Disclaimer

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


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Monthly Messages from the Queen of Peace of Medjugorje: April 2017


Dear Children...

Our Lady's Monthly Message to the World on April 25th:
   “Dear children! Love, pray and witness my presence to all those who are far away. By your witness and example you can draw closer the hearts that are far from God and His grace. I am with you and intercede for each of you so that, with love and resoluteness, you may witness and encourage all those who are far from my Immaculate Heart.  Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Our Lady's Special Message to Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo on April 2nd:
   “Dear children, apostles of my love, it is up to you to spread the love of my Son to all those who have not come to know it; you, the little lights of the world, whom I am teaching with motherly love to shine clearly with full brilliance. Prayer will help you, because prayer saves you, prayer saves the world. Therefore, my children, pray with words, feelings, merciful love and sacrifice. My Son has shown you the way - He who became incarnate and made of me the first chalice, with His exalted sacrifice He has shown you how you need to love. Therefore, my children, do not be afraid to speak the truth. Do not be afraid to change yourself and the world by spreading love, by doing everything for my Son to be known and loved by loving others in Him. As a mother I am always with you. I am imploring of my Son to help you for love to reign in your life - love that lives, love that draws, love which gives life. I am teaching you such love - pure love. It is up to you, my apostles, to recognize it, live it and spread it. Pray with feeling for your shepherds so that they can witness my Son with love.  Thank you.”

Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Spiritual Serendipity"


"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose."

~ Romans 8:28

SERENDIPITY.  I like how it sounds; the way it feels while I'm saying it; and I like what it means.  According to one online resource, the word Serendipity generally means, "... the act of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it"; another resource refers to it as a "fortunate coincidence".

In recent months I've had quite a few moments of "spiritual serendipity" - coincidental events that, upon further reflection, were personal affirmations and encouragement from above. Countless people have had such experiences and I strongly believe that it's just one way God confirms that He really exists and that He maintains an interactive relationship with the Faithful; it's not a one-sided relationship, at all, when it comes to our faith-relationship with the Lord.  He's truly alive and he's concerned with our concerns.

In the two recent serendipitous moments I decided to share below, I was actually able to capture something concrete, via photos I took at the time. Our Lady's intercession was involved and it just goes to show how interactive she is, as well, with us - her spiritual children. I expect that most people will probably judge me a fool or not "all there"... or maybe both, but it's all fine with me. What matters to me is that I got something positive out of these experiences... and who knows?  There may be a reader out there who receives a needed spiritual affirmation, as well.

Small grains of rice; BIG message...

A few months ago I was having dinner while watching television at the same time. I recall the news program I was viewing had something to do with abortion and, as I continued watching, it was evident that the program was slanted towards the pro-choice view of the abortion issue. I was troubled and offered silent prayers, asking God to forgive the world for what we are doing to innocent, unborn babies. I then thought of the Blessed Mother and how her Immaculate Heart must also hurt because of the deaths of so many children... and I apologized to her, too.

Shortly after, I glanced down and noticed that a few grains of rice had fallen off my fork unto the granite counter top, and what I saw was serendipitous, to say the least. The sticky white rice was clumped together in the form of a white silhouette against the dark granite, which to me, oddly enough, evoked a tiny figure of a woman sitting (or kneeling) with her knees bent, and holding a bundle - the Madonna and Child! If abortion wasn't a serious topic, I might have thought of the image as somewhat amusing. However, as I stared down, I had the sad conviction that our Holy Mother was trying to convey something important to me; that the bundle she cradled represented ALL babies waiting to be born and that she was profoundly grieved by abortion. In my mind a clear thought also formed, which almost seemed like an audible voice - the voice I "heard" said: "Yes, they [the unborn] are my children, too."

... and another remarkable cloud formation

This second photo was taken this past Saturday, 4/8, the eve of Palm Sunday, after the vigil Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Kailua. Perhaps because of the somber theme associated with Holy Week, I was feeling melancholic and spiritually "dry". Plus, I had been stressed and tired from the past work week and, despite myself, had a hard time focusing during the long Gospel reading about our Lord's Passion.  It made me feel even worse.

After the Mass finished I walked out to my car and happened to look up into the sky to admire the bright blue sky... and there I saw it - a ghostly figure that stood out like a sore thumb among the wispy clouds and it looked remarkably like a common depiction of the Blessed Virgin. In fact, Our Lady of Fatima instantly came to mind since the image closely resembled a Fatima statue with its long white veil and hands joined together in prayer, just minus the large crown. It was all so clear... plus it held its form until I finally took a photo! Incidentally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Fatima apparitions and I'm happy to report that my parish has been diligently exercising a First Saturday Rosary Devotionuninterrupted, for 6+ years.

