Stalked By A Saint

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I noticed her eyes immediately. They seemed to be following me. I was in a meeting, explaining something when mid-sentence—Zap! Poof… everything I was saying magically evaporated.

Awkward silence. “I’m sorry. I just had a senior moment,” I heard myself saying to excuse my inexplicable, abrupt absent-mindedness. She responded with mild laughter, but I just swallowed and tried to reorient myself.

The Parish staffer with whom I was meeting had a smattering of photos on her wall, some I recognized as famous 20th-century saints, others not at all. But there was one black and white headshot of a young woman that seemed to be imploring me to look back. As I gained my composure, I found myself continually drawn to those familiar, heavily-lidded eyes. Each time we experienced a lull in the conversation, my gaze landed on that photo. While I had undoubtedly never seen the young woman before this moment, I was strangely convinced I knew her.

“Yoo-hoo,” she seemed to be calling from her static, serious photograph. “Don’t you know me?” Then it struck me. She looked like me, not just a little, but a WHOLE LOT. It was something in her deep-set, Mediterranean eyes. They were the same ones that greeted me in the mirror every morning. If she wasn’t my exact twin, she was definitely recognizable as a close relative. I remember having that same uncanny feeling when I was introduced to a young man my aunt had given up for adoption. The two had joyfully been reunited and I was invited to meet this long-lost cousin. Upon seeing him for the first time ever, it was as if he had always existed in my memory. How could that be? My aunt’s whole adoption story had caught me by complete surprise. But I remember thinking, “Of course you’re my aunt’s son. Who else could you be with those familiar features?” Though I’d never laid eyes on him and intellectually did not know a thing about him, my heart had known him my whole life.

This is exactly how I felt about the woman in the photo! You’d think I would have asked who the mysterious woman in the picture was. She was hanging on my friend’s wall for goodness sake. Funnily enough, it seemed too much of a sacred moment to speak aloud. I didn’t want to make light of the strong connection I felt. If I admitted that I thought she looked like me, I didn’t want my companion to respond, “Huh? You think?” That would have diminished our undeniable bond. I wouldn’t allow anyone else to undermine that. I needed to process this strange turn of events before sharing.

When I left the meeting, all I could think was, “That was SO weird!” As is often the case though, the incident got shelved in the back of my brain as the day-to-day busyness took over. It wasn’t until several days later that her eyes popped back into my imagination. Who was she? While she was fresh in my mind, I did a Google image search on famous 20th-century female saints. Her somber photo, sandwiched between pictures of other famous holy women and nuns, immediately jumped off my computer screen and grabbed hold of me. She stood out, not merely because I felt a real magnetism to her, but unlike the other saints, she wore no habit or veil. And the photographer had captured a look in which the young subject seems to be disarmingly staring into the depths of every viewer’s soul. Her name is St. Gemma Galgani. I read a brief synopsis of her life in which I learned she was Italian. That would explain the almond-shaped, deep-set Mediterranean eyes we share. Nothing about her story seemed to particularly resonate with me, but those facial characteristics appeared so similar to my own. Or so I thought.

I showed my husband the photo. “Who does this look like?” I tried to ask as dispassionately as possible. “Hmmm… Dunno.” I turned the screen towards my oldest son. Ok, here goes… “Who does she look like?” A beat. “It’s YOU!” he exclaimed excitedly. I beamed back at him. “I know! It’s wild!” I proceeded to tell my family the whole story. We all agreed it was very intriguing.

That would have been interesting enough, if after that, St. Gemma remained quietly filed away in the annals of my memory. But she didn’t. From the moment I learned who she was, she began turning up in numerous emails, books, and articles I came across over the next several weeks. It’s the same phenomenon that occurs when you are introduced to someone and then suddenly you begin to see them everywhere, the grocery store, the gas station, in traffic! St. Gemma was ridiculously everywhere. I relayed some of the story to a dear Catholic friend and eventually texted her, “St. Gemma is officially stalking me.” “That just gave me the chills,” she responded.

