“I grew up in India in the Episcopal Church. My mother read to us from the big Marathi Bible and my earliest memories are of me in love with Jesus. I would sit only on one half of the chair, reserving the other half for Jesus, owing to which I often fell off of my chair. When I started schooling at Saint Joseph’s Convent school, I wanted to become a nun.”
But as I grew older, and became aware of the suffering around me, I could not understand how a loving God could permit such pain. “Do something,” I would pray. But my prayers went unanswered. By the time I was twelve, I stopped making space for Jesus in my chair, and in my heart. I quit talking to him. I decided he did not care enough. And I cried and cried because I had lost my best Friend. A couple of years later, when I was fourteen, we moved to the U.S. We joined the Episcopal community. I went to church, but only to please my mother and to sing in the choir. My mother died shortly after I had turned twenty two and I no longer had the desire to go. I did not want to pretend to love Jesus when I felt so lonely. I had to take care of myself, become independent and self-sufficient, because I had no one to rely on anymore. I filled my heart with my studies and work, friends and lovers, music and dance, without realizing how hard- hearted I was becoming. I called myself an atheist.
For many years I was a research scientist. I got married to my college sweetheart, Michael. Together we had two children, Max and Dagny. I quit working to stay at home and raise them. I still stepped into a church once in a while—for weddings and funerals. I craved for some sign that Jesus cared. But nothing special ever happened. Life went on as usual.
The children started growing and once they started school, Michael and I wondered how to counteract the permissive culture, short of homeschooling them. We had parental authority, but nothing higher than that. Had we made a grave mistake in not introducing them to God? What right did we have to deny them this fundamental knowledge? It is one thing to know of God and reject Him as I did. That is free will. But what about not even having the opportunity? I would not forgive myself if that emptiness got filled with other things—evil things. It is real and present. I wanted to arm my children with something real and tangible to fight evil, the true cause of suffering.
I wanted my children to have what I had as a child—love in Christ. Even if He was just a fairytale, I could not deny the power He had had over me and the effects—complete trust that all will be well, a security that was completely irrational given the state of the world, and a certain resilience that was also unearthly. I did not know that what I had possessed was a peace that passed all understanding.
In 2006 as a Christmas gift for my kids, I purchased a children’s Bible with beautiful pictures and historical references. Michael, who had not been raised in a religious environment, offered to read. He spent almost a year reading Bible stories to the children and was amazed and delighted with them.
Yet we felt like hypocrites because as much as we wanted our children to have religious instruction, we did not believe. So the conversation turned to going to church. But to which one would we go?
The number of denominations seemed to have mushroomed since I was a child. There was a gathering of non-denominational Christians that met in the school cafeteria but it seemed so casual. I knew that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is present, but we wanted a sense of the sacred, something transcendent.
When I looked to the Episcopal Church, it was nothing like the one in India or even the Episcopal Church we had attended when we first moved to the U.S. When I looked at other churches, I realized that they had some sort of doctrinal dispute with the Catholic Church. The answer was quite obvious—we needed the Church that Christ established.
The following October we stepped into Saint Jude Catholic Church. I wept all through liturgy. My children worried for me. I whispered to them I was happy to be finally home. After the Holy Mass, I tried to enroll the kids in Sunday school, but the lady in charge asked about their ages (7 and 9 years old) and if they had been baptized. When I said, “Never,” she told me I needed to speak to the deacon about RCIA—Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
Although I was annoyed by what I thought were hoops we had to jump through, I quickly realized that RCIA is designed so that one may make an informed decision. We began the long process of studying and questioning. Sunday mornings, Michael and I would be dismissed after the homily to ponder the Gospel while the children sat with our sponsors for the Canon of the Mass.
After the Mass, we would have our instruction in the faith with our sponsors. I will always be grateful to the Knights of Columbus for watching over our children. After a few hours at home, we would return for evening Mass and the children’s religious instruction. Perhaps our family needed a double dose of the Word to take root. But I will always be grateful for how our Sundays automatically became holy days.
