David, from Colorado USA, has been at the monastery since 2010. Looking to live life to the fullest in the world, he tasted bitterness. The sweetness of the Lord Jesus, whom he knew from his earliest infancy, has rescued him and guided him to the Syrian Desert.
Who am I?
I was born in Denver, Colorado where I was raised in a large family because my mother was the eldest of twelve children. At the house of my grandmother, Shirley Anne, who lived near my parents, I loved the atmosphere of love, family joy in celebrations of our faith. With my uncles and aunts I often visited the mountains where the beauty and greatness of God is expressed in glorious splendor. I Helped my grandmother in her beautiful garden and was impressed by her tenderness. Despite her pain - she was always smiling and always spoke of God's love for us. When a difficulty happened to me she told me: “Offer it up,” that is to say: to offer this as a small sacrifice to the Lord in union with his Passion for the sake of poor sinners. In the garden there was much singing to the Lord, Shirley and me; she told me the story of saints, taught me the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. She showed me the value of work, and how to “offer the Lord our daily suffering.” She also taught me tenderness, affection, compassion. Her and grandpa’s house was a paradise for me, and I knew their address and telephone number before ours - because it was here that I learned my eternal identity - Who am I? - I am a child of God!
How did I get to know Jesus?
Despite my education I had abandoned God, but He did not abandon me. In college I rejected the values that my family taught me. As a rebel I wanted to enjoy my “freedom” but I quickly became a slave. It was as Jesus said in Scripture to the egotistical people of the church of Laodicea: “Because you say: 'I am rich and I need nothing. (i.e. I am talented, smart and I can take care of myself)'. Yet do not you know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3: 17). I realized that I was like that, wretched on my own and poor, even with 'what I enjoyed most' I could not save myself from my own self-destructive desires: thus I knew I needed Jesus Christ in my life. From the depths of my darkness I cried out to God, and He answered me, miraculously He saved me. It was Jesus who looks at me with eyes of love, even if I cannot see my beauty. God's universal title in the Qur'an is "the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful". Our Lord has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy on us all. It is simply through our repentance, that is our returning to our Father and say "I'm sorry for the wrong I've done" that God not only forgives us, but makes us his divine children, lavishing us with deep peace, and everlasting joy. These gifts the world cannot give us, we can never procure them for ourselves apart from asking God.
Jesus said: "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find" (Mt 7:7).
The day of the feast of the Assumption, 15 August 2003, after Mass with my parents there was a meeting of “Alcoholics Anonymous” in our church. It was by chance that I attended. It is a spiritual program to help people overcome the attraction to alcohol and drugs. Although I had already been sober for 6 months, this meeting changed my life, I've realized that my love for the drink was a source of evil in my life. This had prevented me from finishing my studies in the University of Princeton. At AA people will freely confess “they have a problem with alcohol, they are not able to stop by their own strength, there is no one who can stop them from drinking”. But the famous third step is a leap of faith: “Human strength cannot help me, but God, if he were sought, he could help”. The program is based on this act of faith to the “Higher Power”. It's amazing, but it is the only lasting measure that works against alcoholism. Each meeting ends with “Our Father” where the members take hands and say “Whose Father?” – “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name!” I saw for the first time regular men and women from all classes and walks of life who were united by the conviction that God truly was their strength, their best friend, their highest joy. This is where I discovered that God is not a distant anonymous force, it is very close to us. St Paul says to the Athenians: “Although God is not far from each one of us, for in him we have life and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28). Through his infinite love God is available to each of us to make us grow in all the small things in life. I got my degree from Princeton in 2007 in ancient Philosophy.
Meeting God is like a drop falling into an ocean, because we are made in His image, and we will never be at rest until we rest in Him. Seeking God is a beautiful adventure that carries us
from time into eternity! As St Augustine said:
“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance, to follow him the greatest adventure, to find him, the greatest human achievement”.
