Friday, March 25, 2011

Too Many Flowers?

The people on the islands of the Philippines are predominately Catholic. They are warm and welcoming. Their hospitality is outstanding! They are simple and humble, very willing and eager to help with hearts of true servants. The people of Camiguin Island, in particular, are ingenious and industrious, making good use of the natural resources surrounding them.The homes and even the inside of some of the churches are made primarily of bamboo. The beauty of the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, our new parish, surpasses that of the greatest cathedral that I have seen. The beauty is in it's simplicity. It tells of the love and pride of those whose handiwork it displays.The altar and the pulpit are both made of tree trunks. The light fixtures are held in place by large tree roots. More beautiful still are the voices raised in song. In their native tongue of Visayan, the crowd rings out loud and clear its praise to the Most High.
Tree Root Light Fixtures
      Since most of the population of Camiguin is already Catholic, why did God call us to this beautiful place where our own faith has already been challenged by the simplicity of the people? Father Joe Villamil, our parish priest here, believes that God sent him a family of missionaries at just the appropriate time. He has most recently been preaching about the domestic church and the importance of the family in society. During these very days, the Philippines government is trying to pass the “Reproductive Bill,” which would limit the number of children to only two per family! The government has long been encouraging its citizens to be “responsible” and back up their natural family planning methods with artificial ones for the sake of population control. While it seems it would be more effective to try to do something about the number of unwed couples having children instead of married ones (who are ordained by the very sacrament of marriage to “be fruitful and multiply”), many otherwise practicing Catholics have fallen prey to this lie and fewer and fewer married couples are having large families, so much so that our family with six children is a rarity on the streets. We are the subject of frequent stares and questions such as, “No contraceptives, mam?” and (my favorite so far) a young man to Odilio, “Are these all your children, sir? And this is your wife? How sweet!”
Because of this, Father Joe is calling our mission one of presence. He believes that the presence of a large family from the other side of the world will be an encouragement to our Catholic brothers and sisters here in the Philippines. He is also hoping we can provide an example of a holy family life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls children “the supreme gift of marriage.” (2378) It also states, “Sacred Scripture and the Church's traditional practice see in large families a sign of God's blessing and the parents' generosity.”(2373) While the world would scream that it is overpopulated, we can prove the truth of the One Who created it and commanded us to fill it by embracing new life with joy and a living faith in Him Who invites us to cast all our anxieties on Him, for he cares about us. (1Pet 5:7)
Many times God calls us to do things that don't make sense to our human minds in order to test our faith in His ability to do the impossible. From Hebrews 11:6 we see that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” It then goes on to tell of many holy men and women of old who found favor with God by trusting in Him against great odds. One such man was Abraham, of whom the Scriptures say, “By faith he received the power to generate, even though he was past the normal age—and Sarah herself was sterile—for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” (Hebrews 11:11) God is still trustworthy and will not fail to bless us beyond our imaginations if we but put our lives in His hands. Often Catholic couples can think of many rational reasons for not wanting to conceive another child. They would contest that God has given us minds and expects us to use them. He does expect us to use our minds— to surrender control to Him and to not worry, which are often the most difficult things we can do with our minds. When we do, we are sure to be rewarded.
Nothing is too big for God to handle. When I conceived our third child, my husband was laid-off from work. While we had no fears and were excited about a new addition to our family, God knew best and the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Not too long after, we conceived again. This time my husband was employed, but his job location changed three times before the baby was born, and at the time of the birth we had no health insurance. Even still, I had the most wonderful birthing experience I have ever had. The baby – a boy, our first son - was born at home, delivered right into the loving arms of his dad, who was coached by an experienced midwife who agreed to receive full payment for her services a week later when we just happened to be expecting our tax return.
It is not always the state of living conditions that matters to God when He grants the blessing of a child, but the state of love into which the child will be received. He proved this when He allowed His very own Son to be born in a poor stable to a young girl who had many rational reasons for saying no to life. Baby Jesus was the first missionary of God's love, attracting to His humble crib people from near and far. Children are still the best missionaries! When the idea of living as missionaries first occurred to us, we Googled, “can Catholic families with children be missionaries” because we had never heard of such a thing.Now we can plainly see that Catholic families with children be missionaries. Let us not deny the world the chance to witness the extraordinary Providence of God's Love, a Love that always has room for more!

“Saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers.” --Mother Teresa
Sea Wall Rosary Group

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Woman of God

     Apparently the month of March is International Woman's Month. On Monday, March 21, a group of women from the Department of Labor in Cagayan de Oro came to Camiguin Island for a sort of retreat. They asked Fr. Joe to say some words about women. Fr. Joe instead assigned the job of giving a talk to them about Christian women. I was both excited and nervous, excited because this is a topic close to my heart and nervous because it was to be my first teaching in front of a crowd. As I began to prepare the words, I realized how very short I myself fall of these ideals. I recently heard a sermon in which were quoted these words, “It is a noble thing to be virtuous, and an even nobler one to teach others to be virtuous—and easier.”
     In theory, to be a woman of God is beautiful, but in reality not always so easy. I can only keep crying out, “Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”
     In the beginning, God created human beings, male and female, each to reflect His Own image and to share in His Own life. The Catechism teaches that Adam and Eve were made in an original state of holiness and justice. However, through Original sin that perfect holiness and image of God was distorted and each are now subject to temptations contrary to this holiness. We now live in a world that stresses the importance of a woman's physical appearance, and there are many pressures for women to look beautiful on the outside.
Women often go to great lengths to accomplish this. However, as daughters of God, we are called to something much more. “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” And again in First Timothy, “Women should adorn themselves with proper conduct, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hairstyles and gold ornaments, or pearls, or expensive clothes, but, rather, as befits women who profess reverence for God, with good deeds.”It goes on to say a few verses later, “But
she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”These Scriptures teach us that to please God as women we must first be modest, which entails not attracting attention to oneself unnecessarily, either in the way we dress or the way we behave. We must wear clothes that adequately cover the body, so as not to cause others to sin. Clothing styles have become less and less modest. Shirts are often too low-cut and skirts too short; jeans and other pants, as well as some tops, are often too tight. As godly women, we must fight the temptation to buy into these inappropriate fashions.
     Secondly, we must never stop doing good deeds of charity, seeking out or not turning away those whom we could help in any way—not looking out only for ourselves and our own desires and interests,
but of those around us as well. Often this means our own family members—our husbands and children first of all, and then our neighbors. Next, God calls us to keep practicing our faith, which means growing ever closer to Him through prayer and the sacraments, as well as following closely the teachings of our Catholic
Church. We must also persevere in love and holiness—never giving up striving to be saints by following God's law of love, which, by virtue, is patient, kind, not jealous, not prideful, not angry but forgiving. (1 Corinthians 13) Lastly, if we are married, we must say “yes” to life by not practicing artificial birth control. The Scriptures teach that women can be saved through motherhood, which is a wonderful vocation to practice sacrificing your life and your body for another human being, which Jesus tells us is the greatest kind of love, “To lay down your life for your friends.” In all these things, we must take our Mother Mary for our Model, as she is the true and perfect image of womanhood as God planned in the beginning. She is modest and humble, never attracting attention to herself, but to her Son, as she herself says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”(Luke 1:46) Other people should be able to see God in us. She also practiced good deeds of charity towards her neighbors, such as when she visited her cousin Elizabeth to help her in her pregnancy, and when she asked Jesus to help the bride and groom who had run out of wine at the wedding feast at Cana. She exercised
perfect faith in God by believing at every moment of her life that He was in control and could do the impossible.
     And, lastly, she was and is a mother, who, through her “yes” to life, gave the world the greatest Man Who is our Redeemer and our God, the One Who gave His life so that what was lost in the beginning through Original Sin might be restored-- so that we could again be holy as God is holy and share in His Divine Life. Let His work on the Cross not be in vain! Let us pray together to Mary for help to be the kind of women God made us to be. Hail Mary, full of grace....