Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Buy Gold

For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.

This word from the book of Revelation chapter 3 has been echoing inside me all morning. Every bit of commenting I read about the presumptive Republican nominee sends it echoing again.

But our need in this country is for something much greater than a statesman or a decent politician. I'm going to look the professing Christians in the eye and issue this challenge, the same one that Jesus gave the Laodiceans: Buy Gold.

And what does it mean? How do you do it? For that's the first thing: if Christians don't even know what makes the Christian life distinctive from human attempts at being morally upright, it is no wonder that we are spiritually bankrupt.

Jesus has the gold. We buy it from Him by picking up the cross that is ours and following Him. As we do this, we give ourselves over to conformity to Him by the Holy Spirit. (Fear not, little freedom lover, conformity is not a dirty word when you are conforming to the infinite God.) As we follow Him, taking His concerns as ours, He takes our concerns as His. They are transformed. We are changed. And He compensates us with gold.

Then we exchange that gold for the transformation of souls and the world around us through love, grace and peace.

If we don't follow, we don't gain gold. Without gold, we are left deeply poor, too poor to even cover ourselves. If we don't grasp the futility of human work to accomplish divine things, we are blind fools. The only thing that we can offer to God for the transformation of souls is the good He has given us through our personal share in His cross.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lessons from the Mystics for Normal People

Last weekend was the annual retreat for my Secular Carmelite community, and for the first time since I have been involved we had a Carmelite friar as retreat master. I loved our previous retreat master who preached the last three I attended; his messages moved my heart and have stayed alive with me all this time. But there was something uniquely wonderful about having a Father of my own charism teaching this time. It was not so much the things he said that have stayed with me (although I gleaned much) as it was his lived witness of being a Carmelite.

The Lord taught me many years ago that a key component in evangelizing a soul is to reveal to that soul, by the grace of God, who he or she is, deeply, in the truth and reality that is God Himself. In other words, when God uses me to tell someone else who they truly are, an encounter with Christ has taken place.

So I'd say I encountered Christ last weekend.

And he reminded me of reality: You are a Carmelite. You are a mystic. And here's what it means for you.

Now, hold the phone. Mystics are weird, right? They have bizarre experiences and it is probably either psychological delusion supported by the ignorant, pious blindness of those around them, and probably half the stories about them are prideful, desperate, embellished daydreams to wield power over simple people, or blah blah blah.

Well, no. Although we spent the weekend learning about a mystic of recent times who would have to push the envelope of skeptics to the breaking point very quickly: St. Mary of Jesus Crucified. She had experiences that make the mystical phenomenon of St. Padre Pio look tame.

Mystical prayer simply means prayer that is the Holy Spirit's that happens in us humans. It is not necessarily accompanied by unusual experiences, though it can be. It is not necessarily a sensibly powerful experience, though it can be.

Secular Carmelites make a promise to spend a half hour each day in this type of prayer. This promised prayer is not for personal benefit or growth, but for the Church. Friars and nuns promise two hours of this type of prayer every day.

I've known this for years now, but I had a moment this last weekend where this simply clicked for me on a deeper level. A "naru hodo" moment. And in conjunction with this whole retreat, I found an incredible joy in being able to stretch out my whole being into this vocation and exclaim "This is who I am. This is where I belong."

St. Mary of Jesus Crucified (1846-1878)

As we studied the life of St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, we learned this means sharing the gloriously joyful delights of union with God, as well as the crushing pains and sufferings of union with Jesus. But it also means simply living the normal life we have as normal secular Carmelites, by faith.

And that is what normal people can glean from mystics who levitate, have visions of heaven and hell, converse with saints and angels, have the stigmata which bleed onto sheets in drops that spell out words, who persuade Popes of things by letters someone else has to transcribe because of being illiterate, being martyred but surviving because the Blessed Virgin comes to personally nurse her back to life for a month (and on, and on, and on). We hear the testimony of the mystic, of the Carmelite, whose call, according to our rule, is to bear witness to the experience of God. The vast majority of mystical phenomenon may be things we never experience, but by faith we can acknowledge the things mystics see face to face, and live in the light of their reality.

So, yes, I believe the testimony of a mystic to whom it was given to see how many angels are crowded into an empty church, and how many more guardian angels are present during a Mass. I can't see them, but I remember when I enter a church that they are there (sometimes, I do), and I respond accordingly.

Yes, I believe the testimony of many, many mystics who have seen visions of many souls falling into hell, because I know it is a possibility and I am called to pray that it not happen.

Yes, I believe the experience of the mystics who suffer interior torments when people think they are crazy, but then they find that this is typical of a process of purification Jesus often employs for souls with this vocation. I use this insight to face my own blander struggles with courage, offer them to God, and then refocus my attention away from my own needs and onto what is going on in the heart of Jesus, trusting that Jesus will care for me and I don't have to obsess.

And when mysterious things happen in my own life, I am not surprised but simply realize this is evidence God is real, which is exactly what I should expect, and that he uses these things to purify souls and draw them away from the baubles and distractions of the world. So I take courage and thank God for drawing me.

So don't bristle at the term mystic. Like many words it has experienced abuse, but it is a genuine stream of Catholic spirituality that is indispensable for our time.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What Lectors Might Learn from Good Storytellers

In combing through a stack of books today, I happened to come across these paragraphs in an essay on attributes needed by a good storyteller. Immediately I thought one could change the word "storyteller" to "lector," as in one who reads the Scriptures in church, with great benefit. I enjoy lectoring almost as much as I enjoy cantoring (to sing the Psalms in church), and I have been told I do it well. I completely attribute that to reading aloud to my children for hours on end over the last 13 years.

The text from which I quote is the 1947 edition of Children and Books by May Hill Arbuthnot, pages 242-243. I will edit out some sections that do not carry over to my purpose.


The successful [lector] must have two types of equipment for his art. First, he must possess those outward and visible evidences of fitness for the task -- good voice, clear diction, adequate vocabulary, and pleasant appearance. Second, he must achieve a certain elusive inner and spiritual grace made up of complete sincerity, delight in his [text], self-forgetfulness, and a respect for his audience and for his... art. The first equipment can be attained through patient practice. the second must grow from living and from loving both [Scripture] and people.

