Francis Finds Love and Faith

“Why haven’t you been by the house?  Are they working you too hard?  When is the last time you went to confession?  When are you going to settle down and get married?”  Mrs. De Vries demanded as her son, Francis walked out of the courthouse and into the late afternoon sunshine.  It had been a hectic day and all he wanted to do was to go home and crash.

“Mother, I’m perfectly happy with my life,” he told her wearily.  “I haven’t been by the house because I have been very busy on a case which was wrapped up a short while ago.  I haven’t been to confession for over a year and I’m not ready to get married as yet.”

He didn’t tell her that he hadn’t been to confession or the church because he was seriously considering leaving the faith.  And the allegations of sex abuse at the hands of the clergy didn’t help.  He knew of one girl he used to go to school with who was a victim but was afraid to say anything because she was afraid that her parents would kick her out of the house.  The last he heard of her, she had left the church and married a Protestant.

He grew up in a strict Catholic home where he was taught never to question the church because to do so was a grave sin.  So, he kept quiet, went to Mass every Sunday with his family, had his First Communion and Confirmation.  He still remembered what happened to his girlfriend, Sophia when she was 16 and preparing Confirmation.  She was in the Children’s Room and she had to write down the sins she had committed against God.  When she told the priest that he had made out with her boyfriend, the man looked at her and told her that she was going to hell.  Distraught and terrified at the thought of burning for eternity, she ran out of the room in tears. Francis never saw her again.  He just went to church to please his mother.  But he could feel himself becoming more and more disconnected to the faith.

“Francis?  Are you still there?”

“Yes, Mother.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Mother.”

“Marian is having her First Communion next week Sunday.  You are going to come for that, aren’t you?  Everyone will expect to see you.”  Marian was his 7 year old niece.

He didn’t really want to go but he knew he would never hear the end of it if he didn’t show up.  Besides, he didn’t want to disappoint Marian.  “All right, Mother.  I’ll be there.”

“Good.” She sounded very pleased.  “Afterwards, we’ll go over to the house and have a big meal to celebrate.”

“Sounds good.  I have to go now, Mother.”

“All right, Francis.  I will call you again during the week to remind you.”

“I will write it down in my calendar so that I won’t forget.”

“Just the same, I will call and remind you,” she insisted.

He sighed.  “All right, Mother.”

“Have a good weekend.”

“Thanks.  You too.”

“Make sure you go to church on Sunday.  I pray for you everyday, you know.”

“That’s sweet of you, Mother.  I really have to go now.  Goodbye.”

“All right.  Goodbye, Francis. Ik hou van je.”

Ik hou ook van jou.” He ended the call and got into his car.  The sun was setting as he pulled out of the parking lot.  He couldn’t wait to get home and take a long, hot shower before ordering Take Out Thai.  He didn’t have any plans for the weekend.  He was going to be a couch potato for once.

About forty minutes later, he was riding up the elevator.  The doors opened and he headed down the long hallway to his unit.  As he was about to insert the key in the lock, the door opposite his opened and his neighbor, Briana came out of her unit.  Her gaze traveled over his tall frame.   “Hi,” she said.  2451262bc76a34995bfa6c2e7db55843

“Hi.” She had her jacket draped over her arm and her knapsack was on her shoulder.  “Going on a date?” he asked.  He always wanted to find out if she had a boyfriend but never quite knew how to broach the subject without coming across nosy.

She shook her head.  “No.  I’m going to the Living With Hope Evangelistic meetings.  Tonight’s the first meeting.  It ends next week Sunday.”  She showed him the flyer.

He took it from her and studied it.  It looked very interesting.  It started at 7 which was a hour away.  “Do you mind if I come with you?” he asked.

She shook her head again.  “No, not at all.  Have you eaten?”

“No.”

“Neither have I.  I got in a short time ago and didn’t have time to eat anything.  We can grab something on the way.”  They took her car.

As they sped down the high-way, they talked about all sorts of things.  She asked him about his job and he told her about the case he won earlier that day.  His client was found not guilty because of reasonable doubt.  “Do you think he was innocent?” she asked.

“Yes.  And I established that the foreman at the firm as a very possible suspect.  He had motive and opportunity.”

“Well, congratulations.”

“Thanks.  You’re a Physical Therapy Assistant, right?”

