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Archive for the ‘Devotional’ Category

Most mornings, Peter and I start the day with devotionals. Last week on the morning of 5/16th, the readings were 1 Acts 20:28-38 and John 17:11-19. As Peter summarized them up, respectively,  “Paul says good-bye, and Jesus says good-bye.” Both have to say good-bye to loved ones they know they will never see again. Both pray fervently for their followers to remain strong in faith and “consecrated in the truth.” The morning Mass homilist said the readings reminded him of a story about an elderly man saying good-bye to his daughter at the airport. As she departed for her flight, the man said, “Daughter, I wish you enough.” Afterwards, when a bystander asked what he meant, he explained that it was a tradition in his family. He recited this unusual blessing in its entirety (kindspring.org):

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Good-bye.”

You don’t often see a blessing in which someone wishes you hardships, pain, and loss. Yet real life is full of these, and so the message represents, paradoxically, a powerful invitation. When Adam and Eve rebel against God, he “blesses” them with pain and suffering (Gen 3:16-19). When Jesus invites us to follow, he plainly warns us that the way to heaven is the way of the Cross (Matt 16:24, Luke 9:23, Matt 5:11, Matt 7:14, 2 Tim 3:12). Is the invitation to understand suffering a different way? Certainly there’s nothing like hardship and loss to make us appreciate the good things we have and the value of the effort. Nothing like feeling our limitations to make us humble and appreciate the people who help us. Sometimes only the bullhorn of experiencing the bad consequences of our actions is loud enough to motivate us to change. Could suffering be the way we draw near to Christ and are interiorly transformed and conformed to his image (Rom 12:2)? Could this be the way we turn from our rebellion of egoism to humble repentance and our need for God?

But what about the innocent who suffer? And even for  the “ordinary” sinner, sometimes the suffering seems out of proportion to or even unrelated to what we’ve done or seem to need to learn. In his papal document “Salvifici Doloris,” St. John Paul II addresses these questions by inviting us to go even further in our understanding of the mystery of suffering. In the first part of the document, he talks about how the Old Testament case of Job makes it clear that we are not to attribute someone’s suffering directly to that person’s sins; Job was innocent, and his suffering was presented more as a trial of his faith and love of God. But then our former Pope explains that what Jesus did on the Cross in the New Testament adds a whole new dimension to our understanding of the purpose of suffering. Just as Jesus came to earth to save us by suffering for our sins, we, as parts of his mystical body,  are invited to understand our suffering as an integral part of our redemption and the redemption of others. “It (suffering) is above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: ‘Follow me!’. Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to man’s level and becomes, in a sense, the individual’s personal response. It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy…Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person ‘completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’ (Col 1:24); the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world’s salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls… ”

St. John Paul II therefore presents suffering as a way the sufferer can sanctify himself and others by offering it up to God as a spiritual sacrifice with the Spirit of Christ. He goes on to take the perspective of the one who encounters the sufferer. He too can sanctify himself in his response to the suffering of others. “(Moreover) (t)he world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love; and in a certain sense man owes to suffering that unselfish love which stirs in his heart and actions… At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer.” (www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2salvi.htm)

So St. John Paul II says that suffering calls us to love and help the sufferer. This latter point is something we can all readily understand. But the former point- that as His mystical body, Christ invites us to unite our own sufferings with His for the redemption of all; that because Christ had a vocation to suffer to save mankind, so do we- this is not something one immediately understands with the mind. Rather, for me, this is something I have found to be an immense consolation and source of strength and hope not in the abstract, but only through the experience of suffering. We moms see our children suffer as they struggle with the hardships and challenges of autism, and we suffer with them. How many times have I knelt before the Tabernacle looking up at our sweet Lord suffering upon the Cross, and thought about our blessed Mother standing broken-hearted beside him, and received grace to carry on. I can’t explain the joy of the Cross, but I can experience its consolation and feel the strength of Jesus as He carries my cross with me. As Peter puts it, “I guess I am consecrated for suffering.” We have to suffer anyway. Rebellion and bitterness do not make the suffering any more bearable, but add to it. Through embracing this suffering as a vocation, even as one continues to work for solutions and the remediation of the causes of suffering, one comes to understand and appreciate the great gift of Christ in empowering us through union with him to transform our suffering into a sacrifice of love.