An agreeable voice and clear, pure diction are perhaps the first requisites for the [lector] to consider. Needless to say, there should not be a special voice reserved for [lectoring]... You should take stock of your own vocal equipment. Ask others to evaluate your voice honestly. Record it if possible, so that you can listen to it yourself. If your voice is nasal, harsh, or monotonous, try to improve it for everyday use to the point where it is agreeable and lovely for special use. Women tend to pitch their voices higher and shriller than they should. Try  your speaking voice at the piano and see where it falls in relation to middle C. Most of us can profitably pitch our everyday speaking voices a key or so lower than we have been doing, and both we and [those who hear us] will be more peaceful as a result. Go to the theater or turn on the radio, and deliberately listen to and compare voices. Be critical of oversweet voices of some radio personalities, both male and female. Try to discover the voices of Katharine Cornell, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Maurice Evans, and Paul Robeson so moving and satisfying. Put on Lynn Fotanne's recording of "The White Cliffs of Dover" and notice the range and variety in that high, sweet voice. Lessons with an expert in voice placement and production will help you, but by cultivating a listening ear you can do much for yourself.

A good voice is invariably supported by deep and controlled breathing. Breath must come from down in the diaphragm, not from the upper chest. Read aloud sustained passages from the Psalms or from Shakespeare. Put on Maurice Evans' recording of the lines from Richard II and read them with him.You can then tell when you run out of breath and he does not. Breathe deeper, and not only will you be able to sustain those long sonorous passages, but your voice will grow in richness and resonance. Shallow breathing makes thin, tired voices, which are apt to become shrill and sharp. Deep controlled breathing gives to the voice both a sense of support and increased range and color.

When you read Shakespeare's Sonnet XXIX and phrase it correctly without running out of breath, then you have good breath control, which will make your voice grow in depth and power as you use it. Notice that this sonnet has only the final period and only two semicolons to break the sequential phrases. Try lines 2, 3, and 4 on one breath, and, of course, lines 11 and 12.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings. 

Now, after having huffed and puffed self-consciously as you worked for breath control, read the sonnet for enjoyment.

 Clear articulation of words is as essential as an agreeable voice. Of course, nothing is worse than an artificial, overprecise enunciation, except perhaps an attempt to imitate the speech of another district that is quite foreign to us. If we are New England, Southern, Midwestern, or Western, let's not try for Oxford English or any other accent unnatural to us. Instead, let's eradicate the impurities of our own particular region (every region has them), and try to speak the purest, most vigorous pattern of English that obtains in our section of the country. [Lectoring] is ruined if it sounds artificial or pretentious....


Even though little else carries directly over, I love how these thoughts of the section called "Living the Story" fit nicely:

"Of course, if you have not the emotional capacity to be deeply moved by these stories, then do not try to tell them, for there must be warmth and a loving appreciation for every word of a story if it is to reach an audience...

"To love a story in this way means that the teller has not only learned the story mechanically and lived with it for some time but  has learned it with her heart, brooding over it and fussing with the phraseology until words and voice convey precisely what she feels. She does not rattle through it merely to get the words but re-creates it imaginatively. She tells it slowly and thoughtfully to the darkness after she has gone to bed or she thinks it through, scene by scene, on the streetcar until finally it is her story. Such solitary telling is a process of disciplining herself until she can give an honest interpretation of the way the story makes her feel."

It's called prayer, of course. Meditation and rumination on Scripture in general is necessary so that when we proclaim it, we are proclaiming it as ours -- my own, and our shared experience and record of God's revelation. This type of proclamation draws the hearers in to claim the Word for themselves.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Oblation to Divine Mercy

In recent years, I have learned about St. Therese's Act of Oblation to Merciful Love. In her day, of course, there was no Divine Mercy Sunday, but this feast day is an obvious one for thinking about this oblation a little bit.

It has been explained to me that in St. Therese's day and place (so, very late 19th century in France) it was popular for Catholics to offer themselves to God to appease His wrath. The Jansenist tendency towards self righteousness fueled the desire for people to be strict with themselves and others, fearing offending God, striving for extraordinary feats of sacrifice and whatnot.

Against this backdrop, St. Therese came on the scene, emphasizing instead that she had a child's capacity for difficult things and could not do them. Instead, she entrusted herself to her Father's great love, certain of His love to raise her where she could not take herself. Her concern was not for God's unspent wrath, but on His unspent, un-sought-after merciful love. She offered to receive all of this unspent, unwelcomed mercy into her own soul.

Over the last 18 months or so I've been meditating quite a bit on mercy, and something is beginning to dawn on me about this Oblation. To pray this is really to make a commitment to become deeply, profoundly aware of one's need for God. And one's need for God is felt simply in experiencing one's own misery in its various forms.

Misery, or need, is the depth of the experience that God is God and I am not. Most of the time most of us anesthetize ourselves from this reality so that the pain of our gaping need does not take our breath away.

Why should it hurt, really, this truth that God is God and I am not? Is it not the most obvious reality?

If life were all about filling in the proper answer on a worksheet, this one would be easy. But the difficulty is that if we deeply accept this as true, it must change the way we live. If I am not God, but there is a God, then it stands to reason that God's will for me must take precedence over my will for me. If there is a God, and I am not He, then I am answerable to this God.

And if I am making an oblation, a self-offering, to God who is Merciful Love, then the only thing that is terrifying in this equation is myself, who am not love and who am not even familiar with the depth of love, even though it is all my conscious and unconscious longing. But no, it is not myself who is terrifying.

It is the fact that I stand to experience Love in all its Immensity.

It's really just awesome. And the freaky part is having to pause and breathe it in, until the "too good to be true" sensation has passed. And because this Oblation is made with the salvation of others in view, part of breathing it in, part of accepting it, really is to be aware of how much other living, breathing human beings need to encounter a person who has encountered Love.

