Saturday, April 04, 2009
Pilgrim - Chapter 4
(All chapters are found on one page here. Scroll down to start at the beginning.)
I was almost in complete agony, knowing that God was calling me to something...but what? I didn't have a spiritual director, couldn't find one, so all I could do was write, pray, and hope. God had a plan...He HAD to have a plan!
At that time, I was no longer considering religious life. Even though it seemed maybe the door wasn't entirely closed, I wasn't attracted to the life, and in fact, the very IDEA was an effective repellant. It wasn't like I didn't appreciate it, only that it wasn't for me.
Last summer, I went to Ohio to visit friends, and because I was so cut off from my usual routine, the effect was as though I was at a retreat of sorts. The morning after I arrived, my friend and hostess asked me candidly about religious life. I definitively told her that I was NOT called to it. She seemed a little surprised and disappointed, but supportive.
Those few days, there in Ohio, were amazing. Our prayer, our conversations, our activities were all directed towards God. I visited the Lourdes Shrine in Euclid Ohio, where five of us (two priests and 3 lay women) prayed the rosary and Daytime Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
The next day we went to the Vatican Splendors exhibit in Cleveland, and the one moment that stands out most clearly was stopping in my tracks, staring at a gold jewel-encrusted papal chalice. It wasn't the ornate workmanship of the chalice that overwhelmed me; it was what it had contained: the Most Precious Blood of Christ. For a moment, I was lost in that fact. It was the most important thing in the world. For a moment, the crowds around me, my friends...none of it mattered. Only that. The only reality was the sacrifice of Christ, outpouring His own blood for our salvation. Personally.
That evening we attended Mass together, and a few things came together, as though the previous days had only been preparation to open the doors of my heart to God's REAL message for me.
I mentioned that two of the friends in the Ohio group were (and remain!) priests. One of them was Pastor at the parish where we attended Mass, and it seemed it was even more meaningful because I'd been praying for him for so long...and had only just met him in person on the day of my arrival. But it wasn't him I heard as he proclaimed the Gospel...it was Christ. And he gave an amazing, eloquent homily that convicted me even further. After Communion I knelt, unable to stop the tears. I looked upon the altar, where he and our other priest friend were offering Communion, and realized what a gift this was. I realized that I was home.
It wasn't the place. It wasn't even the people. It was the MASS. For so long I'd realized I was a pilgrim on this earth, especially having read the Letter to Diognetus, which I now pretty much take as my anthem. BOTH priests, that weekend, spoke of their joy in their Vocation, and emphasized their love of Christ, encouraging us all to be willing to follow Him without reserve, wherever He was calling us.
Maybe I was more open to the message God had for me because it was delivered through priests I knew and trusted as personal friends. Or maybe it was the situation, being removed from my own comfort zone but placed firmly into God's own arms, without a doubt.
In case there is any curiosity about the reading of that Sunday: it was the parable of the Pearl of Great Price and the Treasure in the Field.
I didn't know that when the trip was set up. But God did. And He had a plan.
While I was there, I said nothing to my friends. I had to take some time to think about what had happened. My big "moment" happened at the Vigil Mass, but we attended Mass with the other priest the next day, and his own words and witness served to emphasize what it seemed God was saying the evening prior.
On one hand, I did want to talk about what I'd experienced, but on the other hand...I couldn't. And really, maybe it's proper that I didn't. As Mary did, I had to "ponder it in my heart".
Just as she said to the Angel Gabriel, so did I ask, "How can this be?"
What happened to me, you ask? God. God happened. Jesus spoke to me in a manner so deep and personal that it had no words, only understanding.
I realized that I'd been running away from Him for a very long time, and it was time to stop running. I was a pilgrim. And as a pilgrim, I have no home on this earth. The closest any of us can get to Home is the Mass, and if that's true, if the Sacrifice of Christ is true, then why WOULDN'T I be willing to leave everything?
After all, I'd left everything for that weekend. What if I never went back? What if it was place to remain there, in the presence of Christ? What if I let EVERYTHING go?
It wasn't so scary. I knew that in Christ, I'd have everything I truly need. And for the first time, I heard that He saw ME as "the pearl of great price". I'd never heard that before. Yet, when I looked at the crucifix, I knew it was true. Jesus went to the cross because he thought I was worth it. I thought of the fact that my birthstone is the pearl...even through my very birth, Christ gave me a revelation of my own value in His eyes.
It's hard to accept that kind of love, and I didn't know if I could. I wanted that kind of love, and I want to GIVE that kind of love.
A few days after I returned home, I sent an email to my friends and let them know that I think God is calling me to religious life. I went to my own Pastor, met with him, and noted he didn't seem a bit surprised (not that he ever does, actually, but his lack of surprise this time had a note of even more of a lack of surprise!) Another priest at my parish told me that there would be doubts...always. But to get through them.
And there have been doubts, serious doubts. Even attacks. I've been praying hard, trying to discern God's will in all of this, and at this point, it seems that I am being called to consider not an active/contemplative community, but a cloister. All I desire is the Cross. Even as I tell Christ that I cannot drink of the same cup, I know that if it is what He calls me to do, He will give me the grace.
I'm still in need of conversion. My life is still a mess, and were it not for the Sacraments, I'd still be lost.
It's nice to have a purpose, though. It's nice to know that in spite of doubts, I have a plan. I've decided that, no matter what, I'm going forward with that plan, even though it will be difficult. In all actuality, it's impossible.
But God wil provide. All I have to commit to is one step at a time. One step, along this Via Crucis, one designed especially for me out of the depths of God's love.
Conversion...discernment. It all has blended into a unitive mass. Ultimately it's all about one thing: pursuing Christ. Pursuing holiness.
We so often write pithy poetry about chasing the elusive rainbow and finding a pot of gold to satisfy our material nature. Yet it seems impractical to pursue the shadow of the Cross, to walk it's length, knowing that when we arrive we will not be receiving treasure, but rather offering ourselves for crucifixion in a very real and agonizing sacrifice.
I am a pearl. An unformed, misshapen pearl, constantly being formed through trial and time. Right now, I am worth nothing to Our Lord, but He doesn't look at us in terms of what we are right now. He calls us according to what He has chosen us to become, and invites us to participate in that call through cooperation with His grace.
I only hope that, when the time comes, I have lived a life that brings me into the refuge of the Blood that was shed for me, and I pray that precious blood changes my misshapen form into the pure and perfected pearl of great price, for which Our Lord so willingly entered His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
This is an ongoing story. Conversion is NEVER complete. We fall away through sin, we return, we grow, we regress. But God is faithful, even as we are not.
I am, and we all are, works in progress. All we can do is entrust ourselves to God's Mercy and do our best to cooperate with Him.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.