“So what do you make of this unusual blessing, Peter?” I asked. “What does it mean?”

“May you have enough (including obstacles) to get you to heaven.  I am impressed and encouraged to see my obstacles as a means of sanctification.”

So to all of you, dear friends suffering from autism and those who suffer as they support them, may the words from Scripture and the Church inspire us all to pray to our Lord on the Cross for the hope and grace we need to endure and glorify God through every tribulation, and to see each challenge as an opportunity to do good and most of all to love more.

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If it weren’t for Easter,

Hatred destroys, and life dies.

Beauty decays, the innocent suffer.

Without Easter,

My disabilities confine me,

My suffering is meaningless, and

Why should anyone care?

Without Easter,

We expend ourselves in pretense and illusion,

For we come from random nothing

And end in random nothing

 

But if Jesus rose from the dead,

Love is stronger than hate,

Life is stronger than death.

Earthly beauty, though evanescent,

Foreshadows Beauty Everlasting, and,

Like Love, has a presence outside time.

My disabilities can transform me for

Suffering borne with patience has great merit,[i]

It is the way of the Cross, and

God cares.

A man sees the outward appearance, but God looks into the heart.[ii]

A man is only what he is before God, nothing more,[iii]

But also nothing less.

I am beloved.

You are beloved.

Our origin is love, our destiny is love.[iv]

 

Only God is forever.

Better to take His side, and

Be an Easter people.

 

[i] St Francis of Assisi

[ii] 1 Sam 16:7

[iii] St Francis of Assisi

[iv] St. John of the Cross

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“Joyce, my daughter feels so dumb. She used to think she was ok, but after a year in this honors program at USC, she feels like she’s surrounded by geniuses. She cried and cried. She feels completely inadequate. I told her it was okay, but my heart was breaking to see her feeling that way.”

Wow, did that conversation ever bring back a flood of memories for me. I told my other-mom-friend that boy, could I relate to her daughter’s feeling, after 8 years at Harvard (4 in the college, 4 in the med school). I used to have nightmares about being in genetics seminar and not having the faintest idea what everyone was talking about, or making it all the way to the end of the semester with barely a shred of understanding to get through my advanced biochemical thermodynamics final exam. I recalled all the one-ups-man-ship going on during rounds as a medical resident, the constant tearing down and clawing up I observed on a regular basis.

By contrast I thought of a story St. John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla), one of the most popular popes in modern history, used to tell. During the terrible Nazi occupation of Poland, working as a delivery boy and quarry worker, he was greatly helped and guided by an unassuming man named Jan Leopold Tyranowski.  Tyranowski was a tailor who served as a spiritual mentor in a discipleship program called the Living Rosary, created to support Polish youth in their Catholic faith during the tumultuous war years.  Karol would always remember the humble tailor’s teaching on suffering and how it can draw us closer to God. After becoming pope, he wrote how Tyranowski was “one of those unknown saints, hidden like a marvelous light at the bottom of life, at a depth where night usually reigns.”

And I thought of Peter, the child of my heart who can’t talk, can’t get his body to move where he wants to go half the time, but wrote yesterday, “I fly my soul like a kite at the end of a string of words.” Peter has completely changed me. It’s as if he removed the blinds from my eyes to see what’s really important about a person and a person’s life. It’s not the externals, the wealth, popularity, looks, or even “accomplishment” that makes a person precious and sacred, that’s for sure. It’s the soul within. The one who cares, feels, values, decides, and tries. And that has little to do even with intelligence, social skills, or praxis. The inner seat lies even deeper than that.

“It’s ok, Myra, it really is. Tell her that she and her friends are all plenty smart enough to do a lot of good. How smart you are, how high you can jump, how fast you can run, are gifts from God, why should anyone boast about it? God cares about what you do with your gifts, because that shows what’s in here,” I said, pointing to her heart. “Just put your arms around her, and tell her with all you heart and mean it, “The rest really matters not at all.”

