Connecting the Dots
Every so often someone will ask me, "Does God really exist?" I know the answer is yes, but how does one open the heart of another so they can see and feel the presence of God? How can I better articulate the "God-incidences" that continue to happen in my life that reaffirms this belief?
I must admit, that in the hectic activities of daily life, sometimes the existence of God is not in the forefront of my daily conscious thoughts. But then something happens that makes me realize that our Lord and Our Lady do exist and love my family and I very much, and that they are constantly protecting and watching over me.
I think events happen in our life at different times and places that are intertwined and related, and all we have to do is "connect the dots." Sometimes we have to stand back from the thick of things and reflect on the marvelous events that happen in our lives, and then all the connections and interrelationships make sense.
I want to share with you some events and comments regarding Our Blessed Mother, the Congregation of Marians, my life, and pro-life issues. I think all of us have a story to tell and a witness to give, but many of us are unable to see the marvelous deeds going on around us because we are so caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
I was born in a small farming town in northwestern Ohio, and our church was called The Immaculate Conception. There was an Hispanic presence in the community, and I grew up with a love for Our Blessed Mother as the Immaculate Conception, as well as Our Lady of Guadalupe. However, I never really made the connection of Our Lady as Patroness of the Unborn and the pro-life movement, or the gift of life, until years later.
Fifteen years ago, I visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and had a spiritual conversion experience. It led to an ongoing process of healing and spiritual growth. I began to understand the mercy of God and wanted to learn all I could about the message of Divine Mercy as revealed to St. Maria Faustina. In her Diary, I found that she suffered the Passion on three occasions, in reparation for all the infants dying as a result of abortion.
Yet, it was the near-drowning of our son, John Paul, 10 years ago in 1996, that opened my eyes, and enabled me to realize the fragility and gift of life. Two years later, the ministry, Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, officially became an apostolate of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. As part of our overseas assistance to the poor, we have helped ship millions of Miraculous Medals to Catholics worldwide. In 1999, in what I thought was "icing on the cake" and our last child, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of Elizabeth Rose.
She was born on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception!
And four years later in 2003, on the Feast of the Incarnation of Our Lord, the late Holy Father Pope John Paul II, by his personal signature, imparted a special Apostolic Blessing to all Eucharistic Apostles and faithful worldwide who pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for pro-life causes. That blessing happened almost miraculously, and its significance became clearer only recently.
It took another couple of dots for me to see the "big picture." The first was seven months ago when my nearly 50-year-old wife told me that she was pregnant. "Are you kidding?" was my first thought. All the anxieties of being a 52-year-old father of a newborn, the possibility of having a challenged child, the fear of a difficult and dangerous pregnancy for my wife, and all of the anxiety and fears of raising another child, especially during the teenage years, began to enter my mind.
But I found that the only antidote to soothe my soul was to turn it over to God and say, "Jesus, I Trust in You." Baby Clare Therese was born on Dec. 22. She is a healthy, beautiful baby girl — and a gift from God!
She is certainly not a bother, nuisance, or inconvenience. However, what if she had been deformed or challenged in other ways? Could I love her less? God has a much bigger plan than any of us realize. The birth of Clare and God's plan is a book waiting to be written, and I am thankful that I will see at least part of that book completed.
Now that Clare is all of two weeks old, the realization that she doesn't sleep at night, needs frequent diaper changes, and all that goes with a newborn, is starting to sink in. Not to mention, the reality of the extra financial costs, the worries that go with parenting a teenager, and all the sacrifices that are still there waiting to be played out; it is up to me as to how I will handle them. Hopefully, I will not face the days ahead with anger, frustration, and resentment, and will let trust in Jesus be the hallmark of living the message in my life.
By the way, regarding the sanctity of life, six months ago, another "connect the dots" event happened. We moved my elderly parents from a nursing home in Ohio to Florida. My dad is 91 years old and failing, and mom is 88 and has Alzheimer's disease. Both need and deserve tender loving care, and I try my best to visit frequently and assist as I can. And when I give my father his bath, I am reminded that my parents bathed me as a baby, and that now it is my turn to care for them.
