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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Couple Observations


Have you ever noticed that the things that bug you MOST about other people are also those things that are most endearing? A co-worker and I discussed this today. We have another co-worker who has certain traits that drive us CRAZY, yet when she is absent, we chuckle over them and I realized today that if she DIDN'T do those things...she wouldn't be, well....her! She wouldn't be who she is.

This made me realize that if she left, the things I would remember most fondly about her would be the stuff that drives me crazy now.

When I think back to old friendships, loved ones who have left for eternity, I remember their crazy quirks for those are the things that remain ingrained in my memory, and I thank God for giving them a facet of their personality that will ensure they will never be forgotten.

Priestly Vocations

I keep hearing this crazy myth that young men aren't interested in the priesthood anymore. Have you heard this myth, too?

What amazes me is that, simply isn't true. Part of my job is to assist with interviewing candidates for Confirmation, and as part of that we discuss vocational discernment. Nearly every young man I have interviewed has expressed an interest in the priesthood, albeit some are more serious than others. I always encourage them to pursue where God is calling them and I speak positively about the seminary and the priesthood in general. I also point out to them, if they seem hesitant, that the seminary is just a beginning and that God will lead them. I also speak positively of marriage, of course.

It's always a short conversation and once it's done, I don't return to it, never wanting to pressure anyone. But I find most girls have looked into or think they would consider religious life, or would like more information about it, although the difference for them is that they leave it at "consideration." Overwhelmingly most girls believe they are called to marriage and if pressed to make a decision "now", they would say marriage. Why? They don't know enough about religious life. They don't know any Sisters although they think it's interesting.

There is no "Vocations Crisis".

Vocations are alive and well...the crisis is in the fact we have dropped the ball and haven't presented to our young people all of their options.

It is something we're working on in my place of employment, and if these kids being interviewed are honest, well, it is working. Seeds are being planted. We are doing a lot to promote the priesthood, but it's an uphill battle to promote religious life...simply because it isn't very visible. We can only do so much. A speaker here and there isn't sufficient.

Priests are witnesses by their very presence, immediately identifiable. We don't have Brothers and Sisters running around in habits to provide that same kind of witness. (We don't have any Sisters and Brothers WITHOUT habits running around here, either.) Even with the things we do to expose the kids to religious life, well, if it's not visible in the Church as a whole (in their experience) then it will never be enough to just talk about it on one evening of their life.


We have to do more.

Prayer in Spiritual Darkness

I am constantly reminded that we don't pray because God needs us to do so...but because WE need that communication from Him that comes only from entering into Him through His Word.

God knows what we need before we need it, and speaks, often quite clearly, through the psalms as we pray them in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Yesterday's psalms were particularly striking as I fought my spiritual battle (and lost, brutally), and today....ah, today. Today, the Feast of the Archangels, reminding us that our primary battles aren't of this world, but are against the powers and principalities that seek to steal us away from Our Lord.

Yesterday, during Daytime Prayer, I prayed, from Psalm 40:

"For I am beset with evils
too many to be counted.
My sins have fallen upon me
and my sight fails me.
They are more than the hairs of my head
and my heart sinks.

O Lord, come to my rescue,
Lord, come to my aid."

Every prayer yesterday spoke to me, even the Antiphons: "I am poor, but the Lord takes care of me." Even if I wasn't believing that in the moment, I had to obey the text, and pray the words, making that act of trust I didn't "feel". Those very words were an echo of a prayer I offer nearly every day, the prayer of Queen Esther: "Help me Lord for I am all alone, and I have no one but Thee."

Someone, somewhere else in the world, prayed those very same words from the Liturgy of the Hours with a heart and soul overflowing with trust...enough to make up for what I lack. It's one of the things I love about the Liturgy of the Hours; it is the Church at prayer and none united in that prayer, even if only dryly mouthing words, is left behind. All, even those who refuse to pray, are carried along through the pure force of God's own love being returned to Him in a never-ending cycle.

Today, I struggle to take heart, as we celebrate one of my favorite Feasts. My battle isn't over, but the psalms and readings today point to the final victory; if there is nothing in my own life to give me hope, there is still hope to be found in knowing what is to come. I don't seek God's will each day, each moment to please myself, but rather, to please Him, even when I don't understand. I am blinded, and know that right now, it does not please God to give me sight. It's never easy to trust, and I know that this is exactly what He is asking me to do.

So I pray to the Holy Angels, asking for their protection as I continue to wander in this desert that is my life, knowing there must be a reason, and there are probably spiritual battles taking place around me which perhaps it is better that I don't see.

Comments continue to be closed. I don' t have the energy to deal with them and don't expect to any time soon. Vocational discernment is Hell and life in general isn't much better right now. *

Monday, September 28, 2009


I haven't written of this before, but maybe it's time.

A theme arose during my retreats: a question posed to me which, I was told by the multiple sisters (and a few other random people) posing the question, that they had NEVER asked anyone else.

What was their question?

"What do YOU want?"

My standard answer didn't cut it for them, and they were right to call me on it: "I want what God wants. I desire HIS WILL. I'm here to figure out what HE is asking of me!"

Yes, that's still true, and they each acknowledged that fact.

I've been praying about that question ever since; the fact that it arose each time in the same way was significant, and I had to admit...I'd never actually considered what I wanted. The fact was, I spent many years doing what I thought I wanted to do. For once, I wanted to take the back seat and let God lead, and just try to follow. For once.

Every time I do what I want, it ends in disaster.

My law enforcement embarrassment if there ever was one.

Firefighting? Yet another embarrassment. At least I was able to save face when I left that one, given my fortuitous injury graced to me during training, a week or so after September 11 and three weeks before graduation. Never mind the months on light duty while I waited for the axe to hit my neck, wishing it would, doing the best job I could with a very uncertain future. Sure I left with references from the top, but please don't talk to any of my training captains. The one I had would tell a different tale, but then again, I could tell tales about him, too...long before that experience I briefly dated his best friend. Didn't realize it until after I'd left the department, though. Good thing. (He was an even bigger ass than my brief boyfriend said he was!)

Ski Patrol? Yes, I loved it, had some early success (was named Rookie of the Year), but admit I got a bit gun shy watching other patrollers leave due to lack of support from Minnesota Law. We weren't really protected; we were in limbo because we weren't "average citizens" and weren't EMT's. Even those of us who HAD taken EMT and were certified weren't protected, because the so-called "Good Samaritan" law still left us wide open. Not necessarily the Ski Area and their insurance, but us, personally.

And after an incident where a kid crashed on me and a rookie training with me, well, I'll admit I decided it wasn't worth it anymore. I never had the temperament for it and really, I think I did it out of self-interest as opposed to any real altruistic sentiment.

Yeah, yeah, ski patrollers, especially the volunteers found in most places, even where paid Patrollers exist, joke that they do what they do because it finances their ski habit. There may be truth to that, but the more important truth is that those who go back year after year to this thankless labor requiring long hours, many many hours driving, exposure to legal risk, etc., well... they're not doing it for the ski habit; they're doing it because they care and because they're willing to stand up for what is right and respond to those who need help, no matter what the conditions.

I can't measure up to that standard.

I never could.

Finally, I left. Yes, I miss it. I miss the people and I didn't mind mopping up blood from enthusiastic kids' faces after they'd crashed while attempting some kind of new trick. I didn't mind getting up from a meal to head out to haul someone off the hill. I didn't mind packing someone off to the hospital. Someone had to do it.

But that doesn't mean I was good at it. I tended to follow the lead of other patrollers and thanked God I never had to be Hill Captain when ours was absent. I thanked God I rarely had to run a scene.

Leadership isn't my "thing." If I could be invisible...I would be.

Ironically I used to be a Girl Scout. It was touted as a "leadership" organization. I learned how to make S'mores and stick a peppermint stick into an orange for a "girl scout soda". I never learned anything of value. The "badges" we earned were stupid beyond belief. I learned to be part of a pack of people agreeing on stupidity. What a great skill. How representative of the American Public.

So we're back to my beginnings I see.

I've spent my entire life trying to do first what others wanted, then what I wanted, and then what God wanted.

And when I FINALLY do what I think God wants me to do, what happens? They ask me what I want!

I DON'T KNOW! I NEVER knew! That's why I've failed at so many things! (And if ONE person sends me the viral video going around about famous people's failure I'll personally show up at your house and puke on your computer.)

Yes, I want to know what God wants of me, and maybe I know it.

But I don't want it.

And so now, here I am, stuck. I got what I wanted, and I'm even MORE disillusioned than I was before.

I hoped, for once, to find Peace.

Maybe, for me, peace won't come until I'm dead. That's what...another 60 years or so? Unless I get cancer or something horrific, I don't see "peace" in sight for me.

What do I want? Really?

To stop this cycle. To find home. To stop wondering if my whole life has been an attempt to escape the damaged years of my youth. To stop wondering if I've wasted all this time trying to be someone that I'm not and was never supposed to be.

I don't know. I simply don't know. Please pray for me...I don't even think I can pray for myself anymore.

Comments continue to be closed for very obvious reasons.

Is it Over Yet?

The low-hanging clouds and cold wind on this gloomy morning perfectly fits my mood. I was hoping that I'd be able to shake it off while walking the dog, a task I truly enjoy.