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A very cool thing happened this weekend.

 

My youngest, Luke, was in tears, disappointed because he couldn’t talk Dad into taking him to a Pokemon tournament. He was supposed to have earned the privilege by working on his science project, but had displayed, shall we say, a less-than-optimal attitude about it. So Dad said no. Here’s the conversation that ensued between  Peter and Luke.

 

Peter: Hi luke, sporry about the tournament. You had yyour hopes up. Perhaps next time you can use a point system. It really helps. Just don’t give up.
Luke: It doesn’t matter anymore.
Peter: It does matter. But you vcan’t give up.
Luke: Too late. Nothing to work for anymore.  I’ve already given up.
Peter: That’s blackmail.
Luke: How is that blackmail?
Peter: You are telljng everyone if you can’tg have your way, you won’t try.

Luke: But that was the last big city tournament. I don’t have anything to work for.

Peter: Then keep trying to be better for God.
Luke : What does that mean?
Peter: You live for yourself or for God. Just open your heart. Live abundantly. It is more to live for others.
Luke: What does that mean?
Peter: Like studying to be useful.  you are so smart.
Luke: I still don’t get it.
Mom: I think he means that you should continue to try hard to study well so you can gain the skills to become useful to society and others someday. Is that it, Peter?
Peter: yes.
Luke: Mom, are you on my side?
Mom: I’m always on your side.
Luke: That’s good.
Mom: In this case, I believe being on your side is agreeing with your brother. He’s your big brother and is giving you good advice.

 

Well, Luke went off to walk to church, and Peter and I prayed for him. When he came back, he was genuinely okay. He approached Dad and actually asked to talk about why Dad had thought he had a bad attitude, and what he could do differently next time (believe me, these were simple things, like staying for the whole experiment). Luke actually listened  instead of constantly interrupting and protesting, and then he nodded and was all right. For impatient, explosive Luke, this was a remarkable milestone.

But a milestone for both boys. Luke was always the sheepdog for Peter as they grew up, buzzing and circling ’round, and coming back to report to me when Peter needed help. And now look! As big brothers do and sometimes as only big brothers can do, he challenged Luke to be better, and Luke rose up to it!

I stood by observing all this in joy and amazement. How many times have I despaired of making headway to help Luke improve on his temper and tolerance for frustration? And who would have guessed in all those years of silence before Peter could type, that he would one day be the one to provide the words of encouragement Luke needed to hear at this critical moment.

There’s a terrific app called “Saint A Day.” Wouldn’t you know it, but the saint for that day was St. Andrew Corsini, a 14th century Italian. Before he was born, his mother dreamt that she gave birth to a wolf, who went into a church, and changed into a lamb. Later, when Andrew grew into an out-of-control young man, his mother told him he was the wolf she dreamt about. Andrew went into a Carmelite church to pray, and felt inspired to change his life. He became a famous Carmelite priest and peacemaker. The mini-homily at the end of the story went like this, “We can be peacemakers just like St. Andrew. When we treat people with love and respect, we are spreading peace. When we forgive those who have hurt us, we are spreading peace. When we try to cheer up people who are sad, we are spreading peace.”

To me that day Luke was the wolf who changed into a lamb, and Peter was the peacemaker. Thank you, Lord, for you find a way where there is no way, and your solutions are the best, most unexpected, and most beautiful.

Wishing you all also a most blessed and happy New Year!

CartoonDealer.com

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Peter was having a tough battle with his OCD this season, repeatedly asking for “Target,” to buy swim goggles or gift cards that he would promptly cut up or break. I tried to help him by delaying doing the compulsion, and turning it into a reward that he could work toward by earning points doing good things (like homework problems, swim laps, or chores). What was really neat was how Peter decided to use his hard-earned points not for going to Target to buy goggles, but to buy his big brother a Secret Santa gift. What follows is the poem Peter wrote to his brother to accompany the present.

