I ran along the river in old town Kaunas, Lithuania. As I considered the convergence of streams most dear to me, my heart overflowed and I ran with abandon. Surging in me were ‘currents’ of St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina, a European team of wounded healers who heal me, an American team par excellence, and a host of new friends from Poland who gathered to initiate Living Waters there.
Heaven on earth until my foot caught a crack in the path and I dove like a senseless animal into the then not-so-charming cobblestones. ‘Watch your step,’ intoned a still small voice.
I picked myself up, bleeding just a little, and took heed. We faced giants at our first Living Waters Training in Eastern Europe. Poland takes seriously its Catholicism—the authority of the Church, and that means defending the role of ordained priests in absolving sins. Living Waters takes seriously the role of the community in bearing one another’s sins so we can be healed. The priests and parishioners who gathered with us had serious questions about our approach; many also had serious divides in their souls that could only be healed by a band of fellow sinners who fought in merciful humility for their chastity.
I battled confusion and suspicion then rose to testify of both the priestly pillars of forgiveness (on which I depend) and the continuous links of being known daily with my fellow ‘lay priests’ on whom I rely to overcome sin. Jesus forged a way for all concerned to say ‘yes’ to Living Waters for the Polish church; most importantly, sinners were set free by the experience of both priestly absolution and the healing power of the ‘one another.’
I bounded out of our retreat center and somehow avoided stabbing my foot on a rusty spike protruding on the path. ‘I know, I know,’ I whispered heavenward: ‘Watch my step.’
The next fight was harder. In preparatory prayer, we discerned that we had to emphasize one plank of Living Waters—breaking the spirit of despair–in these lands trampled by the bloody boots of Russia and Germany then choked by Soviet rule. Our friends had grown up in the shadow of violent inhumanity. Christ Crucified is easy for Eastern Europeans; they must fight to live expectantly in the light of Love, risen and bursting with life.
The Word came in power and delivered many from the spirit of death. Then despair rolled over the team like a fog. We struggled under a stifling heaviness for a few hours. Then we gathered and confessed our affliction to one another; Jesus broke through with hope and joy. Relieved, I ran back to my room and fell promptly into a pothole. I received only a gentle ‘dusting’, no harm whatsoever, as if an unseen being padded my accident. I laughed, brushed myself off, and pledged once more to watch my step.
‘He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.’
(PS 91: 11-13)
‘Divine mercy is the power of God’s love to bring not only good out of evil but the greater good out of evil.’ Fr. Michael E. Gaitley
Several nations gathered in Lithuania last week to enter the ‘Living Waters’ together. Mercy alone transformed bitter cold and wounded hearts into a homecoming for us all. Evenly divided into three cultures, Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians became whole through Jesus’ one broken body. Mercy alone.
Complex tribes and tongues–no match for this foolish American. So God reduced me to mercy. He simply reminded me of my deepest wounds and most stubborn sins and how only ‘living water’ (blood, water, Spirit; essence of Christ Crucified and Raised) set me free. And is setting me free. Settings like this provoke old hurts and sins so I welcomed fresh mercy and gave it away freely. Simple: clever concepts gave way to the river of Almighty mercy.
My friend Abbey Foard sings like a stream of ‘living water’ so she taught us repeatedly the chorus from ‘Good, Good Father’: “You’re a good, good Father: ‘it’s who You are’ (3x), and I’m loved by You, ‘it’s who I am’ (3X).” Simple: He wants His mercy alone to define us. We need to sing the song until it’s our truth.
Then I shared my struggles. I confess the shock of hearing my sins reverberate in three different languages. So be it. I boast of affliction so that His greater grace may rest on me. And them. My wounds are slight in contrast to the historic betrayals of these three nations which endured Soviet rule, especially the Poles who were smashed on every side by German and Russian forces during WWll.
These influences do not end when a treaty is signed and the wall comes down. Cruelties reverberate today throughout fatherless families in myriad abuses and distortions of intimacy. Only mercy. Only the ‘Good, Good Father.’
God kept the flame of mercy and human dignity alive in these nations through His Church and in particular, two saints from Poland: St. Faustina who reminds us constantly of ‘Divine Mercy’ and St. John Paul ll who reminds us of what it means now to be a gendered gift, no matter how broken that gift may be. Mercy alone.
‘The knowledge of my own misery frees me to know the immensity of Your mercy.’ St. Faustina
St. John Paul ll said that we discover our true selves only by sincerely giving ourselves to others. We the fallen know also that we can offer ourselves badly; we grasp, we grope, we withhold. To bridge the gap between the original beauty of God’s purposes for our sexuality and the brokenness we behold today, we need divine mercy.
How blessed am I to have served the saints in both Lithuania and Poland, two lands which have ‘housed’ and honored St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina Kowalska, who 80 years ago received from the Spirit the image of Jesus releasing blood and water for us as the sign and seal of God’s all-surpassing mercy.
I was honored to join with Vilma and her group of amazing Living Waters leaders in Lithuania; we started our time there in Vilnius, home of the Chapel of Divine Mercy which houses the painting of the original image St. Faustina received from God. While we prayed, I ‘sensed’ that the water levels of God’s mercy were rising from the small chapel (in the spirit of Ezekiel 47) and beginning to flow onto the main street then throughout Lithuania.
My hunch proved correct as we gathered with remarkable ‘lay’ healers, bishops, and priests and asked Jesus to pour out His Spirit on the work of Living Waters there. I have not experienced that kind of ‘flow’ before; God strengthened me to prophesy continuously over restored ones who now offer their lives to heal the broken. Such humble beauty! Lithuania elevated my vision of the Church working in harmony to release her deep wells of mercy for afflicted ones.
The respect of St. John Paul ll resounds throughout Poland; how blessed I was to testify with the Living Waters teams there of the integration between the human body and Spirit that the pope emeritus describes beautifully in his ‘Theology of the Body.’ After I testified in Warsaw of how Jesus (through His merciful members) helped me to emerge from the disintegrating impact of homosexual lust, I discovered that St. Faustina’s niece was in the audience, rejoicing in God’s ‘living water’ for the sexually broken.
In Cracow I was honored to address a room full of priests-to-be at the seminary where St. John Paul taught (as Bishop Karl Wotyla). I had a strong sense that these men needed to be lovingly challenged to grow in their own sexual integration. They had great intellectual questions but I felt that unless they could articulate their own experience of God’s mercy as a key to chastity (a catholic word for sexual and relational wholeness), they would miss out on reaching a generation who insist on flesh-and-blood witnesses of the better way Jesus opens for us.
How privileged am I to walk in the footsteps of Jesus’ friends. I cannot recall a more demanding itinerary and the mercy that enabled me to trust Jesus every step of the way. He gives us back our beauty as we surrender to His mercy.