A row of lilly pilly shrubs adorns our front yard. Their ever-green cascade of healthy looking, shiny foliage—with flushes of pink new growth embellished by edible berries in shades of maroon—make them attractive screens, windbreaks or garden ornamentals.
One day as I pruned them, I looked into the middle of the shrubs. I was shocked to see hundreds of dead twigs, branches and dried leaves. My one-day project became a back-breaking task of two weeks, requiring my husband’s reluctant assistance.
As I removed all the dead sticks, I thought about my personal growth. I drew several lessons from my lilly pillies. First, some of my aims, aspirations, ambitions and activities are no longer life-giving. They are fast becoming deadwood. Why do I still hang on to these life-less branches? Even in my apostolic work, some areas no longer bear fruit. I need to pray for fresh inspiration from the Holy Spirit. If I have been performing the same role for many years, I need to ask myself—am I afraid to break new ground? Have I become too comfortable, attached, obsessed or untrusting of others to allow them to take over or too scared to take on new assignments from the Lord?
God also gave me insight into the reality and gravity of depression. Many of us have delightful foliage, bright and waxy externals, and our facades can make us hide the truth of our depressed state very cleverly. From the outside, no one knows how we are really feeling. When a family member took her life 10 months ago, after years of being depressed, it shook us up. The loss incurred by this premature death has left a tragic impact on those who love her.
Depression is a serious medical illness. It is more than just a feeling of being sad or “blue” for a few days. Nearly 15 million Americans a year struggle with depression, an illness that comes in many forms—from major depression and seasonal affective disorder to bipolar disorder. In Australia, three million people are living with depression or anxiety (ABS 2008). Depression is an illness that interferes with concentration, motivation and everyday functioning. Because of its complexity, a full understanding of depression has been elusive. Everyone experiences an occasional blue mood; depression is a more pervasive experience of repetitive negative rumination, bleak outlook and lack of energy. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. (https:// medlineplus.gov/depression.html)
It is such a complex issue. The medical world claims that even in the most severe cases depression is said to be highly treatable. Yet, we hear of both ordinary people and celebrities succumbing to suicide, triggered by depression. However, there are also amazing stories of people who have become powerful witnesses by surviving and going on to achieve great success in the midst of their adversity.
In the year 2000, when I experienced this “dark night of the soul,” I sought the aid of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. This holy woman experienced many of the risk factors for depression and struggled with symptoms of the illness itself. At the age of ten, Thérèse suffered what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. At twelve she became scrupulous, a mental health concern believed to be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, doctor of the church, described herself as having extreme doubts about God’s existence. The important thing here is that Saint Thérèse stubbornly held on to her faith. She did this not because of health, good spirits, comforting assurances, miraculous healings or religious experiences but by the tenacity of her choice to believe.
She wrote: “While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least. I believe that I have made more acts of faith in this past year than all through my whole life.” Depression, nervous breakdown, suicidal thoughts, scruples and doubts did not define Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. It need not define us. We are more than our illnesses. Thanks be to God!
When I have clients going through depression I suggest they seek the intercession of this saint. Only those who experience it can genuinely relate.
My lilly pillies also taught me not to take any day or any person for granted or assume that life is glowing for somebody next to me. “Are you okay?” is a question I sincerely and frequently ask. If the answer is no I can listen lovingly without judging. I might only be contributing a tiny drop in the ocean but helping someone survive the black clouds for a day may help them survive until a new day dawns.
One evening, I saw a young student with red, puffy eyes enter the shopping center. She was weeping as she collapsed beside me on a couch. I stepped out of my comfort zone to ask if she was okay. Her sobbing abated as she smiled bravely and quietly said yes. Since she did not feel comfortable confiding in me, I offered a silent prayer for her instead, claiming God’s tender mercy for her, paraphrasing His word: “But you, LORD, are a shield around her, her glory, the One who holds up her head” (Psalm 3:3).