I suddenly felt uplifted - refreshed - and thanked our Lord and our Heavenly Mother for that moment of spiritual serendipity. It was a much needed boost and the inspiration that came to me as I gazed at the cloud-formation was simple - I felt that Our Lady was encouraging perseverance and prayerful trust in God. At the same time, I was assured that she was praying for me, too. It's a comforting notion that could apply to any believer who finds himself/herself in a time of personal challenge, whatever that challenge may be.

Another photo of the "Fatima Virgin cloud" with a photo of the statue used at
the Fatima shrine in Portugal for comparison.  The resemblance is striking.

I don't expect people to read this and arrive at the very same conclusion as me about the situations and photos described above... it's completely understandable. But the main point I hope readers will get is that God exists and is continually reaching out to all of us; He's highly interactive, but often communicating with us in surprising and unexpected ways... even through things that may seem insignificant at first (like an odd-looking cloud, a small piece of crumpled kleenexor a few small grains of rice!).

But if we view life's many moments through the eyes of faith and, are open to God's limitless possibilities, we may just recognize that certain oddball moments are indeed instances of "spiritual serendipity" - little signs or reminders from Heaven - that are timely... wondrous... affirmative... encouraging... enlightening... and definitely meaningful. We just need to always remember - anything is possible when it comes to God... and "all things work together for good" for those who love Him.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."

~ Psalm 19:1-4

Saturday, April 1, 2017

First Saturday Parish Rosary at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 4/1/2017


We adore you, O Christ, and we praise You... because by Your Holy Cross,
You have redeemed the world!

It's Lent 2017.  Besides observing all the penitential exercises prescribed by the Church, Lent is a special time to reflect deeply on what Christ did for all of us by dying on the cross; to show GRATITUDE for His painful sacrifice... and to also make reparation for the many who don't bother to care at all.

   
The display altar at today's First Saturday Rosary with the relic of the True Cross
to the right.  Parishioners lined up after the prayer to venerate the relic.

At today's First Saturday Rosary, I asked the people present to embrace the above notions while we meditated on the 5 Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary... and to help us do so, my ministry's relic of the True Cross made a rare pilgrim visit. I instructed the group to view the relic as a focal point during our meditations and, through it, to imagine themselves at the very foot of the Cross in the company of our Blessed Mother. To further kick up our prayer a notch, I challenged each person to not just be an observer of the Passion in their minds but to actually put themselves in Our Lady's shoes; to "feel" the sentiments that she went through as she watched her son suffer and die before her eyes; to pray as she prayed under the shadow of the Holy Cross. It all made for another intense 30 minutes in our Day Chapel.

A large golden escarcha
on a lady's face.
For me, I felt a strange and powerful rush of emotions as I prayed the Rosary - they alternated between deep sadness; helplessness; reverence and awe; resignation; peace; compassion; gratitude; forgiveness... and, of course, LOVE. At times, my sense of sadness made my chest and forehead ache, that's how much the mysteries of the Passion impacted me today. I also kept wondering to myself if the whirlwind of emotions and physical sensations I was experiencing was a small inkling of what Mary underwent on that very first Good Friday. If so, I can only imagine what excruciating sorrow Our Lady endured beneath the cross. St. Simeon described it to the Blessed Virgin with these words:

"... and a sword shall pierce your own soul, too..."

~ Luke 2:35

I think by the end of the meeting all of us were affected in varying degrees by our collective prayer and meditation. Several parishioners stayed behind afterward to venerate the True Cross relic - holding the reliquary to their hearts or faces; kissing it reverently; touching their rosaries to it; and taking photos. I sensed there were special "connections" being made with Jesus and/or Mary and this was evidenced by escarchas - shining flakes of gold - that manifested on a few people. A sign that God was present. Most, if not all, left the Day Chapel with a renewed appreciation for the Passion, as well as for Our Lady of Sorrows.

The next First Saturday Rosary for Peace will be prayed on May 6th, beginning at 4:25pm, in our parish's Day Chapel.  All are welcome to join us in prayer.