Yes, I have discovered this adventure by totally surrendering my will to God in Syria, I live for the praise of Jesus who lives in the holy Eucharist and is at the same time enthroned at the right hand of God’s Majestic Glory as the King of all the universe. Myself, like modern man in general I think, is never satisfied - because only the King of Kings can satisfy the true longing of our hearts: for eternal union with God and all the saints in heaven. “God is Infinite Joy” the Carmelites say. The devil has us groping for the feeling of joy without the reality of it, because he convinced us that we should want to flee the responsibilities that go with it (commitment, marriage, etc). This is why society is so wounded. Forgetfulness of God is the greatest sin, because he is always mankind’s most faithful friend. In the Byzantine liturgy we call him “The LOVER of mankind”. The greatest wound in our heart, in God’s heart, is that we turned away from our sweet Father. This is the essence of sin. We forgot what sin even is, denied sin and denied our brokenness. But God is always the same, ever gentle, tender, and true – like the sun he shines on both the evil and the good. And Jesus loves sinners, he especially loves them – he became broken Bread to heal all our wounds. Christ came to save and forgive those who put him to death, and St Peter says we all put him to death by our sins (1Pt 2:24). But this was God’s plan: to overcome sin by love. “For where sin abounds, grace will super-abound” (Rom 5:20) – God is pouring out his infinite mercy on the sinners of the world. And we receive this grace as a free gift to all who believe. The joyful refreshment of our souls that God brings is no fantasy. It is the reason we exist. “The glory of God is man alive” said St Irenaeus. If we simply have the courage be who we are, and to come before him as we are – God’s beloved but rebellious children – we are forgiven, and shine God’s light into the world.
How did I find the monastery?
In 2009 I had the pleasure of living in seven months in Lyon, France. There, before the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of Saint Nizier, I felt a strong desire to give my life to God, I felt his love accept me and call me to give Him all my heart in the consecrated life. I cried because at the time I was living in a way contrary to the beautiful laws of his Church. In 2010 I left my job as a Spanish teacher, my family, my lovely girlfriend in America and I came to Syria on an one way ticket. After the council of my uncle Steve, an excellent priest who told me that Damascus was interesting, I had a strong desire to live a year in Syria without knowing why. (I had studied Arabic at Princeton, and spent 3 months in Bethlehem in 2007). As soon as I arrived, praying, attending daily Mass in dozens of churches of the old city of Damascus, and reading the Bible that was given me by a Protestant friend, I was more steadfast in a desire to give the rest of my life to the Lord. But more and more the Lord gave me the grace to see the multitude of my sins as a huge, huge weight I could not avoid [an obstacle for my consecration]. Feeling crushed because I had ran from God’s justice all my life and always been afraid to open myself totally to His WILL, suddenly one day in the Church of St Anthony I had the courage to face the Just Judge without any excuses and say: “Yes, Lord. I am worthy of eternal fire for the evil things I have done. Yes, your justice is beautiful O Lord, who am I to question it. You are Good and innocent. I am wretched because of my own bad choices, I surrender. O God, I give you total freedom to judge me. I refuse to run from justice. Send me to hell if you want, but whatever your will be done!" Suddenly I had the strength to say, "Father you are so Good! Please give me grace to love you for the rest of my life, I will praise you to my dying breath – for you are worthy even of a sinner’s love." Suddenly the burden of my sins disappeared and I felt enveloped in love, the wondrous love of our God – an ocean of Divine Light pouring into my soul. God is life, He is so fresh and beautiful - tenderness. If only the world knew! From that moment on, I understood by the Holy Spirit that I was God’s own child forever, and all my sins were forgiven by Jesus' blood on the Cross, my faults disappeared like a drop in a bonfire of Divine Love. From then on nothing could shake my confidence in Christ-God’s infinite Goodness. I am ready for anything, to die for Him, because all things pass according to his Sovereign Will, and because I love his Will even more than my life, even if I were sent to hell, all the forces of evil could not stop me from praising his Name. Glory to God!
If Jesus died for love of me I want to die for love of Him. The Creator of the universe, who can do and have anything, hung on a cross. Why? So that he could have my heart. My surrender to him, because if he forced us to love him we would cease to be human. So he waits patiently for us, crucified Love. And my offering to him is my whole will as a holocaust, in sweetest sacrifice. I have discovered this act of surrender, in poverty, chastity and obedience, to be a wellspring of divine joy. As if every moment I am leaping freely into the arms of my Beloved. My sweet Jesus.
