Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me"

"To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

Mark 12:33

That this is not as easy as it seems was very clear at Mass today. Today i had a seat more in the back of the church. Below is a picture of the church where i am going and it will illustrate why i change places. As you can see the image of Jesus Crucified is high up, thus best visible in the back. It is a choice though because outside the picture on the left and right are the altars dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Even in the back one still has to look up.

Just before the start of the Mass a homeless woman came in. Homeless and clearly mentally ill. There is also a small altar in the back and she started to burn candles one by one. Then she started praying and bowing with her hands folded in devotion. From there she looked around and went to the altar of the Blessed Virgin in the front. Now a woman told me she comes every week and apparently i must have missed her on earlier occasions due to my more in-the-front postion in the church. The woman i talked and others were apparently a bit worried about the candles being lit and she talked about her more as a disturbance.

I couldn't help to feel ashamed in my nice clothes and for what she said about this woman. I looked to our Crucified Jesus and then to this woman. I remember i thought "What would Jesus have done?" He would have loved her, gone up to her. He would have reminded us to love our neighbors as ourselves and reminded us of this image of devotion in all it's simplicity.

This image reminds me of some images of poverty in Argentina. On my daily walk i would always encounter the same ones begging for some money for food. The blind man in front of the back with his child on his arm holding up a coffee mug, the man in the wheelchair who losts his legs in front of the basilica, the woman on the stairs when you come out of the subway at Plaza de Mayo, the man with his dog in front of the supermarket who was more concerned about the wellbeing of his dog than of his own and the old woman who stands out most for me. This angelic look she had. Never complaining and always smiling. Last time i visited Argentina she wasn't sitting there anymore. I can only pray God took her with Him.

The burned offerings where Mark talked about. The burning of incense during Mass which came most close in this occasion. The woman always wearing the same black and the black straw hat to which this blog is dedicated. La Povera Gemma, the one who would rather give her own food to the poor. We cannot help everyone but we can we do what we can. And what we always can do is pray for someone and in the case of this particular homeless woman rejoice for her dedication.

I would like to end with an Ave Maria for her:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum;
benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

A prayer...

++Jesus make it hard on me. I deserve no less. Maybe this way i can share some of Your suffering. Have mercy on me when i continue to sin out of weakness. Fortify me. Jesus i am beseeched like a city. An enemy i have helped to call upon my walls.

Blessed Mother pray for me, pray with me. Pick me up when i fall. Forgive me when i fail in perfect adoration to Your Son and in my devotion to You.

Santa Gemma i am there when you lie there with the crucifix to your heart. You look at me and smile before you lift your eyes and go to your Beloved Jesus. Like you knew it will be alright. Please, plead for me being at His side.++


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

La Povera: a contemplation

Today i was going to write about the history of the St Gemma chapel yet events of today inspire me to make a different post.

I've also wanted to write about my past and this is a good opportunity to write about a part of that life which to me marked the most important time.

On the picture you see a narrow street and a dome. The street is called Salala. On the right of this building to which i come in a moment there is another street like this one called Pescadores. Pescadores is the Spanish word for fishermen and this always has reminded me of Saint Peter. Saint Peter and the key to heaven, the square in Rome and thus the Church, the Mystical body of Christ. The dome is of the basílica San Jose de Flores (Saint Joseph) in the neighborhood of Flores in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It's a large church and i've visited it several times during my stay there to which i also will come in a moment. In that time i had nothing with the Catholic faith or Christian faith in general.The church has a side chapel where often the Holy Sacrament is placed for adoration. And it is always full when that is the case. The Holy Sacrment has it's own location in the church on other days where perpetual adoration of The Holy Sacrament is carried out by piests. The church also has a statue of Beata Mother Theresa. And i find it fitting for the following reason:

When you pass the street in the picture at certain times of the day there is a line of people. Just right of the picture is the entrance to free food distributed by the church. Charity as we try to remember when we pray the 3rd Ave Maria on the 4th bead of the Holy Rosary. This scene always made me cry internally when i would pass on those moments of the day. "Don't cry for me Argentina" but if you open your eyes there is much to cry for. Argentina went through a very bad crisis at the beginning of the millennium. A crisis from which they are still recovering. I've spoken for example to taxi drivers who were top engineers or similar and would have a well paid job in Western countries. It's not surprising that these works of charity are so necessary there. And as i'm currently reading about Santa Gemma inevitably i have to think about this country and these people.