“Yes.”  He remembered.  “I love it.  I love helping people.  That’s something you and I have in common.”

He smiled.  “That’s true.”

“So….do you have a girlfriend?”  She knew he wasn’t married.

The question took him by surprise and it took him a moment to reply.  “No, I don’t have a girlfriend.  What about you?  Do you have a boyfriend?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I’ve gone out with a couple of guys but nothing panned out.  We’re approaching Carroll Ave where the church is,” she added. “There are several food places in the area.  What do you feel in the mood for?”

“Is there a Middle Eastern place?”

“Yes.  It’s right up here.”  She pulled into the parking lot and found a parking space in front of the restaurant.  They walked in and over to the Take Out area.  “I’m going to have the Chicken Shawarma.  What about you?”

“I think I will have the Lamb burger.”  His mouth watered as he thought having it with fries.

They ordered and then they went to the car and she drove to the church.  They sat in the car and ate.  He encouraged her to try the fries.  “Next time I think I will try the Lamb Burger.  It looks really good.”

“If you don’t have other plans, I was thinking that tomorrow night after we leave here, we could go a really nice family run Lebanese restaurant in Washington.”

She smiled.  “I would love to.”

They finished eating and then it was time to head inside.  They were hooked the first night and looked forward to going the following night.  Night after night they went to the series together and had dinner afterwards.  By the end of the series, they both decided to regularly attend the church hosting the series.  They each received the Discover Bible Guides from the pastor of the church which they eagerly went through. Then, in the Spring the following year, they were baptized.

At first, Francis’ mother was bitterly disappointed that he had left the Catholic faith but when she saw how happy he was, she relented.  And she was relieved to see that he had a girlfriend.  She became very fond of Briana and even taught her how to make some traditional Dutch dishes.

Two years later, Francis and Briana tied the knot in a simple but elegant ceremony.

 

Sources:  Huff Post; Corpus Christi; Tahoma Park Church

Gifts From the East

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” – Matthew 2:2

Wise Men from the East traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.  They didn’t know where exactly to find Him.  They had see His star and followed it.  It led them there in Jerusalem.  They visited King Herod, believing that he would know where the Christ was but the king didn’t.  He was greatly troubled by this and called the chief priests and scribes together to inquire where the Christ was to be born.  They told him what the prophecy said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:  ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’

King Herod met alone with the Wise Men and told them that the Child was in Bethlehem, tell them to, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”  The visitors left and the star which they had seen in the East went before them and led them to where the Child was.  Seeing the star filled them with great joy and they rejoiced.

They went into the house and saw the young Child with His mother, Mary.  They fell down and worshipped Him.  They presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What was the significance of each of these gifts?  Were they simply customary gifts from the regions or were they chosen specifically?  Gold is a precious and valuable metal.   It is rare and it doesn’t tarnish.  Precious things and ornaments are made of gold.  In this instance, gold represents Jesus’ kingship.  Frankincense is a perfume or incense.  It was used in religious and spiritual rituals all over the world..  It represents Jesus’ priesthood.  Myrrh is a bitter gum and costly perfume which comes from a certain tree or shrub in Arabia and Ethiopia.  It is also an antiseptic used for embalming.  The myrrh prefigures Jesus’ death and embalming.

These gifts were not arbitrary.  They were carefully chosen for the One whom they traveled far to behold and worship.  They brought their gifts to Him because they believed that He was the Messiah, the King of the Jews.  What a beautiful story of faith and the love of God who sent His Son to die for everyone.  It is a testimony that Jesus is Savior of Jews and Gentiles.  He came to save the world.

This Christmas season, reflect on the roles of Jesus–King, Priest and Savior.  Think of someone who needs to know that God loves them and offer them His most precious Gift to mankind–His Son.

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Source: Natural Living Family

The Dream/Circle #writephoto

circle-of-stones

She stared at the photo, her face turning white as a sheet.  It looked exactly like the place in her dream.  The eerie woods with its tall trees and overgrown grass that looked like hay scattered on the ground and the strange stones arranged in a circle.  She was afraid to tell John for fear that he would think that she having a relapse.

Three years ago, she had suffered a nervous breakdown after and it had taken a long time for her to recover.  She was fine until she started having the same dream shortly after she celebrated her fortieth birthday.