This is the meaning of my life, not a life of sadness, but a life of joy. Not a life of complaining, but a life of sweet surrender.
That day was the most significant day of my life. A total death to self, death to all my projects, preferences, hopes, etc. because they are really so small, and rebirth into Amazing Grace. This grace was given me by God that day, and I believe, to be born again... through the intercession of St Francis de Sales (to whom I had been praying because at St Anthony's we were celebrating his 400th jubilee. And afterword I learned at the monastery that he had a similar experience to me that very day). The rest of my consecrated life is a playing out of that day, dying to my own ego (corrupted will, short-sided plans and perverse desires) and rebirth into Christ Jesus' purposes, which are always love, mercy and truth.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God takes care of us so much better than we can for ourselves. Let us seek Him with all our heart, for "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic 6:8)
This love has guided me by miracle to the monastery of Saint James. I always had an idea in my mind of what I had to be, like I had to get to that level. I was always falling short, always miserable with myself. I realized that very day that Jesus did not care about my idea. He did not die for my idea of perfection or goodness. He died for me, a man of flesh and blood. He loves my body and my whole person just as I am. He is my Savior who imposes nothing on me, that is why I give him to sit on the throne of my Heart. Whatever I give him, he gives me a million times more - his own flesh and blood to eat and drink. No woman could love me so deeply, or even would I want them to. This is the unspeakable love of God. What for God is natural: to die for love of others, even those who hate him, is so hard for us - until He lives in us, and breathes Power.
God knows that a thousand times in my life I have chosen death, destruction, the path of Satan. I wanted to die, for years of my life I longed to be buried underground, I was so depressed. It's crazy – what blindness! I did not know that all my misery was due to my abandonment of what my parents told me was right. I learned in Syria that God's laws are like the body of a car. You might think you can drive a car just as fast without the exterior and feel free. But one day the rain and snow will come, and your car will start to get tired. God's law is like the protection that keeps the car always running smoothly. This law is taught by the Catholic Faith, the Church built on St Peter, the fruit of which comes the New Testament, all the saints, and the fullest expression of truth known to mankind.
But I rediscovered the truth of my Catholic faith in Syria. In America the devil puts pressure on us to hide our faith, peer pressure makes us fear openly showing love for Jesus. The devil wants us to be ashamed of our culture, our nation, to alienate us from our family, our roots, our identity as Children of God. This shame and alienation is what Jesus came to burn and destroy. Jesus fulfills the aspirations of every culture, forgiveness and eternal life! How can I be ashamed of Jesus, the God of my fore-fathers, the Savior of the world? I am not ashamed of my nation, though I weep over her, I have great hope in her resurrection from the dead.
We chose death, but Jesus chose us for Life. Jesus chose us for his glory to his Kingdom. He pulled me out of the abyss. I was like a lost sheep without hope. He saved me from my worst enemy, myself united to Satan’s lies - and thanks to the prayers of my uncles, my parents, my grandmother.
If He can save me, the poorest man, he can save anybody. Hence my zeal to evangelize. The Good News is for all people, Jesus came for every single person no matter how bad their life is or how many sins they have committed. His Mercy is an infinite ocean.
I submit to the power of the Virgin Mary’s love - her tears overcame me. That she shared in Christ’s wounds, his bloodshed in silence, "I bared my back to those who beat me. I did not stop them when they insulted me, when they pulled out the hairs of my beard and spit in my face" (Isaiah 50:6). Once a very gentle priest told me, "You are spitting in Jesus face by the way you are living." He was right, and confessing that to Jesus I discovered that even in the darkest moments of my life - it was then that Jesus loved me most, suffered for me most and even died for me. Because every time I hurt myself I hurt my Savior. But the Virgin Mary prayed for me under the Cross, that his blood would be for my conversion. His face splattered with blood and with tears of love, Jesus asked me: "David, I give my back to be beaten by you, I give my body to be crucified for your salvation. I will forgive all your sins. Come back to me. "
How can I continue to live the same way knowing what Christ has suffered and is suffering for me and in me? And with such love!
