Praying Before the San Damiano Cross

Most High, Glorious God,

Enlighten the darkness of my heart,

And give me true faith, certain hope,

And perfect charity, sense, and knowledge,

Lord, that I may carry out

Your holy and true command.

(Prayer before the San Damiano Cross – Saint Francis of Assisi)

Francis and San Damiano CrossOnce a month, I go into Boston, MA, for a meeting with my spiritual director; who is a Franciscan friar at St. Anthony Shrine on Arch St.  I was crossing that street, on my way for my July session, when I ran into two of my former co-workers.  We exchanged pleasantries; I learned that the company was still having a rough time of it.  We said our goodbyes, and I entered the Shrine.  Now this all took place on July 7th, I was entering the seventh month of unemployment.  I have been sending electronic job applications, three to six of them on a weekly basis.  To date, I have had two telephone interviews, each lasting, on average, about fifteen minutes.  I have been to several job fairs, left resumes with prospective employers; never heard anything back.  Life is getting a little “interesting.”

Usually, when I enter the first floor chapel of the Shrine, I go to the left side, where the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament.  That day I went to the right side of the chapel, where in the sanctuary is a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, praying before a large representation of the San Damiano cross.  The original cross was in the Assisian chapel of San Damiano, where a young Francis went to pray.  The origins of the cross are shrouded in mystery, but it is made in the Byzantine icon style.  Praying before the cross, Francis heard the voice of Jesus speaking from the cross: “Francis, rebuild my church!”  The rest, as they say, is history!

I seated myself before the large replica of the San Damiano cross, and began to pray, saying over and over the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I was focused on the face of the Crucified Jesus.  I was drawn to the eyes, which are unique.  I cannot describe the experience, only to say that at that moment, I was in a different space.  The anxieties, the concerns, the worries, suddenly disappeared from my consciousness, if only for a moment in time.  A light dispelled the darkness that was in my heart.

Many of us, perhaps most of us, when times get tough, will pray to God for some kind of miracle that will solve all of our problems.  Usually we are hoping the Lord will influence the interviewer, or we will win the Lottery!  And miracles can happen, will happen, and does happen!  But what we can really hope; what we need to be aware of is that we are never alone.  We may be carrying a burden, but we do not carry it alone.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses daily, and follow him.  The One who carried his cross to Calvary, knows our suffering, knows what pains, and fears weigh us down.  He is walking with us, encouraging us onward.  His Spirit is within us, filling us with peace, with hope.  We need only to keep our hearts; our souls open to that light.  And hear Jesus assure us, that over that dark hill of Calvary, a new dawn does await us!

State of My Year!

“Answer when I call, my saving God.2015 calendar

In my troubles, you cleared a way;

Show me favor, hear my prayer.

Know that the Lord works wonders for the faithful;

the Lord hears when I call out.

Tremble and do not sin;

upon your beds ponder in silence.

Offer fitting sacrifice

And trust in the Lord.

Many say, ‘May we see better times!

Lord, show us the light of your face!’

But you have given my heart more joy

than they have when grain and wine abound.

In peace I shall both lie down and sleep

For you alone, Lord, make me secure.”

(Psalm 4: 2, 4-9)

WordPress.com has a blog that offers a “Daily Prompt,” to help bloggers come up with ideas for a post.  The one for May 19th, 2015, was “State of Your Year.”  I am responding to it today.

What is the “State of My Year?”  One could say it has been a mixed year so far, full of ups and downs.  In January, I was laid off from my job.  And I have found that the world of job searching, has changed a lot since I was last laid off from a position, over twenty years ago.  Before, it was printing up a stack of resumes, getting a pile of envelopes, rolls of stamps, and mailing those resumes to potential employers, with a well crafted cover letter.  Now, everything is online, job boards, recruiting agencies, even the company’s human resource department, it is all online.  You are either uploading your resume to an application website, or e-mailing it as an attachment.  There is rarely a telephone number, let alone the name of a person you can call to follow-up with.  I applied online dozens of times over the past four and a half months.  No takers yet; a least a few companies sent response e-mails.  Now my previous employer provided me with a very generous severance package, but that will soon be coming to an end.  Things may be getting a little tight soon.  Am I worried?  Yes, I am.  Am I in despair?  No, I am not!

