I wanted to have a post ready for the new year. This is that. Just a bit late. The thing is there is so much fuss, both good energy and poor, surrounding the turn of the year, and maybe rightly so. Especially the turn from 2020 to 2021. I didn’t want to take part in it all, but I cannot say I am exempt from this sentiment. I will admit I haven’t ever really looked forward to Januarys. In my heart, at least, there always seems to be a let-down. It is not the fault of January, of course. How could we expect it to live up to the delight and cheer of Christmas?
I didn’t want it to end. Advent. The Christmas season. Being home with mom and Adam. The thought of leaving left me in utter despair. I didn’t want to go back to Denmark. I was afraid of losing all the goodness I had seemed to gain while being home. Spending time with mom and Adam. Going to mass every morning. Close access to the Sacraments. A new relationship. How could the time of this goodness be truly up? How could it be truly good for this time to be up?
“But O my heavenly Father, I know that…contradictory events are permitted and guided by Your wisdom, which only is light. We are in darkness, and must be thankful that our knowledge is not wanted (needed) to perfect Your work and also keep in mind the infinite mercy, which in permitting the sufferings of the perishing body, has provided for our souls so large an opportunity of comfort and nourishment for our eternal life where we shall assuredly find that all things have worked together for our good-for our sure trust in you.” [St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Collected Writings Volume I, page 271]
I didn’t trust the Lord knew what He was doing. Knows what He is doing. I couldn’t see how leaving this time could be good. But on the eve of the new year, He assured me of His presence and promise to be with me always.
I was enjoying going to daily mass at St. Mary’s in Mokena every morning. I really have come to love the community there. After mass, a group of people always stays to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet, and on Wednesdays, the Adoration chapel is open all day. I made it a habit to stay for the Divine Mercy Chaplet and a bit after for some time of silent prayer. On this day, the morning of the 31st, after everyone in the church had left, I was kneeling, praying, and unmistakably, the smell of incense filled my nostrils. Taken off guard, I opened my eyes to see if anyone was around. Incense is common in the Catholic Church but usually only at certain times during the mass. No one was there.
The aroma was intensely pungent. It filled my every pore. Breathing it in was like medicine to my soul. I didn’t know what was happening, but I didn’t want it to end. My mind could not comprehend what was taking place. I had only to experience it. Let my senses be overwhelmed by it. I remembered in that moment something a friend of mine had told me about a similar experience she had had. She was driving when suddenly, the car was filled with incense. This happened to be during a particularly trying time in her life. I remembered this and decided I would reach out to a priest in Fort Worth, Father Jim, I knew as a trusting guardian and shepherd to see what wisdom and insight he could give me.
“The aroma of incense stands for "the Holy." It means someone is praying for you and/or, your prayers are being heard.
Incense in Catholic liturgy and Tradition goes back to the Prophet Isaiah in OT (Old Testament). In the Holy of Holies, as High Priest, he was offering sacrifice and praying prayers in Atonement for the sins of the Jewish community. This was done once a year and Isaiah was the High priest in the Temple. In that small room, there was much incense burning on charcoal. Incense smoke represents PRAYERS rising up to Heaven. When we see the incense smoke as the priest at Mass incenses the altar and the Gospel on High Feasts, it's a reminder those objects are being offered as prayer to God. At funerals and at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist is incensed, representing great prayer to God. At funerals, the casket is incensed. Again, reminding the people we are praying for the soul of the departed. Isaiah saw GOD in the midst of the incense smoke that day. Stunned, he heard God's Voice calling him to speak to the People of GoD as His Prophet. In that moment of the incense smoke, he was profoundly changed and profoundly called. He is considered the greatest Prophet of the OT. 6 Prophets are major Prophets; he is among them. 12 are minor Prophets. Anyway, awareness of smelling incense is a sign of prayer being heard, being prayed for you (even by Heaven's Saints.) I think St. Joseph was letting you know he is hearing and responding and Blessing his Lauren. What a gift to you from Divinity! The other aroma is the smell of roses. This denotes the Blessed Mother, St. Teresa, the Little Flower; St. Theresa of Avila, and St. Padre Pio of Pietricina. Incense is the oldest sign for both faithful Jews and Catholic souls. You are being blessed.” [Father Jim]
Reading this response from Father Jim, I spilled over in honor and gratitude. And definitely a lot of selfish pride as well. I believe this hardened my heart to the true meaning and fullness of what Father Jim was telling me. I heard what the Lord was giving me and missed the Lord Himself. I was too busy patting myself on the back. I ought to have been moved in humility and mercy as Isaiah was when he encountered the Lord in the Temple, in utter bewilderment, professing, “woe is me, for I am ruined…” [Isaiah 6:5]. Knowing intimately his smallness, sinfulness, being “a man of unclean lips,” he should have been ruined before the Absolute Goodness of God. It was from this pure moment of grace Isaiah was “profoundly changed and profoundly called.”