Once in a dream I saw a man dressed in white, he was in great pain, his heart was outside his chest. And he showed me his tender heart. It was so sensitive! And he showed me how my sins were injuring his heart. How my bad actions penetrated his heart like a terrible sword! This dream happened when I was with Emma, my girlfriend – but I hid it and told no one. I came to believe later that this man was Jesus, my Savior.
But I did not have the courage to overcome my sinful life, (who does?) or leave it right away. But when the Lord has guided me in Syria, for 4 months I was amazed to find in Damascus a living and charitable Christian community, rich in diversity and united in constant prayer and song. I asked the Lord, "I want to leave everything to serve you, but where do I go? Must I return back to Colorado?" I even reserved a flight to the USA, thinking it was the "responsible" thing to do. At this moment of anguish I felt a voice in my heart "Open the Bible" (which I never randomly do). I did. I fell directly on the random page from the Old Testament and the first sentence I saw on that page said: "Go to the desert of Damascus" (1 Kings 19:15 NIV). The Lord was calling me to the desert, I needed no more proof, thanks be Jesus! As David promised:
"Praise the Lord, who carries our burdens day after day; he is the God who saves us" "He will tend his flock like a Shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young" (Ps 68:19, Is 40:11)
The rest of my life I want to live a joyful repentance to his Heart. I thirst to pray, praise at all times, and make sweet amends to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which I and the human race have so callously wounded. I do this through my total consecration to the Virgin Mary - because she forgave me and all sinners as they put her son to death, and surrendered to God's will under the cross. Her only and greatest desire is to lead us all to Christ who came for every person! If only the world knew - she is the easiest and most wholesome way the Jesus' heart! I know she was with me even in the darkest moments of my life, she is never going to leave me. Let the world know: our true Creator is infinite tenderness, the path of penance and confession of sin is the only way of peace and joy. "Mankind will have no peace until it worships my mercy" our Lord told St Faustina between the first and second World Wars. It's true. Jesus is the ONLY Savior - everyone comes before God to be judged, but no one comes to know God's love as our Father, and his free gift of forgiveness for all sin but through his son who died for us.
Jesus' death, offered as a gift of life saving love, is the only thing that gives meaning to life. The meaning of life is love, and ultimately to die of love. Not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us, given everything to us - and only asks us for one thing: to believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ, who he is, and what he did. That's it.
Paul says: "I appeal to you (in light of all God has done for us through Christ his Son) to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your logical form of worship" (Rom 12:1). All men die. But only in Christ and for love's sake does death have meaning, and power and death shines with the light of eternal glory. We all know this in the depth of our hearts. That is why we like movies like "The Lord of the Rings" - where the characters are truly willing to die for the love of others. What greater love than God who is Love and Truth itself?
Surrender your whole life to God - and the Holy Spirit will take care of you. Your life will become truth, glory, joy and peace. The world can never give us these treasures, because the world is full of lies, and only God can give us true joy, if we surrender to him in faith.
God is King, and he will render to each according to their works. The priest says in the Latin Mass: "May the Holy Spirit make us an everlasting Gift to You [Father and Son] and enable us to share in the inheritance of your saints". Let us pray to live in no other way but worthy of the name, Jesus Christ.
St Padre Pio said: "Live in such a way so that everyone is forced to say about you: that is Jesus Christ. Please understand this is no exaggeration!" God gives us this power in the flesh and blood of his Son that we eat in the Eucharist, if only we would surrender to him. "This is God's will for you: your sanctification" (1 Th 4:3). If this is God's will who are we to prevent him from making us saints?
My only desire: doing God's will in total surrender. He strengthens me to endure everything Christ endured in imitation of his cross, even humiliation and death are made sweet by my spirit's union to Him. Jesus is my love, my resurrection, my sweet and dearest friend. My only fear would be to betray him through falling into sin. May God and the Virgin Mary protect me - from myself, until all my desires be purified!
My life is a celebration of the reconciliation of the Prodigal Son – a celebration that is continues into eternity. "If God can save me, He can save anybody" I want to bring his joy and love to all sinners.
