Many decades ago, I was going through some difficult times, and no matter what I did, I felt empty and aimless. I was angry and super-selfish and felt isolated and lonely, yet I could not identify how the latter was a consequence of the former. I was indeed isolated and lonely among many people because I lived mainly in my own head, and because of that, I could not empathize and connect with others correctly. I could not feel love as it was meant to.
I always had the gift of disposition toward helping others, but it was, for me, an extension of my own thoughts and needs, as opposed to a conscious show of love and compassion. I did not understand how much my innate love for God and people had been corrupted by anger and selfishness until I found, during self-examination, that I did not care for anything other than myself. And at the time, even this caring for self was up for debate. Where had my love gone? Where was my gratitude? Why didn’t I care? To live unable to feel love for others is a sad and unfulfilling life. Like muscles that have not been used in a long time, my love and appreciation had atrophied over the years, and I had not even noticed until I had a real need for them. I needed to remember what I already knew but had forgotten.
There and then, I made my decision. I prayed to God for the first time in a while and promised to learn again to be loving, kind, grateful, and faithful. I was convicted to become a better person, but I told Him unequivocally that I would need His guidance, for I did not know the way...
I will not lie and say that this miraculously happened overnight or that my life changed immediately. No, too much self-damage had been done over too long a time, and this was no “Road to Damascus” miracle like it was for Saint Paul. Sadly, those miraculous shortcuts were not made available to me.
The road to faith and kindness is as full of frustration and failure as it is full of fulfillment and success, and for us believers, it has to be transited, one day at a time. We must remember that the road is difficult but not impossible. The Father will provide what is needed, and the Holy Spirit is within us, so let us lean on the One who loves us.
To become the people of God that Christ calls us to be means we are sent to walk on the road of life daily. We need to experience the many little wins and losses, learn from every interaction, and share all of those with Christ. Every success and every failure is a pleasing offering to our Lord.
Eventually, with every affirmation of our goal, with every decision we make to be faithful and kind, our hearts are reforged, our faith enkindled, and our love mended. Patience, Kindness, Goodness, and Joy come forth as fruit of the Spirit and take hold of us. I am no saint; that is clear to me, but I want to grow to be one, and every affirmation of faith, love, and kindness gets us a little closer. It sometimes costs us some to be loving and kind, but Jesus also paid a price to love and save us. Would it not be fair then to, in gratitude, do as He did for us?
I pray daily that my life may emulate Christ’s, even if only a little bit. I pray that I may grow in kindness, love, charity, hope, and faith and go out into the world to do God’s will. After my day is over and I go to bed at night, I often think about my day, the many wins and losses, and the opportunities I had to grow closer to the goal of faithfulness, kindness, and goodness. I offer a prayer of thanks to God for the opportunities given and think of what I did with those opportunities. There is growth to be had that can help us advance on the goal of Heaven.
We look back at our actions, but only to see what we can do better and whether there is any insight to be had. We must remember to be kind and gentle to ourselves. How can we grow to be gentle and kind to others if we do not afford ourselves the same? We are all a work in progress on our journey home.
The road to faithfulness and kindness is long and arduous, but it starts like any journey… with the first conscious step. Let us consciously invite Christ to walk with us. May we all be blessed with a fruitful road to Heaven.
Let us pray: Lord, you know our lives, thoughts, and feelings. Please, let us see You as You walk with us in friendship toward the goal of eternal life with You. May we grow daily to be more faithful, kind, loving, patient, and joyful so that our brothers can see You in the way we live our lives. Amen.
The beginning of November is the time of the year when I truly take the time to think about the ones who have left us, many who loved us, and many whom we have loved. And thinking of this love, during All Saints and All Souls, I spend time in remembrance of my dear grandmothers Rafaela and Basi.
Grandma Rafaela was the first person besides my parents that I remember loving consciously. My love for her mirrored how she loved me. She was a real present for me, the same way she told me I was a present for her. She used to say to me I was a gift given to her by God… Can you imagine someone telling you this and meaning it? Growing up, she lived close to me, and I spent much time with her. As much as I am physically, mentally, and spiritually the son of my parents, I believe that Grandma Rafaela gave so much of herself to me that a big part of her heart melded in mine. Her heart lives in my heart.
When Rafaela passed from this world, my heart ached badly, but I was consoled by the signs we all saw and felt, as if she was being escorted from this world by the very hand of Our Blessed Mother Mary. And it is amazing to me how that memory settles down my aching heart. Our Hope is indeed present and alive. We are here now, but we are built for the eternal.
My relationship with Grandma Basi was different. She lived in New York and was far from me during my childhood years. Most of the time, we spoke over the phone, and only for a minute or two. It was not until adulthood that I established a real one-on-one relationship with her, but I remember her beautifully clear eyes lighting up in joy whenever she saw me. Love poured out of her for me, and she could not help but raise her hand to touch my face. I remember those blessed moments we spent time together with deep gratitude.
Grandma Basi was strong, a force of nature. There was never any indecision in her that I ever saw, and her strength of conviction reminded me of the stubbornness of a mountain, unmovable. We would go when she decided, walk when she decided, and eat when she decided, and always with great conviction. I would be visiting her, and she would “suggest strongly” to call my father so we could spend time together on the phone. She loved to have us speak and interact together, for I think she saw in us an extension of herself moving around in the world, and I loved her for that.