Saint of the Month - April 2017: St. Agnes of Montepulciano


Saint Agnes of Montepulciano
A Sign from God ~ Feast: April 20th

St. Agnes Segni was born in the little Tuscan town of Graciano Vecchio on January 28, 1268, to a noble family of ancient lineage. Her given name, it seems, was highly appropriate because her first name, “Agnes”, is derived from the Italian word for “lamb” (hence, a lamb is often pictured with her) and her last name, “Segni”, is the word for “signs”; indeed, she lived a pure, sacrificial life in imitation of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and her virtuous life and miracles were visible signs of God’s supernatural presence among the people of her time.

Indications of God's favor began from the very first moments of Agnes' earthly existence - her birth was said to have been heralded by brilliant lights that surrounded the Segni home on the night that she was born. Her pious disposition and attraction to prayer were evident from her earliest years and, at the age of 6, she began pestering her parents about allowing her to enter a convent. She was drawn to an enclosure in nearby Montepulciano where a group of women - living under the Franciscan ideal - lived in strict poverty and penance. The people called them the “Suore del Sacco (Sisters of the Sack)” because of the rough, sack-cloth habits they wore. Agnes’ parents, at first, refused her requests because of her age, but to pacify her, her devout mother often took her on visits to the convent so she could at least be near the Sisters whose company she desired to join.

St. Agnes received the Eucharist
from the hands of angels.
It was during one of these visits to the convent that another significant event took place in Agnes’ childhood. While passing a hill in Montepulciano on which a local brothel was situated, a flock of crows suddenly swooped down upon the little girl, viciously clawing at her. Her mother and the servants in the traveling party managed to fight off the birds, leaving them all a bit shaken by the ominous attack. They surmised that the crows were really demons in disguise, who were threatened by Agnes’ goodness and her close proximity to their lair. Later, we shall see that this very same location figured prominently in the Saint’s life. 

After persistently begging for permission to become a nun, her parents finally gave in to Agnes and allowed her to join the Suore del Sacco. She was only 9-years-old when she entered the convent (remarkable!). Once among the Sisters, the child naturally took to religious life and quickly progressed on the path of spiritual growth. In addition to exercising prayer and virtue to strengthen her spirit, Agnes also practiced mortification to bring her physical body in line with the lofty aspirations of her soul: she fasted continuously on bread and water, and went so far as to sleep on the bare floor using a large rock for a pillow. 

By 1281, Agnes's community was so famed for its virtuous occupants, the sisters were asked to establish another foundation in the neighboring town of Procena. Our young Saint was part of the group that went to establish the new convent and, two years later, at just 15-years-old, she was elected Abbess. A special papal dispensation was needed for Agnes to assume the role and it was granted by Pope Nicholas IV. During the ceremony to install her as Abbess, another sign from Heaven was given - the miracle of the “manna”. White cross-shaped flakes of an unknown substance materialized in the air and floated gently like snowflakes onto the new Abbess, as well as, on the rest of the congregation, covering their clothes and the floor. The miracle of the manna was repeated many other times in Agnes’ life and was often witnessed whenever she was in ecstatic prayer. Hence, the reason why the Saint is sometimes pictured with tiny white crosses sprinkled on her habit (see the photo above). 

Indeed, many extraordinary signs appeared to confirm Agnes’ sanctity throughout her career as a nun; too many to mention in this blog, but to cite just a few examples: 

+ Apparitions of Jesus & Mary:  Agnes experienced many personal visits from our Lord and his Holy Mother. On one memorable occasion, she was given the Christ-Child to hold by Our Lady. After she reluctantly returned Baby Jesus to his mother, Agnes awoke from her ecstasy to find herself clutching the golden cross that the Holy Infant had worn around his neck. She treasured this precious relic for the rest of her life. In another vision, the Madonna handed Agnes three small rocks with the instruction that she keep them safe. Mary went on to say that they represented the Holy Trinity and, one day, the nun would use these humble stones to build a new convent. 

+ Familiarity with Angels:  Agnes had a profound love for the Eucharist and, as such, she was privileged on several occasions to receive Holy Communion from the hands of God’s special messengers… and once, while meditating on the sorrowful Passion of Christ, an angel appeared to Agnes and gave her a handful of soil. The angel explained that the dirt was blessed in that it was taken from the Garden of Olives where Jesus had undergone his terrible agony and sweat of blood. 

