Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Every time I turn around lately I am confronted with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

A brief survey: The moments that gave birth to the CD project I'm undertaking came while I was playing/praying at Sacred Heart parish in nearby Hopedale. When I was the most stalled-out (thus far) and confused about what God was asking of me about the music, it was the Blue Army song Sacred Heart that revived my love and courage again. (Take a listen... it's great!) In seeking an intercessor for this project, The Saint's Name Generator gave me St. Claude de la Colombiere, the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary. It was through them that the modern devotion of the Sacred Heart came into our world. Even one of the songs I'm recording, written before I was in the Church and even all that aware of the devotion, is written as a call from Jesus for humanity to enter His heart. As I write, we are in the midst of the Divine Mercy novena, yet another call of Jesus to us to approach His Heart and bring Its mercy to others.

Today the connections strike me as overwhelming.

Just this morning a long-forgotten incident came back to mind. During the first few months of 1992, about the same time that I wrote the aforementioned song "Come Into My Heart," I would occasionally visit a popular shrine near Milwaukee called Holy Hill. The shrine is home to a Carmelite monastery with a beautiful basilica, set in park-like grounds in the middle of the countryside. I came to walk and wander and ponder, because I knew God had called me to be a Catholic, and yet I was very much alone. The friends who had been instrumental in my initial moment of conversion were then far away, and I had no one. My mind was anxious and racing with the changes swirling in my heart and soul.

I remember finding a statue of the Sacred Heart in the church (though I only understood it to be a statue of Jesus -- the kind easiest for me to handle, and recognize, then. Such a sea of strangers those statues were at first!) I stood in front of that grey statue and told the Lord of my confused heart. I stared for a long time into those eyes. It was consoling in the sense that the unchanging gaze reminded me that the Lord is constant, while I felt much the opposite. But it was frustrating to me as well, because looking at a lifeless form made me sad. I did not wish for Jesus to be removed from me like this. It was a flicker of longing for true communion with Him rising in my heart.

Today, as I wrote this post initially with pen and paper, I was back in Sacred Heart parish, sitting, literally, under the gaze of a Sacred Heart Statue. Fittingly enough, this one is in full color. When I first approached the statue and gazed into those eyes, I said back to Jesus, "You want to be my love!" I saw the wound in His Heart, and knew it was for me, to make a place for me to be with Him. And I saw that as He points to His heart and extends His hand to me, so He wants me to point to His heart and extend His loving hand for others to hold as well.

Of course I know it's just a statue, lest anyone misunderstand as I once did. It is not a hunk of plaster that I adore and worship, nor do I worship any creature by whom God chooses to make me aware of His reality and presence.

May all that I see and all that I love serve only to make the flame of love in my heart for my Lord burn ever brighter.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

God Desires No Puppets

To prefer man to God: A strange and unhappy slavery is that of a man who seeks to please other men. I vow never to do anything nor to leave anything undone because of what people think. This will set up in me a great interior peace. -- St. Claude de la Colombiere

I posted this quote recently on Facebook and a very thought-provoking discussion followed. One question that was raised is how one knows when one is crossing the line into slavery of another person.

I remembered some thoughts I pondered a year ago, namely this post (Idolatry, Dignity, Authority and Worship) and this one (The Fear of the Lord). At the time I wrote these, the Lord was dealing with my heart about the sin of habitually holding, as it were, my dignity under the water, to try to drown it, because of a warped notion that this is what it would take to please others and therefore be acceptable. That I did this was by no means as conscious as I am able to write about it now, but it retrospect I see that's exactly what the Lord was trying to free me from.

But I saw today, in pondering my friends' discussion of slavery to the opinions of others, that my sin of how I reacted to others was actually rooted in a deeper misunderstanding, not just of my relationship with people, but with God Himself.

I thought of this old song: I'm Your Puppet. Check out these lyrics:

Pull the string and I'll wink at you, I'm your puppet
I'll do funny things if you want me to, I'm your puppet
Mm. I'm yours to have and to hold
Darling, you've got full control of your puppet ....
Mm, your every wish is my command
All you got to do is wiggle your little hand
I'm your puppet, I'm your puppet
I'm just a toy, just a funny boy
That makes you laugh when you're blue
I'll be wonderful, do just what I'm told
I'll do anything for you .....
This has got to be the most vile notion that ever passed for a love song. This is not about love at all, but about someone eagerly surrendering their dignity, longing to be controlled, and understanding that as a sense of "belonging" in love to another person.


