When Calamity Strikes We are Held

WARNING this week’s blog (late due to illness of this blogger) tackles very difficult questions that relate to the major natural disasters that caused many fatalities. (All readers may want tissues on hand.) When events like these happen, many questions can raise that cause faltering in one’s faith. I focus on the Philippines in my writing. I am aware that this past week while recovery from a setback our Midwest was hit by bad tornados. If you are personally dealing with these tragedies while living with severe illness, you may want to pass on this and come back to it later when your heart is better able to cope. Just know you are in all of our prayers, and we are holding you in our hearts.

From: JJ4christ YouTube Channel

Music By: Arwen Vigil – The Piano Guys (original tune and video)

 “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is the megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

 ~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 53

When calamity strikes the innocent we often hear, “Why did God let this happen?” The very depth of ourselves riles at the unfairness of those who suffer who are as innocent. Those who do not believe in God will often use that calamity to point out that if there was a God he would not allow evil, suffering, or pain to happen to the innocent. He would stop it.

Our responses to these challenges can are very different. A theological response might be to say evil happens throughout the world because the fall from the Garden. Adam and Eve sinned through free will and caused everyone to fall. That is true that through the fall not only are we broken but the world also is broken. That is why storms can destroy instead of sustaining life.

Words seem so empty, when we look into the irreproachable eyes of children who lost their whole world. These innocent ones haunt us. Their corporate suffering demands an answer. We must bring hope to a hopeless situation.

When we see those who harmed by others through violence or indifference in their many forms. Our response to evil is so much easier, because we can blame the people who caused the harm.

When natural disasters strike causing such utter destruction; it is perfectly normal for us to cry, scream and shake our fists to heaven. The loss of life and destruction of a whole region seems pointless and a great waste. The only one we can reproach is the Creator who controls the waters and the seas.

When we or someone we know struck down with a chronic degenerative disease in the prime of life, we can often feel this way. There is no one to blame for that type of calamity either. Once an acquaintance of mine heard the words from a bishop, “Never forget, you are filling up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ.” She had just woken up in her hospital bed. What she wanted to do was throw her bed pan at him. One might be so angry they would want to throw the pan at God. I might even say to God, “You can take your free will.”

I heard a response to this problem while studying theology that turned attitude upside down. God allows evil in the world precisely because he loves us so much. How could God allow someone to suffer or countries to have a whole region destroyed because He loves us so? **

This principle explains that our world is fallen and cut off from the full grace of God due to its fallen nature. That means storms can destroy instead of nurture life. Animals kill other animals for food and nutrition. Man and woman must labor for everything they need to survive. And we all know about the violence that can reside within the heart of man. None of this was part of God’s original plan.

Ultimately, God allowed Adam and Eve to fall because he loves us all. He knew his first humans would fail – but still gave them the freedom to fail. He knew he would need to save what he created before he even made Adam and Eve. God knew we would mess up, but He still wanted every one of us. That is how much He loves us! Evil would not have the final say. The Word incarnated would.

He had a response to natural evil, a plan. “I have witnessed the affliction of my people…I have heard their cry…I know well that they are suffering…” (Exodus 3:7-8)  “Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.” (Songs 8:7a) 

God sent his only son to redeem the whole world. That means that Jesus did not just come to save sinners, but to transform all of creation. Through the greatest sacrifice of LOVE, he would redeem all  creation back to the way it was before the fall. Obviously, this would only come to fruition in His kingdom. Pounder the magnitude of that! That is why the Church explains that redemptive suffering is a mystery!

But you ask? What of those in the midst of that outrageous storm of destruction. Let us look to the Psalms,  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil, for You are with me.” (Psalm 23:4) There is a famous poem out there called Footsteps in Sand. In that poem Jesus tells the poet that when she sees only one set of footsteps he was carrying the her. I believe in the midst of the horror of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda there were many souls being carried, being held. I find hope in that and have experienced it personally sometimes even in my greatest moments of suffering through serious illness. Not only is he there for those who lost their lives, but those who survived too. He was there for everyone even if they did not know they were carried.

I remember the Christmas Tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean and killed so many on Christmas day. There was a song that came out during the same time frame that I cried through many times in prayer. I think that captures this truth so fully. The words are powerful, so I choose a video on YouTube that focuses on those only.

Held by: Natalie Grant (Mobile Device alternate video.) Very beautiful performance by Natalie Grant.

