shared with me, in her broken English, that she recently found her divine Lover and Savior, Yeshua, whom she had accepted as her Lord and Messiah. Tali had been visiting her grown son who lived in the Kibbutz near Nizzane Oz, the junction where I had picked her up at the red light. She had been sharing her newfound faith in Christ Jesus with him. She showed me a book that she had been reading and that she brought with her to share with her son, Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada, the quadriplegic Christian author, artist and evangelist.
I had read this same book of Joni’s many years before immediately after my own conversion. My sister in Christ, Tali and I, shared with each other how much Joni’s book about Heaven encouraged our new faith.
Tali also told me that she was attending an Arabic church in Jerusalem where she praises and worships the Lord Jesus, even though she can barely speak or understand Arabic. Her intense love for Jesus, the Savior of all men, brought her into full communion with Palestinian Christians whom she, as a Jewish Israeli, and believer in Messiah, loves as her own brothers and sisters.
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.” Who are My mother and My brothers?” He asked.
Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3: 31-35)
We arrived at our destination on Highway 4, and I pulled over to the shoulder of the road to let Tali out at a covered bus stop, so she might catch a late afternoon bus to Yerushalayim. It was still raining hard, but in my heart, the “Son” was shining. Tali and I embraced each other with an enormous bear hug, and held on to each other for a long time, considering that we may never see each other again until we would meet one day in Heaven. We kissed each other farewell on each cheek, then looked deeply at each other with beaming smiles, and sweetly bid one another, “Shalom.” We were total strangers, yet, in truth, we were sisters, bonded together in the Blood of Christ, and in unifying love that flows from the pierced Heart of the Savior.
For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. (Ephesians 2:14)
Less than 45 minutes later, my cell phone beeped. A text message from Tali informed me that she had already arrived in Yerushalayim. I deduced that she must have been picked up at the bus stop on Highway 4 by a “good Samaritan” who did not heed the speed limits. Perhaps angels are not bound by earthly driving rules? I never heard from Tali again, but I know I will see my sister in Heaven one day.
A little more than a year ago my youngest daughter, then age 14, became suicidal. She had suffered a long and deep depression which began when she was just eleven years old. Her extreme depression may have resulted from a combination of factors: genetic predisposition, hormonal changes from puberty, mixed with the stress brought about by our family’s sudden and unexpected intense trials, some of which included my diagnosis of breast cancer, and being uprooted from her familiar and secure environment when we moved to Israel, and then back again, all within a four year period. Her highly sensitive nature felt deeply these traumatic life events and she plummeted into extreme anxiety and an unimaginable deep, dark depression.
Despite good medicine and therapy, both in Israel and in America, that terrifying night that no parent can ever imagine they would ever personally experience came, when our teenage daughter attempted suicide, and she needed to be rushed by ambulance to the emergency room to save her life.
Oh, a mother’s heart in agony! All the years since the birth of her tender infant, God’s gift of life – a mother nurtures and loves her baby, prays for, and does everything within her power, to guard her precious child from any danger. A mother endeavors to show and teach her child just how much she is loved, both by her family, and also by God ,so that her child can grow up to be happy and secure about herself, and her place in the world, and to know confidently, that she is a beloved child of God who has a special plan for her life.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
How could this be happening to my child I wondered? Why have all our many fervent prayers for so long for her healing seemed to have had no effect? Her depression had worsened not improved. Now things had come to such a dire point in time. Will she live to see tomorrow? Will she ever get better – fully well? Will she find the happiness and peace and purpose which God has for her life? I was terrified. I felt as if I was in utter darkness – in a dense fog – within a thick cloud of unknowing what the future held. It was a type of dark night of the soul – of mind and heart.
Yet, I had faith. Yes, I had faith. It was profoundly living. Inside the depth of my being, the Holy Spirit kept His gift, His grace of faith alive, even vibrant, despite the horrifying outward circumstances of this situation. I trusted Jesus. He would not abandon me. Our Lord told us that he would never leave us nor forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:8, Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20)
Indeed, it was a dark, dark night, but the light of faith in my heart was still shining. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)
Our daughter was treated as an emergency at a local hospital and then moved immediately to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she received further critical care, until she was transferred to another health care facility for several more days.
During the evening of one the days of my daughter’s hospitalization, I went out alone, to take a walk with Jesus under the heavens, seeking His consolation and peace, as my mother’s heart was unbearably heavy with anguish. In looking up, on this summer’s nigh, I saw only continuous grey skies, as there was a pervasive and thick cloud covering over the face of the heavens that evening. I could not see the stars in their affixed places through the dense veil of clouds, but by faith, I knew they were there.