He gave this poor sinner the incredible grace to live in a house dedicated to Divine Joy: the worship of Jesus and praise his Name. God does not need worship, and he lacks nothing, but we receive everything when we worship God. Because to worship God is merely to affirm the truth, that he is the source of all Good - and without him we are absolutely miserable. If anyone is truly happy, kind or intelligent - all those gifts come from God through Jesus, whether they know it or not. That is why worship is so important, St Paul says that the source of all the world's problems is because of man's forgetfulness and refusal to worship to God and glorify him alone! (Romans 1:18-32).
My vocation is a call to worship, through prayer and sacrifice, that God give us poor sinners one last chance to know him. Because to know God is to worship him, because "every thing we learn about God is another reason to love Him!" Theology is not just an intellectual exercise, it is a Great Romance. To acknowledge this truth of God's Goodness and Mercy, expressed through the loving death of Jesus his Son, is what "sets us free" and fills us with every grace we need.
Every day here is a miracle that I do not deserve - we should have died with all the churches that were burned and innocent people slaughtered in Syria. Thank you for everything, my sweet friends, for all your prayers by which God has given us the gift of life to witness to his power. Thank you to my parents, my brother, all my family, brothers and sisters who love the Truth and who are soldiers of Christ. For the love of Christ impels us! Usqua ad Sanguinum (Hebrews 12: 4) as the Servant of God Dom Francesco Mottola, founder of the Oblates of the Sacred Heart, liked to repeat. We are to fight the good fight, to hate our sin and love God unto the shedding of our blood!
"If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live", Martin Luther King said, "I can never advocate violence. With violence you might murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. With violence you might kill a liar, but you can't establish truth. Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that... "
The Word of God is the foundation of the universe. The man who tries to live according to the Word of God (even if the world considers him crazy) that man is the most practical man of all. For he bases his life on the Rock that cannot be shaken. He has taken refuge in the Most High as a stronghold and so he continues to help the wretched, giving them the joy of life.
Who are we to prevent the Lord from making us saints? St Paul says it, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1Th 4:3). Only my pride and hardness of heart can try to resist God. Let the Almighty be the Almighty, he can do anything. He is the potter are we the clay. It gives us the grace of the Virgin Mary to be humble and pure, Cross lovers and worshipers of His Precious Blood. We worship him, who paid the price of our salvation. He Gives us all the confidence of a child in the hands of Papa.
It is the Word of God that says "Be holy for I am holy." If I say that God does not give me the opportunity to live in repentance to holiness- then I make God a liar, he gave me a mind to recognize right from wrong, and a mouth to beg his Grace. God is light - that was always there trying to shine on us but we were not there to receive it. Now I live this moment in the fullness of thy paternal love.
In the monastery of St James, I discovered true freedom. The great Catholic King Baudouin of Belgium prayed for the grace to “Carry his cross every day for the sake of his country” he was a living witness to Christ, that “True freedom is not doing what you want, it is wanting what you do”.
This Freedom has no limits, even someone in prison could be totally free. Only by the childlike trust we call faith, faith in Son of God can the human heart find rest and freedom... "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jea 8:31-32). But the Jews said, We don't need your freedom, we're children of Abraham. And Jesus revealed to them two deep truths they did not want to know - that they were bound in a relationship of slavery to Satan, and that the devil was their father! What a shock! Christ says: "The one who sins is the slave of sin" and "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me... You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:34, 39, 44). No wonder this conversation ends with the Jews picking up stones to kill Jesus. These Jews are us, "Christians" or anybody who refuses to recognize our sin, maybe even for the "good" reason that we don't want to burden God... the Catholic Church teaches that it was Christ who died for us, not from soldiers or Jews but from our bad actions and rebellion. St John reveals in this passage that without acknowledging the truth of our sin, we cannot know God, we cannot be healed by his eternal Son and cannot share in Eternal Life. St Peter says:
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now
returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1Pi 2:24-25)
To be free is to come into the light of God’s love without shame. Freedom is to stand up for truth and to make your life a gift of love. Freedom is total surrender to God’s will, because He loves us and cares for us better than we can for ourselves. I became free in Syria, happy to be myself for the first time in my life. God blessed me with the sweet vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. With these I feel that God gave me wings to fly. I want to soar into the heights of his love. Because this world would be so empty without him! I want to sail with the Lord Jesus as my captain to discover with him new worlds, beyond the rocky crags of this passing world, into the infinite depths of his truth.