Lord, please come to my aid when I am distressed. Enable me to seek and accept the assistance I need. Help me to notice the troubles of others and give them effective and compassionate support. Amen.
Dina Mananquil Delfino
is a counsellor, community worker, pre-marriage facilitator and Pastoral Associate of St Michael’s Parish, Berwick. She lives in Pakenham, Victoria with her family.
What’s the catch in seeking God’s will in your life? Life in our family was a roller coaster ride of joys and sorrows. Love and laughter were mingled with financial crises, job losses, investment failures, housing troubles, relationship dilemmas, failure in exams and career quandaries. Although I often felt miserable during these trials and tribulations, my family would cling to Our Lord and He would intervene and calm the storm. However, it seemed the next hardship was never far away. I was born into a staunchly Catholic family that had enthusiastically embraced the Charismatic movement. My dad evangelized in small ways while running his own business and my mom’s piety and charity infused into everything she did, even her work as a lab technician. My siblings aligned themselves to the faith my parents shared with them, whereas I struggled to believe. My elder sister joined the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Kerala, while my little sister pursued postgraduate studies. When Uncertainty Strikes My personal life was not going well either. Over the years, my studies and friendships were a constant battle. Although my dad insisted that we do yearly retreats and frequent follow ups, it did not make sense to me. Surprisingly, I progressed because so many people prayed on my behalf. When I completed my undergraduate degree in nursing I was appointed a tutor in the college and felt quietly satisfied at the recognition I had finally received. A year passed by and my friends began to move away as their plans for the future unfolded. The position at work became redundant and I felt overwhelmed with uncertainty in deciding my next move amidst the unending suggestions from well-meaning friends and family. My parents observed my anxiety and suggested I give our Lord a chance to take a hand in my decision. With nothing left to lose I obliged. For the first time in my life, I knelt with outstretched arms in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord. I confided my hopes and dreams, even though I thought they were impossible to achieve. Abandoning myself into His presence I prayed “I seek Your will for my life.” Reciting the rosary, I pleaded for our blessed mother to intercede. The moments that followed will always be cherished. He Will Make a Way As I knelt in prayer, our Lord spoke. He told me to pursue the higher studies I longed for but at a university, I did not desire. Since this university did not accept admissions until after all the other colleges had closed theirs, I felt fearful. What if the Lord's plan should fail? I would also need to pass an entrance exam requiring months of preparation. Yet, in spite of my trepidation, I received the grace to obey His inspiration and plunged into prolonged study accompanied by sporadic prayer. When I finally took the exam I felt beset by doubt, certain I would not make it through. As I journeyed home I felt low and hopeless but a message from the university changed that in an instant. Due to various issues, the exam results were cancelled and candidates had to prepare for another one. I was convinced our Lord was in control this time and doubled my efforts. My results were much better yet barely qualified me for the interview. I secured the 10th rank on the interview but, with only nine places being offered, I prayed for the next miracle. Of course, our Lord did not let me down. One of the students could not be accepted and I was taken in. I realized that when you seek His will and lay the talents He has given you at His feet, He will offer you the best. I will never cease to be grateful that He granted an average student like me the chance to complete postgraduate studies, with high scores in the country’s top university. This was followed by an appointment as a lecturer—my dream job. As the years pass, I have learned the beauty of seeking His will in each and every task. I became part of a Charismatic youth movement, involved in doing little things for His kingdom. Turning to the Lord and following His call has brought the greatest joy I could experience on earth. Trials have not stopped but now I am convinced it is for a greater good—deepening bonds within families, personal sanctification and invitation into prayerful relationship with our Saviour. Praise the Lord!! “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Do you really know the meaning of “Christmas?” Is it merely a celebration of the birth of Jesus? The sun was already low when they reached the entrance of the cave. The young donkey that had left them at Joseph’s ancestral