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.
Lessons to Learn
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.
Aid from a Little Flower
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.
Are You Okay?
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
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.
“And I tell you, ASK AND YOU WILL RECEIVE; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). You may have sometimes felt, “What good does asking do if there appears to be no answer to my prayer?” You might be tired of people sending out “thoughts and prayers,” thinking it is just an empty platitude. I have heard that a lot. It is easy to highlight the bad and forget about the good. Sometimes it is even difficult to connect a clear line from the prayer to the answer. Why are we so quick to forget the multitude of prayers that have been answered but hold on to prayer intentions that seem to go unanswered, while our hearts remain unwilling to change? Sometimes we figure it is more convenient to allow anger and frustration to grow inside of us instead of unclenching our fists and opening our heart to align with the Lord’s plans for our lives. Let Me Tell You a Little Story ... Three years ago I was getting frustrated with God’s plans. Through discernment and prayer, I felt a strong call to marriage yet open to God’s plans for me. I was single as could be with a heart FULL of desire for marriage and a building consternation and pain about why that was not being fulfilled. In prayer one day, God showed me this Scripture, “Ask and you shall receive.” Then He brought it up again and again and again. “Okay, I get it,” I thought. “You want me to ask You for the desires of my heart.” That is how I began the year 2016. I decided to own that Scripture more than I ever had. I got very specific and vulnerable by proclaiming to the Lord, “I want to meet my husband and I want to meet him by the end of this year.” I prayed that my future husband would have the courage to pursue me, that I would have an openness to allow him into my life and heart and that I would have absolute clarity that he was the one God had chosen for me. Why to be Specific? I know, it sounds demanding. Let me explain. I got specific in my asking because it seemed there was always a lingering fear polluting my desires. The fear was telling me, “Don’t ask for it. What if you never get it? You will look like a fool.” The asking was a very important part of this process for that very reason. Asking is a form of belief and that belief is a form of trust in God our Father. I think that is what God really wants when He tells us to ask. He wants us to trust Him wholeheartedly with every piece of our lives, especially the parts that are most important to us. I had to vulnerably spell out the desires of my heart, in detail without reservation and without creating an escape route for myself. I put a timeframe on it not because God works under our timeframe but so I would have to work hard to let go of my desire for control and put it entirely in His hands, whatever the outcome. I also had to face the fear of not finding a spouse. Asking like this forced me to dive directly into that fear rather than shielding myself from its unknown potential. I had to work hard to suffocate my distorted thought that I was unworthy to be a wife and mother. At the End of the Deadline As the months went by I went on a few dates and had some conversation here and there but nothing lasting materialized; nothing with lifelong potential. At the start of the 12th month my hope was dimming as the deadline I had set approached. December began with a three-day silent retreat where I had plenty of time to wrestle with God in prayer. Each day, I spent an hour with a spiritual director who I already knew and trusted. In discussing my vocation, I explained how I had discerned a call to marriage but had no spouse in view. She mentioned the dating site Catholic Match but I was instantly irritated at the suggestion. It was not as if I was living like a recluse, opposed to dating, and willfully keeping myself from meeting the man I hoped to marry. I was constantly meeting people through sports, work, church, and other friends. Meeting people was not the problem, but meeting the right person was. I began to overheat internally at the sheer suggestion, thinking, “Here we go again ...” After direction I returned to my room and shouted at God a bit, asking Him why He even brought me to the retreat. I pouted, and then I went to blow off steam by going for a jog through the woods. About a half mile into my jog I began to shift my way of thinking. I wondered, “What’s going on inside me? Why is that such a hot button for me? Why am I so opposed to the idea of Catholic Match?” I came to realize that I had succumbed to pride. I pushed forward and duked it out with my pride (as well as a rather embarrassing desire to wallow in self-pity). A Prerequisite Change Finally I acquiesced and cried out to God, “FINE! I’ll sign up for the dating site if You want me to but only if You show me, at this retreat, that You do want me to.” I was not graceful at all. In fact I was quite childish, but I had conceded and that set the tone for my retreat. The process of letting go of fear and pride to entrust my life entirely to Him intensified. Throughout the retreat, I received a lot of healing and restoration about vocation. I really needed to work on retraining my thoughts. Negative thoughts affected the way I chose to live and what I chose to believe about myself. My director pointed me to Habakkuk 2:2-3 and encouraged me to write out my vision for the future. “Then the Lord answered me and said: write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late” (Habakkuk 2:2-3). So I wrote out my vision. I did not overthink it. I just wrote what poured out from my heart. The central theme of my vision revolved around life with my future husband, honoring and loving the Lord. For the next six weeks, I read my vision every morning and every evening. I have heard that it takes six weeks to retrain your thoughts so I used my vision to reshape my mind and heart. Remember that line from Habakkuk about the vision? “Wait for it. It will surely come. It will not be late.” That reiterated the importance of God’s timing and showed me that He wanted me to claim my vocation. I realized I was afraid to do so. Other girls discussed and planned