Goggles vs Gifts

I want to go to  Target
As the earth goes round the sun,
Like eating Lays Potato Chips,
You cannot eat just one.

I love the stacks of goggles.
Orange, pink,and green.
I love the cups at Starbucks there
With the shiny, thermal, sheen.

Marking pens of rainbow hues,
Chips and snacks galore,
Gift cards crisp and nice to tear
From any local store.

If I could go to Target,
I’d see that bull’s eye red.
I’d walk right in, and see the bins
and the escalator ahead.

Up I’d go, it’s quite a show
Of Christmas goods and cheer.
Children running round my feet,
My arm ’round mother dear.

I’d stride right to the goggles
And pick a perfect blue,
But then I’d think, OCD you stink,
I don’t need something new.

Christmas isn’t for buying,
Though I like the fun and mirth,
But to celebrate God’s gift to us,
To rejoice at our Savior’s birth.

So instead of spending points I’ve earned
On goggles I don’t need,
I’ll spend them on a gift for you,
A Secret Santa deed.

In my heart, I gladly part
With goggle-y, worldly wealth,
To offer to my Savior
A better master of myself.

Merry Christmas, all!

snoopy

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Proposition 62 proposes to end the death penalty in California. The death penalty is when the state executes a person for committing a capital crime, like premeditated murder. Instead everyone already sentenced would get life imprisonment without possibility of parole, which is when you get out of jail early for good behavior under supervision. Current California law generally requires that inmates work, and that part of their earnings go toward restitution of the victim, or in the case of homicide, the victim’s family. The bill increases the percentage that may be taken from the inmate’s wages from 50% to 60% to give to the victim’s family. This proposition came about for moral and financial reasons. What is the history of the death penalty, what is the scope of the problem, what are the moral and financial arguments for and against it, and what should we do?

In 1972, 40 states plus the District of Columbia had death penalties. The Supreme Court struck them  down because they were arbitrarily and capriciously applied. Thirty five states created new death penalty laws, but in 1976, the Supreme Court struck down the ones that made the death penalty mandatory for any capital crime. But if judges and juries use their discretion, weighing the variables in each individual case, the ruling does allow them to apply the death penalty (Lincoln, 2016). In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of mentally retarded defendants violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of juvenile killers is unconstitutional. On November 6th, 2012, an attempt to repeal death penalty in California failed (CNN, 2016).

Worldwide, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty since 1976, when the US Supreme Court revived it. In 2010, the US ranked fifth in executions behind China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.  Nationwide, of 8,124 people sentenced to death between 1977-2013, only 17% were executed, 6% died of other causes, 40% got other dispositions including acquittals, and 37% remain in prison (Lincoln, 2016). In California since 1978, an even lower percentage of convicts who get the death penalty get executed, and an even higher percentage sit solitary in cells waiting to be told if they will live or die. Of 930 individuals who have been convicted, only 15 have been  executed, 103 died of other causes, 64 sentences have been reduced, and 748 are in appeals. Of those 748, two fifths have been on death row for more than 20 years. California spends $55 million annually just on the cost of appeals (Padilla, 2016).

Does the death penalty make any sense? Overall, the cost of execution is eight times higher than keeping an inmate in life imprisonment because of the huge costs of a sentencing trial, which is an extra trial required above and beyond the trial that determines guilt vs innocence, appeals, and extra security (Prejean, 1993). Yet even with the high dollar amount, injustices abound. 120 people sentenced to die have been exonerated (USCCB, 2005). The death penalty is applied to a tiny fraction of homicide convictions. The chances of getting the death penalty does not correspond most highly with how bad or heinous the crime.  Instead your  chances of getting the death penalty for a capital crime are much higher if you’re poor, black, or if you live in a southern state like Texas or Oklahoma (USCCB, 2005; Lincoln, 2016). The quality of court appointed attorneys for the defense can be poor. Federal appeals courts find constitutional errors in the proceedings in 40% of cases reviewed (Prejean, 1993). Finally, the death penalty does not seem to serve as the deterrent to homicide as it was meant to be. There is no difference in capital crime rates in states that have more executions (USCCB, 2005).