I came to Argentina in November 2004 because of love. We met online sharing the same religion which is the ancient Egyptian religion. Yes i have sinned against the first two Commandments of the ten Commandments of the Bible. Which ways heavenly on me. "...a burden that oppresses me beyond measure" writes Santa Gemma in one of her prayers. But to get back to where i was: We weren't poor but there were things we couldn't do financially. That was new for me since although not rich i was used to do much more until the moment i went there. I was working from home. I had an internet job working on websites. Our house was from around the start of the 19th century as alot of the houses in that neighborhood. And since not so well isolated and provided with central heating there were times i worked with my coat on in winter inside the house. Lacking many things i was used to still i enjoyed it. And after some time you carry the country and people in your heart. I didn't realize it until it was all too late. When i returned to the land of plenty i noticed something had died inside.

Often i think how it came into being that i left. Rationally thinking it was finding out that you have to discover that you are too different from your partner and grow apart. And it was not a cultural difference but simply not being able to get to know each other because of the distance and then being thrown into living together in the same house together. No there is another component. Because if it were just this we would have worked it out. I say that because before we were together we went through a time of fear and sheer horror. A time that i was even afraid for her life. If i would write it all down it probably would be a good novel and dismissed as impossible and fantasy. yet it was the truth. It bound us and it made us try until the end. Until seemingly there was no other way. And i write this literally with tears in my eyes.

The other component was also the one who eventually brought me to Santa Gemma and to to the Catholic faith (to which i'm still very much unknowing i must add). It was what brought doom to King Saul. In my life i've done many wrong things (may God forgive me) and most of them are in the realm of the occult. A world of spirits and inevitably demons. And that last one is one you refuse to see.

I had no idea what i was getting into when i moved in the house. Many occult things had taken place in the past. Withcraft was one of them. When you walked it was like i later described: time was slowing down. The daughter of my ex had seen apparitions of her grandfather (the father of my ex). she also refused to go to the back of the house. There was a feeling of dread in the back. Many years before i came there the house was blessed by a priest because paranormal phenomena were getting out of control. I remember an instance when the mother of my ex suddenly duck. On asking she said that something pitchblack flew over her. She had also been pushed down to the ground on occasions. I have never witnessed any of it myself but this feeling of time slowing down and also i became unable to do anything. I became apathic. I felt powerless. And it was this that created the tensions. I couldn't invest any time in for example learning the language. Nothing seemed to get of the ground. On two occasions i bought guinea pigs and they both died within a week. And belief me i know how to take care of them. The dog of her mother had a rare affliction and our cat died last year of feline leukemia which i heard was rare.

I went twice to Argentina. First from November 2004 to July 2005. I left because i had reached my limit because also in the house nothing came into being like building projects and we ran out of money. Back here i found i couldn't live without her and we tried again. I worked hard first to make money. In March 2006 we tried again and set even a marriage date for that November. That was not going to happen because the same thing happened. The same apathy. The house wasn't done and i had that romantic idea of having the house finished first before getting married so i proposed postponing it. We saw each other less and less in the house and eventually i had no other choice to leave again. And that is the worst decision i've ever made.

I remember coming back at the end of June 2007. It was raining here. A feeling of sadness and loss that will probably stay with me. In that state of mind i got into before my departure seemingly the love was gone. But then you discover it's not the case and then it's all too late. And you realize that's what you have to live with from now on. Sometimes i think it's easier to loose a loved one because of death than this way.