house to run around the town now gamboled joyfully around them. “Look,” said Mary to Joseph, “It is certainly the will of God that we should go in here.” However, Joseph was distressed because he had expected to be welcomed by his relatives at Bethlehem. Although the cave was thickly stacked with bundles of straw, Joseph cleared some space to make a couch of rugs for Mary. Joseph was still apologizing for the poverty of the shelter but Mary was joyful and contented. Do you really know the meaning of “Christmas?” Is it merely a celebration of the birth of Jesus? When the time came for Mary to deliver the baby, Joseph retired to pray. At midnight, Mary was wrapped in an ecstasy of prayer surrounded by a great radiance. Everything, even inanimate objects, seemed to come alive in the light. The roof of the cave disappeared and a pathway of light opened above her, rising into heaven. In this luminous light, she perceived choirs of heavenly spirits. Mary gazed downward adoring God, who had chosen her to be His Mother, as He lay on the earth before her in the form of a helpless newborn baby. The Redeemer of the world became a tiny child lying on the straw at the Blessed Virgin’s knees. Mary gently lifted the child into her arms and enveloped Him in her veil. Angels prostrated themselves in front of her, adoring the baby. After the baby was tenderly wrapped in swaddling bands, Joseph laid Him in a manger filled with rushes, covered by a cloth. Mary and Joseph fondly admired Him, giving praise to God with tears of joy. Blessed Anne Emmerich recorded this vision of the birth of Jesus in her book “The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Even the most beautiful paintings of Christ’s birth could not recapture the boundless jubilation she saw in reality. This tremendous joy was poured out on the world at the birth of our Saviour. We experience a portion of this happiness whenever babies are born. How rightly they are called “bundles of joy.” Squirming for the Best Answer One of my newlywed friends recently asked a curious question: How do I prepare to have a baby? I was a little bemused, and then I remembered the solemn occasion of our wedding and how I ardently prayed that God would bless us with little cherubs. When I became pregnant our joy knew no bounds but fear crept into my mind. I worried obsessively about the baby in my womb. Of course, the first thing I did was turn to Google to find out what wisdom the internet had to reveal about pregnancy. I even downloaded the pregnancy app to get updates as my little one grew from the size of a cherry to a pumpkin. I took great care that I ate well each day— weighing out correct portions of protein, carbohydrates and fiber while consulting the list of essential nutrients. I even counted the number of nuts I was munching. All I thought about was the health of my baby. Much to my trepidation, our first-born child was prematurely delivered after six months of pregnancy. Just three months later our world came crashing down when we found out that our beautiful little angel had suffered severe brain damage. As our little girl grew up unable to speak or even properly look at me, propped in a wheelchair, unable to do anything by herself, I debated endlessly about what had gone wrong? After all my careful groundwork why did such a thing happen to my little girl? From then on, whenever I saw moms with healthy babies I wondered how they managed to achieve this miracle. By this time, I had also miscarried three times, which only aggravated my fears. When our fifth baby was conceived, I went to confession and poured out all the fears and dark thoughts that oppressed me. The kind priest spoke consoling words that I will never forget: “The baby in your womb is really in the hands of God. He takes care of all that your baby needs. You only have to trust Him and surrender your little one completely into His hands.” At that moment, I felt deeply moved as all my anxieties seemed to float away. Each day I prayed this simple little prayer: “God, my Heavenly Father, the baby in my womb is really in your hands. I know you are in complete control. Jesus, I trust in you!” I had also been given a pregnancy leaflet “Blessed is the Fruit of the Womb” by Angel’s Army, which helped me take one day at a time and meditate deeply on Mother Mary’s journey through pregnancy until Jesus’ birth. I began to find precious gems in the joyful mysteries. Curiously, I felt that I could understand what Mother Mary had to go through in each mystery. Precious Gems Along the Way When Gabriel appeared Mary was full of apprehensions. Conceiving a child before marriage could result in being stoned to death and she had hoped to remain a virgin. Yet, she simply surrendered herself “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it done to me according to Your word.” Her “yes” to become the mother of Jesus expanded into a “yes” to becoming a loving mother to the whole world, including you