The gentle light of the moon, too, was diffused by the heavenly canopy of clouds. But by faith, I also knew the moon was right above, hidden behind the clouds, just where Our Lord has set it at the foundation of the world. And by faith, I trusted that Jesus was right there with me, in my own obscure night, His love and peace surrounding me, like the clouds blanketing the sky, because He is true to His Word. And in awe and adoration my heart exclaimed:
“When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place—Who are we that you are mindful of us, and a son of man that you care for us? Yet you have made us little less than a god, crowned us with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:4-6
As we continued our walk together, Jesus spoke this song into my heart, and His Spirit filled me with His peace. I trusted Him. All would be well. The Lord would fulfill His plans to give my daughter “hope and a future.” She began to recover immediately, and has gotten stronger and stronger throughout this year. She turned sixteen in July, and there will be many more birthdays to come!
Walking by Faith
Grey skies, crickets and fireflies,
Under the clouds tonight;
Walking by faith, not sight.
Warm air, caressing my skin and hair,
Your presence everywhere;
A love so pure and fair.
Even though I cannot see You, I believe.
Night birds, sing their sweet lullabies,
My heart-song then replies;
I know that You’re nearby.
Even though I cannot see You, I believe.
Grey skies, hiding the stars tonight
Cover their twinkling lights
We walk by faith not sight
Dark night, a place of the mind and soul
We feel we’re all alone
Your Word says it’s just not so
Even though I cannot see You, I believe.
Moon light, veiled by a shroud of clouds
Yet, Your love and peace surround
For faith is where You are found
Even though I cannot see You I believe.
Copyright©, music and lyrics by Ann Ammar 6-22-2012
(Click this link to listen to the song Walking By Faith)
(“Day of Honey, Day of Onions”)
I’ve been in the Holy Land for a month’s visit. This was my first trip back to Israel, since we moved home to America, two years ago. Returning to Israel brought back a flood of memories from the three years we lived amongst the two main communities, the Arabs and the Israelis, who inhabit this beautiful, yet complicated, land.
For the first seven months of our new life in Israel we lived in my husband’s childhood house where he grew up, in the oldest part of the “medinah” of Baqa Al-Gharbiyyah (“bouquet of the west”), a traditional Arab Muslim town. Baqa is situated in the center of Israel, in a rural farming area, on the border of the West Bank.
The massive concrete separation wall, that the Israelis built about 15 years ago, divides Baqa Al- Gharbiyyah, which is in Israel, from the town of Baqa Al Sharqiyyah (“bouquet of the east”), which sits on the other side of the “green line”, in the West Bank. Before the wall was built, the farmers of the West Bank, who lived in Baqa Al Sharqiyyah, and whose small family farms surrounded the town, would bring their agricultural produce to sell in a bustling market on the border, between Baqa Al Sharqiyyah and Baqa Al Gharbiyya.
Life was quite hard for these farmers of the West Bank before the wall was built. But after the wall went up, Baqa Al Sharqiyya was completely sealed off from Baqa Al Gharbiyya and other towns of Israel. Without access to their former markets, these small farmers of the West Bank became totally destitute. With the construction of the dividing wall, these small farmers and their families’ lives had been suddenly changed by circumstances out of their control. They would struggle to accept this harsh new reality, and find a new way forward, through the grace of God.
Many, I believe, must have grown even closer to God, and come to trust Him more than ever before. And, like Job, many of these good and faithful people, would still bless God for His continued loving providence.
My move to Israel in 2008 followed some very grave, sudden, and unexpected, life trials for me. One of the struggles I faced was my diagnosis of breast cancer in 2007. I underwent six months of treatments, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which would be followed by five more years of cancer medications and other interventions. The cancer was very insignificant in comparison to some other grave moral injustices I had been made to suffer, and other emotional traumas I had to face at that same time. Like the West Bank farmers, I, too, would have to struggle to accept the things that had happened to me, learn to embrace my crosses, and allow them to be the means the Lord would use, to deepen my faith and trust in Him.
I knew, with certitude, from the teachings of my Catholic faith, that through these painful life events the good Lord was giving me opportunities to grow in mercy and forgiveness, self-less love, patient perseverance, and fortitude. In faith, I believed our Lord would give me all the grace I needed, to face these sufferings and be victorious through them, by His power and strength. It was up to me to abandon myself to Him, and, in trust, let Jesus lead me forward on the way of the cross.
