First Friday and Knowing Love

Margaret, a blind, crippled, deformed dwarf[i] is my choice of facilitator for the First Friday of this month.[ii]

One thing that I have always known is that I am loved. By the time I was two years old, the doctors had figured out why I wasn’t walking, why my legs were so weak that they flopped around when I was carried. This is the news that they told my parents: your daughter has spinal muscular atrophy, she will never walk and will get progressively weaker, developing severe scoliosis and dying of pneumonia before the age of 13. On hearing this devastating prognosis, some people suggested that I be put away in a facility – and others presumed I would be. One relative said, “I could never let myself love a child who was going to die.” Thankfully, my parents are deeply loving people. I was a bright and happy child, curious, intelligent, with big, smiling eyes. This is what my parents knew. This is who my parents saw: me.

Not so for a medieval girl named Margaret. She, born blind, with dwarfism, disabled, becoming hunchbacked, was thoroughly unwanted by her well-to-do parents. Embarrassed, even horrified, by her deformities and disabilities, they shut her away from society – and shut themselves off from her as well – imprisoning her as a child in a custom-made doorless room attached to the parish chapel. There were two windows in Margaret’s cell: one through which food and necessities of survival were passed and one through which she could receive the sacraments. The priest was touched and amazed by Margaret’s gentleness and the wisdom of her soul. He provided education on his own, through the window, and they became friends. Margaret’s relationship with God grew in depth and intimacy through these years.

When Margaret’s parents heard of miracles happening at a far-off shine, they brought their daughter there to be cured. After a couple of days, however, they saw no change in Margaret. They didn’t get what they wanted. So, they snuck off and left her there, never to return. Thus abandoned, Margaret had to beg for food, there in the streets of Castello, dependent upon the mercy and kindness of strangers. Many townspeople admired Margaret’s cheerfulness in spite of all of her hardships and were impressed by her spiritual heart and her trust in God’s goodness. She was always willing to help others whenever and however she could. She was accepted into the Dominican order, but, disturbed by the lack of piety at the local monastery, she became a habit-wearing third order Dominican, living with her friends in Castello.

With her deep faith and understanding, Margaret was joyful and kind, living her life for the glory of God, taking care of people who were sick and visiting criminals in prison. Her lovingness was completely unmarred by her parents lack of love. Though they did not see the true person that she was, others did and respected her and her talents. Though some could not see past the surface, others had the privilege of glimpsing the depth of her soul. Margaret died on April 13, 1320 at the age of 33. The people of Castello continued to stand by her and demanded that their beloved Margaret be buried inside the church. The priest refused, but, when a disabled girl at Margaret’s funeral was miraculously cured, he relented. Margaret was declared a Blessed of the Church by Pope Paul V in 1609. She, who was unwanted and abandoned, became one of the glories of Christianity through her acceptance and embrace of God’s steadfast love for her.

So I, accepted and loved by my parents for all that I am, take Blessed Margaret of Castello as my First Friday Facilitator for the month of April. Like the good people of Castello, I want to take this unloved and rejected girl into my heart and my home. For I want to be like her, knowing that I can learn much from her life. I have always known that my parents love me – but, is my happiness only in human love? Do I love my family for what they do for me – or because they are beloved by God?

“O Blessed Margaret of Castello, how it must have hurt when your parents abandoned you! Yet you learned from this that all earthly love and affection, even for those who are closest, must be sanctified. And so, despite everything, you continued to love your parents –

but now you loved them in God. Obtain for me [through your prayers of intercession] the grace that I might see all my human loves and affections in their proper perspective…

in God and for God.”[iii]

I see, through Blessed Margaret, that even those who are treated cruelly and harshly by the people who should love them the most can know the healing power of true love that comes from the One Who Loves Most of All: God. Through forgiveness and sympathetic kindness, a girl like Margaret can joyfully experience the fullness of life, generously sharing the richness of the gifts that God has given her. Perhaps… in many ways… her blessings were greater and richer than those of one who lives in comfort and security all the days of her life – because Margaret saw (though physically blind) that she was always being comforted in the eternally secure shelter of God’s love. Do I see that?

“Compassionate God,

you gave your divine light

to Blessed Margaret who was blind from birth,

that with the eye of her heart

she might contemplate you alone.

Be the light of our eyes

that we may turn from what is evil, the shadows of this world,

and reach the home of never-ending light.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.”

Amen. [iv]

[i] I’ve heard that dwarf is the proper term to use; I’m told that I can say the word crippled because I myself am crippled; but, I don’t know the PC value of “blind”. However, I thoroughly dislike Political Correctness – because there is absolutely nothing shameful in being blind, crippled, deformed or a dwarf. It’s not the words you choose, it’s what’s in your heart that matters.

[ii] for more on First Friday Facilitators see my previous post here.

[iii] http://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/english3/p02302.htm

[iv] http://saints.sqpn.com/blessed-margaret-of-castello/

Where Do I Live? (Heart Question 2)

When someone asks us where we live, we think of our homes.  I’ve lived in the same house for my whole life (so far).  The reason that I still live with my parents is that my genetic defect has progressively weakened my body so that I need somebody to help me with every daily activity.  (I share this, not to elicit pity or praise – I don’t want either – but to consider these questions honestly.  I am a real person writing this, as you are a real person reading this, and we all live in different circumstances although we are all human.)  No longer can I put food in my mouth or pull the covers up at night when I’m cold – so where I live is determined by my dependency.  But this just puts a clearer focus upon everything that is important in a home – I take nothing for granted.  I know more than survival, I know living.  Where I live, I, like anyone who is grateful to have a home, am sheltered, nourished, welcomed, loved – I love this place where I live as my beautiful home.