It began with her walking through the woods and it appeared to her that it was in the early 1900s for she wore a gown which swept the ground as she walked.  Why she would venture into the woods unaccompanied, she had no idea.  Perhaps it was the adventurous spirit in her.  She would walk and walk, until she came to the stones.  Curious, she would approach them.  They held a strange fascination for her.

There was something unearthly about them.  She went to the largest one and after a moment’s hesitation, she reached down and touched it.  Suddenly, she was lying on her back, looking up at a man, dressed as a priest dressed in blue and saffron robes and the crackling sound of flames followed by unbearable heat.  And then she would wake up, feeling as if her body was on fire.

What did this dream mean?  Was she losing her mind again?  She was afraid to tell anyone.  She didn’t want to go back to the psychiatric ward.

Her hand trembled as she held the photo.  She would show it to John and ask him about it and she had to be perfectly calm about it.

After dinner that night when they were relaxing on the sofa, she showed the photo to him.  “John, I saw this in the desk drawer,” she said.  “When was it taken?”

“I was working on a story about Temple Wood and I found this photo in the archives.  I think it was taken in the early 1900s.  It was in these woods where it is believed that a missing adolescent girl was burned alive on this large stone–known as the Druid altar.”  He pointed to the same stone she had touched in her dream.  “Her name was Alice Frawley.  She would have been forty if she were still alive today.”

She felt a cold fear clutch at her heart.  “Do–do you have a photo of her?”

“I believe so.   I’ll go and get it.”

He returned a while later and handed it to her.  “Sorry, it took me so long to find it.  I’m not sure why it wasn’t with the other photo.”

She took one look at it and fainted.

Startled, he took the photo out of her hand and examined it closely.  He scrambled to his feet and ran for the photo album.  He flipped through the pages until he came to the photo of Annie when she was a teenager.  His face went white when he saw the uncanny resemblance between her and Alice.

This was written in response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Circle by Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Click on the link to read other stories inspired by the image.

Source:  Voices From the Dawn

Being a Neighbor

Only Jesus could simplify spiritual matters in a way that anyone can understand.  He summed up the Ten Commandments into two–love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:30, 31).  When a lawyer asked Jesus the question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by telling a parable about the man who was attacked on his way to Jericho by robbers and left for dead on the road.   Two men passed by, first a priest who passed by on the other side and then a Levite who looked and passed by the other side.   It’s interesting that both of these men who were associated with the priesthood did not minister to the injured man but left him there until a kind stranger stopped to help him.

Through this wonderful illustration of love and compassion, we learn that our neighbor is not only the person who lives next door or opposite but any person in need.  To be a neighbor is to care for others–show kindness and to help them in whatever way we can.  After Jesus finished telling the story, He asked the question, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”  The lawyer replied, “He who showed mercy on him.”  Jesus told him to go and do likewise (Luke 10:36, 37).

A neighbor is not necessarily someone of our race, culture, background or religion.  It was a Samaritan, not a Jew who stopped to help the man.  In those times, Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans (John 4:9).  To be a neighbor is not to allow our prejudices to prevent us from helping those who are different from us.

When it comes to loving your neighbor partiality isn’t a factor.  The Samaritan didn’t see an enemy lying at the side of the road but a person who was badly in need of help.  He felt compassion for him and getting off his donkey, he went over to him and bandaged his wounds before taking him to an inn where he could recuperate.  Being a neighbor means setting aside our differences and demonstrating the love of God to others.

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right – James 2:8

Sacred Vows

His strategy for forgetting Justine Samuels was to keep busy with his work as the local parish priest but his efforts failed miserably.  No matter where he was or what he was doing, he couldn’t stop thinking about her and wishing that he could see her again.  He missed her terribly.  Against his better judgment, he had continued to see her even after he realized that he was in love with her.  His excuse was that her grandmother was one of his parishioners and it was his duty to visit her especially since she was unable to attend church.

On several occasions, he visited the elderly woman and prayed for her.  Then he would spend a few minutes in the living-room talking to Justine.  It was during one of those times that she broke down and confessed that she didn’t know how much longer she could continue to care for her grandmother on her own while worrying that she could lose her job because the company might be downsizing.  Her job meant a lot to her because she was able to work from home.  She had moved into her grandmother’s cottage after the elderly woman had fallen ill.