“…not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit”, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
While my mind assented to this truth, my heart was filled with sadness and emotional distress. These words of scripture were true for me.
For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1: 8-9.)
After moving to Israel, I took a short course in Arabic. During one of our classes, Mohammed, my teacher, shared with me an Arab proverb, “Yom asal; yom basal,” which translated means, “one day honey; one day onions.” While I did not remember much of the Arabic he taught me, that phrase stuck in my memory. I understood it was an expression of life itself.
While my husband went to work each day in a suburb of Tel Aviv, and my daughters went to their American International School near Netanya, a Jewish town located at quite a distance from the Arab village of Baqa, I was left alone in my husband’s childhood house, to start a new life amongst a very different cultural and religious community; and this, on the heels of the painful experiences that had occurred in my life in America, right before we moved. I felt very isolated and extremely lonely in that new place. My heart was heavy with sorrow and anguish from the prior traumatic events. I could feel the cloud of depression hovering over my soul.
One day, many months after we moved to Baqa, I left our house to take a walk with Jesus, in order to be comforted by Him. The sun was bright in the sky. It was high noon and quite a hot day. I yearned for Jesus to still the storms in my soul, and shine the light of His love, into my broken heart.
Someone in the village had told me of a “good walking trail”, not far from Baqa, along the edge of an Israeli farm field. I had tried to walk during the day in the town, but I was too much of a curiosity for the villagers. Muslim women in Baqa do not dress in western clothing and “walk” through the streets of the town in the middle of the day. So, I found my way by car to the “good walking trail”, which, as it turned out, was just a dirt road used by the Israeli farmers to drive their tractors between the crops.
I parked my car near the highway and began walking along the red dirt tractor trail of the farm. I was all alone with Jesus. I lifted my heart, and began to open myself to the Lord’s peace and healing, which I needed so desperately, and for which I thirsted in all my weakness.
Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. (Psalm 42:1)
I walked in silent contemplation for quite some time on the dirt road. Then, the Lord drew my attention to a solitary woman, sitting in the middle of the farm field. She was fully covered from head to toe in a long garment, which I could not distinguish. It had long sleeves to shield her from the intense rays of the burning sun. She wore a wide brimmed straw hat. Was she one of the Asian migrant farm workers so common in Israel? Could she perhaps be a destitute Palestinian from the West Bank? I could not know. Her back was deeply bowed, with her face bent down towards the dirt, as she sat in between the rows, picking the farm’s produce. I looked to see what crop was being grown there, and I was amazed to discover, that it was an onion field!
There were no other workers with her. She was all alone in the vast field of onions. She did not look up at me. She continued slowly and steadily to pick the onions one by one and put them in baskets. It was lonely, back- breaking work, under the fierce Israeli sun.
I slowed down my pace, as the Lord allowed this remarkable scene to penetrate deeply into my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes in compassion for my “neighbor”, as I watched her out there all alone in the vast onion field, laboring under the blazing sun far from her home – wherever her home might have been – to eke out a living to support herself, or perhaps, her family, in a far-off land. My tears also flowed from a sense of shame, as the Holy Spirit helped me to see clearly, that I had been wallowing in self-pity over my own little “onions” of life.
I had so quickly forgotten, and so easily taken for granted, the many, many, sweet days of honey, that our most merciful and loving Lord had lavished on me all through my life. Even now, during this time of suffering and testing of my faith, Jesus was sweetly present, helping me to carry my little splinter of His Cross. I was filled with profound gratitude and immense love for Jesus in that moment, as I reflected on the infinite number of spiritual graces and material blessings that He had showered on me since my conception.
Yes, Jesus has always been with us. He will always remain with us, through our good days and our bad days – through easy and happy times and hard and painful times – through our “days of honey and days of onions.” By His love, mercy, and saving power, our Lord brings us through the vast onion field of this present life, to share in the sweetness of His eternal glory, where days of honey continue without end.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:35)
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2nd Corinthians 4:17)
I’ve come back to Israel for a month visit. It’s been exactly two years since I moved back to America from this unique and spiritually laden land, which was the will of God for me and my family at that time. What a wonderful feeling to be “home” here again. I have missed this Holy Land so much. I awoke this morning to a symphony of birds and the persistent meowing of Marianne’s tabby cat who greeted me as if to say, “Where have you been all this time?”