I needed to go back there at least to taste the atmosphere again. And i did in March 2008. First time there as a tourist. I thought it would be a goodbye. The reason for my going there (love) no longer existed. But then you realize how much a place and people are inside you. But before i went there i was on a trip to Leiden here in the Netherlands which has the Historical Museum with Egyptian things i was buying presents fro my ex and daughter. On the street suddenly a man from India came up to me asking if he could do a reading on me. I was obviously surprised. Because it would cost money and i though about a scheme trying to get to my money i declined. But then he said that darkness was over me and thati could really use his help. He said it in a way looking at me that i believe he realy meant it. I still decined but i had to think about it all the time. It made sense in a way.

February 2009 i went again to Argentina for a visit. If you know Buenos Aires a bit, at the Plaza de Mayo where the Casa Rosada is (known from Evita) is also the cathedral. I visited it many times out of curiosity. This time i went there and bought a Rosary. I remember buying it and thinking: why on earth am i buying this? I was still following the pagan religion.

On my first day of that vacation i felt very unhappy and out of place and thought that maybe this time is the last time. However in the second week that would change. I made a trip to neighbouring Montevideo in Uruguay which was about 3 hours away by boat. This to meet another friend i had been writing with for years but we never manage to meet due to agenda and money. She also shared the same faith. With the fire she talked about it rekindled my interest and i felt i needed to devote myself again again to it. I was serving the god of Amun of Thebes. When i came back to Buenos Aires after a day it was like things were different. a sense of purpose but also an awareness of the darkness and work of evil. I could sense it, sometimes see it in someones eyes when passing on the street. I was apprached by 2 prostitutes asking for sex, a thing that has never happened to me in my total time of 2 years in Argentina. It would spark my interest in demonology. Until i had always denied the existence of evil alltogether. I met with this girl in Montevideo once again to do a prayer ritual at a make shift altar in my hotel. This was a very special ritual to me. It would also be the last i would ever persorm with anyone, but i didn't know that yet. I remember seeing her in devotion before the altar. A devotion i had never felt. Later when i started reading about Santa Gemma i thought and think often about her. That devotion and fire as Santa Gemma had.

Back in the Netherlands 2 things happened. I set out to explore demonology and went back into daily ritual. Of course i asked questions about demons in our own religion and also through reading i discovered that the Egyptian religion is full of them. They are even invoked against enemies. At the same time i read about Christian demonology and inevitably exorcism. And slowly a picture began to emerge. At one night i felt like a cold hand on my face and a feeling of dread. And it was like a voice warned me i would never get away. I've heard it several times after when i read more about Catholizism warning me i would never receive the sacraments for example.

And now how i met Santa Gemma. Around the end of April i received another book about demonology and exorcisms written by Matt Baglio called The Rite. It tells about an American priest going to Rome to attend the course of exorcism as it is given by the Church. Attending exorcisms to learn about them in one the demon speaks about the appearance of Santa Gemma who the demon called "The jinx" Santa Gemma appeared in black and i was later to find out she was always dressed that way. Out of curiosity i looked her up. The moment i saw her picture i knew she would change everything. This may be a strange thing to say but that was exactly what i thought. My curiosity to read about her was awakened and mainly through a superb site of a friend in Saint Gemma, as he always puts it:), i started to get to know her. I order the book by the Venerable Father Germanus: The life of Saint Gemma Galgani. I'm still reading it after months. It is the first book in my life i cannot read quick. Reading a chapter is so overwhelming i sometimes need weeks to assimilate everything. Later i found out that i had ordered the book in which Santa Gemma was first mentioned to me on April 11th. As you know Holy Saturday and exactly the same day as when she died 106 years ago.