Touched with compassion, he offered to counsel her.  They met once a week in her grandmother’s bright and airy sun room and the sessions lasted for an hour.  Sometimes he would stay afterward and have a cup of tea or he would leave immediately after.

Soon he found himself dropping by even when they didn’t have a counseling session on pretext of checking on her grandmother.  Afterwards, he would feel guilty and go to the chapel and pray for forgiveness.  Try as he did, he couldn’t stay away and during the summer when the weather was pleasant, Justine and he would sit outside in the garden while her grandmother was taking a nap in the living-room.

One afternoon, they were out in the garden, sitting on the bench, talking.  Behind them was a climbing rose bush winding its way up the side of the house to second floor window.  He got up and went over to it.  “Whenever I see a rose, I can’t help but marvel at its beauty and intricacy.  Have you ever heard the quote:  Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns.

She shook her head, getting up and going over to him.  “No, I’ve never heard that quote.  Which of the two categories do you fall into?”

“The second.  I praise Him for putting roses among thorns—beauty among the ugliness that exists in this world.”

“For me, the roses represent God’s grace among the thorns which are the trials in life.”

He reached out to pluck a rose from the bush and winced when its thorn pricked him in the palm.  As he reached into his robe for his handkerchief, she took his hand in hers and gently turned it over to examine the wound.  The touch of her fingers stirred feelings in him and mortified, he pulled his hand away.  She looked startled and when she would have reached for his hand again, he stepped back, putting some distance between them.  He pressed his handkerchief into his palm.  It wasn’t bleeding much.  The wound was the size of a needle prick.  “I must be going,” he said tightly.

“But you only got here ten minutes ago,” she protested.

“Yes.  I have matters I need to attend to.”

“Will I see you again tomorrow?”

“No, Justine.  We can’t see each other anymore.”

“But why not?”

“God help me, but I love you.”

Her eyes widened.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “I’ve wanted to tell you that for such a long time.”

He dragged his fingers through his hair in agitation.  “There’s no future for us.  I’m a Catholic priest and I adhere to the church’s teachings.  I made a vow of celibacy that celibacy so I could identify with Christ who was celibate.   In an act of sacrificial love I vowed to give myself completely to the service of God and His church.”

“But where in the Bible does it say that priests aren’t allowed to fall in love and get married?” she asked, looking confused.  “Aaron and Caiaphas were high priests and they were married.”

“A Catholic priest follows the example of Christ who is our High Priest and He wasn’t married.  His gave His life completely to serving His Father and shepherding His church.  It was Christ who said in Matthew 22:30, ‘In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’”

“But how do you explain what Paul said about some people forbidding others from marrying, teaching human doctrines and putting traditions above God’s Commandments?”

“Paul made it clear that being single allows a person to give his undivided attention in serving our Lord.  He recommended celibacy because he himself was celibate.”

“But wasn’t it Paul who said ‘let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn with passion’?”

“He was talking about those who can’t exercise self-control.”

“Tell me, Father Montgomery, how do I stop myself from burning with passion?”

“Marry Robert.”  Robert was a member of the church she used to attend before her grandmother became an invalid.  On a few occasions he had stopped by the house to see how she and her grandmother were doing.  “He cares for you.”

“Is that what you want?” she demanded.

His face went pale.  “It’s not a matter of what I want but what must be.”

“So, this is goodbye.  I’m never going to see you again.”  Her voice trembled and he could see the beginning of tears in her eyes.   “This is so wrong.  You and I should be together.”

“What would be wrong is for me to turn my back on my faith, my church and God because I love you,” he muttered between clenched teeth.  He reached out and his hand trembled as he touched her face.  She caught his hand and pressed her lips into the palm where the thorn had pricked him.  Groaning, he wrenched his hand away and bolted from her.  That was the last time he saw her.  He stopped visiting her and sent the Vicar in his place.

Now he was faced with a dilemma.  His love for Justine was affecting his life and his work.    He had to do something about it, but what?  He went into the chapel and spent the next few hours in prayer, pouring his heart out as he sought God’s guidance.

Where is he?  Justine wondered as she sat there in the pew, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  He wouldn’t be pleased to see her, she knew that, but she had to come, if only to see him once more and to tell him that she had employed a live-in caregiver for her grandmother and that she had left her job for a better one.

As soon as the service was over, she went up to the Vicar.  “Excuse me, Vicar” she said.  “Where’s Father Montgomery?”

