Those who keep prayer journals and spiritual diaries usually find this discipline strengthens their faith. One of Advent’s joys is to prepare my journal for the coming year. I transfer as yet unanswered prayer requests, to continue to bring them to the Father. I also page through the year-to-come and note specific blessings from years past, to serve as encouragements. Those notes are my “stones in the stream.”¹
When July 1, 2014 arrived a note appeared: “A month of special grace for me as a result of having been received into The Church on July 27, 2008.” My first thought was “Thank you Lord. I need that grace. The last 18 months have been pretty rough.” That thought was followed by the question, “And what will the grace be, Lord?”
God knows what grace remains to be given, but one was already granted in the first octave of the month: to spend four hours with my brother-in-law, Neil Willett, who is persevering in the Faith amidst his courageous battle with a brain tumor (glioblastoma multiforme). Immense grace was granted through Neil, on a family pilgrimage—a journey of spiritual significance.²
We discussed books. He pointed out the volumes he wanted me to have. We discussed Saints, whose examples God gives us to follow.³ We discussed suffering and how his is being offered up for others. I don’t fully understand Colossians 1:24, but admiration and gratitude overwhelm me as I see my brother-in-law valiantly striving to live out what we do understand.
He spoke of the encouragement I have been to him. Dear Lord, how can this be—when he is so far ahead of me that I only follow the Light from fires at camps he has pitched in the distance? Neil grew up in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Faith and prayed I might find it.
We prayed “Bless us, O Lord” before a meal. I joined his prayer in the bond of communion that comes, certainly from The Eucharist and a common Liturgy, but also from simple shared prayers. We talked of music and of growing up in the same town. We listened, via the Web on our iPads, to shared songs.
My past year has been even less than light affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17). Hear St. Francis de Sales: “Consider the pains that the martyrs have endured, and think how even now many people are bearing afflictions beyond all measure greater than yours.” Yes Lord. And St. Francis de Sales again: “None of your sufferings can be compared to His.” No Lord. Never. Thank You for patiently suffering misunderstanding, scorn, abandonment, betrayal, scourging, unendurable agony, and so much more for us! “Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds hide me.”
We whispered a prayer in parting, just for now, Neil and I. “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us,” which Neil finished with, “and on the whole world”—his benediction on our time together and for me.
Loving Father, grant a miracle for Neil and for those of us who love him! The paralytic was healed, the official’s daughter was raised, the blind were given sight, the mute to speak, and the woman who simply touched the hem of Your garment was made well. Yet we know You have given us a miracle—miracle upon miracle: You have given Yourself.
Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
¹ Joshua 4:1-24. The stones were visible, incarnational reminders of God’s faithfulness; His active intervention on behalf of His people. Notice too, the 12 stones placed in the stream at Joshua’s instruction (Joshua’s name means “YHWH is salvation”). They prefigure the 12 Apostles placed in the stream of life by our Greater Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ (who intervened in history by His Incarnation and whose name means “God saves”).
² See “A Modest Pilgrimage.”