But this morning, even that isn't enough.

A few years ago I looked at my life and asked, "Is THIS all there is? Is this IT?" And the answer came..."no, there's more." That question launched me off to grad school and eventually into vocational discernment. I think it was what I learned through grad school that enabled me to ask deeper questions, and, through coming to know God, somehow He got through to me.

But here I stand again, asking that very same question, looking at my largely-wasted life, and wondering, "Is this IT? Is THIS all there is?"

I don't think I'm called to religious life. When I consider it I don't have a sense of peace. In fact, the only thing the thought does is fill me with a deep, deep dread.

Several years ago when I had applied for the fire department, and finally received a hiring notification, I remember holding it, staring at it, realizing that...whoa...this was for real. I wanted to turn it down, but I couldn't. I had an innate sense in that moment that it was the wrong thing. And was an escape from the job I had, finally. I'd worked so hard to get there, and receiving that notice should, one would think, have been one of the happiest moments of my life. I'd actually wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was a little girl...and there it was, right there in my hand.

And I didn't want it. As it turned out..I was right not to want it. It wasn't wrong to dream, or to try, but that deep sense of wrongness never went away, not through months of training.

I feel that way about religious life. If I had applied and received a letter accepting me for entrance, the thought of that brings me right back to the moment when I held the hiring notice from the fire department. Dread.

I don't want this. I don't think I WANT to be a religious sister. I don't really care anymore whether God is calling me to it or not. Everyone asks me, "what do YOU want?" Not this. I don't know why...but I don't want it.

The problem is, I don't want marriage, either. And I don't want single life. I don't want to be a hermit.

So I'm stuck with the same question...what do I want?

I don't know. I don't know.

I. Don't. KNOW!

And this isolation is killing me. I have nothing and want nothing, so all I possess is that ever-circling question: Is THIS all there is? Isn't there something more? Was I created for....THIS?

It can't be.

And yet...maybe it is. And maybe this is the cross God is asking me to carry...for life.

So be it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

La Violencia

I often regard the "eco-spirituality" people with absolute astonishment. They preach peace and nature and love, wanting to save whatever given species, which of course, in and of itself, is a laudable endeavor.

I have long been a nature-lover. I grew up in a country neighborhood and learned to tell the weather from the mood of the birds and the reflection of the river we could see through our living room window. I love seeing God revealed in His creation, noting the hierarchy of life that surrounds us, no matter where we live. Even here, where I reside in the city, I am not apart from the beauty of the earth; we have an elusive albino squirrel, Moe the Mole (and his relatives all over the park), eagles, ducks, geese...many birds and bunnies.

So you see, I am no enemy to conservation or proper stewardship of the earth.

What amazes me, though, is that those who put that platform above and beyond where it SHOULD be are in complete denial about the true hierarchy of nature and the utter violence of it.

Nature is VIOLENT!

Last summer, while taking my dog for a "walk" in the common yard of my town home community, I noted that there was a small dead bird lying in the tray of my neighbor's feeder. After I brought my dog inside, I donned gloves and returned to the hanging feeder, hoping to rectify the situation.

The bird had obviously not died of gluttony, even though its head was stuck inside the vertical tubular feeder, but from attack. Blood was apparent all over its feathers, and as I carefully wrapped my gloved fingers around the lifeless body, I saw that its neck was broken and jutting outward.

An inquisitive worm poked his head out through the hole the bird's spine had made, investigating my glove, wondering why his meal was moving.

After a few pulls, when the head did not come loose, I realized that the only thing to do was to yank HARD to remove it. I couldn't do it. It didn't matter that the bird wouldn't feel it; I knew that I'd forever remember the sensation of the yank, leaving the head to rot on the rest of the food still in the tube.

I couldn't do it. As I removed my gloves and returned to my house, reflecting on the violent nature of..well..nature, another neighbor came out onto his deck so I explained the problem. The next time I went by the feeder, the bird's body was gone. I suspect the head remained, but decided not to think about it.

Predatory Violence

Today while walking my dog, I saw a bird sweep down towards the street and fly past us, carrying something in its talons. I stopped, trying to observe what it had. A small bird? A mouse? Roadkill?

I couldn't identify the bird immediately.

Amazingly it alighted on the branch of a large tree nearby, perched upon its prey. I carefully waked back towards it, trying to see what it had.

I am not a birdwatcher so can't say for certain what it was, but thought perhaps it was a red-tailed hawk. It had a hooked beak (typical of predatory birds) and a red breast. It turned once, its tail spread outward for balance, and I saw a horizontal striped pattern. Beautiful creature.

Cruel creature, predator that it was. Yet who was I to fault this creature for seeking a meal according to its nature?

I was fascinated.

The prey was still alive and I thought maybe it was a was grey, but seemed...large. Then the hawk (or falcon?) let it go, and it spread out to reveal its identity...a full-grown grey squirrel!

I was amazed! The squirrel was almost as big as the bird, at least in length! And was clearly injured..I don't know that the squirrel will survive. It might have been partially paralyzed, based on how it moved itself towards the safety of the trunk of the tree.

Violent Spiritual Combat

The last time I met with my Spiritual Director, we discussed spiritual combat. I told him, in detail, of my occult/new-age history. It wasn't that he hadn't known before, only that other things were the focus and I felt he needed to know this, of the battles I face, some of which are, at times, physical.

He simply noted that all of us face spiritual battles and for some, it is more intense than for others. He was right.

Ever since our meeting, I have been plunged into a darkness I can't understand...even though I do. I've been faced with my greatest sins, my greatest weaknesses. For the last week every time I have attended Mass I've been holding back tears to the degree that it has distracted me from the prayers of the Mass. I've been discouraged, I've fallen away from God, I've come back through Confession, and I find myself still fleeing shadows, most caused by myself.

This weekend I got together with my little family, whom I haven't seen since early this summer, although we've spoken on the phone. They wanted to "hear" all about my visits of July and August. Yet I couldn't speak. I nearly bit their heads off! I couldn't talk about it. I tried, and my brother immediately revealed that he disagreed even with my initial premise...

He asked me to give my favorite. I explained I didn't have a favorite. He didn't agree. I told him OF COURSE he didn't agree, because it wasn't like anything he'd ever done before! He tried to press the issue, and I said I wasn't going to discuss my discernment. Mom was conciliatory and seemed to understand. Brother didn't.

But it didn't justify me biting his head off.

My nature is violent, too.

I can't remove the body of a dead bird from its head, but I have no problem removing my brother's head from his living body.

He doesn't understand, and neither does Mom. I don't even understand my violent reaction to his sincere query. I don't understand my inability to discuss my discernment, even the simplest things of my own "apostolic visitation" this summer.

All I know is that I can't talk about it. Not with anyone. I have no desire to do so, I have an abhorrence of doing so, such that any inquiry into it seems to cause an immediate reaction designed to shut down any further inquiry.

I feel so bad for my family and anyone who knows me.

I don't know if I'm the Hawk or the injured prey or simply a disgruntled observer.

I don't know who I am..who I have ever been.

I'm Exhausted by the Violence

Yet there has been grace; a direction towards some advice from St. Ignatius of Loyola this week was helpful, and is something I continue to consider.

Today at Mass, in nearly every moment I was in tears, and thankfully, was nearly alone in my pew. I don't know why I was so emotional, or felt so alone. I thought back often to St. Ignatius's advice about discouragement, trying to keep self-pity at bay. I knew that God saw me, God knew every little thing and would respond when and where it was needed...and not in response to my pitiful self-love.

As it was, a guy I knew sat in front of me with his little girl; I don't know where his wife was. At the sign of peace I was in la-la-land for a moment causing him to hold his hand out in limbo for awhile before I returned peace, a little sheepishly. After Mass we spoke for awhile and I have to was God's Providence to connect with him, for I had what he needed in the form of information...and he had what I needed in the form of connection.

I have to admit that as a single woman, so often, especially when I am in such a mood, I really just want someone to NOTICE my existence, because I feel so totally, totally isolated.

So I saw God's intervention, then, that as I approached Father, he, knowing me, seeing the bag in my hands, realized I had something to be blessed. He was ready. It doesn't matter that I haven't asked him personally to bless anything in MONTHS. He saw me, he saw what I had, and by the time I reached him he already had his hand raised in blessing.

It was nice to be known. It was nice to be seen.

I'd rather keep my tears hidden so the happier things can be seen. I'd rather keep the combat quiet, so that the fruit of it can be observed.

But once in awhile, it's nice if someone knows of the violence, recognizes it, and admits they experience it, too.

Especially if the one who sees it is God...and lets me know He is with me, even through small gestures that come through the hands and friendship of others.

Without them...I could never withstand the violence that is life.

I know that I am the wounded squirrel, still escaping the hawk. I live among this violence, hoping that, in the end, I'm not the bird left decomposing with my head stuck in a feeder...containing food I can never ingest.

Nature is violent. Never forget it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Few Random Thoughts

This post is going to offend people, I'm afraid, but I'm going to write it anyway.

Active Avoidance

It's Saturday, I'm busy cleaning because my family is coming today, and of course...I should be studying, which is why I'm doing everything BUT study. Ah, that is the nature of the student!