These small works of mercy carry great merit if done out of love for God; but they come at a sacrifice, and it is not easy juggling the business, ministry, a large family, the newborn, and my parents and their issues. It is difficult, but I have had many memorable experiences with them that I will never forget.
Another "dot" was the recent approved miracle, needed for beatification of the Founder of the Marians, the Venerable Servant of God Fr. Stanislaus Papczynski. This event is tied into our work as Eucharistic Apostles in spreading the mercy of God and the gift of life, into my own experiences and understanding of Our Lady and God's love for me, and into how we are called to be children of life, vessels of mercy, and evangelists in proclaiming the existence of God.
The following, regarding his beatification, was taken from correspondence distributed by the Congregation after the miracle was approved:
The Venerable Servant of God, Fr. Stanislaus Papczynski, became known as an extraordinary preacher, writer, and confessor of souls. He preached and practiced love of God and neighbor. He took care of the physically and spiritually poor. He saw visions of suffering souls in purgatory and left as one of his legacies his love and concern for them.
On Dec. 16, the Holy Father Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to publish a decree recognizing the miracle attributed to the intercession of Fr. Papczynski, who founded the Marian Congregation in 1673.
The miracle that opens the way for the beatification concerns a pregnant woman. When she went to her doctor, the doctor declared that the fetus had died. Father Wojciech Skora, MIC, Postulator General, explained that the woman's godfather, when he learned of the child's death, had prayed that through Fr. Papczynski's intercession, the child would be saved. The godfather was convinced that Fr. Papczynski would intercede, since the godfather "himself had received very many graces by praying through his intercession," said Fr. Wojciech.
Three days after the fetus was declared dead, the woman returned to the doctor for a check-up and to have the dead fetus removed from her womb. "To his amazement, the doctor detected that the fetus was alive again," said Fr. Wojciech. The child who experienced this grace is about 5 years old now and is developing well. "There is no trace of how dramatic the beginning of his life was," said Fr. Wojciech.
"Our Father Founder was very much aware of the upheaval going on in the society of his time and the sorts of problems associated with it," said Br. Andrew, who is Vice Postulator for the Marian Causes of Canonization in the Marians' Stockbridge, Mass.-based Province.
What would the Marian Founder stress in his pastoral work with the poor? "He tried to convince them that human life, whether short or long, has consequences in eternity," wrote his biographer, Fr. Tadeusz Rogalewski, MIC. "He encouraged them to abandon sin and inspired them to the practice of the Christian virtues. He knew that lack of faith in the salvation of the soul is man's real tragedy."
Along with care for peasants in his day, Fr. Stanislaus seems to have a heart of concern for unborn children today, as evidenced by the approved miracle. "In light of this miracle," said Br. Andrew, "perhaps Father Founder is taking care of the most critical problem of our times - the need to uphold the sacredness of human life. There is a chance, perhaps, that he will become a pro-life patron in the Church."
What will Fr. Stanislaus's beatification mean for the Marians and the wider Church? "I do hope that it will mean a revival through Father Founder's spirit and ideals," Br. Andrew said. "It would seem that he still has much to do from heaven."
So, you see, connecting the dots was a moment of illumination for me in my soul, which again confirmed the existence of God and the gift and beauty of life. I feel a sadness and heaviness in my heart anytime people ask me, "Does God really exist?" I wish that they, too, could look at their life experiences and somehow be able to "connect the dots."
Faith is a gift from God. It involves believing in things that are unseen and unheard. Let us continue and persevere in faith and allow the Lord to do mighty deeds all over the land. Let it never be said, "And he did not do mighty works there, because of their unbelief" (Mk 13:58).
Take a minute today and think how God is using you in your life, and try to "connect the dots."
Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, is the founder and director of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM). He travels the world promoting the Eucharist, prayer cenacles, and the message of Divine Mercy as a "way of life."