And I don’t just mean the house.  More than an address to which snail mail can be sent (for this can change upon moving) and more than the location of my bed and refrigerator (for it’s possible to have more than one of those) home, by the most practical and deepest definition, is where I belong.  As shelter, home should never be underappreciated, for there are far too many people who live, day and night, unsheltered from the cold, rain and snow.  As a place of sleep and sustenance, home is never insignificant, because rest and nourishment are necessary to life.  Home as a place of safety and comfort is also never to be undervalued – for it’s like a sanctuary and there are far too many people for whom the place where they live is also the place where they are abused.  It is in this understanding of shelter, sustenance and sanctuary that home as “the place where I belong” takes on substance.

So… Where is the place where I belong?  Is it in this particular house?  No, because that can change.  Is it with these particular people whom I love and who love me?  Well, that can change, too, most sorrowfully, as the lives of my loved ones aren’t permanent – so, no.  In asking the ageless questions, I’m not seeking changeable answers.  I’m questing for the immutable, the changeless answers that, therefore, completely answer the question for all times – for all time….

Pliny the Elder is credited with saying that home is where the heart is.  This has generally been accepted as a good definition of home and I like it, too.  But… Where is my heart?  I’m pretty sure Pliny didn’t mean that my home is my rib cage.  Christ tells us, “Where your treasure lies, there is your heart.”  Now, that’s interesting… Where is my treasure?  I tend to treasure temporal things – beautiful objects, the kind, physical presence of people.  If I am basing my definition of home on the people and things that I love (declaring this to be where my heart is) then my definition is temporary.  To find the eternal answer, I need to think of things eternal… things divine.

I’ve often heard it said that my true home, my eternal home, is Heaven.  But, I rejected this answer because I thought that it meant I could only do my true living after I was dead.  And what kind of life would that be?  I was, after all, created by God to be here, even if temporarily.  However, I’m beginning to understand that, if Heaven is my eternal home, then, because eternity has no beginning and no end, Heaven is here, now – not just hereafter.  And that understanding changes everything.

If I spend all of my time and effort concerned about what is of the world – having physical comfort, prestige, the praise of people, the pleasure of things – then this is where I live: my home is transitory, fickle, fleeting, finite.  If, rather, I spend my time and effort concerned about what is divine – being thankful, generous, compassionate, forgiving – then this is where I live: my home is loving, strong, enduring, infinite.  As Christ tells us in the Gospels, some people build their houses on shifting sand, while others build upon solid rock.  And what is more unshifting than eternity?  What is more eternal than God?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this understanding of the heart:

“The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’”

No matter what location I am at, no matter what structure I am in, no matter, even, by what people I am surrounded, there is one place that is always and everywhere home.  This is my inner sanctuary, the hidden dwelling place where God abides with me and I abide with God.  In solitude and away from the distraction of things, I have an impenetrably deep sense of belonging.  This is where I am, for I am a child of God and my home is with Him who created and sustains me, who loves me infinitely and intimately.

There are moments in my life, moments that can’t really be marked by time or in space, when I am deeply aware that I am home.  This is when I withdraw into my heart and find the Presence of God waiting for me there, welcoming me, giving me shelter, rest, sustenance, belonging and identity – everything home should be.  As in the song of Hosea, God says, “Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.”  I come home in every act of conversion while I live and breathe upon the earth, returning to my true self as God’s child, like the prodigal son returning to his father.  Restored through my repentance and Christ’s self giving forgiveness in order to live with, for, and in God, here and now, I already dwell within the embrace of God – and I will forever dwell in God’s pure, blissful Presence, eternally loved in my eternal home.

That’s where I’m at.

 

I’ll continue exploring the ageless questions – How do I decide, What is truth, Where is God.  For now, as I take up an online course in theology, I’ll be posting other questions and answers, sharing other thoughts and wonderings…

© 2014 Christina Chase

Child of the Poor

–Lyrics by Scott Soper, 1994

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid,

wrapped in the chill of midwinter,

comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace:

new life for the world.

Who is this who lives with the lowly,

sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?

This is Christ

revealed to the world in the eyes of a child,

a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger, here in our midst,

looking for shelter among us?

Who is the outcast?

Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?

Who is this

who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows,

knowing their hunger?

This is Christ revealed

to the world in the eyes of a child,

a child of the poor.

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace;

bring those with nothing to offer;

strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart,

“Fear not:

here is your God.”

a child of the poor.

 

And he is among us now.  Do we ignore him?  Do we pass him by?  The stranger… the outcast… the hungry… Who are we dismissing?  Christ.

Let us also remember that the Christ child was born into what we would consider miserable circumstances – but he was not miserable because he was loved.  Divine love doesn’t make life easier, doesn’t make all the hardships go away – Divine love makes life joyful.   There is nothing undignified about being poor or homeless.  God Himself chose to be born into such a state so that He could show us the power and richness of love.  If, however, we laud the Christ child, the baby in the manger and all the delights of Christmas, and then forget that the manger was a feeding trough in which the poor child slept – and if we then ignore the plight of impoverished children and their families everywhere in the world… or down the street… then we have no right to have celebrated Christmas.   If we do not see Christ among us, then we have not love.  And if we have not love, then we will never know true joy.