I’ve heard people say and have probably uttered these words myself, “If you’re a believer, there are no coincidences.” This was all too bizarre to be a mere coincidence. I began to truly consider that St. Gemma was reaching out to me from Heaven. She was letting me know she was with me and praying for me. Over the years, people have shared their affinity for a particular saint with me. And there are triumphant saint stories that have touched me and offered great inspiration and comfort over the journey of my life. But other than the Blessed Mother, no saint has ever felt so tangibly connected to me. During each mass, we recite the Nicene Creed which acknowledges “the communion of saints.” Catholic author, Paul Thigpen describes what that means.

The perfected saints, having a share in God’s own nature, have a share in His perfect love. They love those of us still on earth as God loves us. They want to help us; they want to see us reach heaven as well. So they have the desire to assist us in any way they can.

The perfected saints also have a share in God’s perfect knowledge. They are able, through His grace, to know what’s taking place on earth. God allows them to see and hear what He sees and hears, so they can hear the requests we may make of them.

The perfected saints have a share in God’s perfect, supernatural power. They are able, through His grace, to act on our behalf, to intervene in earthly affairs, just as He does. They don’t just pray for us; they can act on our behalf in other ways as well.

Scripture tells us, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (Jas 5:16). If that’s true of righteous people still on earth, think how powerful and effective is the prayer of the saints in heaven, who have been perfected in righteousness!

You can read the full explanation of the communion of saints here.

Before sitting down to tap out this blog post about my new bestie, St. Gemma Galgani, I randomly went to a site I check every six months or so. When I plugged in the internet address, the essay that sprang up was, “Learning to Love Jesus With St. Gemma Galgani.” I’d like to say I’m no longer surprised by these “coincidences,” but I am. I’m amazed, in fact.

But why is it so hard to believe that the powerful love of our Savior is able to stretch across all boundaries separating Heaven and Earth? That one of God’s own children would be looking out for another, the same way my 4-year-old used to instinctively watch his 2-year-old brother if he wandered too far from the grocery cart? I feel so grateful St. Gemma has sought me out. I will continue to lean on her and consider her beautiful example of holiness and hopefully, my saintly doppelganger will provide a continual signpost to my eventual communion with God. Even though we have a special friendship, she’s stalking me after all, I’m willing to share her with the rest of you! St. Gemma Galgani, pray for us!

If you’d like to learn more about St. Gemma Galgani, I highly recommend the article I mentioned above.

Below is a fun photo experiment of myself over St. Gemma’s photo. What do you think? Remember, I have a good 25 years on her in this photo.

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Weeping on Easter

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Photo by: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Without fail, the tears start welling up at almost the exact same time. It’s always Easter Mass. I could set my watch to it, but I’d never dare because the annoying alarm would draw even more attention at a time I’d prefer to simply disappear. Like it or not, there’s no stemming the tide of my mounting emotions. I bow my head and clench my eyes shut hoping no one around me notices. Usually, I get by without drawing too much attention to my red nose and watery eyes. But occasionally my reaction is so intense, a series of muffled involuntary sniffles gives me away. The kids or my husband will look at me with startled questioning eyes. My children especially probe my face with their intense, troubled looks. To lessen their worry, I flash a huge toothy smile and roll my eyes to let them know I’m fine—not only fine, I’m overcome with sheer joy. These are tears of complete happiness.

Continue reading “Weeping on Easter”

Punch Him. Kick Him. Crucify Him!

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Every year with the arrival of Holy Week, I endeavor to place myself in the unfolding drama of our Lord’s incomprehensible and arduous path to Calvary. It is an extremely fruitful and therefore established devotion of prayer in preparation for the Holiest day of the year. And no doubt, the Church in Her wisdom understands our need to unite in Christ’s suffering especially at this solemn time leading up to Jesus’ resurrection. So, during Lent we pray the stations of the cross, we meditate on the most sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, and during the Holy Mass on Palm Sunday, we even play a role in the gospel’s Passion, interjecting vitriolic phrases like, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him!” Were more cringe-worthy words ever uttered? As a child, I remember only whispering those lines because they were just too ugly to say with gusto. As much as I hate reciting them to this day, I now understand the importance of trying to be present with Christ and feel the onus of my own sinfulness. Like it or not, we actually play a part of that fateful scene 2000 years ago. Continue reading “Punch Him. Kick Him. Crucify Him!”