We questioned so many things—the teaching on marriage and sexuality, the Eucharist, on life. I reversed every belief I held that went against the tenets of the faith. I did so willingly even when I did not understand everything because I looked to Mary as an example, who did not argue with the angel at the Annunciation, but gave her Fiat. Paradoxically, everything held together beautifully, even the Mysteries of the faith.
I wonder now if it was due to the powerful prayers at the Rite of Acceptance, when our foreheads were crossed with the following words: “Receive this sign of the cross on your forehead. It is Christ Himself who strengthens you now with His love. Learn to know and follow Him.” After that, the priest said the following words as my sponsor made the sign of the cross over my ears, eyes, lips, etc.
“Receive the sign of the cross on your ears, that you may hear the voice of the Lord.
“Receive the sign of the cross on your eyes, that you may see the glory of God. “Receive the sign of the cross on your lips that you may respond to the word of God.
“Receive the sign of the cross over your heart that Christ may dwell there by faith.
“Receive the sign of the cross on your shoulders, that you may bear the gentle yoke of Christ.
“Receive the sign of the cross on your hands, that Christ may be known in the work which you do.
“Receive the sign of the cross on your feet that you may walk in the way of Christ.” I wept. These words and the sensation of having my hands and yes, even my feet blessed, were overwhelming. I had fallen in love with Jesus all over again. That Christmas was meaningful when we sang “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord”. During the Lent, while meditating on the sorrowful passion of Jesus, I felt unworthy. I knew I deserved death, not life. But Jesus drew me to Himself and showered all His tender mercies upon me. I wanted nothing more than to be in the shelter of His Cross, to be washed clean in His Blood. On Easter Vigil—April 11, 2009—a date as important as the ones when I got married and gave birth to my two children, I watched Michael, Max and Dagny, getting baptized. My heart was full;, I felt as if I were giving these three loves of mine to Jesus, my first love. Then together, we made a profession of faith and received the Body and Precious Blood of our dear Lord Jesus. Week by week, the God-shaped hole in my heart began to fill. I no longer fall out of chairs, but I am whole again.
Vijaya Bodach is a scientist-turned-children’s writer with more than 60 books for children and just as many stories, articles and poems in children’s magazines. You can find out more about her at vijayabodach.blogspot.com
It was a stormy night. Sister Faustina bowed her face to the ground and prayed the Litany of the Saints. Toward the end of the Litany, such drowsiness overcame her that she couldn’t finish the prayer. She immediately got up and prayed, “Jesus, calm the storm, for Your child is unable to pray any longer, and I am heavy with sleep.” With these words, she threw the window open, not even securing it with hooks. Sister Fabiola said to her, “Sister, what are you doing!? The wind will surely tear the window loose!” But Sister Faustina asked her to sleep in peace. At once, the storm completely subsided. The next day, the sisters were talking about the sudden calming of the storm, not knowing what had really happened. And Sister Faustina thought to herself: “Only Jesus and Faustina know what it means…” Such was the trust Saint Faustina had in Jesus. No wonder He appeared to her and gave her the mission of Divine Mercy for the whole world, with the instruction to inscribe the words: “JESUS I TRUST IN YOU.” She abandoned herself to Him completely, just like a child. Once, during Holy Mass, she had a miraculous vision. Jesus appeared as a one-year-old child and asked her to take Him in her arms. When she had taken Him in her arms, Infant Jesus cuddled up close to her bosom and said, “It is good for Me to be close to your heart…because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding Me close to your heart right now." Spiritual childhood is often misunderstood as naïveté or excessive sentimentality. However, it involves a total surrender to our heavenly Father's providential care—total abandonment of our own plans, opinions, and self-will—and a radical trust in God. Can we, too, ask God to give us the grace to accept—like a little child—all that He asks of us in this life? As we do, can we trust, like Saint Faustina, that the Lord will not abandon us, even for a moment?