Santa Gemma has become an inspiration. Suddenly i understood why i had that Rosary and i started praying it daily. And then you start feeling the blessings of Our Lady, and more importantly the significance of Jesus. And things unfold. I felt a need to go to Mass which i've been doing since a few weeks. and at the same time you realize that you can't go on in th old ways. I couldn't perform my rituals anymore. And eventually put all away. Only the Rosary would be my devotional prayer.

at the same time i noticed the effect of evil. "et ne nos inducas in tentacionem", the temptations which also Santa Gemma felt. And yes i have failed but i pick myself up and try again, and try again until i am strong enough.

Last saturday when i made the pictures in the chapel (see post below of last sunday) i prayed to for clarity about my future. I'm working in a satisfying job but they have been keeping extind my contracts over and over. At the same time with Argentina in mind and the need there i feel i need to do something more useful and maybe even there. So i've placed this before God in prayer asking for an answer.

And then comes the reason why i put this post first. Today we heard at work that we will move our activities to a place which is "impossible" for me to reach. This means the contract will end at the maximum of the end of the year. In a way a relief because i can start looking for something else. I pray that it may be something in which i mean more something to others. There is no indication that it could be in South America but i will see where i'm guided.

Also last saturday a sister at the chapel told me people often come more to pray when they are in need. I don't easily ask for something. Not even to God. I feel God close when i pray and i am gratefull for every development whether they are positive or negative. Everything can bring you closer to God. In Mass you notice there are those asking themselves: why do i have to be here again? And maybe the same thing is also true sometimes when one prays. Does it help? Does God really listen? As i said my past sins greatly way upon me. But i know this: I have no idea if God will allow me to spend eternity in Heaven. I know that i love being devoted to God, even more so as i was devoted to a pagan god. I will attempt to do as He asks and live according the way He has asked us to. My main concern is my pagan friends. They are lovely people. They care about each other, yet they don't follow Jesus. I find it unbearable to think that they may be lost. So at first my prayers are for their salvaon and conversion. If i can bring one to God it is already worth it. And it doesn't matter what that means for my own salvation or eternal hopes. I cannot help to feel i don't deserve salvation although every time i pray the 5th Sorrowfull Mystery of Jesus' crucifixion and death it is as if He looks at me and tells me: I'm also doing this for you. I don't mean to be disrespectfull but i simply feel i don't deserve it. Save my friends instead of me.

Dear reader, be grateful for your blessings. There are so many who don't have it, so many who don't know. Pray for each other. We all know those around us who need that prayer. Maybe we even hate them or can't stand them. It's not about rewards you may get bashing oneself on the chest like: now i'm a good Christian. I have a hard time to understand what devout means. And maybe i get some lines wrong when i pray the Rosary. But what matters is intention. Our love for God and as Jesus teaches us, the love for the one next to us. And believe me i so know how hard that can be. In her humility Santa Gemma wrote (and i quote the website i mentioned before) “.....Oh Jesus, if people knew me, they would not come and ask for my prayers." Yet millons pray to her and are blessed with answered prayers because of her intercession. I feel that praying to her as praying to Our Blessed Virgin is a prayer to Jesus. Our love for those who Jesus so loves honours Him. And i know that for some it's easier to pray to a Saint or Our Blessed Lady then to Jesus directly. As long as we pray. I'm getting updates of someone about things Our Blessed Virgin of Medjugorje has relayed. And not only this century but for ages She has told us the importance of prayer. To pray for each other, to pray for the world. Through the internet we are more aware of events in this world and thus the tragedies on a big scale and on a personal level. Being aware of it also brings the opportunity to direct prayer to an event or a person. In that sense the internet is a blessing. And i believe we must use it to increase the strength of prayer and the presence of God as the forces opposing step up their efforts to take us way from God.