their wedding details from childhood. I falsely believed I had not pleased God enough so maybe I would never marry. When Vision begins to Unfold By the time I left the retreat I was healed from the pride that had hindered me. I put my single status into the hands of the Lord and resolved to sign up for Catholic Match. Since procrastination could kill my resolution I made a profile as soon as I got home. It was not polished or designed to please; it revealed my authentic self. “You can take it or leave it,” I figured. “This is me.” Less than a month later I began a conversation on Catholic Match with the man who would become my husband. The date was December 27, just four days before the end of 2016—the year I had given the Lord to find me a spouse. I had asked. I had placed the matter in the hands of the Lord at the expense of my own pride. Then I claimed the outcome I desired—the one I felt the Lord was leading me to all along. I watched my vision begin to unfold as a reality. I think God tells us to ask so we will be changed in the process. He already knows the desires of our hearts. The key to receiving what we have asked for is to trust in the Lord and grow closer to Him. My pride and fear were getting in my way. I had to become vulnerable and open to asking God for the desires of my heart and accepting His will for my life. Had I not done so, I may never have been open to the means God had chosen to introduce me to my spouse. Ask with an open heart willing to change and then let the Lord do His work in your life. Ask and you will receive. “God would not encourage you to pray if He was not willing to give.” —Saint Augustine
In times of sickness and peril, people often turn to God in ardent prayer for a miraculous healing. However, we have also heard that God allows hardships and sickness for a reason and that we ought to pray for the grace to accept His holy will. As a nurse, my days revolve around patients so I have lots of opportunities to pray for the sick and suffering; sometimes my mind is beset by conjectures about why we need to pray for the sick if God has allowed their illness or injury for some good purpose. All my doubts were dissipated by an experience that happened right in front of my eyes. One day, I was assigned to assist a man in his 30s who had been diagnosed with kidney failure. He was married and having three children. When I got to know him better, this young man disclosed his dire situation. He had not been able to work for the preceding three months so he was desperately worried about being dismissed from his job. Such a scenario would also terminate his insurance. Since he was the sole breadwinner of the family, he was plunged into anxiety and could not sleep. The man was so depressed that he began to have suicidal thoughts. I wanted to alleviate his anguish so I asked if he believed in God and urged him to trust in His mercy. The man confided that since he had stopped going to church in his childhood, he did not know how to pray. I shared a prayer about trust in God’s mercy—one that had comforted me—and encouraged the young man to read a Bible verse. He asked me to write one out for him, so I jotted down Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” As soon as he read it, he asked for more, so I wrote down other verses that seemed relevant for him: “I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). A few months later, I encountered this man again. He clasped my hands and began to cry. As he smiled through his tears, he told me how he had printed those Bible quotes in large letters and pasted them all around him. As he repeated them often, he felt more relaxed and began to sleep peacefully. Even though he was still sick he became aware of the many blessings— especially his family—God had given him. Reading the Bible became a great delight. Dear friends, when we pray for the sick, they may not experience an immediate miracle of healing. Sometimes, emotional and spiritual healing are also needed, for both the person and their family. Our little prayers and sincere efforts to comfort them may enable them to receive the grace and strength needed in those hard times. Do not be discouraged when it seems the answer to your prayers is slow in coming. Those in suffering need our continuing support during their battle with infirmity.
Medley of Voices Life can be peculiar. Some days I seem to be making progress but more often than not I feel like I am spinning my wheels. I can have a day of perfect serenity and productivity, yet it is swiftly followed by an exhausting week, riddled with issues that bring me to my knees. There are rarely long-standing periods of peace in my life. Fragments of tranquility occasionally last for a few days but, generally, they are mere snatched moments. Again and again I find myself beseeching the Lord for a favor or another chance. I wonder what it sounds like to God. The medley of voices praying, promising, whispering desperately. However, I know they get through because I have seen His work in my life. It is undeniable. God answers prayers—not always the way I would prefer but God’s guiding presence and response is unarguable. I do not think any of us take issue with the idea of giving thanks to our creator. We are taught to count our blessings and it is a common practice for many. But do you know what is more uncommon in my daily life? Praise. Why and How? So, what is praise? The Catholic Catechism explains praise as two-fold: theology and economy. Theology discusses the mystery of God’s life. Through liturgy, prayer and adoration, and with the help of the Saints, we can cultivate a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord and begin to understand His heart. Economy is to know the works of God, the way He shows Himself, or what He does, which is clearly found in Sacred Scripture. Thus, to be able to praise fully we need to study sacred scripture and set aside time for Christ in order to understand His heart. Just as we put in quality time developing relationships with friends—learning about their families, childhoods, likes and dislikes—we should sojourn with our Lord to make Him our best friend. The more we know Him the better we can trust and understand His plan. What does this have to do with praise? Everything. I am not sure about others but many times I feel at a loss about how to offer praise. I used to think it was just a glorified way of thanking God