Tag Archives: St. Faustina

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Polish Spring

‘See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.’ (SS 2:11, 12)

Amid abuse and cover-up, confusion from Pope Francis regarding homosexuality and Irish citizens overturning their abortion ban, the Spirit of Pentecost enveloped a hundred of us in Krakow Poland who gathered for our second Living Waters Training there.

We couldn’t stop singing, and the Spirit kept raining on us as we offered our brokenness to the Crucified in tears and joy. Surrounding our songs was a chorus of birds that worshipped day and night in huge trees that flanked us on every side.

Trainings are just that: arduous, messy, shame and glory, revelation amid hard reality. Why now after seven 16-hour-days am I refreshed? All I know is that I was buoyed, as if I caught a current of the Kingdom and knew intuitively how to navigate the waters. Extraordinary.

It is easy for an outsider to idealize this land of St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina. Traditional values are evident (Poland is not sympathetic to ‘reproductive rights’ and LGBT+ aspirations) and create a kind of moral clarity not evident in America or Western Europe. The Church here is cohesive, a national rallying point amid devastating historic batterings. To many Poles, Jesus through His Mother (Church) sustained the nation’s hope and dignity throughout centuries.

Yet good ethics and history can become prison bars unless the Spirit liberates wounded lives. The Poles may be clearer in their devotion to Christ than many Europeans today but they are no less broken by their bloody history, which gave rise to deep patterns of family disorder, including disordered church dynamics.

For these reasons, I take heart that many Poles are facing their wounds forthrightly with each other. I am in awe of men and women we have now walked with for three years who are different people today: joyful, not glum, with a new well-being in their gendered, bodily humanity. They no longer avoid others’ gaze. One young woman whom I first met in Lithuania couldn’t walk unassisted due to the oppression of her sin and wounds. During this training she bounded around the site, taught better than I did, and will return refreshed to her hometown to lead a Living Water group which is changing the culture of her church.

Most importantly, the nine Polish priests who attended the training taught and shared openly about their wounds and sins against chastity. They honored their office by making clear they live through the wounds of Jesus discovered in His broken merciful members. They released deep drafts of mercy for all of us. We exhausted them and each other in laying bare our need for ongoing conversion.

Wearied in doing well, we welcomed the Spirit’s refreshment. He is accomplishing in the Polish Church what we can only hope for. A Polish Spring, welling up with song in the Spirit of Pentecost: He will have His way with His Church.

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River Run

As I prepared to run the inaugural half-marathon in Kansas City for 2018, I reflected on the river of mercy Jesus released for us in Lithuania.

We drove half the night from Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania’s biggest city and source of the Divine Mercy devotion initiated by an uneducated nun in the 1930’s. God gave St. Faustina a vision of His mercy for the whole world, a world on the brink of WWII which would prove especially devastating to Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and the surrounding nations that fell under Soviet rule.

From their depths, inspired by this vision of Risen Jesus with a healing flood flowing from His heart, Eastern Europeans Christians were the first to cry out: ‘O blood and water which gush forth from the heart of the Savior as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You!’ (line from Divine Mercy prayer)

And so did Abbey and me as we awoke in Vilnius for the first of three days of equipping the saints there who lead Living Waters group in Lithuania. From my room I could view the Neris River flowing and I prayed that our efforts there would be like a river of mercy for these saints who, having suffered losses I cannot imagine, now entrust themselves wholly to Jesus.

Another marvel—that morning was Divine Mercy Sunday, the day set apart once a year by the Catholic Church to reflect upon and pray for God’s mercy to well up and envelope the whole world. One billion Christians cast themselves on God’s mercy that day: is it any wonder that the mercy levels rise in the Church like Ezekiel’s vision (EZ 47) of the river rising from the temple altar: first ankle deep, then waist high, then a current so high one must swim in the healing stream that makes everything live (v. 9)?

As we entered our meeting room, I viewed the Cross and the Divine Mercy picture and heard the chorus of worship songs featuring the merciful flood gushing from Christ Crucified and Raised: this is Living Waters! Abbey and I did little but expound upon the basic foundations of our healing groups; we then invited all who thirst in the Spirit of IS 55 to immerse themselves in the flood, to linger there and to receive deep drafts of the Father’s love. We invited everyone who knew that their disordered feelings were sourced in love’s frustration: bonds blocked by Soviet oppression and addiction and abuse that curdled normal longings for affection. God moved deeply; in His great mercy, He loved each one simply, deeply, specifically.

He kept raining His mercy upon us; the river rose higher that afternoon. As we worshipped and gathered before the Cross, Jesus freed us to name how we reject ourselves for having particular kinds of struggle. Shame is a relentless robber that tempts us to refuse the mercy that could be ours. We name sins and receive forgiveness but then fail to extend that mercy to our clean yet weakened selves. We all went deeper in the truth that God loves us profoundly in our still-being-healed state and wants us to welcome His river where we are most inclined to turn away in shame.

