A Story of Divine Mercy

Papa and Avery
Papa and his great-grandson (my son), Avery

It’s been two months since my grandfather, who my siblings, cousins, and I affectionately call “Papa”, passed from this earth to eternal life. I’ve been MIA from my writing as I processed all that happened.

When Stephen, Avery, and I moved from Virginia to the San Francisco East Bay two and a half years ago, Papa was one of my only family members in the area, other than my Aunt and Uncle in Point Reyes. He was the closest, at an hour without traffic. I wasn’t able to see him as much as I would have liked (sick and pregnant with twins and a three year old, then the twins arrived and chaos ensued). Still, I’m so grateful for the times I had with him, and the time my children spent with their great-grandfather. Papa was a great man. Although others have written the story of his life, I would like to tell the story of his death, since I was chosen to be present with him when he entrusted his soul into the arms of Jesus.

Papa spent his final years in a lovely retirement home in San Rafael, CA, where he charmed the residents and staff who served there alike. He declined quickly this summer beginning in June. I actually received the news while in Montreal directly after praying for him at the tomb of St. Brother Andre. I had never heard of St. Brother Andre, and I actually didn’t even know I was going to visit the tomb of a saint! I simply wanted to see the famous and majestic St. Joseph Oratory and hopefully attend a daily Mass there. God had even better ideas though, and it was truly a blessed and grace-filled day – a pilgrimage I didn’t know I was embarking on until I was making it. When I returned to California, I visited Papa as soon as possible and annointed him with the oil of St. Joseph that I received in Montreal, and left a medal of St. Brother Andre by his bedside.

By mid-July, Papa was in hospice, and I received word on July 17th that he was in his final days, maybe his final hours. As the only member of my side of the family on this coast, I knew I had to go to him. My amazingly supportive husband left work immediately and took over caring for the children, while I jumped in his old truck and began the drive northwest. I prayed the whole way for Papa and for my family. I have to confess that, since I’ve been “out west”, I’ve felt rather unsure of my purpose out here, and I often feel that I am in a state of waiting until we can move back closer to home. But as I drove and prayed, I heard God’s voice in my heart telling me: this is why I brought you out here. It was one of those rare realizations where time pauses and God lets you glimpse clearly a small part of his amazing plan. I felt like a spiritual EMT in my Tacoma ambulance, rushing to his side, with the sole purpose of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at his deathbed. However, I never expected to be the only person with him, holding his hand when he died.

When I arrived at Alma Via, I found my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin in the lobby. My aunt, who had tirelessly cared for him since his move to California four years ago, came up with me to his room and introduced me to the hospice nurse. He had been unconscious since the evening before, and I waited while several of the staff there came to lovingly kiss him goodbye before going home after their shifts. Then everyone left and I was alone with him; his oldest granddaughter come to say her final goodbye.

Knowing that my east coast family, especially my mom (his daughter), may not arrive before his passing, I told him how they were all on their way, and how very much they each loved him. Then, I got out my rosary, took Papa’s hand, and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy through my tears. All the while I watched his ragged breathing, which occasionally would pause, and I wondered if each one would be his last breath. I finished the Chaplet and prayed to our Lady with a Hail Mary, entrusting him to her and asking for the Holy Spirit to annoint him. I also said a prayer to his guardian angel. Then, having completed the task I had been given, I let go of his hand because I had nothing more to do. Or did I? A few seconds later, I noticed his breathing had slowed and become even more ragged. I took his cool hand in mine again as my tears fell, and I questioned if I should go and get my Aunt in case this was “it”. But I couldn’t leave him alone. So I held his hand, and I watched him take his last breath. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was at work, and the prayers and words I was able to say at his deathbed must have been what Papa needed to let go and entrust his soul to our Merciful Jesus.

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After this experience, I did some further reading on the Divine Mercy Chaplet and its significance when prayed in the presence of the dying. Although I obviously knew it was very meaningful, I didn’t know the extent of it. In St. Faustina’s visions of Christ as Divine Mercy, Jesus Himself told her, “when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior” (Diary, 1541). Again He said, “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet” (Diary, 811). I know that Papa was saying this chaplet in his heart with me. After all, some of his final words were uttered as he pointed to the crucifix, which had been moved from above his bed to the wall in front of him so he could see it. He pointed at Jesus and said “that’s my friend”.

I am so incredibly grateful and completely humbled to have been chosen to help birth my grandfather into Eternal Life. I am in no way worthy of such a task, but God loves to choose the little and the weak to carry out his plan. All of us are called to participate in God’s plan of salvation – including you. You may feel like you are wandering without purpose at times, not knowing what God is calling you to do, perhaps feeling that you don’t have much to offer. Stay faithful and open, and keep showing up to prayer and the sacraments. God will show you how He wants to use you in His time. And it will be glorious. Just trust Him. Repeat after me (or better yet St. Faustina and St. John Paul II): Jesus, I trust in You!