The reason why is reflected in the above Pslam, I trust in the love of my God, and His care for me, and my loved ones.  It does not mean that I expect some miracle (though that would be very nice.)  But I know that in my experience of the Father’s presence in my life, I am not alone.  I know that whatever the burden I may be carrying, Jesus is helping me the load.  That no matter how dark or stormy it may get, the Holy Spirit is within me, bringing light, bringing hope, and bringing peace.  And I know that through others, God is helping through this difficult time.

One of the highlights of this year came at the Easter Vigil, where I assisted as one of the Deacons.  The church was almost pitch black, when the Pastor lit the fire, and lighted the Easter Candle.  As my fellow Deacon and I process down the main aisle, the flame was shared with the congregation, each person lighting their candle.  The church had hundreds points of light, which dispelled the darkness.  I was given the role of chanting a great Easter hymn, “The Exsultet!”  I had practiced singing this hymn, with varying degrees of success.  But now, in that pulpit, as looked out into the church, I began to chant: “Exult, let them exult, the host of heaven…Be glad, let earth be glad as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King,…knowing an end to gloom and darkness.”

The Easter story, the Easter season speaks of hope, speaks of the love of God, which dispels all anxiety, all fear, and all darkness.  Soon Christians will celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came in tongues of flame, into the hearts of the disciples in Jerusalem, and into our hearts today.

I do not know what the rest of this year will bring, but I know we will get through it okay.

State of Your Year

Still Unemployed; Still Searching

Job SearchWell, I have been unemployed for about 3 ½ months now.  I am coming very close to the end of my severance pay.  I have been doing all the things I am supposed to do to qualify for Unemployment Assistance.  I have been sending out my resumes, hoping to hook one interview.  And the clock keeps ticking!

The last time I was laid off from a job was a little over twenty years ago!  Back then, the company I worked for provided outplacement sessions, with a counselor.  The state maintained its own unemployment assistance offices, where you had to go to each week.  While there, you applied for the next week’s benefit; presented a log of your job search activities, and was able to resolve any issues with a real human person in front of you.  While you there, you could check the hard copy listing of job openings, and schedule time on some of the center’s computers.

Now, everything is either done online, or over the telephone.  The company hired an outplacement specialist, who worked with me by phone and e-mail.  The state no longer has its own branch office, but has contracted with non-profit Career Placement agencies, to provide training on how to search for jobs online, using social media, and opportunities to improve one’s computer skills.  You now have to set up an online account with Unemployment Assistance, to make benefit requests, and keep track of your benefits.  If you need to speak with a human person, it is over the telephone, and depending on your Social Security Number, you are limited to a particular day to call.  Instead of searching the newspapers, you job search on-line; sites like: Monster, Indeed, and Simply Hired, become familiar names to you.  Companies now ask that you submit your resumes and cover letters via the Web.  There is no address to send a letter to; there is no name or telephone number to call for a follow-up.  You just get a form e-mail, confirming the receipt of your electronic job application.

I spend my mornings checking the online job search sites, and I get e-mails from them with job listings.  I have sent numerous electronic applications, and attended some job fairs.  And I have not gotten a single bite.  Come the end of May, the financial situation is going to get very tough.  My wife and I are examining possible options, her parents and our siblings have been helping out, and are brainstorming ways to help us through this.  Still, I am finding it harder and harder to sit myself in front of the computer.  And I will admit that depression, and yes, fear is reaching out for my soul.

In moments like this, I turn to prayer, whether in solitude, during the celebration of the Eucharist, or in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  And I have turned again to the Psalms:

In you, Lord, I take refuge;

Let me never be put to shame.

In your justice deliver me;

Incline your ear to me;

Make haste to rescue me!

Be my rock of refuge,

A stronghold to save me.

(Psalm 31: 1-3)