She was diagnosed with chronic OCD, and put on meds for a lifetime. Then, something unexpected happened. In the 1990s, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The doctor prescribed me medication and told me I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Some people think that mental health issues happen because you lack faith, but there was nothing wrong with my faith. I had always deeply loved God and relied on Him in all things, but I also felt an abiding disabling guilt. I had not been able to shake off the belief that everything that was wrong with the world was my fault. I had a Law degree, but my heart had never been there. I had taken up law to impress my mother, who thought my choice of teaching as a profession wasn’t good enough. But I had married and given birth to my first child just before I finished it, then gone on to have seven beautiful children, so I had spent more time learning to be a mother than working in law. When we moved to Australia, the law was different, so, I went back to university to finally study my first love, Teaching. But even when I got a job doing what I loved, I felt that I was trying to justify my existence by earning money. Somehow, I didn’t feel that looking after my family and nurturing the people entrusted to me was good enough. In fact, with my crippling guilt and feeling of inadequacy, nothing ever felt enough. Totally Unexpected Because of our family size, it wasn’t always easy to get away on a holiday, so we were excited when we heard about the Carry Home in Pemberton where payment was a donation of what you could afford. It had a beautiful country setting close to forests. We planned to go for a weekend family retreat. They also had a prayer and worship group in Perth. When I joined, I was made to feel very welcome. There, at one of the retreats, something totally unexpected and overwhelming happened. I had just received prayer when I suddenly fell to the ground. Rolled up on the floor in a fetal position, I screamed and screamed and screamed. They carried me out onto this rickety old wooden verandah outside and continued to pray until eventually, I stopped screaming. This was totally unsought and unexpected. But I knew that it was deliverance. I just felt empty as if something had left me. After the retreat, my friends continued to check up on me and come to pray over me, asking for Mary’s intercession that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would become manifest in me. I felt so much better that after a week or two, I decided to reduce my dose of medication. Within three months, I had stopped taking the medication and felt better than I ever had. Melting Away I no longer felt the need to prove myself or pretend that I was better than I was. I didn’t feel that I had to excel in all things. I felt grateful for the gift of life, my family, my prayerful community and this tremendous connection with God. Freed of the need to justify my existence, I realized I could not justify my existence. It’s a gift–life, family, prayer, connection with God–these are all gifts, not something you are ever going to earn. You accept it and you thank God. I became a better person. I didn’t have to show off, compete, or arrogantly insist that my way was the best. I realized I didn’t have to be better than the other person because it didn’t matter. God loves me, God cares for me. Out of the grip of my disabling guilt, I have since realized that “If God didn’t want me, He would have made someone else.” My relationship with my mother had always been ambivalent. Even after becoming a mother, I was still struggling with these feelings of ambivalence. But this experience changed that for me. As God chose Mary to bring Jesus into the world, He had chosen Mary to help me on my way. My issues in the relationship with my mother, and subsequently with the Holy Mother, slowly melted away. I felt like John at the foot of the Cross when Jesus told him: “Behold your Mother.” I have come to know Mary as the perfect mother. Now, when my mind fails, the Rosary kicks in to rescue me! I never realized how much I needed her until I made her an indispensable part of my life. Now, I couldn’t imagine stepping away.
There is a poetic meditation of an early twentieth-century Greek novelist named Nikos Kazantzakis that I keep on my nightstand when Advent comes around every year. He pictures Christ as a teenager, watching the people of Israel from a distant hilltop, not yet ready to begin his ministry but acutely, painfully sensitive to the longing and suffering of His people. The God of Israel is there among them—but they don’t know it yet. I was reading this to my students the other day, as I do every year at the start of Advent, and one of them said to me after class: “I’ll bet that’s how Jesus feels now too.” I asked him what he meant. He said: “You know, Jesus, sitting there in the tabernacle, and us just walking past like He isn’t even there.” Ever since, I’ve had this new image in my Advent prayers of Jesus, waiting in the Tabernacle, looking out over His people—hearing our groans, our pleas, and our cries. Waiting... Somehow, this is the way God chooses to come to us. The birth of the Messiah is THE KEY EVENT IN ALL HUMAN HISTORY, and yet, God wanted it to take place ‘so quietly that the world went about its business as if nothing had happened.’ A few shepherds noticed, and so did the magi (and we could even mention Herod, who noticed for all the wrong reasons!). Then, apparently, the whole thing was forgotten. For a time. Somehow…there must be something in the waiting that is good for us. God chooses to wait for us. He chooses to make us wait for Him. And when you think about it in this light, the whole history of salvation becomes a history of waiting. So, you see, there’s this simultaneous sense of urgency—that we need to answer God’s call and that we need Him to answer our call, and soon. “Answer me, Lord, when I call to you,” the psalmist says. There’s something so brazen about this verse that it’s charming. There’s an urgency in the Psalms. But there is also this sense that we must learn to be patient and wait—wait in joyful hope—and find God’s answer in the waiting.