Challenge for the Week: We need to respond in solidarity and prayerful presence in the midst of these destruction storms. 

So how can we here in the states, especially those who are sick, respond to this event. We can grow in solidarity and prayerful presence.

Solidarity as defined by Blessed John Paul II, is more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38)

So let us learn about the people and grow in solidarity with them.

A friend I knew in religious formation came from this area of the Philippines. I pray for her!

A friend I knew in religious formation came from this area (blue star) of the Philippines. I pray for her!

The region we mostly see in the news is the first largest and smallest islands that took a direct hit. (Those pictures and video clips I used in my video at the beginning of this post come from that area.) What you can see from the map above there were many more islands hit by this storm. The slide show below will show wider areas and people impacted.

Slide show of the people impacted by storm: NBC NEWS.

Something to think about while growing in solidarity for these brothers and sisters in the Philippines: over 80.6% of those you see in photos and videos are Catholic. Christians in general make up 93% of the population, and Muslim is 5%, the rest are other or unspecified.

See the Filipino people have a deep personal faith no matter the tradition they are from. Their faith touches all aspects of their cultural life as a people.

I have been personally touched by pictures of those who fled their homes carrying very little personal items. But I saw many a prized religious item carried in their arms through the flood waters. So touching.

There was a picture and story of a father who clung to his children as they died together. They were found still in his arms though they were carried miles by water and struck in large debris. Among their bodies were rosaries and holy items they must have carried on their person during their tremendous struggle. Their picture was too graphic and I did not put it in the video I made because it made me cry really hard.

There are many stories of hope too. So many people interview on international news talk about their faith when any journalists stop to ask them questions. There still are tears and gut wrenching pain, but that is to be expected. How is inspiring it must be encountering someone who has lost everything, but they still share their faith even in a place where all hope seems lost.

NEWS FLASH – As of this posting – there are 5,200 + confirmed dead with over a 1,000 missing. This does not count those who may still not survive the aftermath of the clean up and disease that is sure to follow. Over 4.3  million people are without homes and over 1 million of those are children.

Below is an appeal to Catholics from a bishop who is in close contact with some of the bishops of the area hit. I am very partial to CRS because I know the good work they do and I am Catholic.

Donate to them here: Catholic Relief Services,

Other reliable organizations are. Red Cross, Word Vision. Samaritan’s Purse

I chose the above groups because of transparency and how well they use funds to impact the people the most. I like CRS and Word Vision the most because after the initial response they stay and continue the work in the country. They move beyond critical needs and help to rebuild long after others leave.

Our second response to this news is to be a prayerful presence. We are brought to prayer.

Prayer for the Week: Catholics of the Philippines are famous for their beautiful liturgical music and for guitar music.  Let us look to the Filipino people and their liturgical music to help us in our prayer. As we watch let us pray for them and all those who are impacted by calamity that threatens life and wellbeing.

Hangad – Simeon’s Canticle based on (Luke 2: 29 -32)

Hangad is a music ministry out of Philippines produced through the Jesuit Communications Foundation.

This song they sing is a prayer found in the above scripture. It is known as the Canticle of Simon and prayed every night before bed (Compline) of those who practice the Divine Office. I find solace when I pray this and when I am in my worse pain it is the only way to fall asleep

The Canticle of Simeon with antiphon

Ant. Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace (alleluia).

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;

your word has been fulfilled:

my own eyes have seen the salvation

which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Ant. Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace (alleluia).

May you have peace and know you are in my prayers.

* Great book, catechist, speaker and author living with MS. Kathleen O’ Connell Chesto, Risking Hope: Fragile Faith in the Healing Process.

** Two really good books tackling the problem of suffering are from Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering and The Problem of Suffering Reconsidered.

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Praise Reflection: For the Beauty

A Gift for You:

Open the video to full screen, and watch this video with the beauty of God’s creation.

For the Beauty of the Earth – John Rutter

From: From Within the Heart’s YouTube Channel

“Question the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sea, the beauty of the wide air around you, the beauty of the sky; question the order of the stars, the sun whose brightness lights the days, the moon whose splendor softens the gloom of night; question the living creatures that move in the waters, that roam upon the earth, that fly through the air; the spirit that lies hidden, the matter that is manifest; the visible things that are ruled, the invisible things that rule them; question all these. They will answer you: “Behold and see, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is their confession to God. Who made these beautiful changing things, if not one who is beautiful and changeth not?”

