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Seek First the Kingdom - The March of Hope - Chapter 11
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I was driving home that day I describe toward the end of "Journey to Christendom," when I had had the extraordinary contemplative vision of walking with the Virgin Mary on a beautiful plain, in a land on the other side of the mountain from the dark chaos of my former life. This was when I felt her telling me that if I believed I had anything to say, I should probably think about saying it. You might recall that I had recently discovered through my doctor's conscientious care that I have an aortic aneurysm, the same condition that led to my father's early death at the age of sixty-seven and most likely the cause of his father's death at only sixty-two. One never knows what the future holds. We are but pots made of clay.
As I made my way, I turned on my stereo to relax to some music. The drive home is approximately one hour from the church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in downtown Chicago. The piece on my CD was my favorite Renaissance song, "Anon: Banche Bene Venies." As the delightful rhythm began to filter through my car's interior, I began to think about my life. As if a hidden meaning to the song had been translated into English for me, the following words started scrolling through my mind:
One day I was walking Through a forest
These were the opening lines to what would eventually become The Freedom Dance. I could see a dark forest and imagined myself walking out of it into the bright sunlight of the day. That began my attempt to "say what I felt I needed to say." I went home and put this music together with these words in a little video until I had the first poem. Over the next few days, I developed all of the other segments of the construct, and it eventually became the story that guided me in telling the whole mystery of my dance to freedom with St. Thérèse. There were four videos, each relating to a different journey segment. I put all these videos on my YouTube site, and things continued to roll from there.
I have not looked back. From writing The Freedom Dance forward, my life has taken on a whole new meaning and driving force. I began to write more poetry and mainly focused on conveying my devotion to and appreciation for St. Thérèse and St. Joan of Arc. I have now completed the follow-up to The Freedom Dance, this being The March of Hope I have shared with you in this book. The two books really make one, for the March is simply the all-important story of what happened after I crossed the threshold of that mountain in The Freedom Dance and passed through the gateway and onto the great plain that leads to the City of God.
The kingdom in that great land is the new Eden, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In her heart, you will find the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, the human race's Savior, true God, and true man. You will find a family there, filled a hundred-fold more than the world offers with land, brothers, sisters, a Queen, and a King. In fact, you will find a civilization filled with beautiful variety but guided by the simplicity of the one dominant principle that God is to be first worshiped, and the crucified Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, is that God.
This place is a Kingdom, and we do well to seek it first and to let our God, as a loving Father, provide for us all that he sees fit to give us. We should desire no more and no less. As St. Thérèse explains, we should be content to be what he intends us to be, no matter how great or insignificant. To be what God wants us to be, to abandon all in this world to do the Father's will out of love for him and his only son Jesus Christ, is perfection that leads to true joy and eternal life.
I want to conclude this writing with the following story. I am doing so because it will demonstrate to you, after being brave enough to travel on this grand adventure with me, what kind of Christian I am and what kind of God Our Lord is.
Another mysterious incident happened to me in the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka before the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign, Ark of Mercy. This occurred before the terrifying event I described to you above in the story about Joan of Arc. This will not sound like a scary story. It is actually a very good one. But I will point out to you that this was, in fact, more frightening than anything hell could scream at me from a balcony. This story will reveal something about who I am and my capabilities. It will reveal more to you of my heart. It will also give you insight into why Our Lord would give me the tremendous help he has given me. You will soon see that it is because I really need it.
I felt particularly bold in front of the Icon late in the evening. I contemplated how I would willingly give everything to Our Lord and Our Lady without hesitation. I told the Lord and Our Lady that they could have all of my money, all that belongs to me, indeed my very life. A man approached me two minutes after making this plea before God. I sensed him coming up behind me in the aisle. He was off of the street, an impoverished man. He was dressed as a beggar, and I could tell he had not bathed anytime in the past few days. But he was remarkably articulate and a gentleman. He was not the least threatening; quite the opposite, he was very inviting.
He spoke to me respectfully, referring to me as "Sir." He asked, "Sir, could you please give me $1.50?" I came to the church that evening with only two bills in my wallet; one was a one-dollar bill, and the other was a twenty. I had no change with me. And what an odd request from a street person! Did he want $1.50? Why would he not wish to have $5.00 or $10.00? Why would he not just ask for even $1.00?
This created a dilemma for me, of course. So, I reached into my wallet. For some reason, the twenty seemed stuck there; perhaps some glue had gotten in my wallet and held it in place. The one-dollar bill slid out much more quickly. I gave the kind but poor man my one-dollar bill. He thanked me but stood there with a sad look on his face. He was not angry, just sad. And he did not ask me for much more. He did not ask for my twenty. He asked again, "Sir, can you give fifty cents to make it $1.50?"
Well, now I was indeed in a dilemma. My sleight of hand did not work, and I was only embarrassing myself in the process. At that point, I had been out of work for some time, and I certainly felt justified in withholding the twenty for myself! I needed that money! Never mind, I suppose, that I had just been praying to God with the supposed holiness of St. Francis of Assisi that I would give the Lord and Our Lady everything.
To alleviate your anxiety about the outcome, I did reach into my wallet and give the man the twenty. I told him to take that and to keep it all. Of course, I did not give it to him out of charity. I gave it to him to make him "go away." He knelt beside me in the aisle and prayed for a few minutes. Several times he said, "Bless you, sir. Bless you, sir." He left after that, and I have never reencountered him.
You know what was happening here. This was a visit from the Lord himself. He came to see me that night, not in a grand vision or on one of my hilltops, not riding on a horse beside Joan of Arc or resting in his mother's arms as a small child. He came to me that evening as a beggar to help me. Jesus showed me who I really was that night, a man who would short the Lord fifty cents if he could get away with it, and this immediately after proudly declaring his virtue of charity.
The answer to the question above as to what type of Christian I am is quite simple. I could be a better one. But what kind of Lord is our God? He is the kind who challenges me to be a better one. Jesus knew I was unwilling to give up my money alone. He came not only to test me but to teach me. He knows who I am far more than I know myself. Jesus did not test me to condemn me; he tried me because he loves me and wants me to love him back. I almost failed the test. In fact, I did fail the test. But Jesus’ love conquers all.
That is why this story, on the surface much more positive than my other, is the more frightening. The demons can yell all they wish. But I and the misuse of my free will can send me crashing through the gates of hell. I alone will get myself into “hot water,” so to speak. The demons are only cheering me on.
I need that guidance and those friends that Our Lord sends me. I need to be consecrated to the Virgin Mary. I need to be taught by my sister Thérèse.
And right now, I need to ride like the wind with Joan of Arc.
We have far to go, meadows to cross, creeks to jump, and mountains to climb. But we will laugh, and our hearts will be filled with joy.