Most grad students (and some undergrads) I know report that while they were in school, their homes have NEVER been cleaner. When sitting down with a difficult tome and prospect of an intimidating paper, that spot on the carpet that has been there for YEARS suddenly becomes a major distraction. One must make it go away as soon as possible and by all necessary means!

Ok, moving on to other thoughts now:

"Preach the Gospel - If Necessary Use Words" BLAH! MYTHOLOGY!

I have a t-shirt I purchased a few years ago sporting a San Damiano cross on the front and the caption, attributed to St. Francis, "Preach the Gospel. If Necessary, Use Words."

It's a nice sentiment, but I only wear the shirt if I run out of other t-shirts or can cover it up. Why? Because St. Francis never said it and I don't want to be part of perpetuating a lie.

In fact, St. Francis was KNOWN for his fiery preaching! The man did NOT mince words, and not only did he preach conversion in no uncertain terms, he lived the gospel he preached and expected others to follow that example. Not his example specifically, but the example of Christ. Yes, St. Francis did indeed lead others to live his same life (The Franciscans, anyone?), but he was NOT one to say "if necessary, use words." He COUNTED on words, just as he counted on the importance of LIVING those words out in daily life.

"Singing is Praying Twice"

Thankfully I don't have the above on a t-shirt, but if it's even possible, that mythological quote is another one that makes me cringe. St. Augustine never said that.

A few years ago I was in on an interview committee trying to hire a music director for a youth choir, and part of the job did involve a certain amount of theological formation. The applicant came out with the above quote, and let's just didn't help his case.

The use of a mythological quote to support one's "qualifications" and elevating said quote to the status of fact actually leads one to realize that said applicant actually has never READ the Saint.

St. Augustine DID write, "Singing belongs to one who loves." and he wrote, "For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyously; he who sings praise, is not only singing, but also loving Him whom he is singing about/to/for. There is a praise-filled public proclamation in the praise of someone who is confession/acknowledging God, in the song of the lover there is deep love." (Corpus Christianorum Latinorum vol. 39)

(note: I have this in a printed sheet from an article written by the famous Fr. Z.)

Nowhere did St. Augustine ANYWHERE write "he who sings prays twice." Please stop perpetuating the myth that he did.

Do promote singing well
Do promote praying well.
Please promote doing both together at the same time in situations that call for it.

But please stop with the myths. Thank you.

Passing On Advice to All Bloggers

Not long after I began my blog, back when I didn't have many followers, I was invited to a local blog gathering (and think another one is due.)

I'm not sure if any of my readers are familiar with Dan Lacey of Faith Mouse, but he was one of the locals who attended that inaugural gathering.

He'd been involved in blogging and various forums for a long time, and was often deeply involved in online discussions with people of other religious or non-religious beliefs. I found his perspective to be very helpful as I continued in what I consider to be my own little apostolate in my tiny corner of the internet.

At the time, I think I was already doing what he advised, but what he said underscored the importance of continuing it and the REASONS for doing so!

I think it's something most bloggers grasp, but some don't, and others perhaps don't have the time.

Here is what Mr. Lacey advised me, and which I pass on to you:

Every commenter deserves a response. They come by your blog, and given the millions out there, they happened upon YOURS and found something YOU said worthy of their time to fully read it and comment upon it.

Out of respect for them, they are owed a reply.

Bloggers should take the time to reply to EVERYONE who leaves a comment, whether you think they will be back or not. A simple response can make all the difference to someone, maybe for reasons known only to them and to God.

I haven't quoted Mr. Lacey as I can't remember his exact words, but the above was the gist of what he said.

Over the last few years, I have seen this bourne out several times, and I admit that I judge other bloggers by this standard as well. Maybe it's unfair. I don't know. But you who have been in the world of blogging awhile, whether as commenters or bloggers or both, think about your own experience and share your opinion on this.

For myself, I do try to respond to every comment. Yes, some get missed sometimes, and some don't seem to be looking for a reply, just adding their two cents. But I do try to respond to new commenters and respectful anonymous comments (although now I do ask anons to write some kid of name to ID themselves.) I've even responded to obvious trolls, against my better judgment.

I once received an email from someone who didn't want to make a public comment on what she had to say, but said one of the reasons she follows my blog was the fact that I took time to respond to people, to interact with them. I was amazed, because, really, I often thought that it didn't matter to anyone but to those to whom I responded. I never considered it would matter to a random observer.

What she said made me think. I follow some bloggers who DON'T respond to comments, either mine or anyone else's.

This may be totally unfair, but when I see that this is the practice of the blogger, to allow comments but never respond to them, I eventually wander away. Those who don't respond seem to be uninterested in interaction or discussion, so why bother wasting my time commenting there when I can go elsewhere? If someone just wants to put his or her words out there and receive comments but not engage, what does that really contribute to the blogging community? Seems they're out for themselves only.

I think it's fine that people want to share their thoughts, but, those of you who don't care to respond should close comments so that your readers don't waste their time. Most of us can't just hang out reading blogs all day and would prefer to leave our comments somewhere where we won't be wasting either your time or ours. It's courtesy.

And, yes, in case any are wondering, I do read blogs that don't allow comments. At times I've quoted them and linked to them! (Those I continue to follow actually state somewhere why they don't respond to comments or why they closed comments. Their explanation is key in getting rid of the perception of arrogance.)

Conversely, I tend to avoid commenting on the really popular celebrity blogs. Amy Welborne, Jimmy Akin, Mark Shea, etc. While I appreciate what they write, the list of hundreds of comments is overwhelming and I'd rather not be part of a gaggle. Even if I think I have something to say, did those 200 other commenters. Never mind. I'll just read the article and treat it as I would a newspaper, thanks. There's no point and no real interaction. And I don't care to comment just to "be seen."

So, to my blogging compadres, what is YOUR practice, and what is YOUR opinion on non-replies, who do you decide to follow and does their interaction make a difference to you?

There are probably a lot of different angles to this. I'd be interested in hearing yours. Although I may not have a comment for each in turn...please don't take offense.

Sometimes a blogger has to just sit back and listen....


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rocky Soil, Virtues and Sin

This last summer when I went out to Connecticut to visit a religious community or two, I fell in love with the countryside we passed through. The roads of that New England state have no shoulders and stone walls were everywhere.

It actually made me want to get on a horse and see how many stone walls we could leap, but I digress. (And I neither have a horse nor have ever formally learned to jump. Informally, though... heh heh...)

Although of course I'd seen many pictures of our Eastern states throughout my life and recall from early elementary school a discussion on the rocky soil that contributed to the hard life of the pilgrims, I admit I never really gave any thought as to how the land itself ends up forming the "character" of certain places. Sure, it should be obvious, so I'll admit to my shallowness here and now.

A few days ago a co-worker and I were discussing the characteristics of the narrow roads and stone walls, and she told her own stories arising from having lived there for some years.

She described how each spring they would go into the garden (or fields, for some!) and "pick rocks". The previous fall when the harvest was in, the soil would be spotless, but for the remnants of plants, stalks, anything. She always thought, "Oh, that's so nice, next spring we'll just have to till it and plant!"

Then spring came around, and where only a few months before there had been nothing but soft, welcoming soil, now there would be a huge boulder! Many huge boulders, in fact!

And so they would heave-ho right back to work, picking barrels and barrels of rocks from the fields, once again. This, she said, is why there are so many stone walls; they will continue to be built as long as the earth continues to heave up the rocks she contains. It's simply a part of life out there, for if they do not set to work to eradicate the rocks on a regular basis, the growing season would be wasted, the fertility of the ground useless without the requisite labor to make it fruitful.

Virtues and Vice

This semester we are studying Moral Theology, which, of course, involves a close study of the Virtues. (So far we haven't discussed Vice...thank God. I don't think I can handle that yet!).

Virtues have to be cultivated. We can't just rest on maybe what we've done before, thinking, "Oh, I'm more patient now than I was six months ago, so now I have that virtue."

We can never rest. As soon as we work to obtain a virtue, we find that all the habits we've developed over time block us. Maybe we have a habit of impatience, or intemperence, or something else. When we put the spotlight on a particular virtue, we so often realize that we don't have it because we haven't worked on it, or perhaps we've directly worked against it!

To use the metaphor of the rocky fields, we find that, each time we try to refocus anew on growing in holiness, in obtaining virtues, we have an awful lot of rocks to heave out of the way! It's hard labor, not an easy process, for it involves doing something contrary to the habits we've cultivated, perhaps over years.

Oh, and some of those habits might require a backhoe and a team of neighbors to completely unearth!

Growing in Holiness Involves Massive Labor

The road is rocky, the soil seems to be nothing but boulders. But below that, if we work diligently, and with fortitude (another virtue!), and persevere (!), we will finally reach that fertile soil and may find a few other things coming together as well. All of the virtues are linked in some way, so if we focus on one, it affects the others. And the more we grow in virtue, the fewer BIG sins we seem to find, although with them out of the way we can more easily spot the smaller ones which also inhibit growth.

This, though is where the metaphor departs, for just as one can't rest on one's laurels when one facet of the job is done, well, there's always more toil awaiting.

We can see, in a garden, the results of our labors. We can watch plants grow, we can observe the flowers budding and bursting forth. We can pick the raspberries, the tomatoes, dig the potatoes, etc. We can SEE results and enjoy them. Although it still involves a certain labor of love to water the garden and pull up weeds, we are encouraged to continue this because of what we observe arising from the ground; the fruits of our toil.