I will let you love me, O Lord, so that You can love others through me.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Ardent Love of Jesus in Gethsemane

Today at my Carmelite Seculars meeting, we used the following passage from the Passion narrative as the basis of our Lectio Divina meditation:

Then going out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives,
and the disciples followed him.
When he arrived at the place he said to them,
“Pray that you may not undergo the test.”
After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling,
he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing,
take this cup away from me;
still, not my will but yours be done.”
And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him.
He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently
that his sweat became like drops of blood
falling on the ground.
When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples,
he found them sleeping from grief.
He said to them, “Why are you sleeping?
Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.” (Luke 22:39-46)
I was powerfully struck by this as if I hadn't really heard it before, even though I heard it proclaimed twice just this morning. That is the power of Lectio Divina.

Specifically what struck me was the incredible humility of His prayer. He is the Son of God, yet He kneels, and asks His Father about what His will is for this moment. God incarnate is then given strength by His own creature, an angel. His human anguish was so incredibly strong that it maxed out what His body could hold in, and He sweat blood, something the human body is capable of under extremely severe stress.

Yet, it struck me: He received the angel's ministry, but what did He urgently, passionately, dare I say even frantically desire with every drop of Himself? He wanted consolation from his disciples. He asked for it twice. Pray! Pray that you not undergo the test! Because, think: what had Jesus just been praying about? He was praying that He not undergo the test, if possible. He wanted His disciples with Him, doing what He was doing. What was foremost in His heart, He wanted to find foremost in theirs, with the same power with which He felt it.

Were their hearts with His? Nope. What did they do? They fell asleep.

At His most vulnerable human moment, He was left all alone by those in whom He had invested the last three years of His life -- all His public ministry. All the important stuff, they had shared and seen, and when His need was greatest, they were completely incapable of reciprocating, of being with Him. They slept.

Jesus knew the Father's answer: Yes, you want those who followed you to be with you. But they cannot, by any means they have, cross that chasm to be with you, because that chasm is the death-sin they inherited from Adam. The only way they will be able to be with you is if you go forward to and through death, defeat it, cancel out the separation that is theirs because of sin, and reconcile the world to Me by Your death on the cross. You want them so badly to be with you. So you must drink the cup. Then the power will flow, and We will be in them and they in Us.

Jesus was resolute: "Yes, Father. Because my human terror is so real right now, because the love I have for these people You have given me, the love that is exploding my capillaries and causing me to sweat blood, I am feeling with everything in me the mission for which I came. On I go to death. Love compels me. So that they might be one in Us, as I am one with you."

It was almost as if I could see the overwhelming, all-consuming desire in the heart of Jesus at that moment for his disciples to be truly one with Him.

The difference between then and now, in the economy of grace, is that now He already has made it possible for us to be one with Him. He no longer suffers the torment He felt in the Garden; He no longer sweats blood. But His heart still yearns for those who will simply turn to Him and receive the mercy He has already poured out. Redemption has been won. He longs for our openness to ask and receive. There is no need at all to think we have to beg and yell and plead and perform to get God to favor us. No. He favors us. He passionately longs for us. We need to trust that is true, and receive Him.

Lord Jesus, help more people to trust in Your love.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

God is the Redeemer, Even of Scary Childhood Art

The Lord has been doing some major excavations in me during Lent. And I realize it has been awhile since I have freely written about this type of thing. I've never regretted being raw before, so why should I stop now.

Today at Mass, I handed over to the Lord for His redemption a piece of artwork I created when I was 6 years old. It feels like lifting up an old concrete slab, complete with the escaping swarm of creepy-crawlies. But life will grow there, now.

I remember this piece of artwork not because I still have it, but because I looked at it regularly into my teenage years. And I suppose because I saw frequently and because of what I will now describe, it burned its way into my memory.

Supposedly, a drawing by a typical 6 year old looks something like this:

It looks a little too neat for me, but then again I have never claimed to have any artistic talent.

The picture I drew, however, was actually frightening. It showed a child holding balloons, a house, a sun, and a grassy lawn. But everything was drawn with jagged edges -- the grass, the body, the feet, the balloons. The colors were dark: black, purple, red, dark green, with splashes of orange and yellow buried underneath. And the most striking thing was that every image -- the child, the house, the balloons -- were all divided down the middle with a jagged, black line. The child looked a lot more like a monster.

That was my view of myself and my world in the year my parents were divorced. The reason I saw this picture so frequently was that my dad had it hanging on the wall of his house. But how it got there is what I have been thinking about afresh recently.

I remember bringing it home from school and showing it to my mom. "You show that to your father. He should have that. You give that to him," she told me.

It hasn't been until now, when I am older than my mom was then, that I have thought about what was in her statement that resulted in me remembering this picture. Anyone who looked at this picture could realize there was something wrong with the child who drew it. And I can see now that she felt that whatever was wrong with me was to be blamed on my father. And by giving him the picture, she hoped he would wake up and take responsibility for me emotionally, or at least feel the weight of this scary thing coming out of the mind of a little girl.

My father was a man with many issues of his own. Her hopes did not come to fruition. That I have known, and I long ago addressed it.

What I have not fully seen until now was the depth of my emotional need at that age (and beyond), and the simple fact that it was not met by anyone. My mother saw something was wrong, and simply did not address it beyond trying to pass it off onto my father. Later, there wasn't even that attempt. I very quickly learned to stop making my needs known to anyone.

All my life I have struggled with whether it is right to say things that sound accusatory about my own family. But I realize that stating objective facts about what happened is simply facing truth. Facing truth is always a good thing, and I can leave intentions and motives aside, as they are not mine to judge or to fear.

I've also learned that a name has been given to this lack of parental emotional response: Childhood Emotional Neglect. And there are a whole slew of emotional attunement issues related to this missing piece. For years I've worked on addressing many of them, including the difficulty I have getting angry, and taking my own feelings seriously.

A while back, I had a friend in her 80s confide to me that God was healing her of issues with her childhood, so I guess I'll just accept that life is always this way.Whether we seek truth and healing, or we hide in the dark, something won't feel good. I would rather cry over an old pain and receive healing than live adult life numb to others and my surroundings.

It takes courage to seek healing. But God really does heal. Seeking wholeness is worth facing the pain involved.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

From The Heart

This morning at Mass I was struck by hearing the gospel highlighted in a markedly different way than past hearings.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

That's Matthew 18:21-35.

The first thing that stood out was "the servant fell down, did him homage, and said..." And then, the master's response, "moved with compassion, the master of that servant let him go."