with catch phrases such as “Praise Jesus,” “Glory to God” or “Hallelujah.” They are good examples of praise but I discovered that there is more to it. I had a difficult time wrapping my head around it all until I heard it put this way. Think of little Johnny playing a soccer game. He is doing really well so we praise him by saying, “Good job, Johnny! You’re great!” But little Johnny looks at us confused: “Great for what?” We need to get specific and declare little Johnny’s deeds. We praise him for his fancy head shot and goal. Little Johnny finally understands. In the case of praising God, He understands but we are the ones who need to fully realize how essential our relationship with Him is to our well-being. If we are going to praise God we need to get specific. Why is praise so important? A Deeper Understanding I actually bought a book to answer this question, and it completely changed the way I approach situations in my life. This is the underlying thesis of “Praise God and Thank Him” by Catholic International speaker Jeff Cavins: We were created to praise God and we should do it incessantly. It should constantly be on our minds and upon our tongues. In fact, if we are asking God for help we should be praising Him first, so our daily prayers should begin with praise. We can learn this lesson from the Old Testament. In Judges, when the 12 tribes prepared for battle they asked God which tribe should enter battle first. The question is posed in both Judges 1:1 and 20:18, “Who shall go up first for us to do battle?” God answered them saying “Judah shall go up first.” Judah was the largest tribe. It was the tribe David came from and hence Judah was the line of Jesus. Judah, or Yehuda in Hebrew, means “praised.” God instructed that praise should go first. In the face of our conflicts in life—medical, financial, relationships—praise should be our first weapon. It does not mean that we never have to do battle. It simply means that praise goes hand in hand with facing troubles. When we encounter strife with the greatness of God upon our tongues, we never battle alone. Yehuda, with the root word yadah, also means “to confess.” When we praise, we declare or confess God’s greatness. It also means “confession.” We should confess our sins so we can shed the added burden of sin which weighs us down, hindering us in our tussles with troubles. Cavins urges us to wear praise like a garment “instead of a spirit of despair.” Through our daily medley of prayers and whispered petitions, let us not forget that our part in our relationship with Christ is to grow deeper in union with Him. Through all our blessings, praise Him. Through all the heartbreak and difficult times, praise Him. As we wake each morning and put on the armour of God and the garment of praise, may we strive to enter into each of our daily battles declaring God’s glory. We were created to praise Him and when we do we will see God’s grace bear fruit in our lives. Lord God, we praise and thank You for creating us so wonderfully well. Impress Your will in our hearts and Your praise on our lips that we may constantly grow in your love. Amen.
Just a Piece of Junk? “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times. And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.” —Luke 22:61 Peter was heartbroken. He was filled with grief because his beloved friend Jesus had been arrested and condemned to death on the cross. There was nothing Peter could do to stop it and, on top of that, he had denied he even knew Jesus—not once, not twice, but three times. He felt tormented by shame and guilt. You can almost hear Peter lament: “Lord, I failed You. I was sure that I would stand by You through thick and thin but instead I denied that I ever knew You. Now it’s too late. Oh Jesus, there was never anyone like You and now You’re gone forever. I’m rotten through and through. I’m just a piece of junk that you should have left by the lakeside.” Peter wept bitterly. In his sorrow, Peter must have begged the Lord’s forgiveness over and over again. I can relate to Peter because I have denied knowing Jesus because I feared what people would think. I remained silent when I knew in my heart that I needed to speak the truth to someone about the faith. I wimp out at times, just like Peter. I, also, have been filled with sorrow, shame and guilt because of my sinful actions or inactions. Take Heart! However, that is not the end of Peter’s story and it need not end there for us either. Jesus continues to beckon us to come to Him so we can be cleansed by His divine mercy. He restores our soul and heals our broken hearts. Little by little, Jesus infuses us with the graces to live in His love and share our love for Him with others. “Let the house of Israel say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His mercy endures forever’” (Psalm 118:1-4). God does not make junk. I may fall from grace and fill my heart with all kinds of junk but the good news is that Jesus is the junk collector. Each time I go to the sacrament of reconciliation Jesus cleans out the clutter in my heart. When I sin and acknowledge my wrongdoing I go to Jesus and say “Guilty as charged.” Yet, instead of punishment Jesus tenderly showers me with His endless mercy. “The Lord remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:23). After the Resurrection Peter and his disciples went fishing. Peter’s heart was filled with sorrow and remorse. That all changed when Peter saw Jesus on the shore. Peter got so excited that he jumped into the water and swam ashore to greet Jesus, his beloved friend. Imagine how Peter felt. He had thought his friend was gone forever and that he had forfeited all rights to His friendship. Suddenly, there was his Lord and God beckoning him to come. What joy Peter felt at being back in the presence of the Lord, receiving His forgiveness.. It just does not get any better than that! Reflection God is love and mercy itself. Jesus does not care how far you have moved away from Him. He continues to call you back to His most sacred heart, to receive His mercy and love. He is waiting for you with open arms, ready to shower you with His loving mercy. Will you not turn to Him now? Run to Jesus, just as Saint Peter did, to be restored, refreshed and healed. Allow Jesus to transform your heart. “Thus, says the Lord, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
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