Dostoyevsky wrote in a letter to his sister: “Jesus is the most beautiful”. « O Jésus en dehors de toi rien ne me semble beau. Tu es l’essence personnelle et éternelle de la beauté » dit St Gregory of Nyssa. St John of the Cross says that God is so beautiful, that the soul that gets a sense of his beauty would want to die a thousand times just for the chance to see God once.
That is why, if you can offer me 5 million dollars to leave the monastery in Syria, we should say, “No, I will not accept it – God has called me here for a reason – to unite with him through the Cross”. The love and tenderness of God has given us so that we may bless others, because the world needs faith.
Jesus is the true Savior of the world. We want to conform our lives to Christ, to live in accord with His Heart. Whether the world in watching our faith thinks we're crazy. We can say, I know very little, but I know one who knows everything. His name is Jesus Christ. He invited me to quit the vanity of this world and to live in paradise, the house where his peace and joy reign. By the blood of his cross, by grace, he gave me salvation, not by my works. As St. Peter says, “Innocent Jesus… He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1Pt 2:25).
All have great faith in Jesus here in Syria (even Muslims!). It is a country of faith, open to the truth of the mystery of God.
In 2000 St John Paul II visited Syria in 2000, the first pope ever to enter a mosque, the Umayyad Mosque with its tomb of St John the Baptist. The pope sat with Ahmed Kuftaro, the grand Mufti of Syria (the leader of Sunni Muslims), and asked him, “How many Christians live in Syria?” Kuftaro replied “20 million”. And John Paul said, “But how many people live in Syria total?” “20 million,” Kuftaro replied, “In Syria we are all Christians, because we are all believers in Jesus Christ.” May this spirit of brotherhood and kindness reign in our hearts.
How do I experience this war?
We in America could learn a lesson from the Syrian people who are innocent victims of a cruel civil war at the hands of mostly foreign extremists from 40 different nations, allied with al Qaeda, trained and funded by America and her allies (according to Joe Biden, http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/joe-biden-apologizes-telling-truth).
And despite my country's horrible foreign policies in the Mid East the Syrians have been so kind to me. They welcome me as one of their own. How many American families would do the same to a Syrian refugee?
No matter what happens I surrender my life to Providence. I am ready to die, even in the most horrible way. How sweet it would be to give my life for the Lord who died of love of me. The Lord never abandons his martyrs, but fills them with the light of Heaven - so they pass into eternity with Christ's joy and peace. I believe in my heart that no one can take my life until the day my Father in Heaven gives the OK. And hopefully that day will be for his glory – I am eager to go home. Our true home is heaven, this is our true dignity - and ultimately the only hope that makes life worth living.
Why? Because we live in a world where innocent children die. So either life is completely meaningless, a cruel joke. Or the promise of God is true that he will "wipe away every tear from their eyes" and those babies are in the bosom of Jesus, sharing his glory and joy forever. I beleive in the latter is true. As the brute fact of the universe, existence, our innate love of truth and hatred of evil, not to mention the sheer splendor of Beauty and the wonderful origin of complex Life are all facts that we cannot explain without recourse to the Absolute - that is, all of these realities very clearly touch something that is beyond mere materialism - they point to the Great Mind, the magnificent Designer who must be the intelligent Source of it all. Otherwise we are left looking like fools.
"The universe looks designed for higher intelligent life: "The universe is fit for carbon based life, it's fit for higher organisms utilizing Oxygen - and that is not my view, that is the view of everyone working in the field of astrobiology and everybody working for NASA... this is one of the most important demonstrations in the history of science because it means that human form and biology have some sort of a special place in the order of nature" - biologist Michael Denton, PhD.