So are there any good reasons for the death penalty? One big problem with life imprisonment is the possibility of parole. 71.3% of violent offenders are rearrested within the five years after release from prison (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005), and in 1997, a third of prison admissions were from parole violators (BJS, 1999). The alternative to the death penalty would have to be life imprisonment without possibility of parole to protect the public’s safety.

How about the families of the victims? More and more victims’ families are telling us that the execution of the offender does not give them peace.

“No one in our family ever wanted to see the killer of our brother and his wife put to death. We felt instinctively that vengeance wouldn’t alleviate our grief. We wanted this murderer in prison so he could never hurt another person. But wishing he would suffer and die would only have diminished us and shriveled our own souls. Hatred doesn’t heal. Every time the state kills a person, human society moves in the direction of its lowest, most base urges. We don’t have to make that choice. Our lawmakers have the capacity to help us abolish the death penalty and along with it, the fantasy that it will make the pain go away.”

—Mary Bosco Van Valkenburg for her mother, Antoinette Bosco, sister Margaret Minier, and brothers Frank and Paul Bosco (USCCB, 2005)

So the death penalty doesn’t work in terms of costs to the state, nor as a deterrent to crime. Injustices abound in terms of who gets the dearth penalty, and corruption exists in the granting of pardons (Prejean, 1993). Then there’s the moral question. Should the state, in the name of all of us, ever put someone to death when there is even a small chance of killing an innocent person, when we can protect the public’s safety with the alternative of life imprisonment without parole? Even if the convict is guilty, do we have the right to cut off any chance that he/she may repent and do good in the future?  In “Dead Man Walking,” Sister Helen Prejean tells her journey of going through the whole process of appeals and the execution of a man convicted of murder as his spiritual adviser. Two brothers, Pat and Eddie, kill two teenagers in the woods. The older brother, Pat takes the blame though his younger brother, Eddie, did the killing, so Pat gets the death sentence. In the end, Sister Helen leads Pat to apologize to the victim’s family, befriends the father of one of the victims who ultimately heroically accepts the apology, and counsels Eddie, who is in life imprisonment as an accomplice. Even Eddie, laden with guilt over causing the deaths of three people, including his own brother, finds a measure of peace by working hard to give part of his earnings as a token of restitution to the victims’ families. Her description of the execution puts into question if any of us would want to be responsible for yet another death. The miracle is that grace can penetrate even the darkest of situations, like the exchange between Pat and the victim’s father, and how even Eddie improved. I believe that mercy and forgiveness, with life imprisonment without parole to keep the public safe, is a much better alternative than the death penalty.

I urge everyone to vote “yes” on Proposition 62 and “no” on 66.

 

edited by Joyce Tran

References

  1. Alex Padilla, (Nov 8, 2016) “Official Voter Info Guide for CA General Election.”
  2. CNN library, updated 10/24/16, “Death Penalty Fast Facts”, CNN.com
  3. Fay, William, Msg. and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dec. 2005, “Culture of Life and the Penalty of  Death.” Washington DC, USCCB.org,
  4. Lincoln, Alan, “Death Throes: Changing How America Thinks About Capital Punishment,”Harvard Magazine, volume 119, no. 2 , Nov-Dec 2016.pp. 56-95
  5. National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, nij.gov
  6. Prejean, Helen, C.S.J. (1993) “Dead Man Walking” New York: Random House.

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It was another one of those difficult mornings. Took me over an hour to wake up Peter and get him out of bed. He spent a long time in the bathroom, and when I went to check on him, I caught him unrolling large amounts of toilet paper again. As I rushed forward to stop him, he threw it all down the toilet and flushed it (one of his compulsions). The only thing he ate of his breakfast was plain bread, leaving his nutritious egg, fruit, and peanut butter behind. I was the last of the family to dash into the family car as I had to brush stains off his laundry before they settled in.

