Tag Archives: Struggles

Meekness as a remedy

I had a little epiphany while I was teaching today and thought it needed to be shared. I know I’ve been neglecting the blog for quite a while, but perhaps Lent is a good time to pick it up again. My students have been encouraging me to write more, and it’s good for the soul!

Today I was discussing Dante’s Purgatorio with my Medieval Lit. class, specifically the canto in which Dante meets the souls in Purgatory who are being purified of the sin of Wrath (Anger). He uses Mary’s gentle words to Jesus when she finds Him in the temple as a child as an example of Meekness, the opposing virtue that serves as a “remedy” to Wrath. My students were confused about what Meekness was, exactly, and about how something so seemingly passive could qualify as a virtue, so we worked through it together. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “When we were reading the Inferno, we talked about Wrath, and we described it as a sinful or selfish way that we respond to certain situations. When is it that we usually give in to Wrath?”

Students: “When my emotions are out of control.”  When things don’t go the way I want them to.”  (And my favorite answer:) “When my will isn’t done.”

Me: “Right. So, if Wrath is the sinful way to respond to a moment when I don’t get my way, then Meekness is the opposite of that. Something happens that upsets me, and I could get angry, but I choose to respond differently.”

Student: “So, how is that a virtue?”

Me: “Because when I am practicing Meekness I say: my will is being contradicted, but I’m not going to be hurtful because of it. I will still be charitable and think of others instead of being selfish.”

Student: “What about this example of the finding of Jesus in the temple? How is that an example of Meekness?”

Me: “Mary had every reason to be angry with Jesus in that moment, but she chose to speak to Him not with an attitude of anger, but rather one of gentleness and love.”

[Confused expressions—so I tried to elaborate.]

Me: “Mary and Joseph were distraught when they were separated from Jesus. They loved Him more than anyone and anything else in the world, and after searching for days, they thought He might be lost to them forever. They probably thought they had failed to accomplish God’s will, that they had failed in their vocation as parents. Then when they found Jesus in the temple, they may have even been tempted to think that He was inconsiderate, that He had forgotten about them, that they were the furthest thing from His mind during such a painful time for them. Was that true? Had Jesus forgotten them?”

Students: “No, of course not.”

Me: “But if they thought He had, they might have been tempted to be angry with Him—and that’s the point, you guys. Any time we feel tempted to be angry at God, it’s because we’re giving in to a lie: the lie that He’s forgotten us, that we’re the furthest thing from His mind—which is never, ever true.”

Any time we feel tempted to be angry at God, it’s because we’re giving in to a lie: the lie that He’s forgotten us, that we’re the furthest thing from His mind—which is never, ever true.

That thought had truly never occurred to me until it came out of my mouth, and it was just what I needed to hear. I guess my students needed to hear it, too.

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Fleeing from the Cross

Bouguereau, Compassion, 1897

Bouguereau, Compassion, 1897

Last year, Fr. Fields gave me a beautiful little prayer booklet called “Love’s Way of the Cross.” These meditations on the Way of the Cross by a German Benedictine abbot are now out-of-print, and I’m hoping to find time someday to type them up and put them somewhere on the blog. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing excerpts here and there as we wrap up this blessed season of Lent.

First, a passage from Thomas à Kempis quoted in the concluding meditation. This was the first thing I thought of after reading Ryan’s latest post: “Little Crosses/Big Crosses.” (Praying for you, brother!)

“Take courage, then, brethren, let us go forward together and Jesus will be with us. For Jesus’ sake we have taken this cross. For Jesus’ sake let us persevere with it. He will be our help as He is also our leader and guide. Behold, our King goes before us and will fight for us… Let no man fear any terrors. Let us be prepared to meet death valiantly in battle. Let us not suffer our glory to be blemished by fleeing from the Cross.”

The Imitation of Christ 3:56

Perhaps this passage strikes you differently, but it helped to remind me of two very important things: (1) We always carry our crosses together, never alone, and (2) Christ goes before us and defends us – and it is because of these two truths that we have no reason whatsoever to fear.

My prayer for all of us this Holy Week: that we would not flee from the Cross, but embrace it!

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It’s only Week 2! There’s still time!

For anyone who, like me, feels like they’ve totally failed (so far) to make a holy Lent:

“When you fail to measure up to your Christian privilege, be not discouraged, for discouragement is a form of pride. The reason you are sad is because you looked to yourself and not to God; to your failings, not to His love. You will shake off your faults more readily when you love God than when you criticize yourself. God is more lenient than you because He is perfectly good and therefore loves you more. Be bold enough, then, to believe that God is on your side, even when you forget to be on His.”