In my mind, I reasoned God was assuring me there was nothing to worry about. No reason to dread or despair leaving this season and entering a new one. He is already there, in Denmark, in poor blessed January, even, as He was in the season of Christmas, while being home with mom and Adam. I believed Him again, for a moment, His promise that all things work together for good for those who love Him. I realized I may not be able to see it now but leaving would be good and going back to Denmark would be abundantly good, even better than my time at home.
With this moment of clarity and assurance, I was feeling better about leaving in three days, the 3rd, which was the coming Sunday. I had received the required negative Covid test results before my arrival. My only concern was the timeline just outside of 72 hours. I learned from international travel in the past during corona times that this could be upheld very strictly or quite loosely. Well, on the day, it turned out very strictly.
Sunday morning before my evening flight, mom, Adam, and I went to Mass. It was the Solemnity of the Epiphany, which can actually be celebrated in the Church either on the Sunday between January 2 and 8 or January 6, depending on the episcopal conference. [catholicculture.org]. A small but significant detail in the story.
“Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany. "The Lord and ruler is coming; kingship is his, and government and power." With these words, the Church proclaims that today's feast brings to a perfect fulfillment all the purposes of Advent. Epiphany, therefore, marks the liturgical zenith of the Advent-Christmas season.” — Pius Parsch
“Epiphany means manifestation. What the Church celebrates today is the manifestation of our Lord to the whole world; after being made known to the shepherds of Bethlehem He is revealed to the Magi who have come from the East to adore Him…St. Leo brings out this point admirably in a sermon…in which he shows in the adoration of the Magi the beginnings of Christian faith, the time when the great mass of the heathen sets off to follow the star which summons it to seek its Saviour.” [catholicculture.org]
I had been gifted an epiphany on the eve of the new year. A manifestation of the Lord. “A moment of sudden and great revelation or realization; the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi [Matt 2:1-2].” The incense provided a great realization of His presence and intimacy. A revelation of Himself as an intimate and loving Father coming to His daughter to comfort and reassure her. I could trust Him fully and follow Him confidently as a Light to my way. But I had never experienced Him in this way before and uncertainty of what this could mean calloused a part of my heart.
“The wise men followed the star,
And found Christ who is light from light.
May you too find the Lord
When your pilgrimage is ended. Amen.”[St. Mary bulletin]
One of the priests at St. Mary’s said, “Jesus is the Epiphany of love.” The manifestation of Love. The realization of hope that there is always purpose and meaning in this life. We can have profound faith in a Creator who called His creatures good and a Father who celebrates the return of His children even after they had traded His inheritance and Goodness for a lie. We can trust our Lord who suffered what we suffer and infinitely more in this world, so it might not be in vain. So, one day, we might find the Lord when our pilgrimage is ended and be at home with our Father.
I was gifted an epiphany on the eve of the new year, personally experienced the celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany, “the manifestation of the Lord to the whole world,” three days before I knew it. When listening to the example of the Magi following a star summoning them to seek their Saviour that Sunday after the new year, I still was afraid and unsure. I was uncertain about following the star and trusting the light to guide my path. My heart did not truly understand or recognize my Saviour. Who am I to be shown such a Light? Where would it take me? What would it have me do? I am impressed by the faith of the Magi.
After mass was over, we came home. I was all packed to go to the airport in a few hours, but I hadn’t checked into my flight yet, so I opened my email to find the messages United had sent me as reminders. One said something about missing travel documents and calling ahead to expedite the process at the airport. I really didn’t want to talk to anyone on the phone in the moment but also didn’t want to deal with any issues when I got there. I called.
To my pleasant surprise, the woman I spoke to, Pinky, was an incredibly sweet and helpful woman. She was patient and kind, explaining to me what I needed to have to fly. She asked for the document confirming my negative Covid result, so I sent it to her. Once she received it, there was a pause. Oh gosh. I held my breath. As gently as possible, she told me they would not accept the test results because they were outside 72 hours of arrival into Copenhagen. I offered my best bit of resistance with it being so close to the time window and the new year and all but knew there was not much I could do at this point. This dear woman was just telling me what she knew to be true.
I messaged the club administrators about the situation, and rather easily, they were able to get the flight rebooked for Wednesday, the 6th, which would give me time to get another test and results.