It is not so with virtues; the more we grow in holiness, the more we grow in attention to detail to our true spiritual state. We don't "see" our own progress in quite the same way, and the very moment we think we can say we have a particular virtue, we can be certain that, in fact, we do not.
That is not to say we can't notice that maybe we've progressed some; I mean this only as a caution. For example, if I were to announce that I've acquired the virtue of humility, finally, at long last...well...Oh, I can hear ALL my readers laughing at that one! To make such an announcement would be the antithesis of humility! Agreed?

And so, my friends, I don't know about you, but I've got a HUGE field of rocks in front of me, and if I don't start picking, I'll never be able to plant, and God will have nothing to harvest when He calls. I just have to figure out where to start, which Virtue to choose....and I think I'll go get rid of that big boulder right....there.


FYI: The other day Fr. S. at Clerical Reform posted on this general topic and included, in answer to a request, an Examination of Conscience based on the Theological Virtues. I found it to be very helpful when I went to Confession yesterday morning, especially in that it includes some great advice from St. Ignatius of Loyola.

I hope it will be helpful for you, too.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Feast of St. Padre Pio

When I was growing up, "Padre Pio" was a family name. Even though we had no relationship with him directly, he was spoken of so often that it was almost as if he was an uncle I never saw. I remember asking my mom, "Who is this 'Padre Pio' guy anyway? What does he have to do with anything?"

Well, Mom explained that "Padre" meant "Father" and that Padre Pio was a priest who was a friend of our great -uncle's, and who bore the stigmata. Oh. OK.

Over the years I came to know Padre Pio, and came to understand that indeed, I am one of his spiritual daughters. It isn't that I've seen his intercession directly in my life, but rather, I seem to constantly run into his other spiritual children and randomly provide some kind of affirmation to them that they're a part of that family.

For example, once when I was heading out the door to meet a friend, I had the thought I should grab a few Padre Pio holy cards for him, thinking he might enjoy them. When I arrived, I handed them over to him immediately, thinking nothing of it. Handing cool holy cards to people is something we Catholics do regularly; it's second nature to us!

Apparently on that particular day, though, it was the sign my friend needed. Later on, at my Mom's house where he happened to be seated directly under a framed picture of Padre Pio, (which he hadn't noticed), he told me that there was NO WAY I could have known the request he'd made to the Saint that very morning. He had been learning about Padre Pio, he said, and learned of his "Spiritual Children", wondering if perhaps he could be one of them. He asked for an affirmation from the Saint; specifically that if he was indeed one of Padre Pio's spiritual sons, that someone would hand him a holy card of the Saint.

And shortly after I walked in the door and handed him a STACK!

I was just as floored as my friend was! Although I did point out to him that he had unwittingly ALSO sat under a picture of the Saint, which seemed to me to be yet another affirmation for him.

I have many such stories like that. It seems that at times, I am the Saint's messenger and it makes me wonder how many other "messages" I've delivered without even realizing!

Some may wonder why I continue to call Padre Pio by that name without the "Saint" attached. Perhaps it is because he was so close to our family that even as I recognize his Sainthood, there is a particular bond there. I don't know. If I speak of him formally I try to remember to call him "Saint", so that others know he is canonized. Yet given his great humility, it seems to me he would not be offended by my practice of simply calling him "Padre Pio", knowing it comes from great affection and never disrespect. Ah, but here I am, just musing. As usual.

A Spiritual Son

I want to direct you to one of Padre Pio's spiritual sons, a priest who wrote a beautiful article about him today.

Fr. MacRae sees some parallels between Padre Pio and himself, revealing the friendship of the Saint and God's Divine Providence. The good Father, who was imprisoned on this day, September 23rd, shares this important date with the Saint; a Saint who was also unjustly imprisoned and falsely accused.

Go read Fr. MacRae's article for yourself; it is one that will remain with you for a very long time. Please keep him in your prayers.
Padre Pio, thank you for your intercession and spiritual paternity. Pray for us!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Family Obligations

A few years ago I read of a religious sister who was FINALLY able to enter a community with a very strict age limit, one that long excluded her...but accepted her for a few reasons: they agreed she had a Vocation (or seemed to), they agreed it seemed God was directing her to them and they to accept her, and, was her life circumstances that prevented her entrance. Not her will. Not her delay, but God's.

In short...they saw that her priorities were in order for her state in life. She was responsible for caring for her parents, there was no one else, and so just as they gave their lives to her, she knew she must return that until God called them Home. It was not a chain, but a freedom of conscience, knowing she was within God' s will for her.

That story has always struck me; the beauty of her Vocation, of her Call, of her love for her parents. She honored God by honoring them, even though her heart broke as she was not able to answer God's Call in the time frame that applied to so many others.

The fact is, that the cutoff age for many many communities is thirty, or maybe thirty-five.

The fact is...I'm thirty-five now. I began "discerning" in my late 20's, and tried to rush because of all the cutoff ages. It was God who slowed me down, I know it was God who directed me to that story to remind me it was HE, not me, who was in charge. His timeline. Not mine.

Ultimately, a given community's age limit isn't an issue; God makes the limits, and He will impose HIS will in all cases. If that door remains shut, it simply indicates that God has other plans.

The Importance of Family

As I continue to discern, I realize that my family is a part of it, too, whether I like it or not. That doesn't mean that they get to decide anything, but only that God is in the familial relationships and moral demands upon us, and often, through our families, reveals His will in that moment.

I have a dear friend who feels called to marriage, but is still single, well into her 40's, but knows she is doing what God wills; caring for her aging father. All the other siblings are married off. She is the only one left, and embraces her call with a love I only WISH I could imitate. God bless her and all her family. They are very close, very supportive of one another, and...ALL are converts to the Catholic Faith.

Until today, I really didn't identify with the woman in the story I mentioned. My Dad passed away when I was twenty, and although Mom is declining before her time, she still lives on her own, so on the surface it seems that there is no obligation for me to step in as caretaker.

After all, she has my brother, who is a very devoted son, sees her a lot, and has space for her in his house.

Um... BUT!

This afternoon my brother called me at work because we've been unable to connect in other venues. In our conversation, he told me that Mom had some kind of pulmonary disease and mentioned what he called an "early symptom" of said disease. Which seemed nearly plausable to me, but didn't ring a bell and I couldn't actually make any direct connection between what he said and what he claimed to be the problem.

A web search didn't help.

Mom hadn't mentioned this particular diagnosis, but I admit I took my brother at his word, thinking it was because Mom had told him and, well, because before Dad died he predicted his death. Then again..he'd been predicting his death for YEARS with faulty timelines.

I don't know really, why I believed my brother. Charity? Good faith, knowing brother loves Mom and loved Dad?

Well, tonight I called Mom, and asked her directly about the conditions my brother claimed she had. He took her actual diagnosis and symptoms out of context and made up his own.

Certainly the disease he named is POSSIBLE and PROBABLE. but isn't what the doctor has diagnosed. Nor do the symptoms exactly match what he took out of context.

My brother doesn't have medical training (I have some, enough to think critically with a foundation of knowledge), and Mom does as well. Further...Mom doesn't hide her conditions. She announces them and talks about them incessantly. Her entire identity is wrapped up in her most recent diagnosis or health problem, and her entire source of entertainment is her menu at various functions if she attends.


I realize that maybe the reason I'm not where I think I should be, in ANY Vocation, might have more to do with God's plan than anything else. I wonder if it may well be that I be involved in caring for my mother until death.

It is clear to us that, although things aren't so bad as my brother tried to say, it IS clear that she won't be living alone for much longer. My brother has a good heart, but in reality, isn't equipped to provide medical care nor does he have enough knowledge to do so or report it with any accuracy.

I have to discern this carefully, for on one hand, it might be a distraction. On the other might be reality.

I've known of Novices who have had to leave the convent to care for sick or dying family members, simply because there was no one else, or no one...equipped.

In taking our small family history in to context, though, I see God's wisdom in this. Because of all the trauma we experienced growing up, between Dad's alcoholism, Mom's bipolar, and their divorce, well...there are some very very deep wounds that we share.

The ongoing years help, but I have to wonder if God is perhaps calling me to, at some point, serve our mother as caretaker, legal guardian, or something in her last months or years. That isn't a negation of vocation, but simply part of who I am...a daughter. It is part of honoring one's only surviving parent.

I don't know, but I know God will lead. And I know that where He leads is for our good. Perhaps such a situation would lead to the healing our little family needs. Perhaps it wouldn't, and it would be better for me to enter a religious community before Mom's death, if only so that she can see that her only daughter has a home and is not alone. Or maybe in all this mess I'll meet my husband, somewhere in this jungle and discover that, after all, I AM called to marriage and only fled it for so long because I've been so damaged?

No one knows. God does. He has a plan.

I'm glad my brother called me today and gave me misinformation. I'm glad I called Mom to check it out, and I'm so grateful right now for my family and that I still have them that it hurts.

I don't know who I am or where I belong or what I was called to be. But I DO know that I am my mother's daughter, I am my brother's sister, and that they are all I have. It is they who have formed me and continue to do so. God put us together and through this very very torn family, we have learned to love each other even when all of us preferred to walk away...and in a sense...I did. But I'm back now, and know I would not be the woman I am without them or without the suffering we have endured.