and me. We, also, have great expectations that may differ from God’s plans. As we see in Mary’s dilemma, God really had a greater plan. You are precious in God’s sight and He is faithful in his promises. Simply surrender everything to Him and say “yes” confidently to His will. After Mary conceived Jesus, she did not expect everyone to praise and serve her as mother of the Messiah. Instead, she hastened to help her cousin Elizabeth. This journey was tedious at the best of times; for a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy who may suffer morning sickness and extreme fatigue it would have been exhausting, The great zeal and compassion aroused in her heart by the descent of the Holy Spirit prompted her to reach out to Elizabeth, who was pregnant at an advanced age, living in seclusion with her mute husband. How often have we reached out to the needy when our own circumstances are undesirable? Pierced Heart On that cold night in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary confronted rejection and loneliness with no other option but the shelter of a shepherd’s cave. Although Mary would have been more comfortable preparing peacefully for the birth at home, God’s plan took them to the City of David—Bethlehem. Did she ever complain? During the last phase of pregnancy, I was often fatigued and in need of frequent rest. I wondered how Mary could endure it without a single complaint. Often, I imagined Mary had the constant practical help of angels in her home in Nazareth. I pictured them helping her with the housework and cooking, changing Jesus’ diapers and amusing Him in his cradle. I even thought child Jesus might have delighted her by performing miracles in Nazareth. Instead, the holy family led a very ordinary life of work, prayer and recreation. We hear almost nothing about Jesus’ childhood and adolescence in the sacred scripture. Here is the Saviour of the world, yet He is wrapped in swaddling clothes and resting in a poor manger. Mary said, “Yes, I believe.” Here is the Son of God! Yet he needs to be taken care of like any other baby. Mary said, “Yes, I believe.” Here is a king whose reign will last forever, yet His parents are forced to flee to Egypt. Still, Mary said, “Yes, I Believe.” When the priest raises the blessed sacrament to speak the words: “Behold the Lamb of God ...” Let Mary’s words reverberate in us: “Yes, I believe.” Do you really know the meaning of “Christmas?” It is not merely a celebration of the birth of Jesus. The word itself reveals “Christ” “Mass,” which in turn spells out the sacrifice of Christ! Every day this sacrifice (Holy Mass) is offered around the world. When everything seems lost and no one truly understands or loves you, remember the most treasured “bundle of joy” awaits you in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us walk this “pilgrimage of faith,” holding the hands of Mary our mother and be filled with eternal joy.
Being a Christian is a great calling, but do you know what it really takes to be one? “What you are is God’s gift to you; what you become is your gift to God.” To be a Christian is a beautiful calling because it essentially means to be a “follower of Christ.” In a deeper way, it calls you to be Christ-like in all you do. You are called to be a part of the saving mission of Jesus, reaching out to others with the good news He shared more than 2,000 years ago. Sadly, we frequently fail to participate in this mission. As followers of Jesus, we are chosen to bring his good news to others as we find them. The Church does not wait for people to come to her; rather, she seeks them out and goes to them. Such an outward looking, missionary Church lives and breathes a “culture of encounter” (Pope Francis). For this encounter to happen, we have to embrace some fundamental attitudes. The first is radical dependence on God instead of human initiative and maneuvering. As the Psalmist reminds us: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour” (Psalm 127). That is why Jesus instructed His disciples to venture forth without carrying staff or sackcloth. In other words, they were to be totally dependent upon God’s grace as they carried out the Church’s missionary endeavor. The second is a willingness to be formed in Christ. To proclaim the Gospel is first and foremost the communication of the experience of Christ himself—as Saint Paul says, “To know Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Communicating the Gospel is offering others the opportunity to have a personal encounter with Jesus, the perfect image of the living God. Knowing Him Knowing Christ profoundly changes our heart. We are called to be missionary disciples at our baptism but before Jesus sends us out He forms us so we can become effective witnesses to His resurrection. How are we formed? Put simply, through prayer and suffering. Let us look at the first disposition and save the latter for another reflection. Prayer is an ongoing conversation between you and Jesus. Before we exercise our ministry we simply have to listen attentively. Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see that listening has to come before acting. That is not to denigrate action but this should be the chronological relationship between the two. The problem is that we tend to act without attending to the Word of God and trouble always follows from that. Action is essential but action without contemplation is ineffective. Listen first, then act. Let God speak to you through Lectio Divina— meditatively reading the Bible. Set aside some time to slowly ponder the daily readings (Lectionary) and as you read consider how the Word of God is speaking to you. Be Transformed At the same time, do not be afraid of the silence. God does not usually speak directly to you, however the quietness is not empty but “charged with the grandeur of God” (Gerard Manly Hopkins). Enjoy the peace as you sit patiently in God’s presence and He will recharge you with the strength to face your dilemmas. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46). Praying is like breathing. We pray because it is essential for our survival and growth as a child of God. When you or someone you know is sick or troubled bring these concerns to your Father. He will heed you in the same way as good parents listen to their children. As you pray, call on Our Lady and the saints to join you and Christ will also be there with you. “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there with them” (Matthew 18:20). As your prayer life deepens you may pass through stages. Letting go (purgative) may be followed by being imaginatively and cognitively present (meditative) and eventually you may experience unitive consciousness— resting in God. If you reach this stage repose in that union, not just in church or during prayer but in every action. Transformation becomes all-encompassing. That is why Paul talks about praying always. Consequently, all our great liturgical prayers are prayed through Him. At Mass we do not pray to Jesus. WE PRAY THROUGH JESUS! Saint Joan of Arc said at her trial: “There is one thing I know—the risen Christ and the Church are the one and the same.” We are the body of Christ and the mystery of the Holy Spirit is flowing through you to the Father when you act according to His holy will. When you become His instrument you pray through Jesus. Your hands do His work. You meet Him in every person in need. You receive the body of Christ and enter into union with Him. In a sense, as members of the body of Christ we are becoming Jesus. To be conformed to Him we let go of the boundaries between us and unite with Him.. O God, lead me to deeper prayer that my life may be formed in knowing and loving Jesus. Let my inner self be transformed to radiate the light of Christ. Help me to reach out to others with the touch of your unceasing love. Amen.
Have you ever glanced over at the horoscope column in a newspaper or magazine just for “fun” or out of curiosity? You may say things like, “I don’t take this seriously,” “I know a lot of people who do this,” or perhaps “I don’t really believe in astrology so it’s okay.” Or maybe you are really looking for guidance. I have the same birthday as my dad. We are both considered “Aquarius.” I remember reading the Sunday newspaper and, ever so casually, checking our horoscope to see what our “fate” was that week. I would also buy those teen magazines and consider what the horoscopes were predicting about my love life and my friendships or if something totally embarrassing would happen to me at school. At one point, I even had a “daily horoscope” app on my phone. When I was a sophomore in high school, one warm summer night my friends and I went to the beach. As we strutted confidently down the boardwalk with our carnival food, an attractive, flashing sign caught our eyes: “Fortune Teller.” My friends wanted to do the tarot card thing. I had heard that this was not the best idea but I did not know why so I did it anyway. I thought, “This is harmless.” To cut a long story short, I walked out on that fortune teller. At one point, she remarked distastefully to me, “Are you religious? I can sense a very strong spirit surrounding you.” I immediately got up and said, “Well, that must be the Holy Spirit telling me to get out of here!” and I left. Then What Happened? All of this was B.C. In other words, “before conversion.” I had a faithfulness problem and a forgetfulness problem. In many ways, it was the beginning of a journey toward trusting God more fully. I was searching for Him and only just beginning to understand the Catholic faith. I did not know how ardently God was pursuing me and wanting me to entrust my heart fully to Him. I had no real idea why consulting horoscopes or fortune tellers was wrong, I just thought it was another “rule” adults wanted to impose upon me to keep me from having fun. I did not realize that, at the core of the “rule,” was a radical invitation to love. By engaging in these acts, I was putting my trust in someone other than God. All along, the first commandment had been warning me against these temptations. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2- 3). I did not know just how much freedom was offered to me until I entered into a living relationship with Jesus Christ, who frees me from all bondage. Nowadays, it is all so normalized: horoscopes, fortune tellers, witchcraft, magic, superstitions, Ouija boards ... the list goes on. The culture portrays these options as harmless, or even helpful. They are often seen as exciting or merely silly games. We can sometimes feel invincible, as I did, and think, “nothing really bad will happen to me, right?” Yet, it is the opposite. By engaging in these practices we close ourselves off to our good and loving God and open ourselves up to the evil one. By doing this, we separate ourselves from the one who loves us unconditionally. Here is the Good News: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Throughout salvation history we see the Lord reminding His people to return home to Him but they returned to worshiping idols. Although He never let them off the hook, He remained patient and kept His promise to redeem them. I came to discover that I really could put my full trust in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful Father. I did not have to grasp after anything else. I just had to be open to receiving His love on a daily basis. Worshiping Gods That Cannot Save One December, I had the incredible opportunity to do missions in Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It is culturally Catholic but some people practice voodoo alongside Christianity. They do this because they are afraid and want to do whatever they can to ensure their own protection and welfare. They baptize their children to gods who cannot save and they worship them. This culture of fear is easily seen because it is so openly expressed. Before going to Haiti, we learned about this reality and something that our trip leader said about it has stuck with me ever since: “Don’t be afraid because you sometimes see evil in Haiti. Be afraid because you don’t perceive the evil that is here in America.” In lots of little ways, we become too comfortable putting our trust in someone that is not our Heavenly Father. The devil is very insidious in this regard—for example, when we only turn to friends for advice and consolation but forget to speak with God in prayer. Or when we seek to quench our thirst for love in relationships that will never satisfy. Or we miss Mass regularly and let the world’s values take priority. Or we worship money, fame and success. Or we fail to include God in our plans for the future and try to predict every detail. Or we turn to sinful habits to fill up the emptiness within. Superstitious practices like consulting horoscopes are the most overt example of this. These were just some of the ways I damaged my relationship with God. I had such little faith in Him! Sometimes I am still afraid of what my life will look like but every day I realize how worthwhile it is to put my all trust in Him. Worthy of All Praise After observing their altar to the unknown god, Saint Paul observed, “Men of Athens, I perceive in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). Wait ... what?! Yes, he calls them religious because we are naturally religious beings and have a natural instinct to worship the source of our being. Whether we know it or not, since we come from God and are going back to Him we are constantly looking for Him in all that we do. So Paul calls us to repentance, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And He made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth ... that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him. Yet, He is not far from each one of us. “‘In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring’” (Acts 17:22-28). Trust in God Any sinful habit or temptation is a sign that we are crying out for God. Paul proclaims that a relationship with Jesus is our truest hope. What does this mean for us? It means we need to spend more time dreaming big with Him and less time limiting His power in our lives by idolizing that which cannot save. Instead of falling into darkness, we should be falling to our knees in prayer. We can trust that God is eager to give an abundance of what is good for us whenever we ask. The Litany of Trust helps detach me from the false gods in my life and turns me toward the one who is worthy of all my praise, attention and hope. In reality, my dreams are limited. When I am united with God, “nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37). Praise be to the One who saved me from myself, knows me better than I do and never lets me settle for what I do not deserve. Jesus is much better than a horoscope. I am praying for you!
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