What I realized today is that at one time, I prized myself on thinking this way towards God. Of course I wanted to belong to God, wholly and entirely. I craved it. I wanted Him to be in control of every aspect of my life. I wanted to do anything He told me to do, including anything difficult or painful. I wanted to do anything at all that God desired that would please Him. Really, I couldn't believe that He would simply love me, so like the prophets of Baal, I had to resort to violence -- to my very nature as a human being. After all, aren't we suppose to sacrifice ourselves?

This "puppet" way of being is not the sacrifice of myself in any holy sense of the word -- it's whoredom. It's idolatry. God's way of sacrifice is to treasuring what God has given to me -- and through me to the greater community -- and raising it up with joy in dedication back to the Lord for His purposes. This puppet way of being is asking God to trash me if He has to, if only to give a few scraps of attention.

We deeply and unceasingly yearn for love, for belonging, for the warmth of another human heart. But we end up submitting ourselves to control, and controlling others. Which way do we go to get free?

I belong to God, not because of my great effort to get Him to love me. He loves me because I am lovable, because Love Himself has created me. Everything about me, about my existence, is because of Him who created me, who gives me His very life in Christ. With the firm assurance that He is everything to me, it makes sense that I cannot be a slave to pleasing another. I cannot be a whore when the Lamb claims me as His Bride. When I act that way, I am falling out of who I truly am, in Christ. Always He extends His arms to receive me back. And when my falling days are done, those arms will draw me in for eternity.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Ps. 27:1

Sunday, April 24, 2011

God Whispers

Coming into Holy Week and the Triduum I was struck with a sense of God pressing in close to me. It was like when someone leans over to you and you realize they are doing so to say something to you. There is something both awesome and dreadful in a moment like this. It denotes something new, something that I need that I probably don't realize yet that I need; something I lack. And yet, anything He might share is a gift beyond price; that much I know. But what will it mean, I wondered.

Holy Thursday I recognized a tendency, and old tendency, kicking in to life. Rather than leaning over and waiting to hear, I began to try to find my lack myself, to dig around in my heart until I could find the problem and come up with the solution as well. As if I could keep God from putting Himself out on my behalf. How ridiculously silly.

On Good Friday the message came through to me clear enough: following Jesus is about giving a gift of self. Jesus didn't try to be neat about His gift of self. He was not and is not discriminating. His blood fell where it fell, and He didn't even really control that. In His humanity, He was far too consumed with His offering to be orchestrating. His life is for "whosoever."

And then, between Good Friday and Holy Saturday, God gave me the most amazing gift. Some weeks ago I felt moved to seek out an intercessor, a patron saint, for the CD recording project I have underway, and I was led to St. Claude de la Columbiere. I had read a bit of his life at the time, and saw how there were some striking ways he was very fitting. (He was the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom Jesus revealed the devotion of the Sacred Heart.) But on these days, I was again inspired to seek out some quotations from him. I found that he wrote a book, which fortunately has been edited and translated into English, which is basically a collection of gems of spiritual direction. You can read excerpts here.

As I read, I found wisdom that spoke into secret places in my heart, answering questions I had not even been able to formulate into words. And in some mysterious way, God used those words to speak to me those words I knew He had leaned over to whisper to me. It was dreadful. And awesome. And once again, life-changing.

Every day with the Lord is an adventure. As long as I cling to Him, my hope is sure.

An Act of Hope and Confidence in God

by St. Claude de la Columbiere

My God, I believe most firmly that Thou watchest over all who hope in Thee, and that we can want for nothing when we rely upon Thee in all things; therefore I am resolved for the future to have no anxieties, and to cast all my cares upon Thee.

People may deprive me of worldly goods and of honors; sickness may take from me my strength and the means of serving Thee; I may even lose Thy grace by sin; but my trust shall never leave me. I will preserve it to the last moment of my life, and the powers of hell shall seek in vain to wrestle it from me.

Let others seek happiness in their wealth, in their talents; let them trust to the purity of their lives, the severity of their mortifications, to the number of their good works, the fervor of their prayers; as for me, O my God, in my very confidence lies all my hope. "For Thou, O Lord, singularly has settled me in hope." This confidence can never be in vain. "No one has hoped in the Lord and has been confounded."