So I felt frustrated, as I waited for him to get himself out of the car. The rest of the boys leaped over the seat to get out of car, as they couldn’t get past Peter. Once he managed to get himself out of the car, he walked slowly toward the church, dragging on my arm. The other boys ran ahead to meet up with us later. Then Peter suddenly froze, getting stuck in the middle of the driveway. Fortunately, we were so late by then that there were no cars coming. I tugged and towed him safely to the sidewalk. “Well, Peter,” I said, trying to count my blessings, “it was good that you finally thought of setting the timer to get out of the bathroom. And you did get out when it went off!” Peter brightened a little, and tried to pick up his feet a bit faster.

Oops! Once we were seated in the pews, I noticed Peter tapping the pair of pink swim goggles that he loves to carry around and fidget with. His therapy team had agreed we should all work on having him leave them in the car when going out in public, to put some limits on the compulsion. I opened my purse to remind him to drop them in, and took out a laminated keyboard card for him to hold instead. Peter looked distressed, but dropped in the goggles.

The second reading at Mass was from 1 Thessalonians 3:12. “Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.”

The verse convicted me. I prayed silently, “Lord, please give me the love and grace I lack which my son so desperately needs.”

Just then, Peter urgently grabbed my arm. “Pink goggles, please!” he pleaded.

Providentially the grace dropped into my heart in the nick of time. “Yes, dear. You did such a nice job asking me politely instead of grabbing. You may have them till the homily (sermon) is over. Then let’s try to put them back in the purse so you’ll have another something to offer up for Jesus.”

Peter’s eyes lit up at the affirmation. He happily tapped away on his goggles during the long homily, and peacefully dropped them back in my purse during Communion.

The homily was about how both the Old Testament and gospel readings were about the end-times, and the tribulation to occur before the Second Coming. The priest asked us to contemplate why the Church would use these readings at the first Sunday of Advent, when we start looking forward to the birth of Christ at Christmas. The trials of the tribulation may trigger fear and dread in us, but if we can only trust God and remain faithful throughout them, God promises a crown of life and new kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Advent celebrates the first coming of our Lord as a gentle child and our Savior. In the Second Coming He will return in power and glory as Righteous Judge. But in both, we look forward to his coming with joy and hope, as the gospel says, “… stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)

Also in both, the theme is death and rebirth; in the “First Coming,” it is the theme of Jesus’ story, for the Second, it is our story. The priest made the point that in His first coming, Jesus showed us how to live to prepare for the second. Jesus accepted the will of the Father and died on the Cross, then rose to eternal life. We imitate him with every small death we suffer, from all the sorrows, injustices, contradictions, and sufferings that inevitably come into our lives. Like Jesus, if we accept bear our Crosses with love and faith, trusting in God’s great love for us and obeying His commandment to love and forgive in turn no matter how difficult our circumstances, they will become instruments of our sanctification, as we grow in character to be more like our Lord, more fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, as in the same process we work to bring God’s kingdom on earth. Thereby in imitating the death of Christ, we too discover new life.

When I was younger, I used to rebel at the idea of a loving God willing the terrible suffering we see happening to people around the world. I have since come to realize that though I may never and probably will never understand the mystery of evil, I know by experience that Jesus is my loving Savior who leads me through the darkness, and that the Holy Spirit He sends is real. Peter battles his autism every day, including severe OCD, anxiety, inertia, and impulsivity. We get through it by constant prayer for God’s help, offering up our struggles, and each time, the Holy Spirit has sent that burst of inspiration and grace that has gotten us through, albeit sometimes just barely.

So I thanked God for the grace He gave me at Mass, to be able to give Peter the encouragement he needed to keep trying. Reminding him of his successes with the timer and in asking for instead of grabbing the goggles were little acts of love, but sufficed to get us out of two bad situations. Imagine variations of this scene repeated over and over hundreds and thousands of times, and you have a pretty good idea of how Peter and I get through life with autism. We live by faith, we live by prayer. These are essential to our survival. But this is how Peter has managed, sometimes barely, to live a life above and beyond his disabilities. It is through faith that Peter can write his Thanksgiving poem (see previous post) from the sincerity of his heart.