Q – Why did Jesus Christ have to die for us? It seems cruel that the Father would require the death of His only Son in order to save us. Wasn’t there some other way? A – We know that Jesus’ death forgave us of our sins. But was it necessary, and how did it accomplish our salvation? Consider this: if a student in school were to punch his classmate, the natural consequence would be a certain punishment—perhaps detention, or maybe being suspended. But if that same student were to punch a teacher, the punishment would be more severe—perhaps being expelled from the school. If that same student were to punch the President, they would likely end up in jail. Depending on the dignity of who is offended, the consequence would be greater. What, then, would be the consequence of offending the all-holy, all-loving God? He Who created both you and the stars deserves nothing less than the worship and adoration of all Creation—when we offend Him, what is the natural consequence? Eternal death and destruction. Suffering and alienation from Him. Thus, we owed God a debt of death. But we could not repay it—because He is infinitely good, our transgression caused an infinite chasm between us and Him. We needed someone infinite and perfect but also human (since they would have to die to settle the debt). Only Jesus Christ fit this description. Seeing us abandoned in an unpayable debt that would lead to eternal doom, out of His great love, He became man precisely so that He could pay back our debt on our behalf. The great theologian Saint Anselm wrote an entire treatise entitled, Cur Deus Homo? (Why did God become Man?), and concluded that God became man so that He could pay back the debt we owed but could not pay, so to reconcile us to God in a Person Who Himself is the perfect union of God and humanity. Consider this too: if God is the source of all life, and sin means that we turn our back on God, then what are we choosing? Death. In fact, Saint Paul says that “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). And sin brings about the death of the whole person. We can see that lust can lead to STDs and broken hearts; we know that gluttony can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, envy leads to dissatisfaction with the gifts God has given us, greed can cause us to overwork and self-indulge, and pride can rupture our relationships with one another and with God. Sin, then, is truly deadly! It takes a death, then, to restore us to life. As an ancient Holy Saturday homily put it from the perspective of Jesus, “Look at the spittle on my face, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.” Finally, I believe that His death was necessary to show us the depths of His love. If He had merely pricked His finger and shed a single drop of His Precious Blood (which would have been enough to save us), we would think that He didn’t love us all that much. But, as Saint Padre Pio said: “The proof of love is to suffer for the one you love.” When we behold the incredible sufferings that Jesus endured for us, we can never doubt for a moment that God loves us. God loves us so much that He would rather die than spend eternity without us. In addition, His suffering gives us comfort and consolation in our suffering. There is no agony and pain that we can endure that He hasn’t already gone through. Are you in physical pain? So was He. Do you have a headache? His Head was crowned with thorns. Are you feeling lonely and abandoned? All of His friends left Him and denied Him. Do you feel ashamed? He was stripped naked for all to jeer. Do you struggle with anxiety and fears? He was so anxious that He sweat blood in the Garden. Have you been so hurt by others that you cannot forgive? He asked His Father to forgive the men driving nails into His hands. Do you feel like God has abandoned you? Jesus Himself cried out: “O God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” So we can never say: “God, you don’t know what I’m going through!” Because He can always respond: “Yes, I do, my beloved child. I’ve been there—and I am suffering with you right now.” What a consolation to know that the Cross has brought God near to those who suffer, that it has shown us the depths of God’s infinite love for us and the great lengths He would go to rescue us, and that it has paid back the debt of our sins so that we can stand before Him, forgiven and redeemed!
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