Day 11: Learning to Love and Challenged by Mercy
BY CRYSTAL CATALAN | March 12, 2022
The summer of my junior year of college, I lived and served at a shelter for at-risk young girls in the Philippines who had been removed from their homes due to abuse and other cases of harm. Soon, I learned that in many of their communities, human trafficking was on the rise. The more I learned about the realities of human trafficking, I became angry. I became angry at the actions of people who trafficked other people, the system of injustice, the realities of poverty, and the economic issues that continued to give rise to the atrocity.
I recall one of our closing prayer sessions in community, where I prayed for the conversion of the hearts of the people who traffic people—wherever they were. And with faith, I remember praying that just maybe, one person would be spared that night. But I say to you, love your enemies.
That night, God had ignited a fire in me to commit to serving as an advocate for justice, and to work towards anti-trafficking efforts.
Flash forward almost a decade later, and I was serving as a lay missioner leading weekly sessions with the minors in the Baguio City Jail. One day, I remember one of the youth I had built rapport with all of a sudden said to me, “You know I’m here for trafficking.” Without skipping a beat my naive self said something along the lines in Tagalog, “That is what’s so wrong with this system. It’s always the victims who are in jail!” And then, the 14-year-old stopped me mid-sentence and responded, “No, Ate (older sister), I was the trafficker.” At that moment, my heart sank. I thought to myself, “How could this be?” But I say to you, love your enemies.
And in that moment, I learned mercy and saw things differently. This Lenten season, I find myself challenged by the call to live with mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love, just as Jesus did. It is not easy for me to love my enemies or to even try to make sense of injustice in the world, but I do believe in redemption. And I do trust and pray that by God’s grace, my heart will continue to soften towards love, and be drawn to conversion, even when I do not understand.
- Recall a moment where you experienced a conversion of heart. What did that feel like and how has that changed you since?
- When have you been challenged to forgive or respond with mercy? Who are you still struggling to forgive?
- What social injustice are you frustrated by? How can you draw God into your Lenten journey in addressing this frustration?
Crystal Catalan serves as the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Presentation High School in San Jose, CA. She holds degrees from the University of San Diego and Eastern University, and previously served as a missioner with Cabrini Mission Corps in New York, the Philippines, Swaziland, and Radnor, PA at Cabrini University. She recently graduated with a masters in pastoral ministries with an emphasis in restorative justice and chaplaincy at Santa Clara University.
God has always given me the desire to pray. In 1994 when my husband died and my sons were young, in my prayer I asked the Lord why? I didn’t question Him because I knew He would help me but I had a knot in my heart. About 10 years later, I knew the Holy Spirit was trying to open up my heart. He conveyed to me all the goodness my deceased husband had done while he was on earth. I began to realize his goodness then and really now. I was glad his memories were so visible to me and my sons were beginning to grow in his likeness. I forgave him for leaving me and knew that he and my God would embrace me in this pain. On his birthday, that pain subsided and the relieve was comforting and directed me to pray for my sons and their wives as well in thanksgiving for my healing .I rest in the strong embrace of God and His love for every single one of us now and forever. The meditation reminded me to reach out to others in mercy and love.
In this time of war in Ukraine, I find it especially challenging to pray for Putin and his war machine. How can I love such terror being thrust on innocent people? How can I possibly pray for Putin when I have begged God to end the suffering of the Ukrainian people? But today I was challenged to pray for all. Yes even the Russian soldiers who are doing harm. Yes even for Putin. For my sins are many as well and God loves me enough to change my heart… to change my prayer ? to include even people who commit atrocities. Thank you Lord for this command to love all. It is hard but necessary in order to have peace.
It is very serendipitous for me to have this reflection this morning as I am reviewing my homily for the weekend . We hear about the transfiguration in this weekend’s Gospel reading. I think it was Jesus being in his glory that transfigured his appearance. If we want to be transfigured like Christ it must start and from within, a transformation of our hearts. The work of justice and peace can be very challenging, frustrating and disheartening. While we can’t fix all the social injustices, maybe we can focus on ones that are close to us geographically or to our hearts. Maybe being frustrated by one more areas of injustice more than others (question 3) is a sign or a call, to work for justice in that area. Our journey of transformation, individually and collectively as a Church and society, is a never ending journey. We must continue our journey of transformation each day until we stand transfigured in the presence of perfect peace, justice and joy.