Then after the report of this man throttling a peer, he tells him he is wicked and says "I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to." And Jesus summarizes the point of the parable as the need to forgive from the heart.

Now, God is speaking to me the same way He speaks to any of us, and that is in the midst of my own circumstances. And my circumstances, my tutelage from God in this stage of Lent seems to be focused on getting in touch with the well-spring of human feeling that arises from my heart. To really notice what goes on in my emotions. I'm becoming aware of how frequently I am unaware of my emotions, due to long-time habit and conditioning.

So I found myself being able to relate to the experience of this guy who receives mercy and then throttles his peer. He falls down at the master's feet and begs for patience from him. And the master is moved with compassion. As a result, he gives far more than patience; he forgives the whole debt. That shows that the master's heart can experience the servant's vulnerability and respond from his moved heart, from his aroused emotions. And while the servant took the news, he did not receive the compassion. He couldn't, and he proves it by not being moved by hearing the same plea from someone else. His heart could not be moved with compassion, because compassion had never registered with him. When he met vulnerability, even just a little bit, he lacked the heart to respond. He could have cultivated it by meditating on his own pitiful state, or at least at the state of his wife and children who were going to become slaves. He could have faced it, had his emotional center torn by it, and then when he was offered compassion, it would have filled him with mercy. Instead, he went through mechanical motions.

The homily I heard mentioned the rabbinic tradition of offering forgiveness to someone who offended you three times. And Peter thought he was being generous by stretching the rabbinic limit to be more liberal. Jesus was trying to move Peter out of notions of liberal mechanics out into a life lived from a changed heart. To be moved with compassion at the suffering of another and to give mercy is really a fruit of the cross. It is not logical justice. It is not what someone is "entitled to." It is the echo of God's way.

In order to really understand what mercy is, you need a visceral experience of your wretchedness. And you need to not turn away from the sight for any reason, including boredom, indifference, shame, fright, despair. Look at it. Then see Jesus on the cross, sharing it. Then know he shares it because of irrevocable love for you. That's the moment when mercy breaks in.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

On Confession, by Fr.Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, OCD

This is the best thing I have ever read about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. By Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, OCD, in Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year

"Penance is the sacrament of Christ's Precious Blood in which God -- according to the eloquent words of St. Catherine of Siena -- "has bathed us in order to cleanse the face of our souls from the leprosy of sin." If mortal sin only is the necessary matter of this sacrament, venial sin is sufficient matter, since all Catholic tradition insists on frequent confession, even when one has only venial sins to confess. However, those who confess weekly must take great care lest their confessions become a mere routine, instead of the really vital acts which would enable these souls to profit fully from all the graces offered by the sacrament.

" 'Do not despise the Blood of Christ!' exclaims St. Cather of Siena. Certainly anyone who appreciates it will not approach the sacrament of penance lightly. To this end it is useful to recall that absolution is truly the pouring forth of the Precious Blood which, inundating and penetrating the soul, purifies it from sin, and restores sanctifying grace if it has been lost, or increases this gift if it is already present in the soul. The remission of sin and the imparting of grace are the fruits of the action of Jesus, expressed by the formula the priest pronounces in His Name: 'I absolve thee.' At that moment it is Jesus who is acting in the soul, either by remitting sin or by producing or increasing grace. It is well to remember that the efficacy of the absolution is not limited merely to sins that have already been committed, but that it even extends into the future. By means of the particular sacramental grace, the soul is strengthened beforehand against relapses and it is offered the fortitude to resist temptations and to carry out its good resolutions. The Blood of Christ is, in this sense, not only a remedy for the past, but also a preservative and a strengthening help for the future. The soul which plunges into it, as into a healthful bath, draws from it new vigor and sees the strength of its passions extinguished little by little. We see then the importance of frequent confession for a soul desirous of union with God, a sould which must necessarily aspire to total purification.

"When the soul in the tribunal of penance has only venial sins to confess, it is not necessary that it preoccupy itself with confessing all of them, either as to their number or their kind. This completeness is necessary only when there is a question of mortal sin. In other cases, however, it is much more profitable to fix the attention on deliberate faults first, then on those which are semi-deliberate -- even if they are only simple imperfections -- telling not only the faults themselves but also the motives behind them. Although this method is not required for the validity of the confession, it is certain that the soul will draw much profit from it since the accusation will have exposed the root of the evil. The soul will benefit too by its act of humility, which will be a stimulus to deeper repentance and will arouse in it a more ardent desire to amend its life, for this is the logical result of considering the motives -- usually not noble ones! -- from which our faults arise. Furthermore, an accusation of this kind helps the confessor to have a better knowledge of the penitent's weak points, and to suggest the most suitable remedies, a matter of special importance when direction is given with confession.

"In addition to its accusation, the soul must also occupy itself with sorrow for its sins because they offend God, who is infinite Goodness. This should be a sorrow ex amore, springing from love, the repentance of the child who is more disconsolate over the displeasure given to a father who loves it so much and to whom it should return love for love, than over the thought of its guilt and the punishment it deserves. For the validity of the sacrament, sorrow is necessary; if it is lacking, the absolution will be null. However, the more perfect the contrition, the more effectively will the absolution erase not only the sin but also the temporal punishment which it has incurred. The Blood of Jesus will purify, renew, and enrich the heart of the penitent with fortitude, charity, and grace, in the measure of his contrition.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Time to Stop Being a Baby

I don't generally make big penitential plans for myself during Lent. It seems the Lord likes to introduce His own program for me, and for my part I try to enter that. Right now it seems a big theme is to examine why I interact with people the way I do. This post is not a report; it is a dive. I'm going to dive into it and see where I end up.

Recently I heard a news report about the rising percentage of kids who show up in college and have significant difficulty dealing with stresses. Everything just seems to be "too much" and they don't have the coping skills to handle things and they come unglued.

Since my son has entered high school, I have thought to myself repeatedly how stress and anxiety became my motivators. When I didn't understand Algebra-Trig, it actually kept me awake at night with worry. I remember getting tears in my eyes with anxiety over my first physics test. It was enough to energize me to struggle and try hard, and it also taught me the joy of doing classwork that came easy to me and allowed me to express myself, like literature and writing. Anxiety would push me over the hump of Impossible to at least fall on my face on the other side.