This was what I wanted, wasn’t it? More time at home. An extension of this Christmas season. Holding onto of the goodness of the season. I was gifted, again, it seemed, though still struggling to see. This favor was what I asked for yet receiving it left me uncomfortable. I didn’t understand all I was feeling. Mixed emotions of gratitude and agitation and restlessness. What was the point of all this? Was there one? The smelling of the incense. The Epiphany. A few more days at home. Shouldn’t I be rejoicing?
Now the other girls are on their way to Denmark, and I am the jealous one feeling like I am missing out. Like I ought to be on my way too. My secret fear of losing has left me losing out only by my own twisted and manipulative means. Self-sabotage.
“Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces.”[Matthew Henry]
The extraordinary graces of the incense, the Epiphany, and the flight change left me reeling. The star was revealed to me in the sky, summoning me to my Saviour, but out of pride and fear, I reduced it to shining on me. Fearful of what I could lose if I followed. A light not of the Son but of the self. I was content with being chosen to be summoned and couldn’t believe what I was summoned towards would be so much greater than this. Calloused.
The following, then, was the Gospel reading for January 6, the day the Epiphany can also be celebrated according to the Church and the new day I was flying out to Denmark.
After the five thousand had eaten and were satisfied,
Jesus made his disciples get into the boat
and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida,
while he dismissed the crowd.
And when he had taken leave of them,
he went off to the mountain to pray.
When it was evening,
the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore.
Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing,
for the wind was against them.
About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,
they thought it was a ghost and cried out.
They had all seen him and were terrified.
But at once he spoke with them,
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
He got into the boat with them and the wind died down.
They were completely astounded.
They had not understood the incident of the loaves.
On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
The disciples of Jesus did not understand the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Some deception of sin had calloused on their hearts, so they did not see Jesus, the Son of God. coming to them on the sea. I had not understood the smelling of incense. Maybe in my mind I appreciated this miracle, extraordinary grace and blessing. But not in my heart. My heart was hardened and in doubt of who He is. Who is God that He would take notice of me and in His power and sovereignty, appeal to my mere human senses with a divine aroma? Who am I to participate in such a divine appointment? Yet, He comes to me and calls me to not be afraid. It is not a mistake. It is who He is. Intimately Divine. The Incarnation. Word made flesh. Epiphany of Love. Emmanuel. It is who He desires me to be.
He asks me to take courage, trusting and believing in Him when He comes to me walking on the sea and calming the storm. Maybe appearing to me in a different form and asking me to seek Him and receive Him in this way. In this moment. To trust He is always with me and to deepen that trust.
“Jesus is sent to us as a Master to whom we do not sufficiently attend. He speaks to every heart, and to each He utters the word of life, the only word applicable to us, but we do not hear it. We want to know what He has said to others and do not listen when He speaks to ourselves.
Moment most precious!
This vast activity (divine action), which is in itself ever the same from the beginning to the end of time, is employed with every moment, pouring its immensity and virtue on the souls which adore it, love it, and rejoice in it alone.
O Love of God! how is it that all creatures do not know how freely you lavish Yourself and Your favors on them while they are seeking You in byways and corners where You are not to be found? How foolish to refuse to breathe the open air! to search for a spot on which to place the foot when there is a whole countryside before you; to be unable to find water when there is a whole deluge at your service, nor to possess and enjoy God, nor to recognize His action when it is present in all things. You search for hidden ways of belonging to God, good people, but the only way is that of making use of whatever He sends you…there is not a single atom that goes to form part of your being, even to the marrow of the bones, that is not formed by the divine power…Your life flows on uninterruptedly in this unsounded abyss in which each present moment contains all that is best for you, and as such must be loved and esteemed. Let us go, then, let us run and fly to that ocean of love by which we are attracted! What are we waiting for? Let us start at once, let us lose ourselves in God, even in His heart, to become inebriated with the wine of His charity. We shall find in His heart the key of heavenly treasures. Let us begin at once our journey to Heaven.” [Abandonment to Divine Providence]
Seek you the Lord while He may be found, call you on him while He is near. [Isaiah 55:6]
This verse has been stalking me for quite some time now. The Light of the epiphany has offered this realization. Object permanence.