“He is no longer with the church.”

Her heart sank.  “Did he transfer to another parish?”

The vicar shook his head.  “No, he left the priesthood.”

She stared at him, in shock.  “He left the church?”

“Yes.  Everyone was shocked except me.  He had started to question the teachings of the church and his heart was no longer in what he was doing.  I suspect this had to do with a woman although he never said anything.  He was unhappy and I told him that whatever he decided to do, make sure it’s a decision he can live with.  After much prayer and fasting, he decided that the best thing for him to do is to leave the priesthood and the Church.  I wished him well.  Perhaps God will lead him in another direction where he can serve Him as faithfully as he has served him all these years.”

Justine thanked him for his time and left.  She walked out of the church in a daze.  Father Montgomery had left the Church.  Where was he?  “Oh, Lord, You know where he is.  Please lead me to him.” As she got into her car, she got a strong impression to go to the park opposite where she lived.   After she parked her car in the garage, she crossed the quiet street and went into the park.  About ten minutes later, she spotted him sitting on the bench facing the duck pond.  Heart thudding she approached him.  “Hello,” she called.

He glanced up.  “Hello,” he replied, quietly, rising to his feet.  His expression was serious as he met her gaze.  “I was coming to see you.  Your grandmother’s nurse told me where you lived.  When I got here, I decided to come to the park first.”

“I heard that you left the Church.  What should I call you now?”

“John.  You can call me John.  How have you been, Justine?  I think about you every waking moment.”

“I’ve been miserable,” she told him.  “I missed you so much.  I went to the parish today just to see you but you weren’t there and the Vicar explained what happened.  Why did you leave, John?”

“I left because I had too many questions about the church’s teachings which contradicted what was in the Bible and—because of you.  I couldn’t hide from my feelings.  It’s funny.  I believed that the robe I wore would protect me from feelings I believed that I shouldn’t be having.  I realized that underneath the robe was a man—a man who desperately loved a woman who was right when she said that it was wrong for us not to be together.  Will you forgive me for running away from a love that no sacred vows could quench?”

She nodded, reaching for his hands.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  I know that it must have been hard for you to leave an institution you have known and served for most of your life but I truly believe that God has a great plan for your life.”

He pulled her closer and bent his head so that his forehead was resting against hers.  “Yes, I believe that He does and you are a big part of that plan.”

She closed her eyes as they stood there in the sunshine, silently thanking God for granting her the desires of her heart.

 

 

 

Sources:  American Magazine; Catholic Answers; Vox; EWTN; Catholic.com; Diocese of Trenton

Ruth’s Story

You Should Have Been a Boy!

One of my favorite Biblical characters is Jethro.  He was a wise man, loving father and friend.  He had seven daughters and never once did he ever make them feel unloved or unwanted.  Not so, with Ruth.  Ruth is a young Asian woman who lives in a world where being a girl can stir hatred, abuse and neglect and even lead to death.

As the youngest of three girls in my family, I cannot imagine my father hating me because I turned out to be a girl instead of a boy.  Yet, this was Ruth’s experience.  Her father displayed exceptional hatred toward her until finally she had to find out why.  Why did her father hate her so?  What had she done to stir such toxic feelings in him?  She asked and his response was, “You should have been a boy!” Afterwards, he stopped speaking to her altogether.   Not once did my father ever mistreat me or make me feel unloved or unwanted because he his third child to be a boy and got another girl instead.  I grew up with my father’s love unlike Ruth…

All Ruth knew was hatred.  Both of her parents hated her because before Ruth, the couple had three daughters.   Another daughter meant that the family name will not be carried on, there will not be enough income provided for her parents and it meant another marriage dowry which would sink them into debt.  They were so desperate for a son that they sold one of their fields and gave the money to a priest.  They asked him to pray to his gods so that they could have a baby boy.  They truly believed that they were going to have a boy this time and when they didn’t…

For more of Ruth’s story, watch the video and see how God changes her circumstances from pain and heartache to triumph and in the process, change her father.

Ruth’s story has a happy ending.  Thanks to the women missionaries of Gospel for Asia, she learned that there is a Father who loves her.   God showed her that she has value and He called her to serve Him.  You can help other girls like Ruth—sponsor a woman missionary today.

God’s kingdom will be made up of sons and daughters and we will reign one day as co-heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ who died for everyone.