The Gift of Miracles:  Agnes’s charity and generosity towards those less fortunate was well-known to the people of her town. During times of scarcity, the convent’s provisions were never lacking. Through her prayer and/or blessing, food was either mysteriously supplied or simply multiplied so that the nuns and the poor who came to them were never left wanting. In addition, there were reports of levitation, prophecy, and... most astoundingly - the raising of a dead person to life! In regards to the resurrection incident, it occurred towards the end of the Saint's life. Agnes was convalescing from an illness at the medicinal springs of Chianciano, when a drowned child was brought to her. Moved with pity at the sad plight of the parents she took the limp body into her arms and prayed – soon after, she returned the child, alive, to its parents. 

St. Agnes contemplating the Christ Child during
one of her many visions.
Under Agnes’ guidance, the Suore del Sacco prospered and grew in Proceno. However, the inhabitants of Montepulciano missed their resident miracle-worker so the city officials decided to lure the Abbess back by offering her a certain plot of land with an existing structure to found yet another convent. Agnes, not one to pass up an opportunity to glorify God, accepted and, as it turned out, the site was the hill-top brothel where she had once been attacked by crows! In 1306 she returned to Montepulciano and took possession of the property; the former brothel was renovated and consecrated to suit convent life. When the construction work began, she placed the three stones given her by Our Lady into the foundation, thus, fulfilling the Madonna’s prophetic words to her. 

Up until that time, Agnes had lived under the Franciscan Rule but this was about to change. Sometime during the renovation of the Montepulciano convent, she had a vision of three large ships with St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226), and St. Dominic de Guzman (d. 1221) standing at the helm of each. She understood that each ship represented the illustrious Orders of their respective founders and, when she was undecided about which ship to board, it was St. Dominic who spoke up: “Agnes will sail in my ship; that is the Will of God.”  It settled the matter and the new convent was established under the Rule of the Dominican Order.

After the convent was completed, it became the spiritual center of Montepulciano; a powerhouse of prayer, penance, and benediction, thanks to Agnes' influence. Except for a time when she traveled to Rome on pilgrimage to various holy sites, Agnes spent the rest of her life there, in contemplative prayer and counseling those who sought her advice and blessing. At times she also played peacemaker between quarreling factions or families - a role she played effectively. She died in 1317 at the age of 49 after suffering failing health in the final year of her life. The Saint consoled her grieving spiritual daughters by telling them, "You will discover that I have not abandoned you.  You will possess me forever."

In fact, after the Abbess died, the Dominican Sisters intended to have her body embalmed... but instead, it maintained a lifelike appearance and suppleness... and gave off a wonderful fragrance that delighted the nuns. Furthermore, a scented balm began dripping from Agnes' hands and feet, which the nuns then collected and preserved in glass jars. Perhaps, because of all the wondrous phenomena that surrounded the Saint's body, it was never properly interred; none-the-less, it also never decayed and became a focal point of pilgrimage in Tuscany. It is still admirably intact to this very day... so even in death, Agnes continues to be a visible sign of the supernatural.

The incorrupt body of St. Agnes Segni, as venerated in Montepulciano, Italy.

In regards to the pilgrimages that developed around her relics, one famous pilgrim to Montepulciano was none other than St. Catherine of Siena (d. 1380), who had a deep devotion to her fellow Dominican Sister. In 1374 (nearly 60 years after Agnes' death), Catherine visited Agnes' convent where her niece, Eugenia, also happened to be a nun. There, she lovingly venerated the incorrupt body of the holy Abbess and, as Catherine stooped to kiss its foot, Agnes' body raised its foot to meet her lips... seemingly out of humility and courtesy - to keep Catherine from having to bow too low before her! Catherine, deeply moved, kissed the sacred foot and gently lowered the leg back to its original position.

On a later pilgrimage to the convent, Catherine took a position away from the body's feet to avoid a repeat miracle, however, it did not deter Agnes from gifting her with another sign - the miracle of the manna! The white flakes appeared and fluttered down onto Catherine and her entourage while they prayed before the hallowed remains.

St. Agnes' body raises a foot for St. Catherine of Siena to kiss. The latter venerated the bodily relic,
at least twice, and received signal favors from the Saint each time.

The Church declared Agnes Segni a Saint in 1796. May she pray for our personal needs and the needs of the universal Church.

A Reflection
Like St. Agnes of Montepulciano, we are all called to be signs of God's presence in the world.

A Short Prayer
O Lord, grant us the grace to live in a manner that will draw others to YOU; living signs of your love and presence in this world, especially for those most in need of your grace and mercy.  Amen.