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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

ABBA NOUFER THE HERMIT



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Abba Bebnoda once said: I wanted to venture into the inner wilderness for the sake of receiving the blessings of the hermit fathers. I took some bread and water and walked for four days.My bread and water had finished, but I continued walking for a further four days until I was fraught with fear and the thought that I was going to die. With the little strength that was left in me, I stood to pray. With the Lord's encouragement, I continued walking for a few more days until I became extremely hungry and thirsty, and in exhaustion I fell to the ground. I opened my eyes and found a person standing before me. He touched my lips with his fingertips and immediately my strength was renewed. After walking continuously for another four days, I once again felt drained of any energy, so I lifted up my hands and prayed to the Lord. Before me approached the person I had seen before. Once more he touched my lips and my body and again my strength returned.After God granted me this wonderful miracle, I journeyed for a further seventeen days within the wilderness. In the distance I noticed a very strange looking man who wore no clothes, but the hair on his body covered him like a cloak. As he approached me, I became very frightened and so I ran to the top of the mountain; I thought that perhaps he may be a mountain lion. He remained at the foot of the mountain, but lifted his face towards me and said, "Come down my brother Bebnoda and do not be afraid, for I am a man like you and I have dwelt in this wilderness for many years because of my love for Christ." I was astonished he knew my name, but felt that indeed he was filled with the Holy Spirit, so at once I descended and knelt before him.

As we sat together, I asked him to tell me about his life. He humbly responded, "My name is Noufer, and I have dwelt in this wilderness for the past sixty years, living in the fear of God. The beasts are my friends and with them I share my cave. I feed upon wild grass and these fruit-bearing trees and you are the first person I have seen in sixty years." After a brief pause, he continued: "I began my spiritual life as a monk in the Barida Monastery where one hundred and forty monks lived together in love and harmony. Daily we ate together and praised together, and the peace of our Lord filled our hearts. At that time, I was still in my youth and diligently I learnt and observed the virtues and wisdom of my saintly fathers, for they resembled the angels of God. One day I heard my fathers speaking about the desert fathers who dwell within the wilderness. They said that these fathers speak to God as if face to face, just like Elijah and John the Baptist, so curiously I asked, "How could these desert fathers be of higher spirituality than yourselves?" They answered, "My son, they are the ones who are found just and righteous in the sight of God; we are nothing in comparison for we live a communal life - eat and drink when we feel the need, are served when we feel weak and we console one another in times of depression. But as for the desert dwellers, they have none of this. From the start of their ascetic life, they roam the wilderness in the intense heat of the day and the bitter coldness of the night. They suffer from the severity of hunger, thirst and exhaustion, and face relentless spiritual struggles and Satanic wars. But all this they endure patiently and willingly because of their great love for our Lord Jesus Christ and in expectation of their heavenly reward. Because of their perseverance and their strong faith, the Lord sends His angels to administer and serve them, just as it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet, "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint...when [they] seek water and there is none...I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in desolate heights and fountains in the midst of valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water..." (Isaiah 40:31, 41:17-18), and also in the Psalms of King David we aretold "The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them out of all their troubles" (Ps 34:17).

Abba Noufer then said to me, "Abba Bebnoda, as I heard these words, my heart was enlightened, and so that night I packed enough bread to last me three days and went forth from the monastery in the hope that the Lord will lead me to the place He has chosen for me. As I left the monastery gate by night, I found standing before me a person full of light. I was very frightened and wanted to quickly return to my cell within the monastery. The lighted person approached me saying, "Do not be afraid for I am the angel of the Lord; I have been with you from your childhood, and I will accompany you always."Together we walked side by side for about seven miles through the wilderness.

I then continued journeying alone until I reached a small cave,so I knocked on the door and said, "Bless me my father!" A saintly father with the face of an angel emerged from within the cave with a warm smile. I knelt at his feet, but he raised me up saying, "May the Lord bless you my dear friend Noufer, please come in." I remained with him for a few days in order to learn and benefit from his spirituality and wisdom. He taught me how I should spend my time each day and he strengthened and forewarned me of the Satanic wars which I shall face. Finally he said to me, "My son, you too must face spiritual struggles, so arise and venture deep within the inner wilderness, and there spend your time in prayer and praise, for the Lord has called you to live an ascetic life." The saintly father accompanied me for four days until we found a deserted fortress and beside it was a fruit bearing palm tree. He turned to me and said, "Noufer, this is the place which God has chosen for you to serve Him in." The hermit father remained with me for a month, during which time he instructed me in the ways of virtues and godly deeds which I was to apply in my life of ascetism. We continued meeting one another once a year, until he passed away to the Heavenly Kingdom. I buried him with great respect and reverence in the place where he spent his life worshipping God. I Bebnoda then asked Abba Noufer, "Did you face any trials or hardships when you began your life of hermitage in the wilderness?" to which he replied, "Believe me my beloved brother, I have faced death many times; from hunger, thirst,extremes in temperature to the extent that my body withered, but I was patient and endured all things. Many times the devil would appear and torment me, but my Lord Jesus Christ,blessed be His name, would comfort me and save me from the traps of the enemy. This palm tree produces twelve baskets of dates a year, and each basket feeds me for a month. I also eat wild grass and because of God's great love, He makes the grass taste as sweet as honey in my mouth. Now my brother Bebnoda, let us go to the place where I live."