I am so grateful God led me into the Catholic church as an adult. It has enriched my life spiritually and enabled me to still see the light during the darkest times in my life. It has renewed my faith and trust in God. And continues to challenge me to act for social justice, with compassion.
Having heard first hand about the violence ordered by our own government in New Zealand against its own people peacefully protesting outside parliament against the vaccine mandate for all teachers and people working in health care institutions, I cannot protest against Putin. While the police and military overturned the mandates imposed on them by the NZ government, many teachers and nurses have lost their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated.
No one bats an eyelid, or protests against the atrocities being done and continued to be done in Sudan and Yemen. Arabs and Africans are just as important as Ukrainians, yet they were never welcomed in Europe. No one cared about the way asylum seekers were treated in Austria since lockdown began there in March 2020. Yet, when a western country is affected, suddenly the people receive sympathy, and people open their doors to them. That makes me angry. Because all God’s children are equally important, no matter what their colour, race or religion.
Peace beings with me. So my job is to pray for the change of hearts of our own politicians here in New Zealand. That they will open their hearts and listen to their people. That they may feel love and compassion for those who are less well off and continue to live on the streets and be without homes and jobs, because of the government regulations passed in the last three years by a Labour government. A Labour government that once upon a time was represented by the working class to serve the needs of the working class. Now it seems all politicians, no matter what party they adhere to, come from the upper echelons of society and are just there to feather their own nests.
God has changed my heart in what it means to be pro-life. Is it really to see abortion made to be illegal? It should be more than that. Our society does not support families and children. If we did we would guarantee at the very least prenatal care to every pregnant woman. We so want every pregnancy to end up in a birth but down that road when that life becomes a troublesome teenager who may be committing crimes, we’re ready to call them a thug, lock them in jail, and throw away the key. Or if they’re LGBTQ we want to pretend they don’t exist or tell them God doesn’t love them like he loves heterosexuals. I pray we all start actually loving our neighbor as ourselves, even our enemies. I need to keep my heart open even to those who aren’t lovable.
Christ calls us to accompany a woman from conception to birth. The child in the womb needs to be honoured as Jesus, and given the resources and spiritual template necessary for living life here on earth. Without this and without a loving father and a loving mother children hitting puberty have no meaningful resources to draw upon. Subconsciously they go back to their time in the womb. A child can sense they were an accident, they were not deliberately created in a gentle nurturing love, they were not wanted, they sense the trauma of those aborted before them. If we can teach mothers and fathers to communicate with their child from conception onwards I believe we would have a much more peaceful world. But how to reach potential future parents before it is too late. They do not present to midwives if at all before 26 weeks. By then their destiny is already set. I pray that one day I may be given the opportunity to make a difference for our future children who will lead us into a more peaceful world.
Crystal: Thank you for your years of service to this largely ignored and stigmatized population. As a Probation Officer, I supervised some of these girls who were almost always under the control of a pimp, usually from about age 13. Our parish has converted a former Rectory to a home for trafficked girls. Unfortunately, just as it was about to open a couple years ago, the pandemic hit so they are still waiting to open. Pray for them.
The difference between “enabling” and helping is crucial now. I feel we need to work closely with the people in the 12 step programs to try to learn to discern boundaries and tools for self-care, and for being able to maintain sanity and safety in a world of addiction and intergenerational patterns which are so hard to break. Mercy can look like letting go, letting someone experience the consequences of their own actions. We learned a lot of self-sacrifice modeling, but not much on self-care, self-nurture, and how to deepen the I/Thou relationship. I always remember that Mother Teresa of Calcutta said if you are doing something that needs more grace, pray twice as long before you start. Core strength matters for the work of attempting to love people in a way that doesn’t cripple them with dependence.
Thanks Crystal. The Almighty is slow to anger and rich in mercy.
Crystal … I appreciate your work and advocacy on the part of those who have been trafficked as well as the traffickers. I am working to be more creative in addressing those who, like the traffickers, hurt others. It seems to me that many try to turn a blind eye. I pray for them and try to find ways to hold their behavior in front of them.
Crystal ! Thank you for the wonderful meaningful message during this Lenten season. We all need is “Love” we can conquer everything if we know how to love each other . Especially what’s going on this world The Ukraine -Russian War May they these leaders find Love and Peace in their hearts to end this war .
May the Holy Spirit guide them to be merciful as “God is kind and merciful “
Love you mom???