Family is a part of discernment to ANY Vocation, and perhaps as I continue to seek God, maybe I need to spend more time with my family. Maybe it is through them that I will finally obtain clarity.

Please pray for my family; my brother once discerned the priesthood but has fallen so far away I fear he will never come back. And Mom...I don't even remember the last time I saw her smile with true, abandoned happiness. She's been living the Passion for at LEAST 30 years. And yet she continues to give. Pray for her, pray for us all. I am the ungrateful daughter, the adulteress, unfaithful Jerusalem. I look at my Mother and I see the Cross and know that no matter how confused I am, how far I fall...there is my life and my salvation.

I know my readers will all understand the metaphor.
As in all things...God's will be done. I am only His unfaithful servant.

"Radical" Priest = Incredible homily!

Fr. Leo of Deo Adiuvante delivered an incredible pro-life homily this weekend. Do yourself a favor and head over to hear it for yourself! Send this to everyone you know, especially those who call themselves "Pro-Choice."

In his homily he hits all the fallacious arguments against life, he even addresses the theologians misquoted by certain political figures during the last election. Is Father Leo a radical? YES and Thank God for that!

Why are you still here? Go listen now!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Women's "Ordination" is Preposterous

I've written before on the absolute idiocy of advancing the idea of "priestesses" in the Catholic Church, but this week something else really struck me. The fact is...the Church doesn't exclude women, but rather...She excludes MEN!

** skip down for the focus of this post. The following is actually just background.***

The people trying to advance the feminist agenda firstly have NO IDEA what the Church really is. They don't understand her. They are at odds with everything she teaches and don't even realize why we call her "Holy Mother Church." Even if they use the term, they do so out of a deep misunderstanding which could be corrected if they would simply be open enough to Truth to truly learn something outside of the box within which they've hidden themselves.

There was a time that I thought it would be ok to have female "priests", although I actually wasn't a practicing Catholic and didn't know my Ecclesiology, either. I also hadn't read the Vatican II documents, had NO IDEA what they said, or what the 1st Vatican Council declared, or the Council of Trent...etc., etc. etc. And in fact, I'm STILL learning. It takes TIME to learn.

And a little dose of humility, I guess. I had to learn I was wrong and suck it up. I had to listen to logic, to objective facts, and allow the Holy Spirit to change my heart. It didn't happen overnight. It won't for the dissidents of today, either.

Don't give up on them. Pray for them.

Back to the topic: "Womynpriestesses"

The charge many level against the Church is that she is "oppressive" and "patriarchal" and "male-dominated" and "exclusive". They say she isn't "welcoming" to women.

I've written on this before, a few times.

The fact that people make this charge reveals not that the Church is evil, but that those making such a claim are ignorant as to what scripture reveals and the Divine Revelation passed on to us through the Magisterial teachings of the Church which the way...Apostolic.

Books have been written about this, so I'm going to make only a few points, a la Summa:

On Common Objections to the Church as she relates to Women:

Objection 1: The Church excludes women. Women have no place in the Church.

Objection 2: The Church had a female deaconate and I see no reason why that shouldn't be revived.

Objection 3: The Church is Patriarchal

On the Contrary: All of the above objections are made out of ignorance or simply misunderstand proper context.

I answer that: People who make such claims have a burden of proof upon them to prove their case and not a single one has actually been successful. Those who try find the Truth ultimately abandon the lies they hold so viciously and dearly to themselves, and, surprised by immense joy and freedom, they enter into the Church as true Sons and Daughters. It is truly beautiful to behold someone set free.

Reply to Objection 1: Anyone who would claim that women have no place in the Church clearly don't darken the door of their local parish very often. Women run EVERYTHING, from finance committees, to liturgy commissions, are involved in every single overuse of the word "ministry" and then some, are highly visible, and in fact, it's like pulling teeth to get men involved in anything that isn't recreational. Why? Because women are in the way doing everything and bragging that no matter what it is, they can do it better. No, I'm not making this up. Some parishes are better than others in that regard, however.

On the Theology end, this objection raises the very obvious reality that someone who would say such a thing reveals willful ignorance at worst, or brainwashing by bad "scholars" at best.

The fact is, the Church is feminine. Catholicism is a very sensual religion; consider the scents (incense, beeswax candles, flowers, pine in winter, etc.), textures, colors, stained glass, sacred art, sacred music (not modern music but sacred music), all exudes femininity. And that's all on the surface! Catholicism is in what we can observe in all of our senses, and all of that draws us into something that transcends our very being!

St. Jerome famously said, "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ!" He is right! And it goes even know Christ, one must know the Church, and one cannot know the Church without a proper reading of scripture!

The Old Testament faith introduced the marriage theology of the Church, which was profoundly revealed in the New Testament in Luke, in the Gospel of John (Wedding at Cana, the foot of the Cross), and in Revelation, as well as in the writings of Paul, among others. We see the "Woman" introduced to us in Genesis flowing throughout the scriptures, finding her place in the Great Mothers, in many women of great valor, in the psalms, all revealing Israel not by honoring patriarchy...but by honoring Israel as a woman.

In a deep study, that "woman" is revealed to be Mary, who joins the Old and New Covenants, who stands in the place of the Church under the New Covenant, and we find that if we don't understand Mary...we don't fully understand Christ. She points to Him, and...He binds with US!

WE are the Bride of Christ, a holy nation, Daughter Zion, the New Jerusalem, as foretold throughout the Old Testament! The Church by her very nature and being is feminine! Everything ABOUT the Church is feminine!

We can hack her hair off and strip her of her garments, we can make the Church look "butch" to the outside eye, but we can't change her intrinsic beauty, we can't violate that which cannot be violated for she is under the protection of her spouse, the Holy Spirit.

To suggest that the Church has no place for women is to fail to understand that the Church IS Woman, men and women alike. the Church, men are Brides, too. Together, we are all Brides of Christ and that marriage union with Him takes place when we consummate the Holy Sacrifice at Holy Communion.

And we profane our lover, our Bridegroom, when we receive Him in a state of mortal sin.

How, exactly, is the Church exclusive of women when everything She is about is...feminine?

Reply to Objection 2: Indeed, the early Church had female "diakonos" (I might have spelled that wrong, readers please correct my spelling.) Today that word is read as "deacons" or "deaconate", and yes, it's true such people served the early Church and that some were women. suggest that they were the same as our Ordained Deaconate today is, again, a statement belonging to ignorance, not scholarship.

In the early Church, Baptisms were done by full immersion, if my understanding is correct. Women were conscripted to protect the modesty of other women and to serve in other ways. In fact the word "Diakonos" meant "servant" and did NOT indicate ordained ministry.

There has NEVER been record in the Catholic Church of women being ordained. Using a word that has developed a new meaning over thousands of years, and applying a modern definition to history to support modern misunderstanding is intellectually dishonest.

As an aside, it is also fallacious to suggest that Christ COULDN'T make women priests; the fact was that the pagan cultures ran rampant with women "priestesses" and they were actually involved in temple prostitution and fertility rites. Contrast that with the dignity the Church recognizes of Women today, that we are not here for men's pleasure but rather, that we reflect the image and likeness of God.

Get down on your knees and thank Our Lord for saving us from a culture that used us and threw us away to be left or dead, or used us and stoned us to death!

Reply to Objection 3: Indeed, the Church is Patriarchal, in the sense that Christ in His Divine wisdom instituted an all-male priesthood, and consequently, as it belongs to the deposit of the Faith, Tradition, and the reality of our theology, the Church does not have the authority to ordain women.

Christ didn't will a female priesthood, and it would make no theological sense to have one. It's not up for discussion, nor will it ever be so. It IS an infallible teaching. Period.

The fact is, in looking at the totality of the Church, the ONLY thing that belongs to men at all is the Sacrament of Holy Orders! That's it! That's all they get!

If we are to be honest, we have to see that if ANYONE is excluded in the's MEN!

If the Church is to be fruitful, She NEEDS the Patriarchy, the male priesthood, which stands in for Christ, the Bridegroom. A woman cannot stand in the place of Christ for she cannot be a Bridegroom. She cannot offer the Sacrifice of the Cross, she cannot be Christ. She is designed to be maternal, not paternal, just as the Church is designed to be maternal and receive the Word, and bear it out to the world. It belongs to men to deliver the Word to the receptive Bride.

We come full circle to the marriage theology of the Church, which can ONLY be fulfilled and expressed through an all-male Priesthood and feminine Church.

My friends, ignore the cries of the blind who cry out that they are "oppressed" by the Church: the only oppression they suffer is their refusal to open their eyes and see, open their ears to hear, open their hearts to God's love. They are stuck in Isaiah, living the "life" of a disobedient and adulterous Israel, giving themselves to political alliances, disdaining trust in God and obedience to His Commandments.

The Church isn't oppressive; she is Maternal. She is our Holy Mother, in whose arms we take refuge, there, with her under the shadow of the Cross. The Cross is Salvation; anything outside is real oppression.

The ONLY thing that makes sense is a male-only Priesthood! To allow women, Our Lord knew, would destroy the Covenant and make His Bride into the Harlot of the Pagan cultures from which He came to save us.