I am staying with Marianne for the first half of my visit to Israel in her quaint cottage in the kibbutz of Nahshon outside of Jerusalem. Nahshon is a community of about 400 souls, of which Marianne is the only Catholic living amongst the Jewish habitants of this little village. It is here where our Lord called Marianne, a fallen away Catholic, back to Himself by extraordinary signs and wonders after she had come from Holland as a teenager to serve as a volunteer for six months in this communal society.
She had always felt a “call” to come to Israel, but did not understand yet the plan the Lord had for her life when she responded to the Spirit’s prompting at age 19 to leave Holland to come to the Holy Land.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you (Genesis 12:1).
She has been living in Nahshon for more than 37 years. After about 15 years of worldly living in Israel, the Holy Spirit began moving mightily upon Marianne’s heart to bring her to repentance and a radical conversion. In His mysterious will, our Lord had purposed from eternity that in His perfect timing Marianne be positioned in the heartland of Israel to become one of His faithful laborers in the harvest of souls for His Kingdom. Jesus had called Marianne as a witness to His merciful love and abiding truth to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel”.
Marianne’s tiny hamlet of Nahshon is situated in the valley of Ayalon in the shadow of the great stone Monastery of Latrun. During the three years I was living and laboring for souls for the Lord in the harvest fields of Israel, Marianne and I attended Holy Mass together every Sunday with the monks of the monastery. The monastery sits high on a rise overlooking the Ayalon Valley. It was in this valley where the Lord made the sun and moon stand still to give Joshua the advantage over his enemies. (Joshua 10)
Nahshon is also located across the Jerusalem highway from the town of Emmaus where our Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself after His Resurrection to the two disciples who were walking along the Emmaus Road ( Luke24: 13-33).
Every Sunday I would drive from the town along the Mediterranean coast where I was living with my family to Nahshon to go with Marianne to Holy Mass at Latrun. Where I was living with my family there were no churches in the town as the community was Jewish. The closest churches were in Haifa, Jaffa and Latrun, all of which were more than an hour drive by highway. To attend Holy Mass every Sunday was a veritable pilgrimage. Love for Jesus and an intense desire receive my Lord in Holy Communion more than outweighed any burden of journey. Marianne too had made many pilgrimages of love for our Lord after the years since her conversion. As she had no car, Marianne would have to walk several miles or try to hitch hike to the monastery on the hilltop.
It became our custom after Holy Mass to drive towards Jerusalem to share a meal together at En Kerem. En Kerem is situated in the Judean hills near Jerusalem and is the birthplace of St John the Baptist and the place of Holy Mary’s visitation to St Elizabeth.
On one particular Sunday, Marianne and I went after Mass to our usual place in En Kerem. We always sat at a table on the second floor balcony of the restaurant to enjoy the magnificent view of the onion shaped golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church and Convent of the Sisters of Zion which was built on the slope of the hill which overlooks the town. After a delicious meal of Middle Eastern delicacies and a time of Christian fellowship we started our journey back to Nahshon.
As we were slowly driving down the narrow road of the town that led to the highway, we noticed a man hitch-hiking. Hitch-hiking is a common practice here in Israel as many people cannot afford to own a car and public transportation is very poor in rural places. I had at times felt the call to be a “Good Samaritan” and stop and give someone a ride, although my husband and children often scolded me for taking a risk to my safety by picking up strangers and begged me not to do so. The hitch-hiker had his thumb extended.
We slowly drove past him but I did not wish to pick him up. We continued our journey. Close to the entrance of the highway that goes towards Tel Aviv we stopped at a red light. I noticed through my driver’s side window another man standing on the sidewalk there. He was not hitch-hiking. He did not approach us, nor did he have his thumb extended in the universal sign of the hitch-hiker. Suddenly, nudged by the Holy Spirit, I rolled down my window and blurted out, “Do you need a ride?” I had passed by the first hitch-hiker as my own will had determined not to pick up any strangers. Yet, the Holy Spirit’s will was quite different from mine. Our Lord had His eyes fixed on this particular son of Abraham.
…they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth (Zechariah 4:10).
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth (Revelation 5:6).
Using me as His instrument the Lord had invited this man into our car. Jesus desired to engage one of His sons of the “lost sheep of the Tribe of Israel” in conversation. Amazingly, the stranger responded to my spontaneous and unsolicited invitation, saying, “Yes, I need a ride. I want to go to Beit Shemesh,” (which means house of the sun).