Academic work was not the origin of my anxiety. I was a good student and for the most part got good grades without putting in much effort (which is a seperate problem). My anxiety was more a response to my sense that my world had gotten ripped to shreds through my parents' divorce and the alcoholism and mental illness in my family. Talking these things through was not yet fashionable when I was young, so in a terrible anti-Marian sense I kept all these sadnesses and pondered them in my heart. And I quickly learned that one of the less destructive ways I could deal with anxiety was to go about trying to solve all the problems I saw, especially the ones that weren't mine. I would take on more and more responsibility for things as a way of keeping chaos at bay.

This made me popular with employers, because when I finished my work, I would go looking for other unfinished work to help with. I would use spare time brainstorming contributions to others' projects. As a child, I would clean the house instead of worrying that the visitor my mom was expecting would have to see it as it was. When I wasn't sure she would be home on time to take me to my school concert, I would throw myself into a flurry of activity to make the time go faster.

(The interesting thing is that even though doctors pointed out to me that I was extremely tense and didn't seem to know what "relax this muscle" meant, it wasn't until I started cantoring for Masses that I realized I had any issues with anxiety. That's how natural it was to me.)

So, back to the kids in schools. Lots of them have Gen X parents. Lots of Gen Xers have stories like mine: lives ripped apart, coping skills often had to be on steroids. What is the natural expression of "love" in this environment? Here, let me do that for you. I'll take care of it.

Guilt says that kind of stuff. One feels at fault, so one tries to make amends -- for everything. And the offspring of such over-carers remain infantile, unable to cope with stressors.

Recently I found myself with a pain I didn't expect. I've been struggling with one of my kid's morning rising patterns, but have set a deadline by which time a goal has to be reached for a desired outcome to be possible for him. And to work towards it, I recently announced I would only issue at maximum one wake up call to him, and then if he was late to his classes, it would be on his head. My first day of working with this, I suddenly saw that even though I hate repeatedly nagging him, pledging to stop filled me with great anxiety. Somehow, my personal sense of safety and peace was shaken when I just left his responsibility to him and let him bear the weight of it.

But you know what? He did it. I had to sweat for awhile, but he hasn't been late yet. Oh, it's only been two days, but, you know...

Facing this in myself does not make me happy, that's for sure.

I've been thinking about all the references all over Paul's letters where he talks about Christians' need to grow up, to stop being mere babies, to go on to maturity. And for me, yeah, I'm down with that. I want to be super-Christian. Sure. But I realize that no one is ever super-Christian off in their own private world. Not even a hermit. By penance and by teaching and by interacting with people, Christians are to exhort others to grow up and stop being babies. And you know what? That provokes tantrums and hurt and accusations and bad feelings, and just a whole lot of loud complaints that growing up just is too much to ask. Provoking that is about as much fun as a room of noisy, crying toddlers. The good thing about toddlers is that you know in 20 years they'll be chronological adults. We have no such guarantee about Christians.

Love does not mean swallowing up all hurt so that other people can be indulged. I could swallow until I burst and it would never please or satisfy another person, and I'm left with an aching, hurting belly. Love means speaking the truth and letting Jesus fill both of us, even if it hurts both of us.

Well, I guess all that Scripture is the next thing I need to dive into.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple

 Photo from this blog

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God... (Luke 2:25-28)

When I pray the fourth joyful mystery, my mind gravitates towards Simeon. Scripture does not tell us that he was an old man, though he is generally depicted as such. We are told he had been waiting, at the Lord's promise, to see the Messiah.

My experience is that when the Lord personally quickens me to trust in a promise of something that is to happen in time, He does so to hollow me out. This stands to reason, because everything about our life in Christ is about being conformed to His death and resurrection, so that death may be at work in me and life in those God calls to whom God calls me to serve (2 Cor. 4:12).

I think of the perseverance Simeon exercised in waiting. Impatience boils over in us because waiting requires us to bow our control to the unknown factors of timing. You get up, you go through the day; your thing did not happen. You have another birthday, another anniversary; you remember your thing did not happen. You are called to faithfully, joyfully, undertake your daily duty despite the fact that your thing did not happen. This is perseverance.

But there is another aspect that comes into my meditation. Getting hollowed out means we are detached from our own desires, our own plans, our own sense of control. But this is not so that our souls fade into nothingness. No, Christianity does not beckon us into some kind of void. It prepares us for encounter. It frees us for union. It emboldens us for that moment of embrace.

Because one day, the waiting is over. Simeon has not become a placid zombie who just doesn't care anymore about his desires. He knows that the promise of the Holy Spirit will fulfill his life's desire totally. His desire has not been killed, it has been awakened, honed, sharpened, purified. On this normal day, Mary and Joseph enter the temple. They usher in the most profound miracle God has yet brought to earth: His only begotten Son, now in flesh appearing. And Simeon knows it.

He embraces the child. He sings to the Lord the song he was born to sing. He prophesies over Mary's future. He is now ready for dying and entering the next stage of union with God.

So don't let your perseverance lose its purpose. We don't persevere, nor do we exercise or pursue any virtue except love itself, for its own sake. They all find their end in union with Jesus.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Christian Unity Comes from This

It is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., describes very well what is necessary for Christians to experience the unity that Jesus prayed for:

The intimate dispositions of Jesus toward God and His relations with Him are of the utmost importance to us. Jesus is the Son of God; herein lies all His greatness and holiness. By His very nature, He is the only Son of God; we who are made to His image, have become children of God by His mediation. This divine sonship, which belongs to Him by nature, is communicated to us by grace; hence, like Him, all our greatness and holiness consist in our living as true children of God. Therefore, as far as is consistence with our human nature, we should try to reproduce in ourselves the interior attitude of Jesus toward His heavenly Father.