“The term describes the understanding that an object still exists, even if you can’t see it. Very young children don’t know this, which is why babies under around six months can look shocked and startled at peek-a-boo. They think that not being able to see mum or dad’s face means that they’ve actually disappeared, making their sudden reappearance come as quite a surprise. However once a child understands (at around six- to eight-months old) that their parent is just hiding, then peek-a-boo becomes all about the anticipation of when they’re going to come back.” [bbc.com]
“Although there are typical developmental stages that occur usually at certain ages, you can’t force a child to develop a skill like object permanence. Think of it instead as providing the healthy environment that can stimulate this development.” [parenttrust.org]
If the Lord promises He is always with us, why would Isaiah say to seek Him while He can be found, to call on Him when He is near? Why does a parent hide their face from their child? Why would a loving God hide his face? Because then it becomes all about when He will come back. Or, rather, all about when we will see His face again. We become fixed on watching and waiting for Him. Or maybe upon disappearing, triggering “out of sight-out of mind” as in a child who hasn’t developed object permanence, and reappearing in a new form provides “the healthy environment that can stimulate this development.” After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Mary went looking for Him in the garden. But did not recognize Him when He appeared to her as the Gardner. Maybe the Lord hides His face and reappears to us in a different way to teach us, to provide the experiences for us to learn He can be found in every moment. In some way. Even in sense. To believe Him when He says He is always with us. To know this deep in our hearts.
“It is, however, through this loss (apparent loss of guidance and enlightenment, seeming failure of divine grace) that it (the soul) finds again that same grace substituted under a different form, and restoring a hundredfold more than it took away by purity of its hidden impressions.
This is, without doubt, a death-blow to the soul, for it loses sight of the divine will which, so to speak, withdraws itself from observation to stand behind it and push it on, becoming thus its invisible principle, and no longer its clearly defined object. Experience proves that nothing kindles the desire more than this apparent loss; therefore the soul vehemently desires to be united to the divine will, and gives vent to the most profound sighs, finding no possible consolation anywhere. A heart that has no other wish but to possess God must attract Him to itself; and this secret of love is a very great one since by this way alone are established in the soul sure faith and firm hope. It is then that we believe what we cannot see and expect to possess what we cannot feel.” [Abandonment to Divine Providence]
But if from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. [Deut_4:29]
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry out, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and malicious talk…[Isaiah 58:9]
Say to them: ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord GOD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked should turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ [Ezekiel 33:11]
How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? [Psalm 13:1]
I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in Him. [Isaiah 8:17]
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! [Luke 13:34]
This is the first reading of the mass celebrated today, January 14.
The Holy Spirit says:
Oh, that today you would hear his voice,
“Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion
in the day of testing in the desert,
where your ancestors tested and tried me
and saw my works for forty years.
Because of this I was provoked with that generation
and I said, ‘They have always been of erring heart,
and they do not know my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter into my rest.’”
Take care, brothers and sisters,
that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart,
so as to forsake the living God.
Encourage yourselves daily while it is still “today,”
so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin.
We have become partners of Christ
if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end.
Today one of my roommates was burning incense she had gotten from an Indian store in her room.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts…Encourage yourselves daily while it is still called “today,” so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin.
O divine Love! let me belong to you. Let me be cloaked by You. Let me fly to Your protection. It is not enough that I believe. The demons believe and shudder. What is this burden of myself You have given me to bear. Take it all. My thoughts, desires, feelings, fears, wishes, reasons, illusions. Take it from me God, please take it. I am giving it to You! Let me only be bothered by You, O Love of my soul. Free me from the plans I have made. Free me from the fears I have fed. Free me from the drama I have invited. Free me from the confusion I have wrought. Let me be cloaked by You, my Love. And disappear.
We have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end.
I am but a baby learning my Father is still present when I cannot see Him. He sometimes hides His face to help me understand He is ever with me and to watch for Him always. To assure me I can trust Him.
I am still learning to be a daughter. Still learning to be loved. Still learning to let go. Still learning there is so much I do not know. Still learning the true goodness and trustworthiness of my Father. Still shuffling my feet in being summoned. Still unsure if the star is truly for me to follow. Still learning He knows what is best for me. Still doubting it. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.
“Spirit of truth, lead us into truth and peace right to where You have called us.” [BIS]
“Do I realize it? The protecting presence, the consoling grace of my Redeemer and God. He raises me from the dust to feel that I am near Him. He drives away all sorrow to fill me with His consolations. He is my guide, my friend and supporter - with such a guide, can I fear? With such a friend, shall I not be satisfied? With such a support, can I fall? Oh! Then, my adored refuge, let not my frail nature shrink at your command... Rather, let me say, “Lord, here am I the creature of your will, rejoicing that You will lead, thankful that You will choose for me. Only continue to (grant) me Your soul-cheering presence. And in life, or in death, let me be Your own.” [St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Collected Writings Volume IIIa, page 32]
God doesn’t want us to just believe in Him; He wants us to belong to him.[Father Mike Schmitz]
I love you dad,