The Holy Spirit’s prompting of my un-premeditated invitation to the man happened so suddenly that I did not take notice of the traditional Orthodox Jewish attire he was wearing. The Orthodox Jew entered our car and sat in the back seat. Marianne and I were amazed as we comprehended the extraordinary thing that was happening. Traditionally, an Orthodox Jewish man would never get into a car with two women who are not his relatives.
We began driving and entered onto the highway in the direction of Beit Shemesh, Nahshon, and Tel Aviv. After a brief moment, the Orthodox Jew spoke up from the back seat and initiated a conversation by asking us, “Did you make aliya?” Aliya is the program of emigration to the Land of Israel under the law of Jewish “birthright.” Responding to his question, I pointed to a crucifix hanging from my rear view mirror. He looked at the cross with the corpus dangling from the mirror.
As he gazed at the crucifix, Marianne and I, almost in unison, answered, “No, we are Christians.” There was a long silent pause. Then, our unlikely passenger, in a deeply reflective and serious tone said, “I don’t really understand about Jesus.”
I looked at his face in my rear view mirror and saw from his expression that he was keenly awaiting a response. The love of Jesus for His own kinsman of the Abrahamic faith filled my heart and the fire of the Holy Spirit burned in my soul. In that intense moment, I felt just as St Paul, For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1st Corinthians 9:16).
I yielded totally to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Christ speaking through me began to reveal to Tzvi, the Orthodox Jew, who with bright eyes and eager expectation continually gazed at me through the rear view mirror, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:13-35).
Our car must have been navigated by our guardian angels, as the entire half hour drive down the steep and winding highway from En Kerem to Beit Shemesh, I could not take my eyes off of Tzvi’s face which I beheld in my rear view mirror as I was sharing the gospel with him. Tzvi’s countenance was filled with wonder and delight as the Holy Spirit touched his heart and mind with the truth about the Person of Jesus Christ.
Just as the resurrected Christ revealed Himself to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel, opened the Scriptures to Tzvi to give him revelation of his long-awaited Messiah.
At Beit Shemesh we stopped the car along the side of the highway and Tzvi got out. From the gratitude in his voice and the joy on his face as he thanked us extensively for what he had heard and the ride home, we had every reason to rejoice seeing evidence of the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Christ to this son of Abraham.
Surely, Tzvi’s heart was burning within while Christ talked with him on the road and opened the Scriptures to him? (Luke 24:13-35).
Nearly thirty years ago, in 1988, when I was in my late twenties I went with my husband to Washington DC for a weekend to attend a convention of a newly founded organization called “Roots.” Our mutual profound concern for the intrinsic dignity of the human person and passion for justice was the means the Lord used to bring us together some years earlier while we were students in London. We shared a deep compassion and empathy for the suffering, poor, oppressed and disenfranchised peoples. Our sensitivity and tenderness of heart towards suffering and injustice was a gift from God. We did not recognize this however, nor did we think much about God in those days. We had many years earlier left the practice of the religions of our childhood and had been following our own wills.
My husband had been brought up as a Muslim in a traditional Arab village in Israel, but by the age of twenty he had turned away from the traditions of his fathers and had become an atheist. He maintained this posture when we first met in London and he has continued to express his doubts in the existence of God even until today despite the many remarkable evidences to the contrary and extraordinary experiences that occurred during our thirty years of marriage. Perhaps, what is revealed in this book may open his heart toward the God who exists and loves him so much.
By the time I met my husband in London as a graduate student I too had drifted far from God and no longer practiced the Christian faith from my childhood. In pursuing my own passions and self-will I had lost my way, and I no longer knew if God was real. I had not become an atheist though. I hoped that God really existed. I did not want to die and cease to be. I wanted there to be life after death but did not know if it was true. I was an agnostic who often said, “I would like there to be a God, but I don’t know how to know.”
The convention attracted many prominent people as panelists for the various lectures and discussion groups. Notable private citizens and public officials interested in the topics were also present. Among them were: U.S. Senators and House Representatives, reporters from the major television networks and newspapers, radio broadcasters, heads of various political, humanitarian and charitable organizations, prominent artists, musicians and writers, business owners, professors, Arab diplomats and lobbyists.
Standing around in the lobby of the large hotel we could rub elbows with many of these people. Turning around my husband noticed a well-known Palestinian Arab author, poet and essayist, Mr. Fawaz Turki who graciously greeted us and spent a few moments conversing with us. With great enthusiasm I told him how much I had enjoyed reading his autobiographical book, Soul in Exile, and that I had been deeply touched by his personal accounts in the book – his recollections and reflections on his own unique life journey.