First of all, we note an attitude, or rather a state, of intimate union. It is as the Word that Jesus declares, "The Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (Jn. 10:38). He is referring, of course, to the substantial, incommunicable union of the Word with the Father, which no one can ever imitate; this union is the prerogative of the Son of God alone. But He also made the statement as Man, because, as Man, all His love is concentrated on the Father and dominated by the Father. His whole mind is directed toward Him in an effort to please Him. This union of Jesus with His divine Father is the mode for our union, precisely because it is a union of grace. Grace in Jesus is "infinite," in the language of the theologians, and in this respect it differs from ours; yet even the grace we possess enables us to keep our souls directed toward the Father and our affections centered in Him. Jesus gives us the example Himself, and asks of the Father this close union for us: "As Thou, Father, in Me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us" (Jn. 17:21)....

O Jesus, what great treasures are hidden in Your words: "As Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us!" It is not enough for us to imitate Your exterior life; You want more than that. You want us to imitate, as far as mere creatures can, Your interior life, Your intimacy and Your unceasing union with the Father! It would be folly and arrogant temerity even to think of doing this, had You not commanded us to do so. But You have commanded it, and these words of Yours are particularly sacred because they form part of Your last prayer to Your Father, a prayer which contains Your spiritual testament.... (Divine Intimacy, pp. 169, 171)

The key to Christian unity is the all-consuming desire for union with God our Father. When our desire is fixed on God, seeking only Him, and giving Him permission to go into those areas where we can't even discern our own intentions and desires, and mess with us, then we are on the path of being one in Christ with other believers who also are inflamed with this same desire. And those believers who are not yet aflame, but who struggle with weeds and rocks and beaten-down paths? Jesus calls them too and we all journey up the mountain of holiness. Who desires God wholeheartedly who once did not desire Him but half-heartedly?

In this week of prayer for Christian Unity, let's allow ourselves to be caught on fire by one another, with the fire of desire for God and God alone.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Great Patience with One's Own Humanity

I've had a life-long struggle with separating, in my mind, what is human from what is sinful.

My religious formation growing up emphasized that "all our righteous acts are as filthy rags (Is. 64:6), that all persons were made totally depraved by the sin of Adam, and that Christ's righteousness imputed to us is everything we must hope for. In and of ourselves, we are sinful, unclean, and worthy of condemnation.

The theological corrective is that the image of God in us was broken and damaged, but not destroyed. When God created the world, He said it was good, and when He created human beings, He said it was very good. Grace does not only cover us; it really does purify what was broken and damaged, and elevates our nature, and infuses God's very life into us. Sanctity really is a possibility in this life for human beings, and our our willingness to cooperate with grace is a significant factor there.

The theology is indeed dreadfully important, but when you live life, the theology has to get practical.

And when I read this quote this morning, it all got practical.

"Because the Lord wills to reveal His power in our weakness, growth in contemplative prayer requires great patience with one's own humanity, a patience that comes not from surmounting one's frailties, but rather in offering those to God in love. This means that mood swings, fluctuations in pious affections, boredom and even struggles with distractions do not ultimately define our prayer, if through it all we never lose trust in God"
See, I have frailties. Another word for that is needs. I am incomplete. I feel my humanity, my needs, my vulnerabilities, my drives, my desires. And somehow I used to think that I would serve God best by killing these off. I've written a few posts about times that I went for really long without water or food, not on purpose, but because I was too timid to tell anyone that I was thirsty or hungry. I was too afraid of my need putting someone out. I saw my humanity as a nasty bother not just to myself but to the entire universe.

My son as a toddler started pointing me to liberation from that. He would feel a need and immediately start insisting it be met. I remember one night blurting out "I wish I felt like I could just demand my needs to be met like that!" And slowly, I began to realize that this is part of what it means to have a heart of a child. To freely admit needs and seek to have them met.

Sometimes we have needs that are more complicated than a glass of water. Sometimes we have frailties we don't really know how to handle. Having patience with them is part humility to recognize the need, part trust to know God cares and is powerful, and part detachment from the urgency of having it all resolved NOW. It is about accepting that I am a work in progress, and that since I did not make me to begin with, it is ok that I can't see how it will all turn out just yet. Just because two notes clash doesn't mean they don't both belong in the song.

So I don't like it when people use the term "human" as a synonym for sinful, messed up, wrong. It should be a synonym for weak, but with potential to be filled with grace; incomplete, but able to be raised to sonship. To be human is to be one in whom God wills to reveal His great power.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Onething2015: My Initial, Personal Report

I have just returned from the Onething2015 conference where for the first time ever there was a Catholic track. And here I am in my very own verbal workspace to try to start to share what is in my heart about this. This may not turn out neatly.

So, I was there to intercede and to gather intercessors. During the course of conversations before the event, I realized that I had an aversion to going basically because I have an aversion to suffering. From the promo ad copy I had my sense that there was something about this I just wouldn't like. And I can't say I was mistaken. It wasn't a dislike in the sense of "oooh, bad," just in the sense of "this really isn't my personal preference." I don't like loud music that I feel in my chest (for more than about three minutes). I don't like my ears to ring and I don't find that particularly healthy. And as much as I love music and I love to sing and as much as worshipping God in song is central to my life, I just don't like praise music that much anymore. I used to love it, love it, love it and found myself instantly at a fountain of overflowing healing. And I just don't, anymore. That was actually something I began to find happening just a bit when I first left my non-denom fellowship. It began to be the sort of thing were I had to fix my mind to really dig into the words being sung to meditate and suck the marrow out of them, and often it felt I was sucking dry bones. Sometimes it could be easier, especially if it was a song I knew and had developed a "meditative history" with. But I realized I have as much difficulty really praying with praise music as others do praying with the rosary and its repetitions.

I was also reminded, before and during, of things I experienced in my exodus from the charismatic fellowship world into the Catholic Church. I remembered how shocked I was when I first started attending daily Mass, which lasted 20-30 minutes, when I had been used to a 3 or 3.5 hour service. On the one hand, I realized I had to walk in to Mass ready to concentrate and pay attention to everything. Before, I was used to a lot of "warm up" time and a generally less intense approach. But on the other hand, I was stunned and amazed in those days, day after day, of how efficient God could be. Like a laser beam, He penetrated my soul with far deeper spiritual experiences in this short time than I had ever experienced in those long church services (although I had lots of powerful and needed emotional experiences in the former days, and these required more time. Sometimes I really needed to cry through 75 minutes of worship music.) So when at Onething, the sessions or preaching went on for hours, I sometimes longed for them to discover this efficient nature of God. :)

But the important lesson in all of this for me is that I do not live for myself. Sometimes I really want to. But if I live for God, I must also live for His people. Jesus lived for His people by serving them, not to expect to be served. Sometimes serving someone means to relent and do it their way, when it is really a matter of preference. Preferences can become passions pretty easily, and we start to think we can't live without our passions being fulfilled, that our passions are really divine urgings, when really they are just our desires with a strong upper hand in our soul's functioning. And sometimes that putting to death of our passions is exactly the type of service, and living for God and neighbor that God asks of an intercessor who feels interior things deeply. I was a little surprised at the intensity of the death and the struggle and the temptation I felt surrounding all this. Which shows me how weak and inexperienced I am at serving this way.