We walked for about three miles through the wilderness until we reached his fortress, and its nearby palm tree. After we stood to pray, we sat together and spoke about the many wonders of God. As the sun began to set, I saw before the entrance of the fortress a loaf of bread and a jug of water. Abba Noufer said to me, "Get up my brother and eat this bread and drink this water, for you have suffered greatly along the way to find me." We shared the meal and even though we ate until we were satisfied, there was plenty left over. We then stood to pray and remained praying throughout the night. The following day I looked at Abba Noufer's face and found it had become like fire. I was very frightened, but he turned to me and said, "Do not be afraid brother Bebnoda, for our beloved Lord Jesus Christ has sent you to me so that you may take care of and bury my body, for the hour of my deliverance quickly approaches." I bebnoda then asked him, "Father, do you think that the Lord will make me worthy enough to live within your dwelling place after your blessed departure?" But he replied,"My dear son, the only reason the Lord had in leading you here is to bury my body, and then return to your monastery to tell your fellow brothers the monks all the wonders you have seen,for in so doing they may praise and glorify our Father in heaven." I knelt before him and said, "Bless me my saintly father; may God be merciful to me and make me worthy of seeing you once again in His Heavenly Kingdom." Abba Noufer remained praying on me for a long while, then he turned to pray for himself with many tears before lying on the ground with his hands outstretched, and quietly he released his spirit. It was the 16th day of the blessed month of Baouna, and I Bebnoda saw before me a whole host of angels praising and singing as they carried the soul of the pure saint Abba Noufer saying, "Pure is your soul Noufer, for it is without blemish; so let us present it as a beautiful 'korban' to Christ our Lord, the King of Glory!" Immediately I took the tunic I was wearing and tore it in two. I wrapped the body of the blessed father Abba Noufer with one piece, and covered myself with the other. I placed his body in a small stone cave, and prayed on him before sealing the cave's entrance.

The same hour Abba Noufer departed, the palm tree withered and fell, and the fortress which was his home crumbled to the ground. It was then that I realised the strength of Abba Noufer's words when he told me that it was not God's will that I remain in his place.

I ate the bread which was left over from the meal we shared together and drank the rest of the water. I then stood to pray before returning to the monastery. Suddenly, the person who had come to me at the beginning of my journey and touched my lips, again returned to me. He strengthened and encouraged me and so I left Abba Noufer's blessed place glorifying the Lord through His beloved saint Abba Noufer the hermit. May his blessings be with us all, amen.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The untold story of the Titanic’s Catholic priest who went down hearing confessions



Amidst all the tales of chivalry from the Titanic disaster there is one seldom told..

It is that of Fr. Thomas Byles, the Catholic priest who gave up two spots on a lifeboat in favour of offering spiritual aid to the other victims as they all went down with the “unsinkable” vessel. A 42-year-old English convert, Fr. Byles was on his way to New York to offer the wedding Mass for his brother William. Reports suggest that he was reciting his breviary on the upper deck when the Titanic struck the iceberg in the twilight hours of Sunday, April 14th, 1912. According to witnesses, as the ship went down the priest helped women and children get into the lifeboats, then heard confessions, gave absolution, and led passengers in reciting the Rosary. Agnes McCoy, one of the survivors, says that as the great ship sank, Fr. Byles “stood on the deck with Catholics, Protestants and Jews kneeling around him.”“Father Byles was saying the rosary and praying for the repose of the souls of those about to perish,” she told the New York Telegram on April 22, 1912, according to the website devoted to his memory, FatherByles.com. In the words of the priest’s friend Fr. Patrick McKenna, “He twice refused the offer of a place in a boat, saying his duty was to stay on the ship while one soul wanted his ministrations.”Nearly two weeks after the disaster, The Church Progress in St. Louis, Missouri wrote this moving tribute to the heroic priest:

In almost every line that has been written, and in every sentence that has been spoken, there stands boldly out above every other expression a picture of sublime heroism that will be copied into the pages of history. And well it may, for it is deserving of that honor.