To learn more about the Divine Mercy Chaplet and praying it for the sick and dying, just follow this link. To listen to a beautiful sung version and pray along, click here.

Seven Essentials for Building a Domestic Church

Have you heard of the expression “the domestic church”? It’s an ancient phrase resurrected by the Second Vatican Council which refers to the Christian family. Specifically, it refers to a Christian family that teaches, learns, and lives out their faith in the context of everyday life. The Catechism describes the domestic church as “a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.” The Christian family/domestic church is of vital importance in the Church and to the transformation of the greater culture in which we live.

IMG_8410I will be the first to acknowledge that family life often, even most of the time, does not seem very “church-like”, let alone God-like, which we are told it is, or at least should be. As a mom to three young kids, including 22-month old twins whose sole purpose in life seems to be destroying my house (send help!), my family life is usually chaotic, messy, and sometimes even just plain gross. Yet Pope St. John Paul II tells us that “the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life” (Letter to Families, 6). So we have a juxtoposition that so often characterizes human existence, that of the body and the soul, the mundane and the sacred.

Given the often chaotic and imperfect nature of real family life, how do we discover and foster the deeper meaning of the family? We do this by accepting God’s grace (especially in the sacraments) and continually working to build our own family as a domestic church. It’s become clear to me in my study of and prayer about this topic that there are some practices that are essential to being a domestic church and others that are more “optional” or, at least, variable in expression from family to family.

Here are the seven practices I see as essential to living life as a domestic church:

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  1. Go to Mass together every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Occasionally, this may not be possible, but making every effort to go to Mass with all the family members together is so important and will be fruitful. This is true even if you don’t hear a word of the Mass because your kids are crazy – believe me, we’ve all been there. There is something objective that happens at Mass, something that transcends your subjective experience of it. So definitely try your best to pay attention and participate, but if you can’t due to the shenanigans of young children, just know that God’s grace is still powerfully at work. Also, ideally, you will attend Mass at your home parish every Sunday, but if it’s the difference between going and not going, definitely check out times at other parishes near you! Masstimes.org is a fantastic resource for finding Mass while you’re traveling or when you can’t make it to the times your parish offers.
  2. Attend regular confession as a family. Confession can be a sensitive subject. If you haven’t gone in a while yourself, that’s the first place to start. The more you go, the easier it gets and going often will help your children become more comfortable with it as well. For me personally, going every month or so really helps keep my spiritual life from stagnating. Here’s a good guide for going to confession if it’s been awhile.
  3. Put your marriage first. I find it helps to continually remind myself to do this and to make it to the confessional when I forget (which is often). We all love our children and they are truly precious, but believe me, you’re not doing them any favors by neglecting your marriage. Marriage is the foundation of the family, and the sacramentality of marriage is the foundation of the domestic church.
  4. Cultivate your own personal prayer life. This doesn’t have to be complicated! If you’re not praying every day already, one way to start is by subscribing to a devotional email that you can pray on your smart phone in the morning (I pray this one with the daily readings), or just by reading your Bible for five minutes. You can start small and then pray about how to incorporate other practices and devotions as you get in the habit of personal prayer.
  5. Pray as a couple, if your spouse is willing, and do it everyday. If not, (and either way), don’t forget to pray for your spouse! Our job as spouses is to help the other get to heaven. It is so easy to forget to pray for one another at times (I forget too!), but this is an essential part of our vocation. Sidenote: I also find praying for my husband helps me to be more compassionate toward him and wards off resentment.
  6. Pray as a family in some way everyday. Obviously, praying an evening rosary would be amazing, but when you’re just getting started, this might be too daunting. An Our Father together followed by personal prayer intentions or things you each are thankful for would be a great start!
  7. Talk about your faith. I know this can be awkward if you’re not used to doing it. But I encourage you to dive in anyway. Kendra Tierney at Catholic All Year has a great article about concrete ways to do this. If you feel unsure of yourself in this realm because maybe you don’t know why you believe what you believe as well as you’d like, this is a great opportunity to do a little learning. I’m a big fan of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – I refer to it all. the. time.

Okay, that’s it for now! Remember, these are just the essentials. So if you’re already doing all of this and are longing for more, I’ll follow up with another post soon on ways to dive deeper into living life as a domestic church. In the meantime, I’d love to hear the ways you live out your family life as a school of faith. Please share in the comments!