NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local parish, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church. This ministry - my "little work" - is strictly a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu. ~ Peter

Monday, March 4, 2019

What do you see?

I'll keep this post short and will just let the viewer make up his/her mind about the photo shown below.  I know what familiar figure I discern and I think it's simply beautiful; actually, it was magnificent in person!

I took this photo early this afternoon, March 4th, just minutes after I walked out of the Honolulu Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace after attending the Noon Mass.  I was headed out to do my lunch time walk to exercise and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and this was the spiritually serendipitous view of the sky that greeted me after I made the sign of the cross.  Timely indeed.

"Your unfailing love, O Lord, extends to the
heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds."

Psalm 36:5 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Saint of the Month - March 2019: Saint Rafqa Ar-Rayes

St. Rafqa Ar-Rayes
The Lily of Lebanon - Feast: March 23rd

For March 2019, I feature a Saint whose life is an enigma for many - she asked the Lord for suffering and he granted her prayer.  A lot of people may not be able to wrap their head around why she would do such a thing... but it's simple - St. Rafqa wanted to be as close to Christ as possible; comprehending and appreciating every aspect of his life on earth so as to deepen her mystical union with him... even if it also meant embracing and experiencing the mystery of the Cross in all its painful fullness.  In this sense, her life was quite courageous and her example teaches us that there is immense spiritual value in the acceptance and carrying of one's own cross. 

Born and named Boutrossieh (romanized as "Petra", which I will use in this blog) on June 29, 1832, she was the only child of a peasant couple from Himlaya, Lebanon, who were members of the Maronite branch of the Catholic Church. According to her biography, her parents were pious, especially the mother, named Rafqa, who passed on her deep love of God to Petra before her untimely passing when her little girl was just 7-years-old.

In a few years, the once-happy household was reduced to near-poverty and Petra's father was forced to send her to work as a domestic in the house of a well-to-do acquaintance in Damascus, Syria.  Four years later, the daughter returned home only to be surprised by a new stepmother who was somewhat overbearing. The woman began planning a marriage for Petra to her own brother (step-uncle), while a maternal aunt argued to have the maiden marry her son (Petra's first cousin).  The heated conflict over her personal future was too much for the young woman since, for some time, she had growing aspirations to give herself completely to Jesus Christ.

One of the few surviving photos of St. Rafqa.
Her biographies describe her as attractive.

Before matters could progress any further, Petra abruptly left home to enter the recently founded congregation of the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, also known as the "Mariamettes", in BikfayaWhen her parents learned of her whereabouts, they went to the convent to fetch her home, but Petra convinced her superiors to send her parents away without giving them the opportunity to speak with her; she never saw them again.  The time frame this all took place was in the end of 1852, beginning of 1853.

For the next 19 years, Petra, now Sr. Annisa ("Agnes"), lived the life of an exemplary religious - devout, humble, obedient, and ever-joyful - while fulfilling several duties as kitchen worker, catechist and teaching nun in different convents of her congregation.  However, in 1871, the Mariamettes merged with another congregation and the sisters were given the choice to become members of the new congregation, return home, or join another congregation; Petra opted for the latter and discerned the call to enter a contemplative institution.  She prayed and God answered...

Petra had a dream in which she was visited by three venerable men who later turned out to be St. Anthony the Abbot, St. George the Soldier-Martyr, and the last was assumed to be a Baladita monk-Saint because of the words spoken to her by St. Anthony: "Become a nun in the Baladita Order".  Petra left for the Baladita convent of St. Simon in Al-Qarn, where the nuns warmly welcomed her.  She took the religious name of Rafqa ("Rebecca") in honor of her dearly departed mother. 

For the next 14 years, Sr. Rafqa again impressed her peers with her evident piety and virtue, and lived in a relatively good state of health until 1885.  Sometime during that fateful year, while praying in a chapel on behalf of other sisters, she complained to the Lord with the following words: "Why, O my God, have you distanced yourself from me and have abandoned me? You have never visited me with sickness! Have you perhaps abandoned me?" That very night Rafqa was attacked by a mysterious and terrible pain in her head that slowly spread down to her eyes, which in due time became inflamed and discharged blood and pus. The right eye, in particular, began to swell until medical experts finally advised its removal, which was done by an American doctor without any anesthesia per Rafqa's request.   Her only response to the excruciating pain she endured was her habitual exclamation in times of extreme pain: "In communion with Christ's Passion."

Another rare photo of St. Rafqa.  This one shows the Saint (laying down) at the peak of her sufferings with her Mother Superior.