In a sudden burst of mysterious and uncontained joy I blurted out to him, “I would like to write a book!” I don’t know why I said that.
I had never had a desire to become a writer. The thought had never entered my mind. I had not studied for this purpose at the university. I had no plans to write a book or write anything else for that matter. Then I couldn’t begin to imagine what in the world I could ever even write about. The words just flew out of my mouth without my pre-meditating them. I was surprised to hear myself say this, and immediately I felt a sudden embarrassment before the renowned author. My husband recalls the famous writer’s response given what clearly seemed to be an impetuous, naive and even perhaps, disrespectful outburst.
“Why is it that someone thinks they can simply say, ‘I’d like to write a book’, but would never say, ‘I think I’d like to do brain surgery.’”?
But what all three of us could not know at that precise moment was that these seemingly foolish and mindless words were not my own but rather were prompted by the Holy Spirit – they were a prophetic utterance of the Holy Spirit concerning my life which one day God would effect. And when the Lord did bring His purpose to pass He would recall my memory to this long-ago mysterious experience and give me understanding.
Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!( Psalm 139:16-17)
The Lord’s hand was upon me, guiding my days even when in my own heart I had strayed so very far from Him. For many more years I would continue to pursue earthly vanities and follow my own desires. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in His patient and enduring love would call out over the years to His straying lamb and in His Perfect timing would come to rescue my soul from this place of exile – from the world, sin and the Devil – and lift me up on His shoulders high above all of earth’s lamentations, and carry His once lost sheep onwards towards her Eternal Home.
Pressing me close to His Sacred Heart we would begin our journey of love together through this present life into eternity. With each beat of His heart for me Jesus reveals His unending love for this most ordinary soul. Jesus has asked me to write down our experiences and they now are filling this book. Thus, the prophecy spoken by the Holy Spirit more than a quarter of a century ago is being fulfilled.
Standing by the cross of Jesus (was) His mother…. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple there whom He loved, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your Son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27).
I had a foretaste of the beauty of spring during a vacation with my extended family in the Caribbean isle of Dominican Republic over this past Holy Week 2013. There – as it must have been in the Garden of Eden – the immense variety of fragrant and colorful exotic flowers amongst the lush green gardens were blooming in full force, the tropical birds were singing and the gentle sweet breezes of the sea and the warm rays of the sun awakened my senses and invigorated my soul giving me the feeling of rebirth after this year’s long, dark, cold and wet winter in Pennsylvania.
While “walking in the garden” there with Jesus He reminded me of that most beautiful encounter I had with His and, indeed, our most holy Mother Mary six years ago on that same Island. But before I relate to you the story of my “visitation” from Mamma Mary I would like to share with you some history of our Church.
The Catholic practice of assigning a special devotion to each month goes back to the early 16th century. The most widely known of these devotions is the dedication of May as the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The May devotion to our Lady in its present form originated at Rome in the late 18th Century with the Society of Jesus, to counteract infidelity and immorality. By the early years of the 19th century, the devotion spread quickly from the Jesuits in Rome to nearly every Catholic church of the Latin Rite having been encouraged by Pope Pius IX’s declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and the twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the Rosary which Pope Leo XIII wrote between 1883 and 1889.
In the past centuries May “crownings” and other special events in honor of Mary, such as public recitation of the Rosary and Rosary processions took place. Our holy Church encourages such extended pious Marian devotion throughout the month of May to honor the divinely appointed role that our Blessed Mother played in our salvation through her freely-given “fiat” – her joyous and total “Yes” to the Will of God at the Annunciation and all through-out her earthly life and which she continues even from heaven as she co-operates with her Divine Son Jesus to bring about the Triumph of Christ in the world.
The month of May gives us another opportunity to renew our own devotion to the Mother of God by praying our rosaries and reflecting on Mary’s spiritual Motherhood of all God’s children. In western culture, both Greek and Roman, May was recognized as the season of the beginning of new life and fecundity. This ancient tradition of associating May with new life and fecundity led to a realization that May can be considered as the “month of motherhood” and is one reason why Mother’s Day is celebrated during May not only in the United States but in many other countries and cultures of both East and West. In the month of May, the dark and barren winter comes to an end and new glorious vibrant life springs forth as from the womb of the earth.