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

We’ve still got five weeks left of Lent – let’s make them count! And when we’re tempted to focus on our failings, let’s turn our gaze to our loving Father instead, remembering His tenderness and mercy.

(HT to Maggie at Ten Thousand Places)

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Bride of the Crucified

St. Teresa of Avila and the Cross

St. Teresa of Ávila, bride of the Crucified

In a Holy Hour earlier this week, I was reflecting on Mother Teresa’s intimate, personal response to the question posed by Our Lord in Matthew 16:15 – “Who do you say that I am?” – written while she was hospitalized after a fall. The prayer is arrestingly straightforward, and powerful in its simplicity (just like Mother herself, I suppose). I’d read it many times before, but yesterday it was the end of it that really struck me:

Jesus is my God.
Jesus is my Spouse.
Jesus is my Life.
Jesus is my only Love.
Jesus is my All in All.
Jesus is my Everything.

Jesus I love with my whole heart, with my whole being. I have given Him all, even my sins, and He has espoused me to Himself in tenderness and love. Now and for life, I am the spouse of my Crucified Spouse. Amen.

I had to keep reading that phrase over and over again:

“I am the spouse of my Crucified Spouse.”

The bride of the Crucified. Of all the titles I will assume when I am consecrated by my bishop this June, I can admit that this is the one I am most reluctant to own. To be the “bride of Christ” can sound like such a romantic, picture-perfect, sunshine-and-roses thing. What a life, to be married to Jesus!

But being the bride of Christ means marrying all of Him, His whole Person. In this way, it means being the bride of the Crucified One, and not only that! Not only is the bride of Christ asked to accept her Spouse’s suffering – she’s asked to share it. She must allow her uniquely sensitive, feminine heart to be conformed to all of the dispositions of Christ’s Sacred Heart. Which, of course, doesn’t sound intimidating in the least.

I’ll be honest – sometimes when I try to think about what that could mean, I’m frightened. “Bride of the Crucified?” A life full of sufferings yet unknown to me? Doesn’t seem like something to look forward to. Doesn’t seem very natural or very human to desire such a thing. Doesn’t sound consoling in the least. The prayer of my heart this Lent has been: I am not very good at suffering, Lord! How can I learn love the Cross?

That phrase – “spouse of my Crucified Spouse” – kept resounding in my mind throughout the Holy Hour, and I kept trying to get away from it because I didn’t know what it meant, and didn’t really want to know. I was still thinking about it when I walked out of church and ran into some ladies from the parish. We’d just started chatting when we were approached by an elderly priest who I’d been hoping to meet for some time. (He has such a reputation for sanctity that I’d been hoping for a chance to be near him and hopefully “soak up” some of his holiness and wisdom.)

When I introduced myself and briefly explained that I was in formation to become a consecrated virgin, Father’s face lit up, and he took my hand, saying: “Oh, God bless you, dear!” And then, without missing a beat: “You know, there is nothing greater, no power greater than the power of the Cross. When things get hard, when you’re tempted, just remember that: the Cross. Make the Sign of the Cross and the devil will have to flee.” With that, he grinned, gave me his blessing, and left.

I was speechless. Not only had I been praying for weeks for guidance to help me overcome a particular temptation (the Sign of the Cross – I feel pretty foolish for not having thought of that!), but I had also been asking the Lord to use this Lent to teach me how (and why?) I am supposed to love the Cross. Then this little priest came out of nowhere and spoke straight to my heart.

The reading for Evening Prayer that night had been from the Letter of James – Submit to God; resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you (James 4:7-8) – and when I remembered that, I had an epiphany.

Becoming the “bride of the Crucified” shouldn’t frighten me, because that’s really just another way to talk about drawing near to Jesus. Love the Crucified One, love the Cross. So long as I cling to the Cross, none can touch me. So long as remember the Cross, the devil will flee. And when I embrace Christ Crucified, He will be nearer to me than I am to myself – and that is a very consoling thought, indeed.

“Yes, I love the Cross… I love it because I always see it behind Jesus’ shoulders.”

– Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

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A Lesson from King David

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865 (via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of my Old Testament reading for class this week, we were assigned a selection of psalms, one of which was Psalm 51, the well-known “Miserere” prayed so often in the Liturgy of the Hours: Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense… I’ve prayed this psalm plenty of times before, but I had never noticed its context until now.

The Psalter calls it “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Ah, I thought. That’s why David sounds so desperate, pleading with God to forget his sins and make him clean – he composed this psalm at a moment when his spiritual life was a shambles!