So, there was this big huge thing that happened about unity. I mean, it was big and huge on a spiritual level. I kept saying to our host friends how this type of gathering with Catholics just probably wouldn't have happened back in my charismatic days, at least not in the circles I moved in. My evangelism training had a slide that depicted non-Christian groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, and there was a significant point made about how the guy just couldn't decide whether to add Roman Catholics to that list, and his hesitation about it seemed almost scandalously generous to some people. That was my world. So for Catholics to be welcomed as equal Christians, and for one speaker to publicly (though he didn't use the name Catholic) apologize for past statements of arrogance to a particular Catholic present, it was profound. And there were other profundities.

I know I experienced something of a personal call, although I can't articulate all of it, or maybe even much of it, in any meaningful way right now. The first order of the day is in my own family. The second order of the day has to do with me being a Carmelite. Each day I always ask my prayer team of saints to intercede for me, and one morning I had forgotten to do so until a certain point during one of the sessions. Immediately I remembered, as if St. Teresa spoke it to me, "Four centuries ago I sat in my convent and prayed for a return of the 'Lutherans' to the Church. Yes, of course you are called." (See the very end of The Interior Castle).

From my young childhood, even what I count as my pre-following-Jesus childhood I have had a sense that my life is oriented towards a Church that would become pure and serious.

When I was a brand new Catholic, I had a profound blow-me-away experience of being called by God into His plan to raise Catholics, and me with them, from the dead. Read it here: When Confirmation Received Me. When you read it, you see this experience had to do with John Michael Talbot. A few years ago during a new season in my life I went to a mission of his in Pittsburgh. Now, JMT has very piercing eyes. And as he preached through the crowd, his piercing eyes made contact with mind as he said "Fan into flame the gift God has given you." BAM. It resurrected the earlier experience and, though I couldn't understand it at the time, that moment alerted me to the fact that I was stepping forward in this plan. Now, just when that thing from years ago makes some sense, I have this new thing that is just as persistently urgent and just as inscrutable. I guess I really aught to get used to this and realize that not knowing is part of how I get to know things.

So, there you have it. I have returned from Onething2015 with a heart full of something I can't explain or understand, and I know that today and tomorrow I need to pray and live faithfully, just like every day, but I also need to intentionally forsake the vast tracts of selfishness and misery I yet find within.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Advent Examination of Conscience

An examination of conscience is very important, but the term is not one I use much. I once thought it required me to mentally castigate and punish myself for everything I did wrong, and since as a child I had learned that I was incapable of doing good, I had a hard time getting past the need to accuse myself of the sin of existing. Bad theology really messes with the mind.

So instead I find it helpful to review my day and look for where I experienced God most profoundly, and how it changed my day, and how it needs to still change my day.

Today, that was fairly easy. The first whaabang was in praying the Office of Readings this morning, especially in the reading from St. Augustine. The readings about St. John the Baptist almost always strike me very profoundly, because God gave me a personal gift of a St. John in my life. This line especially: "We should take our lesson from St. John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory." I could never really put into words how that made me weep, but consider how not only easy but common it is for one person to take advantage of another, but what an act of love and honor of God it is to choose to humble oneself rather than hurt another person. And how rare that is. For a person to put the honor of God even above how they wish to be received by another or what advantage they want for themselves -- that is a big deal. And when I could have truly been used, I instead encountered this witness of honoring God. Today I wept in gratitude for that. And I know that those tears washed yet clearer the true image of what I was spiritually perceiving.

The other moment was at Mass, while singing the communion hymn. I thought of how grateful, how content, how peaceful I am, not because everything is perfect, but because I was there with the Lord who has given me so much, has set so much at rights, has surrounded me, provided me with everything I need to be happy. I have no blind eye turned to what could be better, but that is so much my natural inclination -- seeing the problems, seeing the lacks -- that it is so beautiful to me to just say "I am here, and it is good." It is God's love that fills me and enables me to be grateful, satisfied, peaceful. And love bubbles from me and seeks others. That is not natural to me, and I know it full well.

I did other things throughout the day, I got tired, I began to take on other people's emotions. I had an interesting extended experience of thinking about who I was 20 years ago as I finished watching a video I took when I lived in Japan. Listening to myself talk (so sarcastic, so pain-sopped, so disconnected from other people) was deeply cringeworthy, as my son put it. I faced other aspects of my life that are problematic.

But then I thought, examination of conscience: go back to where I experienced God, not my own misery. With God, He teaches me to have mercy on my old self, understanding the pain that motivated me, while honoring the courage. It is a recipe for every day, and not only for myself. Have understanding for the pain that is behind others' actions, too, honor the courage with which they act nonetheless.

But mostly, nothing trumps being with Jesus. He gives the best gifts. Sometimes it takes us years to fully appreciate them. Every pain we pass through in pursuit of Him is worth it. He promises us the difficulties, but he also promises the hundred fold. I have been so silly, but He keeps being more and more generous to me. All I can offer Him is all of me, anything and everything that He wants. Just want He wants of me. I am convinced that no matter what it is, it will always be the best possible thing.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

I was baptized as an infant, had an early childhood of religious indifference, and after a short flirtation with threatening God I'd become a satanist, I gave my life to the Lord at age 10. I was once an anti-Catholic Protestant, and currently I am becoming a lay member of the Carmelites, an ancient order of the Catholic church, devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and dedicated to prayer and the mystical life. How does that happen, you ask? By the grace and mercy of God, I've had to learn to recognize the difference between my sin and God's holiness, and to seek Him alone.