As strong as Basi was, we know that time is undefeated, even if it plays the long game with the strong. I saw my dear Grandma Basi descend into weakness and eventually illness and suffering, yet she endured all the way to age 97. I got to witness a bit of this process, and I can say that her courage and spirit were inspiring. The simpleness of her needs in her late life reminded me that most things do not matter as much as we think. I learned from her that as we descend into the time of our call home, we are left with memories of what we have done right and wrong and the longing to love more and be loved more. We long for connection.
The first time Grandma Basi’s heart stopped, she was brought back from death and resuscitated in the hospital. And I remember all the joy the family had, that she was brought back to us, yet Grandma Basi was beside herself with sadness. “I was sent back. Why would He send me back?” I remember telling her she was sent back, not because she was not ready for the next step, but because WE were not prepared for her to go yet. And Grandma Basi got to live among us for a few more years.
Most of the family got to spend more time with her and were able to say our thanks, make our amends, and share in the simplicity of her life. I know I learned much from that blessed time together. When she finally passed on from this earthly place, I felt we were all in a better place. We were all sad, but we knew it was the right time. We believed and trusted, in our Faith and Hope, that she would be embraced differently this time, for her mission among us was done. She passed in peace.
While writing this, I cried a few tears. Such is love that it longs for the ones gone before us, but what was next for them?
From what I know of these two beautiful souls, I would like to think they are both saints in Heaven because they were good and saintly in many ways. But how can I say that with certainty? Even though there were many signs around the times they left this world, I cannot, for a fact, say that they are both indeed in Heaven. I feel strongly in my heart that they are right now looking at the light of God’s face, but the reality of it is that we just do not know.
If we assume that whoever is close to us, who has been loving, kind, and good, is also perfectly faithful and without fault, then maybe we are doing a bit of a disservice to them. It is entirely possible, and very likely, that the ones who have gone, the ones we loved, the ones who loved us, are in dire need of our prayers.
For those considered Saints by the Church, we pray for their support for us, but for those souls still imperfect, we are indeed called to pray for them as intercessors.
If we consider our loved ones who have gone as saints, we may end up not praying for them. I must remind myself every so often of that. As I look up to Heaven, thinking of the ones that have left, the ones that loved me, the ones I loved, I need to pray to God for their souls that they may eventually be with Him, looking at the light of His face in Heaven.
I do hope that we can faithfully pray for all the people who have left us. They have gone before us. May they eventually pray for us as we have prayed for them and cheer for us on our path to Heaven.
Let us pray: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.” (Prayer for the Faithful Departed)
When I am out in the world, many people see me wearing my Crucifix pendant and feel compelled to speak with me. While some do comment on how beautiful the Crucifix is and share their own experiences of Christ, some do ask me why am I a Christian in this day and age, especially a Catholic. We then proceed to have a conversation on the whys and the why-nots.
I speak on how Christ permeates my life and how I hope that He positively touches people in the world through me. I explain that my Crucifix pendant is a self-reminder that Christ is who I aspire to emulate. I say, "If I do well, then glory be to God, but if I do not, then call me on it so that I may reconsider and repent." The Crucifix sets up an expectation, one that I try to live by.
Those statements are usually received well, but invariably, I hear their complaints about the faithful, that too many of us judge and dismiss too many people. I am told that too many of us do not practice what Christ taught us, that we do not love as much as we should, trust as much as we should, or hope as much as we should.
Mahatma Gandhi once famously said: "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Poignant, and I do not disagree.
It takes a concerted effort to become as Christ. It takes much love, faith, and hope. It takes recognition of Christ. It takes encounter and relationship with Him. We do not just become Christ-like instantly; we grow into it consciously. We hope to grow enough to emulate Christ perfectly, but we must know that this is hard to do.
We know that to love as Christ did is not necessarily easier for us who think about our lives in Christ often, yet it is true that we can grow more aware of the challenge that is to love as He did. We do not have a cheat sheet that allows us to access the easy mode of the Christian life, yet it is true that we can grow more aware of what needs doing and, to a certain degree, how to go about it. Jesus showed great humility and selflessness during His interactions with people, and that tells us that great humility is needed, and that we must learn to let go of our selfish selves and grow closer to the selflessness of Christ.
We are called to more than just being; our love is not to remain static but is meant to grow, and what that means is an individual call to each of us. Each person, every single one of us, has had their own unique life experience. We must look at each person individually and see their lives, their hurts, their shortcomings, their strengths, and their dignity. We must grow to see them as Christ sees them.
Just like Christ, we are called to compassion and empathy. We might never understand the fullness of those we meet, for we are not omniscient, but that just means that we have to work harder towards the active use of our understanding, our compassion, our empathy, and our love. This is so we may see each other through the eyes of Christ, the same as He looks at us.
Christians believe Jesus died for us. He gave up His most perfect self for us, for good people and not-so-good people, for saints and sinners, for the joyful and the suffering, for the healthy and the sick, for the people at the edges of society and the ones embraced, for the shunned and the accepted...
If this is true, and I believe it is, then Christ intended for us to learn to love one another in this same way. He gave us hope, that we may share it with others and hold on tight even when our lives are not going great. To support us along the journey, He left himself behind in the Eucharist.
Catholics believe Christ gives himself to us yet again in the Eucharist as a sustaining gift of communion so that our love, faith, and hope are strengthened. All that so we can go out to the world and love as He loves. Yes, we must be prepared to give a reason for our hope, but more importantly, we must be willing to work to show His love.
Let us consciously put this into practice.
Let us pray: Lord, help turn our hearts into Your heart. Help us to love as You love, that armed with the confidence and trust that comes from our knowledge of You, we may bring about Your love, peace, hope, and understanding. That You be glorified in what we do in Your name. Amen.