The true danger in this war for me is not being killed or kidnapped by Islamic extremists. The true danger is forgetting God. Abandoning his sweet and holy law. The only mortal danger in this war is falling into my own sin, my own selfishness and hypocrisy. That's slavery, that's death - the New Testament teaches us. These are the dangers in the spiritual life. Physical "danger" IS ACTUALLY A BLESSING. Because it teaches us to depend on God for everything.
The Eucharist saved us from being massacred. When we were in the greatest danger we got out the monstrance (not usually done in Eastern Churches) and adored the Lord constantly in a chain of perpetual prayer. He saved us because he is the King of Glory, and he is Almighty God, who hides himself in a morsel of bread.
This ought to teach us a lesson: God chooses the most humble place among us. Think of where God chose to be born? Think of how humble, unassuming and gentle a piece of bread is. And yet how useful and life giving!
Because of the war my life has been purified of all is not necessary (except talking too much). Life is a miracle, a mystery, an invitation. And prayer is the act of humility when we open ourselves to the Mystery. Prayer is to recognize the miracle that we are before the God who alone creates us. My life is a prayer, a cry to God. God hears us with tenderness, because he knows all our suffering. Isaiah said this about Jesus the Messiah:
“These are our sufferings he bore, it is our pain it is endured. And we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; The punishment on him brought us peace, And by His stripes we are healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each one to his own way. And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is 53.4-6)
The reason there is chaos in the world is because we all want to go our own way. The problem is not that we break God’s rules, it is that we hate God’s rules. “Nobody tells me what to do!”
But Jesus carries the suffering and sorrow of all, especially the innocent and the poor sinners. I'm not innocent. In this war my heart, with all my strength, all my weaknesses is too much to bear alone. So all I directed to God in an act of abandonment. I found that the community is Jesus, we are His Mystical Body. And the joy of God is our strength. It is important to praise the Lord all the time, because praise does not give to God what he wants, but it gives us all that we lack. Jesus sustains us through this night of exile, he gives us the Bread of Heaven, Blood, and Spirit.
Jesus says to us today: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever" (Jn 6:51).
This is the truth of the faith that the world will never understand: Jesus is the bread of life in the Eucharist. Our true home is heaven, this life is only a small pilgrimage. Jesus came to give us eternal life - which is not only endless life but a radical transformation of our mental, emotional and spiritual being. Our goal is union with God who unites with our souls as to his bride, "the two become one flesh, but he that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit with him" (1 Cor 6:17). Eternal life is a love relationship with God. Jesus said, "And this is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ”. (John 17.3). That is why fake love and fantasies are so worthless and wrong. By the power of his resurrection, Jesus gives us the Spirit of sonship, calling us to become like him: a child of God. So we pray with Saint Paul, "the foremost of sinners" turned saint and chosen vessel of God's election:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ!” (Eph 1:3-4).
This is the promise of God: "to bless all the nations through Abraham's seed" that is Jesus Christ, who "became a curse" for us by dying on a Cross so that in Him we will "receive through faith the Gift of the Holy Spirit", a true sharing in Divine Life, and shine "like stars of heaven" forever and ever (Gal 3:13-14; 2 Pt 1:4; Gen 22:16-18).
St Athanasius says, "The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men may become sons of God." Each Mass we are in heaven, surrounded by our fellow saints and angels. This is the monastery, in this community of love and especially in the Eucharist, the Bread of Heaven, where I found the strength to continue to live in joy in the midst of terrible suffering and destruction. Jesus is everywhere, he bears everything.
Glory be to God through Jesus Christ, "the King and the center of every heart!"
"You have tribulation in the world. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jesus the night of his Passion, Jean 16,33b). “And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith” (1Jn 5:4). Jesus is the Son of God. And his victory becomes ours if we believe it.
Renewed in the confidence of the tender love of our Creator, let us pray:
Father in Heaven, let your rain fall on us, let the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love, fall on us like gentle rain – to bring all hearts to know you – the one true God. Make us grow to love our enemies, and lead us not to follow the world, or seek our own passing desires, but let your will be done in our lives. Write your law in our hearts as you have promised. Give us courage to follow Jesus in the way of eternal life. Amen.
Below is a testimony from Harissa, Lebanon before John and I took the habit of monk on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 15, 2012. St Faustina pray for us!
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