First, let me summarize for you how I see the core of what God is teaching me today. Then let me try to trace out for you some of how I arrived at this conviction.

I firmly believe that the Christian life means living a continual state of conversion unto Jesus Christ, after we have accepted the salvation He won for us, until we reach perfect union with God. This work of conversion is a work entirely of grace, entirely a gift, but it is a grace and a gift with which a soul can and must cooperate. We have to say yes to God and do what is ours to do. This perfect union with God is something that we can and should enter into during this lifetime, but not all the saved do. We enter into it by a gift of God I'll call purgation. Scripture tells us that nothing impure can enter heaven (Rev. 21:27) and that our works will be tried by fire to remove what is worthless (1 Cor.  3:15). But we can't control or command our own purgation; God has to do it. We can either let Him do it as He wills in the course of our earthly lives, or we will have to experience it after this life is done and before we enter heaven. People call that purgatory. Everything I want is summed up in seeing the face of Jesus in heaven. Everything I hope for on earth has to do with living out the fruits of purgation and the holiness God works in me. Nothing is worth anything in comparison with the glory of being united, with all the holy ones, with the Blessed Trinity for all eternity. And the quest for eternal glory has already begun now. So Lord, whatever it takes, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I give you my yes.

Now, every church I have belonged to has been somewhere on the scale from diametrically opposed to what I just wrote, to uncomfortable and uncertain about how to teach it and train believers in living it. And I've been right there in the midst with them.

My first religious formation, after first giving my life to the Lord as a child, was in an ultra-conservative Lutheran setting. Here I learned to honor the Bible as the Word of God, to read and to memorize it. While I did this, though, I had a lot of sin in my life. I've always been an interior-oriented person, so these sins were the seething sort, like hatred, bitterness, pride, arrogance, judgment, grudges, and the like. The Lutheran teaching on sin did not help me repent or be cleansed of these sins. The emphasis was that all we do is like filthy rags, but that the Father imputes Jesus' righteousness to us. Sin was all handled in the eternal perspective and we simply lived with our inevitable corruption while in heaven God had a clean tally sheet with our name on it, our bill paid by Jesus. And I went on hating, being bitter, and so on. Occasionally in those days, Bible verses such as 1 Jn. 4:20 ("Whoever claims to love God but hates his brother is a liar") jumped out and startled me. But the conflicting theology left me more confused than convicted.

One summer during college, I met Christians who witnessed to me that the Holy Spirit could personally enter my life and empower me with Himself. They called this being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Once I cautiously read through all of the Scriptures and decided that they had the Bible on their side, for the first time I had to face down this entirely passive notion I had that God did everything for me. When I was convinced from Scripture that God would baptize me in the Holy Spirit, I simply got depressed that apparently He hadn't. I figured it must mean He didn't love me or I wasn't important enough. I sadly moaned prayers in the self-pitying and despairing style that was common to me. Then, a revolutionary thought came to mind: Ask Him. Maybe you don't have because you don't ask. I had to make an elaborate ritual of it that included meticulously finishing all of my schoolwork, buying a book and setting aside an entire evening to read it, but I accomplished all that within 8 hours of this revolutionary thought that I could ask God, and I asked. And when I asked, BAM, the floodgates opened, and I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit.

Immediately I sought out a new church to be among people who could help me understand what happened to me. The primary grace I experienced here was the release of years and years of hurt and sin during praise and worship. I learned to open my heart to God in the midst of other people, and I also began to be aware that God would speak to my heart. Gradually I learned to recognize the difference between His leading and my own confusion. This was something I could not do when I was isolated.

While still in a Lutheran college and attending that charismatic fellowship, God planted a seed that has had far-reaching effect. I had to write a paper for a very difficult class that was to count for 50% of my grade, and I had no idea what to do. The class was on Medieval and Renaissance philosophy. One day I paced the library stacks and begged God for some insight as to a topic. He answered with one word: "mysticism." I responded happily, "Ok, Lord! But, what is that?"

I researched St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of St. Victor, the Cloud of Unknowing, and others. I was captivated. Yes, I was a bit put off that these were Catholic authors because everything I'd ever learned about Catholicism concerned how it was wrong.  But these people... they wrote from an experience of loving God that left me with a pounding heart and breathless. At one point I just dropped my book on the library table and told the Lord, "If there is anyone left on the face of the earth who knows you and loves you like these people did, Lord, that is who I want to be with."

A few years later, the memory of that day in the library was the only thing that kept me from losing it as I talked with a friend I had deeply respected who had shocked me by becoming Catholic. I later had to face lots of ugly judgments, pride, and arrogance as I finally admitted to myself I had never once in my life read anything about Catholic doctrine written by a Catholic. My friend told me, yes, there are indeed people who love God like St. Teresa of Avila. They are called Carmelites. He gave me a little book about how to pray like a Carmelite. And I was amazed all over again.

I became a Catholic in 1993 in order to enter the world of mystics and saints, and I found the world of bingo, indifference, and sometimes outright scandal. Jesus had called me, though. The first time I had gone to Mass to actually be open to Him, He stunned me, shocked me, overwhelmed me, by revealing His presence to me in the Holy Eucharist. I knew I could not walk away from the Catholic Church without walking away from Jesus. He also spoke to me the promise that He is the Resurrection and the Life, and that all who believe in Him, though they die, yet shall they live. I wanted mystics and saints, but felt nothing but death in me and around me. But Jesus promised me life.

In the last two decades I've known purgations both slow and steady, and sharp and painful. God has also blessed me beyond belief with joy and the utter certainty of His love for me, and I've always seen Him provide everything I need, especially when I hardly realized what I needed. Together we have broken open and laid flat my hard crust of a heart, and He has indeed given me a heart of flesh.

It takes six years to become a Carmelite secular, and I have three years remaining in my initial formation. Part of the mission of a secular Carmelite is to teach God's people the wisdom of the saints I've mentioned, to help ourselves and others to grow in holiness and unto union with Christ. Every day I renew to God my desire to become His instrument, that He may teach His people holiness both through our words and hidden prayer. What other response can I have but to give all that I am to Him who has given me everything?

This post also appeared at MajorChange as Draw Me After You...