Maybe i got a bit carried away in the last part. But i feel it's so important. And now i think i've been writing for hours and it has become quite extensive. I started with a narrow street reminding me of charity. The narrow road which it often is when we follow Jesus. I wouldn't be writing this without Santa Gemma probably. And through remarkable persons like Glenn of the mentioned website about Santa Gemma. In relation to someone else she knew my mother spoke about someone as: an enrichment in her life. A friend in Santa Gemma and an enrichment. The real enrichment is Jesus. Our Blessed Virgin points at Him, all the Saints point at Him.

I always end my emails these days with: Santa Gema, mi camino a Jesús, por favor, ruega por nosotros! (Saint Gemma, my way to Jesus, pray for us) In Spanish of Argentina where my earthly soul lies. And now you also know why i say Santa Gemma :)

To end: A house of spirits and demons became the beginning of another victory for God. As so often. I don't want to sound like a priest but i would like you to do something if you will. Next time you pray: pray for someone you have not prayed for and maybe even wouldn't consider praying for. They need it the most. And when you are in Mass or church (depending on your denomination) look a time extra at the crucifix or cross. Every church has one. And simply thank Him for what He has done and the blessings you have received.

Will i get next time to the history of the chapel? :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Devoted to Santa Gemma: Toon Hermans

Before i make a post about the history of the chapel first this one:

Sittard is also known for a very loved and well known person in the Netherlands. This was the cabaretier: (translates to comedian i think) Toon Hermans. What is not so commonly known is that he was very devoted to Santa Gemma. It's a story of a miraculous healing because of the intercession of Santa Gemma.

He writes about it in his book. When he was around 15 years old he was severy ill (related to one of the lower ribs). Medicine did not help and it was feared he would have to remain in bed for the rest of his life. His mother went to the St Gemma chapel and started a novena on his behalf. Every day she went to the chapel for nine days regardless of the weather. He writes that on the ninth day he heard his mother return and he came out of bed to open the door for his mother, leaving her completely surprised. From that moment on it went better and better with his health and he never had any trouble with the rib. He personally went to the chapel to thank Santa Gemma himself.

On that day of this visit a sister gave him a holy card and a relic of Santa Gemma which he kept with him for the rest of his life. He has been devoted to Santa Gemma ever since. In his dressing room when he had his performances he always kep a medal of Santa Gemma. His secretary clipped it always on his towel.

Whenever his worked allowed it he would visit the chapel (one of the sisters told me that was on a weekly basis). He then always brought flowers.

He was very much struck by the death of his life time companion Rietje. This affected himself so much that he even had to cancel a tour. Nevertheless he came back on stage for the remainder of his life.

Toon died on April the 22nd 2000 which was also like with Santa Gemma a Holy Saturday. The chapel is not used for funerals but special permission was granted for a funeral service in secrecy in the chapel. Still the press did find out.

In honor of Santa Gemma the family had her image printed on the card used during the funeral service (below). Toon is buried in Sittard not too far from the chapel.

Santa Gemma, Pray for us!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

St Gemma chapel, Sittard, The Netherlands

Here are the pictures made of the chapel in honor of Saint Gemma Galgani or Santa Gemma as i'm used to say. It was built in 1938 (just before Gemma's canonization). There is also a small chapel adjacent for use during mass when the main chapel is full. Unfortunately i don't have pictures of that. I hope to write more about the history of the place in another post.

The outside of the chapel

Staphylea pinnata or the bladder nut. The sisters use this nut when it's full grown to make Rosaries.

The entrance (a bit overexposed). The candles in the background are of the altar of the Blessed Virgin.

Some impressions from the inside

Beautiful Stained glass windows of various Passionist saints

The sunlight through the glass also made this nice image

Altar of the Blessed Virgin

Picture on the altar of Santa Gemma. There was a spotlight on it i couldn't avoid. But if you know that on the top part there is an image of Jesus in the same painting it is kind of fitting :)

A prayer from, and a prayer to Santa Gemma in Dutch.

Santa Gemma , Pray of us (in Dutch)

The statue of Santa Gemma (about 5ft tall)

Santa Gemma novena candles

Santa Gemma, Pray for us!