God our Father is faithful to Himself and to His Covenant; if we choose to disobey, we leave the Covenantal relationship behind, we leave the Marriage of the Lamb, and we become nothing more than pagan prostitutes worshiping idols in meaningless fertility rites that deny our final end and bar us from eternal beatitude.

If you believe in women's ordination, support it, take part in is YOU who leave the Church. SHE hasn't left YOU. Why would you ever leave your Mother in order to make a false idol in your own image?

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Please Don't Break My Heart

I never thought I'd write about this particular topic, but in speaking with a friend tonight, someone discerning the priesthood, I realized that it's not something that belongs to me alone. He revealed he has the same deep fear as I, and together, we think that others experience the same thing.

It is because of this that I've decided to put this "out there" in hopes that it offers some comfort to someone, just so that you, and maybe we all, can realize we're not alone.

I watch the reasons why people come across my blog, and I can't forget the day someone found it by typing in:

"Why is vocational discernment so difficult?"

I don't know who asked the question, or why, or from what perspective, whether from honest seeking from their own agony and looking for help, or from a standpoint of derision. After all, our hugely secularized world thinks it's just a "job" to enter religious life, and they speak of it in those terms. They don't ask the deeper questions, looking only at utility, at functionality, but never theology, eternity or conversion of heart and soul. The questions of the world don't address the whole person, but only look at the human being as a convenient (or inconvenient) machine to be used and tossed aside.

Those who are truly discerning their Vocation are looking deeply into God and into themselves, trying to find out not "who they are" but rather, the very reason God called them into existence. They are looking for their true mission in life, their very BEING, realizing that, fundamentally, they are Called to something that long transcends this world and their very lives.

Discernment is a process by which a person bonds closely with Our Lord and with the entire Church, past present and future, and in so doing, sees far more than he ever realized possible. It is awe-inspiring, it is is painful, for they come face-to-face with themselves and the questions that are most fearful to address. The questions most people want to avoid...and do avoid. That's why it's so painful. Not just because of the questions and resulting discovery of Truth, but because that Truth is rejected, not only within themselves as they try to flee that purifying light of conscience, but because the secular world has no sanctuary...and finds need only to attack, never to accept.

That's why it's so difficult. That, and far more.


I've never spoken or written of this before, and find it hard to do so now. But maybe it's important.

This summer, it was only through God's grace and some massively generous souls that I was finally able to visit some religious communities. I wanted to go, I was ready to go, and spiritually prepared. I had a lot of support from all sides, even my family. They weren't thrilled about the distance, but understood I needed to go.

I won't lie; I was apprehensive about this very new experience, and even more so as the plane drew closer to the East Coast. As it landed and we taxied towards the gate, I was nearly in tears as my most heartfelt prayer finally came to the surface and I let it come, praying it with my entire being: "Jesus, please don't break my heart."

There it was.

Jesus, please don't break my heart.

My heart has been broken enough. I can't take any more. I'm tired of being lost, I'm tired of being alone, I can't keep doing this. I'm weary from the battle, I have scars that are still bleeding, and if I take another hit, I fear I will fall and never rise again.

I prayed this, knowing the battle wasn't over. Hoping maybe I'd find my way home on this trip, realizing it's NEVER been that easy and I wasn't about to put my trust in that idea. Praying for strength to continue, no matter what.

There was nothing else to do; from that point forward, I was no longer in control, so I offered myself completely to Jesus, stripped before Him, laying everything bare, sharing my deepest, deepest prayer: Don't break my heart. Beat me, kill me, abandon me, I don't care. But don't break my heart. Not that. Break everything else, but don't reject me. I can't take it. Please.

Don't break my heart.

I knew that I'd broken His Most Sacred Heart so many times, and that my prayer was presumptive. How DARE I say such a thing to the One who was Crucified...for me? But love reveals itself in all its facets, and it is only by Our Lord's Grace that I was able to allow that very very deep longing to come to the surface, and to plead it before His throne...right there in that little tin can of an airplane.

There are many who will understand this prayer; there are many who won't. There are many who will misinterpret it to mean something it does not, and so I must define it as clearly as I can, although it will STILL be insufficient.

My prayer was one of Trust.

It was not that I was asking that THIS community be the RIGHT one. I was not arriving out of expectation of it being "perfect." I was asking for the very presence and blessing of Christ in my visit. I was asking to be shown the way to Him, to what He was calling me to be.

I didn't know if I was called to religious life or something else, and I didn't think that a discovery of NOT being called to religious life would be a bad thing. At the time I thought it WAS my calling and of course that's why I was there.

In my heart of hearts, though, as they say, I was simply asking that Our Lord not reject me, no matter what happened. I was begging for His presence and guidance wherever all of this would lead, for His comfort, and learning to trust that I truly WASN'T alone.

Jesus did answer my prayer.

It was, as I have written, an agonizing week and I expected it to be so. I spent a lot of time searching the depths of my soul and my relationship with Our Lord, trying to die to myself in order to live for Him. The daily routine alone demanded this. It made me think of prison and purgatory as I gave up my own will and freedom to willingly live in accordance with the structure of the convent. I even remained obedient to the boundaries given to the Sisters, those that did not bind me as a visitor. I could have left at any time, called a cab, asked to be taken to the airport, walked up the hill from the convent to investigate a berry bush, etc. And there were a couple days which, I admit, I desired only to be heading home. I couldn't wait to get "home."

But where was "home", really? Home isn't were the "heart" is, for the heart is so often wrong. Home is where God is...and that's what I was trying to figure out. How to get to Him, in spite of my broken, distorted heart that does not know love.

Jesus was made manifest, though, through His Brides, none of whom knew my agitated state and who would not have changed their demeanor if they had.

At that convent, I met some wonderful Sisters who received me enthusiastically and made me feel like family. They let me know that there was a place there for me, room in God's mansion. Many rooms. I was advised not to be afraid to answer God's Call, and every need I had was met, even those that were unexpected and forced me to depend on their own charity.

My life is better because of that week, because of that experience and knowing those dear Sisters. I can't imagine my life now without them. It was a great privilege to be one of them, even though I was apart from them. I was on the outside looking in yet experiencing all the warmth and joy of that life so many never see or experience.

But that wasn't the end. I can say the same about each visit this summer. Each was a direct encounter with God, answering my most heartfelt plea, all from different angles. I loved each convent or monastery individually, and loved Christ more because of them.

In each was His response to that little prayer of mine, asking Him not to break my heart.

"I didn't call you here to break your heart. Please don't break Mine."

I knew Jesus was with me, wanted me there, and spoke through His dear Brides. They wanted me there, too. Each invited me to deeply drink of God's Love, and, without pressure, to discern whether I was called to their life or some other.

It was clear that Our Lord was speaking to me, not as Master to Slave, but as a beloved daughter, as a possible Him...or someone. It was clear, ultimately that I simply didn't have the foundation to accept or reject anything. I was there to meet Jesus, to speak intimately with Him, and to learn to let Him be the guide, even if it made no sense to me.

Truly....NONE of this makes sense to me.

If I were in charge, I'd just choose somewhere and go, on my own time and when I chose.

Instead, God has given me impediments or opened doors as HE has chosen. HE has chosen my closest friends, HE has chosen my circumstances. He has made connections, drawn lines, and has asked me to follow. He has asked me to give up the wheel and let Him drive. Not because I can't, but because without headlights, He can see so much more clearly than I.

Jesus is asking me to trust.

It is only in trusting that I can give Him my heart. If I hold on to it, broken, it will NEVER be healed, I will never be made whole. If I don't let Jesus take my heart into His own hands...I will die.

My prayer, that day on the tarmac, was my offering. I gave Jesus my heart, entrusted it to Him with my breathless, tearful words: You can have it...just don't break it. I want my life to be yours. I want to live ONLY through YOU and in You.

I gave everything to Jesus in that moment, knowing that only He and I would understand that offering.

I still don't know what God is calling me to be. It's a constant battle not to give up. It's a constant battle to just NOT jump to a random decision among a plethora of good decisions...and some bad ones.

There is only ONE thing that I can say with certainty, and that is that Our Lord has not left me alone. He has not broken my heart. He has not rejected me, no matter how much I deserve it in every moment.

We who are discerning, in the depths of our hearts, we know we're broken. We are seeking God with everything we have, laying ourselves upon the altar and asking to enter into His sacrifice in any way He chooses. Deeply we fear that He will reject us, just as the world has and other people have, many times over. Not a single one of us has ever NOT experienced rejection of some sort.

The only thing I know now is that God is in charge, I've turned EVERYTHING over to Him, and He has promised that He will never reject me and will never break my heart.

Thank you, Jesus. I trust in Thee.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cross and Sorrow

I have a huge devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and am also developing a deep devotion, consistent with the Passionist spirituality, of devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, whose memorial we celebrate today.

Recently in my Mariology class, the connection was made for me between OLPH and Our Lady of Sorrows. One of the two possible Gospel readings today spoke of the prophecy at the presentation of Christ at the Temple, where Simeon praised God even as he revealed to the Mother of God that her own heart would be pierced.