(St. Augustine, Sermons, 241, Easter: C.411 A.D.)

Sometimes when we are stuck in the midst of the suffering of illness, we become trapped in self-misery. Illness is full of uncertainty and pain. We feel left out as others around us get to experience life to the fullest. It becomes a very lonely place to be when we lose our sense of wonder and awe. We might struggle to find significance in our life and miss seeing the moments of joy and grace God has in store for us even in our sick bed. This week we are going to focus on beauty and what that means.

God has given us a great gift; the gift of the breath-taking beauty of nature. Often referred to as the Book of Nature, we see God’s hand in all his creations. Who can gaze upon a magnificent sunrise or the majestic mountain range from the heights and not see God’s handiwork? However, when we are stuck in bed or our home, we can become separated from the beauty of creation.

There are ways for us to remain in touch with God’s beauty. We can watch amazing videos on YouTube. We might be able to see a special on PBS. Someone might send us a pretty bouquet of flowers or a plant to dress up our room. We may have an attractive view from a window or have the opportunity to sit on a patio or deck to feel the breeze and breath fresh air.

We can also see God’s beauty in those around us. See God’s beauty in those who care for us. See God in a genuine smile from another patient in the infusion center. See God in the laughter of a child playing. See God’s sense of humor in a bird which visits our window. Feel God’s touch in the snuggle of a beloved pet who joins us for some quiet time. Think of those things that happened today that showed some beauty. Can you?

Let us look to a great saint of the Church who knew his share of suffering who can help us find joy and beauty in all things. He changed his world and rebuilt the church, though he was no more then a poor beggar. Saint Francis was known for his love to all creatures and love for all peoples.

“Song, music, and poetry were so deeply a part of the nature of Saint Francis that in times of sorrow and sickness as well as of joy and good health he spontaneously gave voice in song to his feelings, his inspirations, and his prayers.”  (Francsican Friars TOR Website on the Canticle)

Saint Francis at the time of his bodily death, ravaged with disease and suffering, received this beautiful poem, the Canticle of the Sun. (a PDF to share and print) He shared it from the depth of his heart to the brothers gathered around him in perfect joy and praise. He praised God for the beauty of the earth from his death bed. He even praise sister death who he knew would visit him shortly.

In the clip below we hear some of the poem in the song from the Movie “Brother Son, Sister Moon.” Listen to the lyrics, they talk about him being preoccupied by self-misery. Being sick or caring for the sick, we are very familiar with misery. By focusing on the beauty in life and finding things to be thankful like Francis, we can focus on praising God outside the misery. It lifts our spirit and opens us to the gifts and graces that Christ, who loves us and desires to give so much more.

Clip from Brother Son, Sister Moon – YouTube Clip

This scene of the movie clip does not depict the death scene of this little Saint’s life. Shortly before this clip, Francis had an illness with a severe fever that almost took his life. When he recovered he received an overwhelming gratefulness for being alive. He left his father’s house to celebrate his simple but profound joy in what God was doing in him.

When one recovers from a long sick bed, it can be like seeing little things new for the first time. One can see the beauty in the simplest things and be grateful to be alive to enjoy them. The end of the clip depicts Francis’ call when he comes upon a little chapel in ruins and hears Christ’s mission for him to rebuild his Church. His sick bed became the beginning of a conversion that would change the world.

Moments of joy and thanksgiving even on a sick bed can work miracles in human heart. From such a bed, I received the call to start this blog. This blog is just the beginning of grace and gifts from God. This blog helps me to focus on things of beauty and on others, outside my own misery. I am appreciative for the little joys and things of beauty that have helped me on this long journey of discovery in my life.

No matter how much pain or struggle we face, we can find things to be thankful for. They do not need to be big things like a mission. They can be little things, like a smile from one we love, the beauty of a sunrise, the sweet smell from a flower, or warm purrs from a kitten. We too can experience little joys for the gifts, and graces God has given to us through the ordinary things of life. When one has a heart of praise, and one finds joy – Jesus may even surprise one with a beautiful gift.

Challenge for this Week: Think of those things you find wonder and awe in. Write a list of the graces and joys that God has given you in your life. Hold on to this list and add to it each day this week. Then save it with your prayer journal, bible, or in your bedside table. When you have a difficult day, pull the list out and reflect on the good things God has done.