So, the other day I sat down to read Psalm 51 with this fresh insight, thinking about David and his messed-up life (and sort of considering my own messiness, too) when I got to a verse that stopped me dead in my tracks:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

(Psalm 51:17)

All I could think was: God wants me to give Him my broken spirit? In my present state of brokenness, this sounds absurd, and yes – sort of hard to believe. My spirit is broken. Nobody, God least of all, actually wants a gift that’s already broken, right? … Right?

Wrong! The answer’s right there in the psalm. God wants me to give Him my broken spirit so that He can put a new and right spirit within me (Ps 51:10). When I give Him my broken spirit, I’m getting myself out of the way and making room for Him to enter into my prayer and do what He does best: make all things new. He cannot dispel this oppressive darkness, speak Truth to the core of my being, and teach me wisdom in my secret heart (v. 6) unless I actually let Him reach into my deepest, darkest places – all the parts of me that I would prefer to keep locked up and hidden away.

It has taken me a long time to learn that I don’t need to “have it all together” when I go to pray. If that were the condition that made our prayer possible, let’s be honest: prayer would be impossible. We are urged to pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17)  because it really is possible for us to pray in any circumstance – no matter how we feel, no matter how awful things seem, no matter how messy our lives have become.

As I continued to meditate on Psalm 51, I was reminded of a poem I wrote years ago (maybe in 2005 or 2006). I share it with you now as a second attempt to articulate what’s really been stirring in my heart these days. (For my first attempt, take a look at yesterday’s post.) I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Restore unto Me (Psalm 51)

Restore unto me, Lord, what I need.
I do not ask for the waters You calmed,
not for sweet tears of consolation,
not for the green growth You promised,
not for the fruit of my good deeds,
but for Your likeness, Your true image,
the way You chose to meet me:
violent wounds and cross and thorny crown,
entirely bruised for Your love
and unquenchable mercy.

Over my calloused heart pour Your lifeblood
and loose those streams that pulse with holy passion.
Into my stubborn hands and feet make deep those wounds
that make room for all that You would put in me.
Into Your heart’s blood and into Your hands I fall,
O Lord – burn my desires!
And restore unto me, Lord, what I need:
Your true image, crucified in me.

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Honesty.

It has taken me weeks months to write this post.

I’ve said from the beginning that I did not intend for this blog to turn into a virtual diary chronicling every mundane detail of my daily life. This is still the case; I value my privacy (hence the pen name), and I don’t really think you guys would find my day-to-day activities all that interesting. (Secretary by day, theology student by night – talk about life on the edge!) However, in my efforts to avoid becoming “too personal,” I’m afraid I haven’t been personal enough… and I think I’ve finally figured out why.

I wanted this blog to be positive and encouraging – “the witness of a vocation joyfully lived.” I wanted to show that discerning a vocation (i.e. falling in love with Christ) can be a beautiful, joy-filled journey – and I can still say wholeheartedly that it’s been that way for me! The problem is, lately I haven’t been feeling very joy-filled. In fact, I haven’t really been feeling “filled” with anything, except maybe bitterness, or confusion, or fear.

I’ve been having a rough go of it for quite a while now, and somewhere along the way I let myself become afraid that if I were honest about how things were going, I’d somehow end up being dishonest by misrepresenting my vocation and making it seem miserable and unappealing.

Thank goodness I have friends who are such beautiful examples of authenticity. (Kolbe, Flannery, Joan, Rita, Harry, Philomena – you guys are irreplaceable!) They have been incredibly kind to me during these difficult moments, and their unconditional acceptance of me, faults and all, has shown me that my fear of “ruining everything” with my honesty is, like most fears, silly and unfounded. Authenticity will always enhance our Christian witness, not detract from it! So, from here on out, I’ll be trying to speak (er, write) from a more authentic place.

It’s been a rough year, guys. These past few months in particular have been really, really hard, and as the date of my consecration (still set for next June) gets closer and closer, greater and greater difficulties have cropped up in just about every area of my life  – prayer, work, health, relationships. I still haven’t quite figured out how much of what’s been going on is on the natural (physical/psychological) level, and how much of it might be spiritual, but I do know that it’s got to be some combination of the two.

On the one hand, I can see that my perfectionistic tendencies, chock-full schedule and poor stress-management skills have been wreaking havoc on my health, leaving me burned-out and more than a little irritable. Fr. Savio has always tried to remind me that “exhaustion is the enemy of the soul,” and of course, he’s right. When you’re completely exhausted, just about any activity – prayer, work, time spent with friends, basically any activity other than sleeping – loses its appeal.