The connection between motherhood and May led Christians eventually to adopt May as our Mother Mary’s Month. May is the Month of our Lady precisely as the Mother of God – the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our Mother, as we are the children of God and Christ’s own brothers and sisters.
Over the past several centuries the Lord sent His own Mother Mary to Earth to help guide His children on the Way of Faith – conversion, justification, sanctification and holiness – which leads them to Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in her various visitations over these centuries as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Peace of Medjugorje, just to name a few, came to plead with us as our loving Mother to turn over our lives and open our souls fully to the Savior of Mankind, her Son Jesus Christ and to unite our hearts with her Immaculate Heart in spirit and pray and reflect on the divine mysteries of Christ’s life contained in the most holy Rosary.
“O God whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation. Grant, we beseech Thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that we may both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Concluding prayer of the most holy Rosary)
Mary told us that by the rosary:
•you will not be led into heresy and apostasy.
•you will convert people who are on their way to hell.
•you will be protected in times of chastisement.
•you will obtain spiritual needs.
•you will obtain material needs—for your family, your household, your country, your friends, yourself…
When our Blessed Mother Mary visited Earth over a six month timeframe in 1917, appearing to the three shepherd children of Portugal as “Our Lady of Fatima” she repeated many times her admonition that they and all the faithful of God of that era should say the prayers of the Rosary to obtain peace, protection from the Evil One and endurance in the holy Faith through the horrific trials of that period of history. She was also exhorting us, the believers of today to pray the Rosary in our own time for endurance and perseverance in the holy Faith, Hope and Love during the great Tribulation that is coming upon the world and for the Peace that will reign at the ultimate Triumph of the united Hearts of Jesus and Mary over Satan.
May 13, 1917: “Say the Rosary every day to obtain world peace and the end of the war”.
June 13, 1917: “I want you to say the Rosary every day”.
July 13, 1917: “I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day.”
August 19, 1917:” I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day”.
September 13, 1917:” Continue saying the Rosary to obtain the end of the war.”
October 13, 1917: “I want you to continue saying the Rosary every day.”
One of the child visionaries of Fatima, Sister Lucia, summed up the divine wisdom and good counsel of Our Mother as follows:
“Let people say the Rosary every day. Our Lady stated that repeatedly in all her apparitions, as if to fortify us against these times of diabolical disorientation, so that we would not allow ourselves to be deceived by false doctrines…
The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Holy Rosary. She has given this efficacy to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all, spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families, of the families of the world, or of the religious communities, or even of the life of peoples and nations that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
Our Mother’s coming to Fatima as “Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary” must be seen as a gift of love and a warning – a dreadful ultimatum to the world to stop sinning and turn their hearts back to the Lord. The enormity of mankind’s rebellion against God and God’s infinite hatred of sin is the foundation of Mary’s Message at Fatima. In His immense mercy God gives the world one last hope in the Immaculate Heart of Mary – through the holy Heart of His Mother which is in total union with His own Sacred Heart – the holy heart of Mary spiritually pieced through by the sword of sorrow in total union with our Lord’s Jesus’ Divine Heart pierced for our sins on the Cross.
“Now, Master, You may let Your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The Child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.“(Luke 2:29-35)
But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into His side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe. For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: “Not a bone of it will be broken.” And again another passage says: “They will look upon Him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:33-37)
Now I return back to my personal story of our Mother Mary’s visitation to me in the Dominican Republic seven years ago. I was sitting alone reading a book on a chair in the shade under the trees at quite a distance from the poolside. The book I was reading was entitled: “The Secret of the Rosary” by St Louis de Montfort. As I am writing this account I have just discovered that St Louis de Montfort was a tertiary in the Dominican Order of the Church!
Speaking of the Saint’s contribution to the Rosary, Father R. Poupon, a well- known Dominican writer stated: “ St Montfort’s genius prolongs… that of…. of Saint Dominic….it contains everything that can be said about the Rosary, about its content and form, its real worth, about the instruction necessary for its appreciation and use.” In the “Secret of the Rosary” Saint Montfort tells the reader the authentic message of the Rosary, that it is a true school of Christian life and includes in its essence meditation of the mysteries of the life, death and glory of Jesus and Mary with a view to both honoring and imitating their virtues as we consider them in each mystery of the Rosary.
Saint Montfort warns both the ignorant and scholars who scoff at the importance of the Rosary saying: “The Rosary is a priceless treasure which is inspired by God.” Even though it was written more than two and a half centuries ago, the book has lost none of its timeliness and freshness, especially in light of the specific requests of Our Lady of Fatima! (my comments are derived from the preface and back cover of the book published by TAN).