When we look upon an icon, any icon, we are drawn in to the mystery through the eyes of those portrayed. Our Lady of Perpetual Help portrays the Mystery of our Redemption as she holds the child Jesus, who sought comfort in her arms as the shadow of the Cross and the implements of his crucifixion and torture fell over him. The very point that pierced the side of Christ was the very same as that which pierced her own heart. She is revealed both in the cited gospel
and the other for today, her presence at the Cross, as the Mother of Sorrows.

She invites us into that sorrow, for she is our mother and knows that without sorrow, without suffering, there can be no redemption. We are invited to penetrate the Mystery of our salvation by becoming a willing part of it.

So you see, it is no surprise that the Memorial of Our Mother of Sorrows follows upon the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross.

Although so many want to look at the Crucifixion of Christ as a one-time event (which it was), they ignore the second part of the teaching on the Cross; that we are called to it as well. We cannot experience the exultation without the experience of sorrow, for Christ Himself was a man of sorrows. Consider His Agony in the Garden; His sorrow in recognizing the need for our redemption was so great that it was not His Passion that caused Him to sweat blood, but the reality of sin in the world. It was that reality that made His Passion and Death necessary, and even as He meditated upon the sin of the past and future from that point....Jesus said yes.

But Our Lady had to say Yes before Jesus could in His humanity. It is said that "All of heavenand earth held their breath" awaiting her fiat to the Angel Gabriel. Our Blessed Mother greatly pondered the greeting of the angel, and in her humility bowed her head and said, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to Thy Word." And the Word was made flesh, the living Torah, as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary just as God had once overshadowed Mt. Sinai, the tents of the Hebrews in the desert, and the Ark of the Covenant, and the Holy of Holies. He overshadowed her and she conceived, saying "Yes" not just to that moment, but to every moment.

Mary didn't just say "yes" to bearing the Messiah, but to everything that came with that. When we gaze upon icons portraying our Redemption, we realize that she said yes to that, to sharing Our Lord's suffering, and that of the entire Church. We see her ongoing fiat as, in the Gospel of John, she remained at the foot of the Cross when all but the Apostle John had long run away. She remained, keeping vigil in her great sorrow, trusting in the Triumph of her Son
...for she knew who He was.

Mary is the woman of Revelation 12, whose offspring (Jesus) was taken up to heaven as she fled into the desert, and the dragon (Satan), angry, went off to make war on her offspring. It is we, the Church, who are her offspring. That day, at the foot of the Cross, Jesus gave her to John, who Himself stood in for Christ, and Mary, for the Church. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed she and the Apostles together, the day we celebrate as the birthday of the Church, we see her expanded maternity.

Mary is the woman of Genesis , John and Revelation who is in travail; not at the birth of Christ, but at the foot of the Cross and forever after that. Her greatest suffering comes not from a single point of agony, but from the reality of sin in the lives of her children, we, the adopted sons and daughters of God. She is in travail because we run from the Cross, and she calls us back, pointing to Christ, pointing to the Cross, for our redemption is there.
We cannot run from that shadow, for no matter how far we go, we cannot escape suffering. It is only through understanding the suffering and triumph of the Cross that we can give definition to our own sorrows. It is the Cross that brings us through everything that comes our way, and there, in union with Christ, it is overcome.

Psalm 57 reveals this truth:

Have mercy on me, O Lord, have mercy.
Under the shadow of your wings
I will take refuge
Until the storms of destruction pass by

We must be willing to flee to the shadow of His wings and embrace the Cross, letting it change us. Let the Cross be our guide, recognize the suffering of Our Lord that brings us through that terrible Cross and into His Glory.

Look at Our Mother of Sorrows, perhaps in the comforting light of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. She gazes at us, pointing to Christ, but inviting us into the mystery, her own sorrow exposed. She invites us to join her Son, to feel the cold shadow of the Cross and know that it is our destiny as well, if we would only stop running away.

Will we let our own hearts be pierced, or will we continue to flee, to fight the suffering that in the end, if we embrace it, conforms us to Christ Himself?

If we aren't willing to live the Cross, we will never find our way to eternal life.

Lord, by Your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.

Our Mother of Sorrows....pray for us!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


This evening I had to run out to complete an errand, and when I returned, I saw evidence that my dog had gotten into something. No, it wasn't a big mess of any type, just a bit of evidence revealing that, in fact, she is a dog and sometimes finds her joy in things such as used kleenexes.

As I picked the evidence off the floor, she laid on the couch, ears up, wagging her tail as I stared at her disapprovingly. I said her name quietly, shaking my finger.

Her "tone" changed immediately from one of innocence to guilt as her tail wag decreased to wagging the tip only, she ducked her head, laid back her ears, and when I called her to me, she slithered off the couch, remaining low as she approached.

In proper fashion she "crawled" to me, turned around, sitting on my left foot, her tail tucked as tightly as she could manage. She looked upwards at me, still wagging the tip of her tail, her ears flat back against her head in her most "heartfelt" apology.

As I bent down closer to her, she took the opportunity to show her great love by giving me several enthusiastic "kisses".

Naturally, I laughed out loud as I showed her a bit of my own affection for her, immediately forgiving her. Who can withstand those puppy-dog eyes, that voracious affection and heartfelt apology?

Not I.

I'm a pushover.

What gets me, though, is that my dog's "apology" is exactly the same, no matter what her level of offense. She apologizes with the same degree of hopeful sorrow and submission, whether she's caused a disaster or whether she's done something as minor as tearing apart a used kleenex left sitting out on the coffee table.

I can't tell you how many times God has used my dog to get through to me.

And yet people wonder why Jesus compared an imploring woman to a dog in the gospels? Really?

They must not know dogs...or God!

There's a bigger message here, though.

If we are to be forgiven, we must first forgive others.

Maybe the only one we have to forgive is our dog, but in reality, we've all suffered at the hands of others, we all hold grudges, and we all nurse our wounds even as we beg for God's mercy for our own offenses.

What hypocrites we are.

Lately, this topic of forgiveness has come up over and over again, naturally getting my attention. Recently on the radio I heard a priest suggest that it is a good practice to ask God to reveal to us anyone we haven't forgiven. We aren't always aware of the grudges we are holding and perhaps don't intend to hold. In prayer, God will answer this powerful request and we can simply choose to forgive that person who has hurt us as soon as they come to mind.

There are cases where, of course, the damage goes so deep that we simply don't have the natural ability to let go. It is then that we can throw ourselves upon Our Lord and ask Him, in His Passion, to forgive that person for us, bringing us to do the same. We can do nothing without Him.

I've been working on this, not consciously aware of any particular person I haven't forgiven. Yet, since I began this prayer, a few people have come to my attention, some through random contact, others while I was in Adoration, and I've realized that I am harboring far more grudges than I ever realized.

And just "forgiving them" isn't so easy. I can't seem to let them all go, even though I don't WANT to feel any anger towards them, I don't WANT to remember their offense against me, and of course, I hope that they have also forgiven me my offenses against them, if in fact my own offenses applied.

It seems I can far more easily forgive a terrorist who killed thousands of people than I can a friend who offended me once.

That says a lot, doesn't it?

And I suspect I am not alone in this.

The other day I read a news article about a September 11 family suffering still because of the loss of their husband and father. They are still angry, eight years later. The article quoted them saying they COULDN'T move on, they couldn't let go.

As I read, it was obvious; they needed to find a way to forgive. Indeed they couldn't move on; to do so would necessitate forgiveness of their enemy.

I don't judge those people; I understand. If I were in their shoes, I'd have a hard time, too. I, too, wouldn't have room in my heart to forgive a terrorist who had taken my loved one.

Yet I CAN forgive that terrorist. It doesn't really mean a lot, though, does it? After all, the terrorist didn't kill MY family member, but THEIRS. Is he my enemy? Indeed. He hurt my country and I spent yesterday in tears at that loss of life. But there's still a disconnect. That terrorist is faceless to me in a way that he is entirely personified evil to the families directly affected.

It is really easy to forgive people who have injured us collectively, as opposed to personally.

That's the REAL test.

It's not about politics. It's not about generalities. The words of Jesus weren't asking us to forgive political agendas and the people representing them, but rather, He was asking us to dig deep and consider all those who have harmed us...ever. In any way. Maybe a sibling or a parent, a cousin, a friend. A rival in love or competetion of some sort.

Our problem with this gospel is that we legalize the definitions, applying them to our times. We "democratize" them, thinking that an "enemy" must be political, for this definition gets us off the hook.


I have found that although I wouldn't define them as such for myself, the people I find it hardest to forgive are those who are or were friends. People who are in my life as loved ones, with whom I still have contact or some kind of fellowship.

They aren't "enemies" belonging to any kind of political agenda. Let's face it; I really don't care if some random German has decided to hate me because I'm American. Their hatred doesn't affect me unless that individual makes it personal, and even then, it wouldn't affect me much because, not knowing that person directly, I really wouldn't know if it was some kind of bot or just a maladjusted mental patient who had gone on random attack. (In current internet parlance, we call them "Anonymous Trolls". I might not even know of their hatred for me at all.

In any case, such an "enemy" would really be no more than a horsefly, if even that.

Jesus wasn't asking us to forgive horseflies.

His use of the term "enemy" was far more personal, far more intimate...and He meant what He said.

Our enemies are those we love, those with whom we associate, and who affect us every day. They are the people we meet on the internet and who disagree with our position. Maybe they ARE anonymous trolls who attack and run away, poor souls much like what's-his-name in Lord of the Rings, who really is more deserving of pity than hatred?