On the other hand, I’m in the last stretch of my formation before I’m consecrated to the Lord in a solemn, holy rite that will make me entirely His forever, and I can’t imagine that the enemy is very happy about that. He’s probably been doing his utmost to orchestrate this latest barrage of temptations as a last-ditch effort to derail my plans and get me to start doubting the Lord’s love for me. (For the record, it hasn’t worked! The wonderful people in my life have continually thwarted his efforts by going out of their way to love me in the midst of my failures and my messiness. If they can be so kind, how much more must the Lord [still] love me?)

I also know that I’ve still got tons of growing left to do before Christ makes me His bride, so it’s certainly possible that God is allowing this dryness/darkness in order to show me just how dependent I am upon Him for… well, everything.

“Nothing is more fatal in the spiritual life than the thought that we can do anything good without our Lord, and our self-love is so subtle, that unconsciously we attribute to ourselves the little good that we do, which spoils everything. Our Lord, out of love, leaves us sometimes to our wicked nature, and then we are frightened in seeing all the evil and the possibilities of evil hidden in us. It is not that we are worse than before, but that our Lord let us see the depths of evil which grace had covered. During these moments, we should act in union with God’s designs, by humbling ourselves profoundly and throwing ourselves into God’s arms.”

– Bl. Columba Marmion

Either way you look at it, it would only make sense for there to be some sort of spiritual element to these trials, underneath whatever’s been happening mentally and (perhaps as a consequence) physically.

I can’t go into much more detail than this – that would take a whole series of posts, and besides, I’m still getting used to this authenticity thing: no more fooling myself into thinking I can be perfect, no more pretending “everything’s fine” when it isn’t, no more trying to “take care of things” myself without asking for help. I’ve talked things over with my spiritual director and a few trusted friends, so there’s no need to worry (in case you’re the anxious type, like me!) about me trying to handle everything on my own. I know I’m in good hands, but I could definitely use some extra prayers.

Till next time, oremus pro invicem*–

Charity

 

* Let us pray for one another.

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A letter from a friend

I know, I know… I broke my blogging resolution to post every day after only three days! My roommate Stella graduated from LPN school on Thursday (Yay, Stella! So proud of you!) and we’ve been celebrating. This week was our last chance to see certain friends who were around for the holidays, and we’ve been enjoying their company.

This Christmas was such a blessed time for me. Being with so many people I love has brought me great joy – perhaps more joy than I’ve ever experienced before at Christmas. But at the same time, I have really been missing those people I didn’t get to see over the holidays. Quite a few of my friends are away studying for the priesthood or being formed for religious life, and others are living abroad as teachers or missionaries.

I’ve especially missed spending time with Rose, who’s a postulant with the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. She was my constant companion throughout my discernment, and so often I wish she were here to help talk me through the difficult moments…

A couple of months ago, as the holidays were approaching and I was already beginning to miss my far-away friends, the Lord sent me a completely unexpected (but much-needed!) consolation. On the day that it arrived, it seemed like things just kept going wrong at work, and I had been going around repeating to myself: “I am such a failure; I am such a failure!” Then when I picked up the mail that afternoon, there was a letter from Brother Damian, a friend who’s a novice brother in a local religious community.

Blessed Columba Marmion

Blessed Columba Marmion

Brother Damian has spent the past year in formation with the incredibly-awesome Norbertine Fathers in California, and I can tell it’s been wonderful for him. His letter was full of encouragement, just the sort of things I needed to hear, and at the end he included the following quote from Blessed Columba Marmion, which I have read and re-read more times than I can count. (As it happens, the quote is actually from a letter written by Marmion to one of his directees.) I went back to it just the other day and thought it needed to be shared.

“God expects each creature to serve and love Him according to its nature. The angels must love God angelically, that is, without heart, sentiments, affections – for they have none of those things. But He expects man to love Him humanly, that is, with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and his neighbor in the same way. We are neither spirits nor ghosts, but human beings, and we cannot go higher than perfect humanity elevated by grace.

“Your thoughts about Jesus are too narrow. He isn’t a bit like what you imagine. His Heart is as large as the ocean, a real human heart. He wept real salt tears when Lazarus died. ‘See how He loved him!’ He does not expect you to be a specter or a ghost. No, He wants you to be a thorough woman, wanting love and giving it, and when you leave those you love, He wants you to feel it deeply. Don’t be ever scrutinizing your poor little heart in fear, but look at Him. He possesses for you, His spouse, all that your poverty lacks.”

– Bl. Columba Marmion,
Union with God: Letters of Spiritual Direction

My heart soars every time I read those words! It’s okay for me to miss my friends. It’s okay if I don’t quite have it all together. It’s okay for me to be human because Christ can be perfect where I am imperfect. What a blessing it is to have friends who are always reminding me of the most important thing – do not be afraid; only look to Jesus, and see how He loves you!

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