Are you still struggling to find things to be thankful for? Watch a video that celebrates the beauty of the Earth, like funny kitten and puppy videos on YouTube (34 minutes of laughter.) Did you laugh despite the pain? How you do feel after laughing? Can you thank God that you could laugh and smile on a hard day? Keep working on having a grateful heart. Take it one day at a time, Jesus knows where you are right now. He wants to give you the gift of joy and gratefulness, just ask.

Pray This Simple Prayer: O God, You are never far from those who sincerely search for You. Accompany those who err and wander far from You. Turn their hearts towards what is right and let them see the signs of Your Presence in the beauty of created things. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Need More Joy? Watch below another beautiful song by John Rutter. So good for the soul and heart. Have a joy filled week. I am praying for you!

Look at the World – John Rutter

From YouTube Channel: Arendientje

Performed by: The Cambridge Singers

Store Up Treasures

Store Up Treasures by Burlap to Cashmere

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consumes and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moths nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

~ Mat 6:19

Treasures are something of extreme value. People watch with an expectation for the considerable appraisal of a rare and precious item during an episode of the Antique Roadshow. We get excited when we see things prized. We want to protect our accumulated things and keep them close. We need to be in command of these treasures upon the earth.

When one is chronically or seriously ill, the things we treasure most are eventually taken away from us. We lose the ability to travel or take a vacation. We might be too sick to work or join friends for an evening out. We may lose the ability to talk or to walk due to progressive disability. We are unable to hold the treasures upon the earth. We no longer possess them because they are the things of dust. They will all pass away.

We do have tremendous riches waiting for us to store, things that will not pass away. These treasures are not of the earth but are eternal tokens of love that we gather not just for ourselves for but others as well. Our illness or disability become the very medium to receive these treasures. When one lives with this truth, the burden of our toil becomes easier to bear.  For we begin to engage in the realm of heavenly treasure hunting. Even the weakest among us can engaged in this activity.

How does one engage in this heavenly treasure hunt? A hunt that can take place even while trapped in a hospital bed or broken body? Easy – through little acts of surrender and supplication.

Let’s define these two acts. Surrender is the intentional act of accepting something that you have no control with meekness or docility. Supplication is offering up a prayer or petition with love and humility before God. They are the two means one needs to hunt for heavenly treasure successfully.

One does not need to speak or pray a certain way, just a movement of the heart will do. Practicing this when one is having a good day and making it a habit prepares these little movements of the heart easier on the really hard days. Trust that God knows the deep intention of your heart.

Sometimes when one is in great pain, the words do not come easily. The spirit can work miracles with the right intention, When one stuck in a bed or a shut in, the heart becomes natural sanctuary of hidden prayer. “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mat 6:6)

One can begin to understand why those old souls among us say their illness or disability is the greatest gift they have ever received. They may already have many treasures in heaven stored away. What treasures does Jesus have in store for you today?

Challenge for this Week: Begin storing up treasures in heaven this week by practicing little acts of surrender and supplications. They can be simple ones. When you have to bear a needle or a medical test that must be done tell Jesus, “Take this for your will, your desire, not mine.” Accept the needle or examination with joy and peace within your heart. Ask Jesus to use this pain, this struggle or this inconvenience for his perfect need or work.

Know that Christ is right there with you as you live through this pain. Remember that this simple act becomes a token of love for him. Any tears shed are precious gems he catches in the palm of his hand. If you struggle with surrender and supplications, pray the prayer below by Ignatius of Loyola. This simple prayer is not always easy to say. If you trust Jesus enough it will help you on the journey to hunt for treasures in heaven.

If this is still too hard to do, there is a musical reflection of the prayer written and song by a follower of Ignatius that can help you to open your heart to the treasure Christ wants to give you. There is even a PDF file to print out a simple prayer card to keep.

Pray This Simple Prayer:  Take, Lord and receive my memory, my understanding, my entire will, All that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you I return it. Dispose of it entirely according to your will. Give me your Love and your Grace this is sufficient for me. Amen.

Suscipe

A prayer card (PDF file) to print as a gift from the Jesuits click here.

Prayer of Supplication St. Ignatius Loyola

Prayer of Supplication
St. Ignatius Loyola

Take and Receive by Savio Freitas

A young  Jesuit missionary and musician serving Christ in Timor Leste, Indonesia and elsewhere.