Just Say “NO”

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Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “Every time we give in to selfishness and say “no” to God we spoil His loving plan for us.” Wise words indeed. But when we say “no” to someone in our community does that necessarily mean we are also saying “no” to God? This is a conundrum I think many earnest Christians grapple with, myself included. We try to banish the word “no” from our vocabulary. Or if we do say no, (SHOCKING!) we are racked with guilt. Is this healthy Christian thinking? And exactly how often are we required to say yes? Are there times when it is perfectly OK to say no? What’s at the source of this prejudice against no? Scripture has something to say about the concept of avoiding selfishness. Jesus has set the bar a teensy bit high.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.                                       —Philippians 2, 5-8

Then, He ratchets it up. 

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.                                     —John 15, 12-13

It’s right there in black and white. He expects us to lay down our lives for our friends. With those seemingly incriminating scripture passages in mind, the panic sets in. As the thinking goes, if the Almighty wants us to be willing to martyr ourselves, what would He think of us saying “no” to helping out with some random Church ministry? It’s hard to even equate dying for someone, with contributing to the cleanup crew for a Lenten fish fry. Yet, this is the reality of the daily grind and if you’re human, which my husband regularly confirms I am, you have to say no occasionally, right? Before further investigation into the Land of NO, let’s consider its inverse territory, YES-ville. Continue reading “Just Say “NO””

Of Germs and Laughter

 

If you’re a parent or just your average germ-obsessed adult, there are certain times throughout the year, like right now, when you think a lot about the spread of sickness. Maybe you wash your hands more frequently or avoid certain high-traffic areas because you’re convinced everyone is transmitting contagions. I classify myself as a mom who also happens to be mildly germ-obsessed, which is not an easy cross to bear, especially when your kids could care less. No parenting book ever written could prepare you for the things that you hear yourself saying.

“Put that filthy toilet plunger down now! Sheesh! This is a DISGUSTING public restroom.”

“Did you just pick up and handle a USED tissue off the floor of Walgreen’s?! We’re in the pharmacy, for mercy’s sake!”

My OCD panic has little-to-no effect on my kids. Yet, I continually react, knowing the real threat of catching a ferocious flu.

“Where’d you get that dirty plastic whistle?”

“It’s a treasure I found on a pile of dirt on the playground!” TWEEE!!!

And the next thing you know, I’m up all night with sick kids as an illness works its way through our whole family over the course of a VERY LONG month. (Read a previous blog post about our tango with the flu this year.)

Continue reading “Of Germs and Laughter”

Look to the Light

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There’s a time in the late afternoon when the spectacular Denver sun streams through the windows of my kitchen, casting an illuminating beam across the expanse of floors and countertops. The light hits at such a precise angle as to expose a blanket of crumbs lurking near the toaster, the layers of dust hidden in a corner under a cabinet and the otherwise invisible stains near the base of our wastebasket. It’s as if nature’s very own high-powered S.W.A.T. searchlight pours into the shadows, revealing the hidden, dirty underbelly of the kitchen. Once in a while, I delight in the chance to wipe out a smattering of crumbs or rub out the trail of sticky spots on my laminate floor.

Continue reading “Look to the Light”

Predicting the Future

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I often get antsy and impatient thinking about my future or my family’s future. When I have a really sick kid, when I go for a mammogram, when I’ve hit a rough patch with a friend or a family member, I desperately want to know what’s on the horizon. Maybe as the youngest of three children, I was ingrained with a deep suspicion that I was being left out of the plans, and woefully in the dark. I recall being the only one excluded from a shared “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” moment after I realized Santa always used a fireplace and yet, “Hey, wait a second! We don’t even HAVE a fireplace…”

“In those cases, he uses a magic key,” my mom assured. I remember the weird smiles plastered on everyone else’s faces. My instincts screamed there was a lot more to this story, but I just couldn’t grasp it. It drove me nuts! As an adult, I still have a strong desire to know how things are going to play out. And I’m just as frustrated when I don’t. What will things look like in 10 years? Where will I be? I find myself even getting impatient with God. I consider how nice it would be to be able to look into a crystal ball to have every answer laid out in front of me, just to get a quick glimpse of what to expect, what to not stress about, and what treacherous pitfalls to be prepared for. Continue reading “Predicting the Future”