Rafqa's health only continued to worsen in the coming years until she was eventually blind in her left eye and confined to bed as a permanent invalid; bleeding from her eyes and nose were frequent.  Furthermore, her hip bone became dislocated and her frame withered to practically skin and bones as she lay on her right side, immobile in a fetal position... and, as if things couldn't get any worse, she developed a wound on her shoulder that she referred to as the Lord's shoulder wound caused by the carrying of his cross.  The poor nun was able to move her hands so to keep herself useful, she spun wool and knitted... and, of course, she prayed constantly.  Despite the unfortunate predicament she was in, Rafqa was never heard to utter a word of complaint... rather, she manifested deep resignation to the will of God and an unearthly joy that edified all who came into contact with her.***

It should be noted that for all the suffering Sr. Rafqa experienced, the Lord consoled her with divine favors.  Two instances stand out - in the first, she regained sight in her remaining eye for an hour.  The grace was received in direct response to a wish she made to look upon the face of her mother superior, who had shown her so much maternal kindness in her sufferings.  Shortly after, the second incident occurred, which was a visit to Heaven where she was mystically transported for a couple of hours during an ecstasy, and participated in a joyous feast with the Saints.  Upon awakening from the experience, she was offered food by her superior but declined saying that she had just tasted the most delicious lamb ever at the heavenly banquet.

Rafqa died peacefully on March 23, 1914 - she was 81-years-old.  After she was buried a brilliant light emanated over her tomb for three consecutive evenings, attracting many to the site.  Remarkable cures were soon reported through the intercession of the humble Maronite nun, escalating Rafqa's fame of sanctity among the locals then beyond.  The Church declared her a Saint on June 10, 2001.

May St. Rafqa intercede in Heaven for peace in war-torn regions of the Middle East... and may she watch over our persecuted Christian brethren there, protecting them and instilling in them hope in God's Divine Love.

"I am not afraid of death which I have waited for for a long time.
God will let me live through my death.”

- Words of St. Rafqa

A 1st Class Relic from the bones of St. Rafqa,
displayed for veneration at the First Saturday Rosary
at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Kailua,
on March 2, 2019.


We ask you, Saint Rafqa, to spread true joy in our world, which is suffering; to comfort sad people and make them happy and caring; to teach us to pray with faith in Jesus Christ and to live our life peacefully.

Medicine was incapable of curing you, so you cured sick people by enduring pain and sharing with Jesus Christ the Mystery of Redemption. 

We ask you to wipe away tears; to cure sick people; to fill people’s hearts with joy and love; to help us follow your steps and virtues in order to glorify, with you, the Virgin Mary, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit forever.  Amen.

*** NOTE:  In this author's personal opinion, based on the nature of her sufferings and the circumstances surrounding them, St. Rafqa may have suffered the invisible stigmata of the crown of thorns although her biographies do not specifically mention this.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Monthly Messages from the Queen of Peace of Medjugorje: February 2019

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Our Lady's Monthly Message to the World on February 25th:
   "Dear children! Today, I am calling you to a new life. It is not important how old you are, open your heart to Jesus who will transform you in this time of grace and, like nature, you will be born into a new life in God’s love, and you will open your heart to Heaven and the things of Heaven. I am still with you, because God permitted me out of love for you.  Thank you for having responded to my call."

Our Lady's Special Message to Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo on February 2nd:
   "Dear children, the love and goodness of the Heavenly Father give revelations which make faith grow, for it to be interpreted, that it may bring peace, certainty and hope. In this way, I, too, my children—through the merciful love of the Heavenly Father—always, anew, am showing you the way to my Son, to eternal salvation. But, unfortunately, many of my children do not want to hear me; many of my children are of two minds. And I—I always, in time and beyond time, magnified the Lord for all that He has done in me and through me. My Son gives Himself to you and breaks the bread with you. He speaks the words of eternal life to you so that you may carry them to everyone. And you, my children, apostles of my love, what are you afraid of when my Son is with you? Offer your souls to Him so that He can be in them and that He can make you instruments of faith, instruments of love. My children, live the Gospel, live merciful love for your neighbors, and, above all, live love for the Heavenly Father. My children, you are not united by chance. The Heavenly Father does not unite anyone by chance. My Son speaks to your souls. I speak to your heart. As a mother I am saying to you: set out with me, love one another, give witness. Do not be afraid, with your example, to defend the truth—the Word of God which is eternal and never changes. My children, whoever acts in the light of merciful love and truth is always helped by Heaven and is not alone. Apostles of my love, may you always be recognized among all others by your hiddenness, love and radiance.  I am with you.  Thank you."