But it isn’t easy. At times the relentless assaults of OCD, anxiety, and inertia feel overwhelming. You get exhausted. The joy of the Cross is sometimes the only thing you and your child may have to fall back on.

The other day, Peter was exhausted from battling one OCD after the next. He had been cutting up the covers of my medical journals. Right after we finished talking about how that was a destructive thing to do, and how he might come to me for help next time he felt that compulsion, I found his little brother’s newly purchased book cover cut up into pieces. “What happened?” I asked Peter.

“I’m no sissy. I rebel,” he typed. ” I feel tired of resisting my lower brain. why should I always have to fight? I feel hemmed in.” He went on to explain how he decided he was like Elsa in “Frozen” and had decided to “let it go.” He told me that Elsa spent all her energy repressing her true nature, and finally felt better after letting it loose. But when I asked him what Elsa’s true nature really was, he admitted she was kind and gentle, and that he wanted to be that way too. I asked him what finally helped Elsa live out her true nature and learn to control and transform her destructive powers, and he said, “Love and learning not to be afraid of herself.” So true, I thought, but not quite as easily done as portrayed by Disney.

Love does transform bad into good, but it doesn’t happen in an easy, sudden, painless way, like in the Disney version. Jesus showed us the way, and it’s the Way of the Cross. How do we get through speech therapy without grabbing the green pens Peter is obsessed with? How do we walk past a bottle of soda that Peter longs to pour down the sink as part of his dumping compulsion? How do we get up out of the chair to start gymnastics when the body feels completely stuck? How do we make it through passing period at school or through a crowded shopping mall when the senses feel so flooded that one arm is over his eyes, and the other is gripping my shoulders for dear life? We pray and offer it up. Each time Peter offers up the terrible anxiety of delaying a compulsion or the massive effort required to get his body to move and do what he needs to do, he dies another small death. But this is how he improves. This is how he has built up the self control needed to live a functional and productive life, integrated in the community. This is how he has built the perseverance and courage that mark his character. How he has built his reliance and faith in God. The Way of the Cross has truly given him life, and whatever freedom he has from the slavery of his terrible disabilities.

So we thank Jesus for his sacrifice. Without His tremendous example of loving self-sacrifice and trusting obedience to the Father, His eternal spring of grace, and empowering invitation to offer up our sacrifices in union with His on the Cross, where would we be? The Way of the Cross has been Peter’s strategy on the battlefield, the grace of the Lord his armor. And where would I be? I certainly would not have it in me to be his armor bearer and adviser. Where would I get the creative ideas to inspire him, to encourage when feeling discouraged, or be gracious when tired? Self pity is my default. It has been my great privilege to witness the power of the Holy Spirit instead. Thank God for our Lord who searches for us, lifts us out of the crevices and chasms we fall into, and carries us lovingly upon His strong shoulders.

So each morning upon awakening, Peter and I think of all the people we know who need our prayers, and offer up the struggles we are likely to encounter for them, and for “all the intentions of Thy Sacred Heart, in union with the celebration of Holy Mass throughout the world” (words from the Morning Offering). “May we too learn to turn all circumstances and events of our lives into occasions of loving you, and serving the Church, Roman Pontiff, and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the pathways of this earth with faith and love” (words from a prayer card to the saints). These prayers have given meaning to our suffering, and hope and purpose to our lives.

And joy. Because as members of the body of Christ, He invites us to unite our sufferings with His upon the Cross for the good of souls.[1] What’s more, we know that faith, trust, and love for Jesus despite adversity more profoundly comforts Him on the Cross than anything we could offer in the midst of our blessings. As Peter said, at the end of our conversation about Frozen, “I am absolutely certain that I want to be like the loving Jesus… thanks for reminding me, Mom.”

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, as we enter this season of Advent with joyful hope and glad faith.

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[1] 1 Peter 2:15, Romans 12:1, Col 1:24

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