But when it is, mention should be made of one whom pens and tongues have almost forgotten in their accounts of this awful sea tragedy. Among those who safely reached the land again no one seems to have been aware of his presence on the ship, but we may hope that many who meet him in a blissful eternity will praise God that Father Thomas Byles was there to administer absolution unto them.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Fruits of Medjugorje...

 
Battistina is definitely an Italian woman of our time. She is a 47-year old internet-based accountant. When her partner invited her to go to Medjugorje, she was not very interested. Then, one morning, on her car radio, she heard the song, often played by Radio Maria that had irritated her so much for years when she was looking for a program. Unexpectedly that song moved her deeply; her tears flowed continuously, without any apparent reason. She understood that the Blessed Mother was calling her. But I will let her tell her own story ...

"Since a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in July 2012, everything has changed in my life, nothing is like before! My conversion happened during the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There were thousands of us outside around the Rotunda. Suddenly I found myself on my knees and I had the feeling that I was holding my living heart in my hands. I saw my entire life scroll down before my eyes. I clearly saw the good and the bad, and everything that seemed good at the time was becoming bad. I started to feel a great pain about my divorce.

How could I have broken a promise made in front of God? These words echoed in my mind, 'let no one split apart what God has joined together'. I then understood that my serenity was only in my mind because my heart was ice-cold. I had always felt I was on the side of the "righteous" and that I was a victim. Suddenly I saw how hard my heart was, I saw the suffering of my 4 children, what my father and my in-laws had endured, and I especially saw that I was not at all a victim.  Actually I had never forgiven anyone. When my oldest daughter, 9 year-old and in 4th grade, had insisted on doing her first Holy Communion, I had told her it made no sense; and my last child had not even been baptized! I saw all the New Age books that I had bought over the past 20 years. How could I have spent all that time reading and taking courses on self-development, things that only ended up pushing me away from God and my family?

The pain was getting stronger and stronger and little by little I found myself with my face to the ground.  I told myself, 'Lord, let me die here, because I am not worthy of even lifting my head from the ground'. At that moment I felt something like a huge hug filled with love, and a joy that is not of this world. And I told myself, 'During 18 years I thought I had given my children everything, but actually I had not given them anything because I had not given them this. So if I stay here to pray for them for the rest of my life, would that not be better than anything that I could do if I went back home? If I, as a mother, the soul of the household, had cultivated prayer instead of cultivating useless things, my children would still have a united family today!'

I understood that when you make the decision to shrug off the cross of marriage, you are actually putting it on your children's shoulders.
Then I felt that I had to keep the promise of faithfulness in marriage, so I decided to make a vow of chastity. I offered this to God so that a thousand families would not separate. My life partner felt the same way. He also told me that we should consecrate ourselves completely. Some priests told me that the vow of chastity was not necessary, others that it was just something we had made up, but I was quite certain and determined because it seemed so little in comparison with the infinite mercy that I had received.

My children thought I had become crazy because I was going to church and hung up a crucifix in the living-room. My eldest daughter was very irritated by my enthusiasm, and she told me, 'So what about all the things you've been telling us for the past 18 years?' 'I am sorry,' I told her. 'I was mistaken!'

In November I went back to Medjugorje with my 4 children so that they too would have an understanding and wisdom. I was very hopeful that they would meet the Lord. I was watching them from a distance, and waiting I thought, 'But if I, their mother, with the little love I am capable of, am so happy to see my children pray, how much happier must our Heavenly Mother be? And how unhappy will she be for her children who get lost!

During the pilgrimage all of my children's hearts were touched. We started studying the Catechism together. Nine months later, the youngest, 10 years old, was baptized, and all my children received Holy Communion during the same celebration. This was the most beautiful day of my life! It was as if I could see them all being reborn at the same time. My partner and I stayed together for a year, living like brother and sister. But every day I was asking God to be able to understand what His will was, whether we should stay close to support one another, or be separated completely. I kept that doubt in my heart for a long time but little by little the Lord led our paths to grow apart because of work.

After my conversion, I contacted my ex-husband again. For nine years every telephone call had ended with yelling on both sides; so for a year we did not talk to each other, and he would communicate with me through the children. When I recognized my mistakes,I looked at his faults as the consequences of my own, and then my resentment disappeared. I was the one who should ask for forgiveness! Little by little I started to feel the deep bond of marriage, sealed by God, and to feel once again a spouse. Yet I did not understand it. I asked a priest if it was all right to feel that I was a spouse, even though my husband was bonded to another person and had a son. The priest answered that the sacrament of marriage was indissoluble before God.  

Now the love that I thought had been cancelled or even had never existed, I found it once again intact in the depths of my heart. I keep it in its purity and I pray every day for the conversion of my ex-husband and for all the families. I thank Jesus and Mary for the infinite grace that my family receives every day and I continue onward on this path of conversion."