Saturday, July 17, 2010

Marie Van Wagner, RIP

Left to right: Jean and Marie Van Wagner, me and my mother, Lorraine Trouve
July, 1994

Recently a dear friend of my mother passed away, Marie Van Wagner. She and my mother had been friends almost their whole lives. They first got to know each other while working at a company in NY City. After each of them got married, they both moved out to Long Island and lived within a few miles of each other. So I remember Marie from my earliest years. She was one of the few people outside my family whom I knew for my entire life until now.

Marie had four children (pictured above with her daughter Jean). She was a wonderful person, a woman of deep faith and convictions, a devout Catholic. In the photo above, we are pictured around the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which Marie happened to be hosting just then when I was home on vacation.

Marie also loved cats, and I remember how she always had a few around whom she would feed and take care of. If any strays showed up, she didn't have the heart to turn them away. Her kindness was proverbial in the neighborhood. She always treated all the children so well. In fact, one mother's day, a kid from the neighborhood was at home with his own family and his father asked, "Who's the best mother of them all?" He immediately said, "Mrs Van Wagner" -- much to the chagrin of his own mother who was sitting right there!

Marie had many sufferings in her life, and she always knew how to deal with them in a spirit of great faith. In these last years her health declined, and she died on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The reading that day from St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy sums up her beautiful life:

"I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance."

I'm sure that when she passed into eternal life, Jesus and the Blessed Mother were there to welcome her: "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord!"

Thank you, Marie, for the gift you have been in my life!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Today’s feast, commonly associated with the scapular, can help us reflect on the Biblical theme concerning garments of salvation. The German word for scapular, “Gnadenkleid,” literally means “grace-garment.” Many references to garments and clothes are scattered throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis: “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). In their original state of innocence, they had no need for clothes. They were naked but not ashamed—this is what Pope John Paul called “original nakedness.”
But after their sin, our first parents lost their innocence and needed to be clothed. God’s tender action of making clothes for them can perhaps be seen as symbolizing the garments of grace that God would bestow through Jesus Christ.

Pure and clean garments came to symbolize grace and salvation, as the prophet Isaiah sang:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

This imagery blends the spousal theme with that of garments of salvation. This text is used in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Garments signify the gifts of grace that God adorns us with inwardly.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, picks up the theme of white garments to express the holiness of the saints, of those who have been through great trials and held fast to their faith: “Yet you still have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev 3:4–5).
Among the several “blessings” in the book of Revelation, we find this one: “Blessed are those who wash their robes [in the blood of the Lamb] so that they will have the right to the tree of life” (22:14).

Perhaps today the scapular devotion is not as popular as it once was. But Catholicism, as a sacramental religion, uses such material symbols as signs of the deeper underlying inner reality of grace. The scapular is not meant to be something superstitious, like a talisman or a good luck charm. Wearing it expresses in a silent yet eloquent way our love for Mary and our confidence in her intercession and help.


The following prayer, called Flower of Carmel, is attributed to St. Simon Stock:

O Beautiful Flower of Carmel, most fruitful vine, splendor of heaven, holy and singular, who brought forth the Son of God, still ever remaining a pure virgin, assist us in our necessity! O Star of the Sea, help and protect us! Show us that you are our Mother! Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

St Therese The way God led her

Besides her autobiography, St Therese wrote quite a few letters. One that she wrote shortly before she made her first vows is so interesting. She is speaking of how she wants to go to the "mountain of love" -- the heights of love of God, the ascent of Mt Carmel that John of the Cross wrote about.

She told Jesus that she didn't care by what route he would bring her there, as long as she got to the top. Then she speaks of something so amazing. She says that Jesus made her understand that he would bring her there by a subterranean route--a way under the earth, to sort of mine the earth and then go up by a straight route.

But--it was a dark route. And that was exactly how Jesus led her, by the way of spiritual darkness in the night of faith. For more than a year before her death, Therese was plunged into absolute spiritual darkness--not only did she have no consolations, she experienced what can only be called a crucifixion of faith. She was tempted to the darkest places of atheism. She said that during that time, she made more acts of faith than in her whole previous life.

And she endured it all for unbelievers. She willingly suffered this trial of darkness so that those who were in spiritual darkness could find the light.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

St. Therese Patroness of Dysfunctional Families?

Recently I've been working on a project centering on St. Therese of Lisieux. Although I read her autobiography a long time ago, and prayed to her about my vocation before I entered the convent, I never really had a special devotion to her.

Something in the project made me realize, however, that she is very relevant to those who suffer from a major problem today: dysfunctional families. In particular, many people suffer from the lack of real love from their mother and/or father. Many children have been abandoned emotionally, as well as physically by absent parents, especially fathers.

Therese might seem like an odd patroness for these folks, because she came from an extremely loving and affectionate family. The tenderness and love she experienced in her happy home were exceptional. Both of her parents have been beatified. Yet Therese in her own way also suffered the pain of abandonment.

The first way was through the early death of her mother (from breast cancer) when Therese was only 4 years old. That kind of loss is a real trauma, especially for such a little child. To make up for it in some way, Therese chose her older sister Pauline as her "new Mama." Yet not so long after, Therese suffered another loss when Pauline entered Carmel. Therese later wrote: "I had suffered martyrdom getting accustomed to living without her, to seeing between me and her impassable walls. But finally I ended up by recognizing the sad reality: Pauline is lost to me, almost in the same manner as if she were dead."

Therese still had her father, Louis, whom she adored. Yet a painful trial awaited her in his later years. He suffered from some sort of mental ailment, possibly Alzheimer's or another type of dementia, and was no longer himself. He had to spend the last three years of his life in a mental hospital. In this way, Therese lost her much loved father while he was still alive. She suffered deeply from this. Perhaps God allowed her to experience this trial so that she could understand more deeply the pain of those who lack a father's love.

She promised she would send a shower of roses (graces) from heaven. One of those graces is the love destined to heal the hearts of those who suffer painful separations in their families.
St Therese, pray for us!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Precious Blood of Jesus

Today is the feast of the Precious Blood of Jesus, although in the USA it's not officially celebrated yet (because the new translation of the sacramentary is not yet ready.)

Here is a wonderful thought from St Clement, Bishop of Rome near the end of the first century, from his letter to the Corinthians:

"Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognize how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world."

And from the first letter of John: "The blood of his son Jesus cleanses us from all sin."