We have to forgive. That message is very very clear. We have to forgive those who injure us, who hate us, whether they are close to us or not. "Enemy" is a broad term, and it encompasses everything. No one is excluded from this.

If we desire God's mercy, then we need to be forgiving of others. That is His commandment. Love your enemies; it is no credit to any of us to love those who love us.

Even sinners do the same.

We can't excuse ourselves by saying that we are sinners.

Jesus came to save us; not to leave us to our excuses not to follow His directives for holiness.

One More Thing

We have to forgive ourselves, too.

This is perhaps the most difficult thing of all. We know when we have done wrong, we know when we have offended God. We Catholics know for certain when we have been forgiven, and we have to ACCEPT God's mercy.

We are our own enemies.

Again, recently I came across a quote from someone saying her priest had told her the following (paraphrased: "You can be certain that you are forgiven when you feel remorse for past sins."

So true. When we are tempted to beat ourselves up for stuff we did long ago, but already confessed and from which we have moved on, we must be certain to accept God's grace of forgiveness. Our ongoing contrition is indeed a sign that, truly, we are forgiven.

Remember that forgiveness and forgetfulness are two very different things. We may remember the pain, but we should do so without anger. We should remember only with objectivity, in that we are forgiven, and that we are to forgive others.

Myself, I struggle with ALL of this. I realize that I don't forgive when I should, I hold grudges, and...I have a really hard time forgiving myself for things I have long ago confessed.

All of this is an offense against the Holy Spirit. Yet God in His patience and love is ready to help us overcome our own inabilities, and simply awaits our cries. Can we recognize our unforgiveness? Or will we try to burst forward in our spiritual lives without being held accountable?

If we can't seem to move, perhaps it is because we need to forgive...others AND ourselves.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Little Acts of Love

It's been a hard day for me, harder than in previous years. All day long I've either been crying or right on the edge and have had to work hard to joke with others at work. No one at work knows what I was going through today and I don't want them to know.

I hate it when people see me crying. And I don't want to worry people. Maybe this is one of the reasons I'm anonymous online...because as an anonymous I can write of these things and no one will call me up and make sure I'm not slicing my veins.

Which I'm not, by the way. Just sayin'.

Because I'm sad, though, I want to write of something beautiful.

All day, God has been with me, He has spoken to me, and although I can't share anything concrete, I can write of a revelation of love, which in turn reminds me that love isn't in big showy events, but small "inconsequential" ones that are hidden from sight.

Conversations from the Monastery

When I visited the Cistercians and it was clear that God had drawn me there in order to know Him in the silence, without pressure or expectation, it freed the conversations had with the Vocations Director there. We spoke of many many things, and on that Sunday, we spoke specificially of God's little acts of love.

We spoke of those times where we see something and desire it, perhaps a small thing, such as flowers. Any kind of simple pleasure, in fact. Sister said she finds she'll desire something and thinks to herself, "That's so stupid! I'm not going to ask Him for that!" And so she'll remain silent, her hidden desire obscured as she goes throughout her day or week.

And then she'll find that the very object of her desire, the very blessing for which she refused to ask...would land in her very hands. She would recognize that gift, and as she sat in front of me describing this, she dropped her head, her veil falling to frame her face as she stared downwards in surprised humility, softened in her reception of great love.


Contained there was recognition of God's love so great He responds to the smallest requests, and a recognition of a lack of faith and not ASK for the small things, thinking them insignificant.

God doesn't consider ANYTHING to be insignificant. He makes Himself present in the smallest things and delights in the little, unnoticeable acts of love.

I think He does this because we can't imitate the big ones, and so He gives us an example, something we can imitate every day to reveal Him to those around us.

If we don't know Love...we can't reveal it to others.

Maybe one of the reasons God sent me to visit the Cistercians was to know Him in His deep, personal love for us all, which is something I struggle to accept. I don't know who I am in relation to the Church, I don't know who or what I'm supposed to be, and so often I feel like I'm just floating on the fringes, invisible. Tonight, as I left Mass, I tried to talk to two people...who just walked away or remained in their conversations, not seeing me.

No, they didn't "shun" me. It was clear they didn't see me, which was fine. I'm not offended or discouraged.

It did remind me, though, to keep my own eyes open for others, as God keeps His eyes open for us, and responds in the smallest of ways, if only we are open to His gifts.

Little Errors

We also spoke of the little mistakes we make every day. I mentioned that during prayer that very day, a weird thought had interjected itself into my reading of Morning Prayer, rendering the Antiphon completely nonsensical and humorous. I had to suppress giggles as I apologized to God for my foible. At the same time I realized my apology was unnecessary as my goof wasn't intentional distraction, but simply arose sporadically, and God was probably laughing with me.

Sister and I spoke of how those simple little mistakes made us MORE human, MORE lovable to God, for He had created us in such a way that, even in our Fall, we make errors that are endearing, not sinful. And those little mistakes elicit great pleasure from Our Lord, who gave us a share in His own good humor. When we make little unintentional foibles, Jesus must laugh, given our good intentions that go hilariously wrong in our attempt to honor Him and join with Him throughout our long days.

I expressed to Sister that although I apologized to Jesus, I knew He was laughing, too, and in that, we drew closer to each other, giving the intended prayer even greater depth than that which was contained in the words and very history. It was my little error that made Him more present and more REAL to me, and in so doing, brought me more deeply into His Presence.

My Gift

While at the Monastery, hearing Sister's story of God's little gifts of love, I considered that very idea and shared with her my own memories of God revealing Himself to me in that way.

What I didn't mention was that I was hugely craving chocolate while on that retreat, and while there were chips and pop left for retreatants near a little mini-fridge in the guest quarters, there was no chocolate.

I did not ask God for chocolate, although I told Him of my craving and offered it up as random insignificant suffering. I was surprised at the craving while I was there and really thought it to be nothing at all.

That evening, the Guest Mistress told me that she'd have to set my place ahead of time in the morning as she had a prior commitment and wouldn't be available as usual. I said I'd be fine with whatever she set, and thanked her for everything, hoped she would do well.

The next morning after prayer as I sat in the guest refrectory, I saw a little jar that looked like jelly, but I couldn't identify it. I turned it, wondering if Smucker's had come out with something new.

The label read "Hot Fudge".

As I surveyed by breakfast table of cereal, bread, a toaster, milk, absent of butter or jelly, I wondered if there was some tradition I was supposed to know about?

Was this a Feast?

Was I supposed to put hot fudge on my cereal or smear it on toast in honor of something, or as a part of a community tradition?

As I ate my cereal, I contemplated that hot fudge jar, wondering why it was there. I had fallen deliberately into the "Everything is God's will" mentality to help me be docile to every little event at the Monastery, knowing in advance that I needed to leave preconceptions behind.

Perhaps I went too far as I contemplated the fudge; I almost missed the point.

Ah! That Little Signal of Love!

Then it hit me.

I pictured Sister GM getting my place ready before she headed to her appointment. She put everything out, and grabbed what she THOUGHT was jelly for my toast, for the pattern on the cap was checkered like all the jellies.

In her good will, wanting to make sure I had everything I needed, she gave me exactly what she DIDN'T intend...but God did.

As I ate my cereal, wishing for toast and jelly (I could have rung and asked for jelly but didn't, desiring to live in the moment and accepting everything), I realized the message God was sending.

Sister's little mistake was really a deep expression of God's love.

I hadn't spoken of my intense but unresolved random craving for chocolate.

That morning, the craving was gone, and it didn't matter. But there it was, if I thought I needed it. God answered, through the little gesture from His handmaid.

In contemplating the fudge, I contemplated my own mistake, and realized that God delighted in my mistake as much or more so than I delighted in Sr. MG's, for I did not ultimately see a "mistake" set before me, but an intention gone wrong, which actually was an answer to something deeper...and therefore an action giving the RIGHT response.

Real love.

God is in our little cravings, the things we don't want to request as we think them too small, and in our own tiny acts of charity for others. I have no doubt that Sr. MG, when she cleared my table when she got back from her appointment, realized her mistake. I hope that God helped her see, as He did for me, that it WASN'T a mistake, but a signal grace, a sign of love for us both. He used her as a willing messenger, and me, the woman in need of a tiny bouquet.

God does this for us and with us every day, if we would only be OPEN to Him. He DELIGHTS in the small things in our lives. They are what form us, what draw us, what draws others.

Ask anyone in friendship or marriage; what drew you and kept you together?

All who are honest and all that last will say the same; it is the small things.

It is the small things that reveal true love, it is the small things that reveal true friendship. Sometimes big things are needed (such as the Passion and Crucifixion), but before all that, wasn't Jesus a friend in small ways as well? Didn't He care for the most basic of needs? Didn't Jesus come to SHARE with us every human desire that would draw us to true holiness?

Doesn't any lover give not only where it is needed, but where a gift is wanted, especially if it is expressed without words? Isn't the hidden desire fulfilled a sign of true devotion?

Doesn't anyone who has love give to their object of affection or friendship something of beauty, something of desire...something so insignificant that no one else would know about it?

Love is in the small things. Let us learn to accept those little graces and give them as welll, for it is only in being a part of this that we can ever truly know God.