The evening was simpler still. How can we not refuse the temptation to despair when the waters are rising? Heaviness rests naturally upon many post-Soviet citizens but when Jesus soaks us in His Father’s love, displacing that spirit of alienation and self-hatred, we cannot help but well up like a fountain of mercy for others! Standing in the river, it was easy to break the power of death and disqualification and to arm ourselves in the weapons of hope: peace, love, joy and the holy purposes our Father entrusts to us as members of His healing army.

Back home, I mused upon that Divine Mercy Sunday in Vilnius and welled up with gratitude for my Lithuanian family, and their legacy of mercy that flows throughout the world. I forgot to fear the rough raced ahead and honestly, ran better than I had in two years. I felt myself to be caught up in the current of something greater than myself, and like Elijah ran furiously til the race’s end.

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Weekend in Warsaw

I usually hate to travel during this desert season but I could not resist the temptation to invite myself to the first assembly of 100 Living Waters members and leaders from four robust groups around Poland.

Under the strong leadership of Father Joseph and a national team of clergyman and lay persons, the Poles have taken up this work with an unprecedented focus and strategy. Joseph and tribe translated Living Waters, secured the theological blessing of the Polish bishops for the guidebook, mobilized male and female lay leaders to coordinate the groups, and enlisted Catholic priests—all admitted wounded healers— to work with them from the start. That means these healing groups will have the advocacy of the Church and Her sacramental worship.

Polish St. Faustina and St. John Paul ll must have smiled as I engaged with sinners of many kinds whom Jesus is transforming to take their places as part of His healing army. These sinner/saints embrace strugglers who often have given up on the Church until Jesus encounters them and urges them homeward.

My friend Jacek left the Church to pursue homosexuality and at the nadir of his sensational misery met Jesus in a ‘gay’ bar where Christ audibly asked him: ‘Do you want to belong to Me or not?’ He did, and began his re-engagement with Christ through the Living Waters community. After a history of sexual abuse, many male lovers, and a psychotic break, Karin could not overcome her depression until a friend invited her to the Living Waters pilot group in her city. She found the Man of her dreams who is freeing her from the darkness.

Part of my goal was to instruct all 100 to effectively share how Jesus through His community is satisfying their desires with good things. God confirmed our efforts at our Sunday Mass which featured St. John’s account of the Samaritan woman (JN 4). Jesus encountered one far from God and brought her near to Him through the water that cleanses and the blood that gives new life (‘living water’).

He did so by kindly revealing her false lovers. Jesus loved her thoroughly: exposing her poisoned well in order to satisfy her fully with Himself. Her response was to declare to all who would listen that this Man highlighted her shame in order to surpass it with His glorious love. So we departed Warsaw that weekend, refreshed in the mercy that empowers us to well up like a fountain for all who thirst.

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Living Hope

‘Jesus, You are everything to a lonely soul.’ St. Faustina

Mark was among the brightest of Living Waters’ young lights; he faced his same-sex attraction squarely and well with a similarly motivated group of men and women in Los Angeles. He left for China to fulfill God’s call on his life (he had studied Chinese and Asian culture at university). As he was learning Mandarin, Kim from Northern China was majoring in English. She came to the same metropolis in China where Mark had just found a job as an English teacher. They met without sparks at the first Living Waters group run in that city.

Much to my surprise, I reconnected with Mark there; my sister and husband were on job assignment in that city, attended the church sponsoring Living Waters and alerted me to the group starting. I just happened to be elsewhere in Asia and managed to combine a family visit with the launching of the group. Marvelous.

Mark poured himself out in the healing culture of Living Waters but lived and worked far from the sponsor church. In truth, the good news of Living Waters in the city dimmed as he faced what it meant to assimilate into a culture founded on words and habits not yet his own. He had few local friends and frustration with local churches wary of his presence. Lonely and feeling powerless, he descended into Jesus and wondered if He could be everything for him.

Blessed by Living Waters, Kim deepened intimacy with Jesus but remained uncertain about her relational future. She grew up in a household that dishonored women, a theme played out daily in her job with an organization that helped prostitutes get off the streets and into other work.

Mark and Kim met again at the going-away-party of the coordinator of the Living Waters program they had both attended two years earlier. They were different people, Mark humbled by hardship and alive to her beauty, Kim seeing him as the radiant man he is for the first time. They began dating and worshipping together; after two years of falling and rising in love, they discerned their readiness to fuse lives in Chinese, for a people for whom Christ gave all.

I recently reengaged with them a couple months after their wedding. The grace of marriage has enlivened them. Kim said that that she ‘had never imagined how good life could be; Mark honors me, and that gives me hope for all, especially the women I work with.’ Mark: ‘I wake up and feel full. My same-sex attraction has diminished as we go deeper in God together. Rather than fear not being enough for Kim, I have more to give.’ Jesus gives generously through marital love. Who He has joined, let no-one divide.

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Watch Your Step

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)

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