After a while, inspired by the wisdom in the book, I began to pray my rosary there under the palm trees. I held the small paperback book in my left hand and in order to pray discreetly I held my rosary in my right hand and concealed it behind the open book as I prayed the mysteries of the Rosary silently.
My sister’s mother in law from Croatia (formerly a part of Yugoslavia) who spoke no English and my sister’s little five year old son were in the pool together. My nephew came towards the poolside and called out to me, “Baba wants to know what you are reading.” Baba means grandmother in the Serbo-Croatian language. I thought for a moment how odd it seemed to me that she should wonder what I was reading and for her curiosity to be so strong that she would send her five year old grandson over to me to inquire about it in English. I told him to tell her that I was reading a Catholic book about the rosary.
I know he heard me and understood by his facial expression and the nodding of his head (he attended Catholic elementary school). I assumed he would go straight- away to tell her what I said. But as I watched him return into the pool I saw that he did not tell her anything, rather, he began playing in the water as if the entire incident never happened at all. Just then I heard a soft and gentle Voice speak to me interiorly, “Give her the rosary.”
For a moment I was bewildered wondering where this thought came from. Was it my imagination? Could it be the Lord? Then I realized it must be my Mother speaking to me. I just knew it, but still I doubted myself. I began to talk with our Blessed Mother telling her that I would gladly obey but I needed to be sure that she was asking me to do this as I did not want to give my rosary away if this was just my own imagination at work. This particular rosary had been given to me as a gift when I had entered into the Catholic Church the prior year and I had been praying the mysteries of the Rosary on it every day since I received it. The elderly lady who gave it to me had travelled on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and bought it for me and had it blessed there. The rosary beads were made of small stones collected from the Apparition Hill where Our Lady of Peace had appeared to the Yugoslavian children in 1984 during the time of Communist rule in that country. I treasured it. If my Mother Mary was asking me to give Baba my special rosary, I would be happy to do it but I needed to know for sure that I had truly heard Our Lady’s command.
I also wondered why I should give my rosary to Baba. While Baba had lived under Tito’s Communist rule in Yugoslavia, I knew that she came from a Catholic family. She likely would already have a rosary of her own, I considered. So I said to my Mother, I will do as you say, but give me a sign that I may know when and how to do it as you would like.
I did not share a word about my mysterious experience with anyone. The rest of the day I pondered over and over in my heart the event of the morning as I walked on the beach and through the gardens of the resort and wondered if I had simply imagined the “message.” When evening came, all the family gathered for dinner: my parents, my husband and my daughters, my sister and her husband, my nephew and niece and Baba. After dinner members of the family began to leave and I found myself sitting with my brother in law and Baba alone at the table. Baba does not speak any English and for that reason we have hardly had any communication in all the years since my sister married her son in 1989. I was chatting with my brother-in-law and Baba said something to him in the Serbo-Croatian language. He turned to me and said, “Baba wants you to know that she went to Medjugorje.”
I was stunned. I knew nothing about her faith life. I never imagined she would have made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. That she would suddenly interject into our conversation and share this one thing with me through her son that particular evening was nothing short of miraculous to say the least. I knew immediately in that moment without hesitation that this was the “sign” I had asked for from my Mother Mary to confirm her message that she had given to me earlier that morning while I was praying the rosary.
I reached into my purse and pulled out my cherished rosary from Medjugorje and holding it in the palm of my hand I presented it to Baba just as my Mamma Mary – Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary – Our Lady of Peace of Medjugorje – had requested me to do. Baba received my rosary with joy, and smiling broadly she said to her son in Croatian who translated into English, “I didn’t get a rosary in Medjugorje.”
Hail Mary full of Grace
The Lord is with you
Blessed are you among women
Blessed it the Fruit of your womb, Jesus
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death
(A poem I received March 21, 2013 from Jesus during Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament)
“I am here My child
Surrender all to Me
I am living
the very air you breathe
“Give your heart to Me
and you will see
the wonders I will do
in love to set you free
“Little child can’t you see?
There’s no fear when you stay near to Me
Calm and peace surround your heart
Your mind is still
My light penetrates the dark
“There is no rush
Time fades away
In My Presence
is Eternal Day
“I lift your soul in My embrace
Where I am
beyond time and space
to the heights of Heaven
to My Holy Place
and there you see Me Face to face”.