I am assured, therefore, of my eternal happiness, for I firmly hope for it, and all my hope is in Thee. "In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me never be confounded."

I know, alas! I know but too well that I am frail and changeable; I know the power of temptation against the strongest virtue. I have seen stars fall from heaven, and pillars of firmament totter; but these things alarm me not. While I hope in Thee I am sheltered from all misfortune, and I am sure that my trust shall endure, for I rely upon Thee to sustain this unfailing hope.

Finally, I know that my confidence cannot exceed Thy bounty, and that I shall never receive less than I have hoped for from Thee. Therefore I hope that Thou wilt sustain me against my evil inclinations; that Thou wilt protect me against the most furious assaults of the evil one, and that Thou wilt cause my weakness to triumph over my most powerful enemies. I hope that Thou wilt never cease to love me, and that I shall love Thee unceasingly. "In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; let me never be confounded."

 St. Claude (1641-1682)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand

"Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

This Lent, that phrase has struck me several times in a way it hasn't struck me before. If I have to come up with a reason for the difference, I'd choose to say it is because of how I've been learning to process my emotions differently, feeling them and figuring out how to work with them instead of against them.

It's the "at hand" part that strikes me. If the kingdom of God is "at hand," then that means that what I really want, what my desire is really aiming at, is right here with me, unfolding. This good thing is ready, poised, to fill my life. So, what am I called to? Repent! I always remember the phrase in Japanese used here: kaishin shite. The kanji looks like this: 回心 And if you can read kanji and translate the thought into English, the sense is "turn your heart all the way around." It makes me think of those lids that you find on some spice containers: you keep turning the lid around until you get the big, wide opening to show. If that good thing that I desire is at hand, I need to turn my heart to be open and to face the good thing. The point of repentance is to get ready to transact, to live with an openness.

I think this is why Lent hurts, to the point it does. We are called to get ready, to be open, to be poised ourselves, and then to wait. And to feel our emptiness apart from "the kingdom of God," that thing, that presence, that reality that our desire is turned toward. I cannot fill myself. I cannot satisfy myself. I cannot complete myself. I cannot heal myself. I need. I'm waiting, I'm open, and I need.

Perhaps that will make me panic. So easy, it is, to allow other things to fill me up, or to find reasons to shut myself back off, to turn around again, to not want to look like the fool holding the bucket when nothing is raining down into it.

I guess the great surprise for me has been to realize how this thing that I long for is right here, with me. I don't know about you, but I have sometimes had the experience of missing someone I was with, or longing to be somewhere that I already was. It sounds bizarre, but it comes from the ability to disassociate oneself from what is right in front of me.

Knowing that that which fills me is right before me causes me not to worry about looking like a fool or even consider shutting myself off or to bother with other fillers. When I really feel my desire and know what it is aiming at, when I have those two things working together, then this phrase hits me like an invitation to the most heart-breakingly joyful celebration ever: Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Learning to be Happy

I have a hard time being happy.

That's not to say that I'm usually sad; that's not what I mean. See, I've heard people say that they go through life just fine, everything is smooth, and then something comes that makes them suffer, and they get derailed, they begin to mistrust everything, mistrust God, mistrust themselves, question everything. Everything gets messed up and life sort of stalls for them while they try to figure out how to move forward.

I feel like an avowed contrarian, not just in my choices but in my very essence. Because this is how I start to feel when I am very happy. It messes me up.

A mental snapshot went through my mind today: years ago I was at a bridal shower, and the bride-to-be had been truly showered with a lot of gifts. After opening them all and sitting with a huge pile of stuff in front of her, she made this motion with her whole body, with sound effects as well, a sort of reaching out, arms, legs and torso, and pulling all the gifts towards her with a sort of all-enveloping slurp. It struck me with a sort of shock, a negative sense. It is hard to explain the exact flavor of negativity I felt, but it was rooted in how foreign it was to me to trust joys, pleasures, that were actually tangible. Joy, to me, had to be invisible. As I revisit that scene today, I think she was just very pleased that she was being affirmed by friends with gifts and she wanted to be "filled up" with this happiness. True, happiness over shower gifts is not an ultimate happiness; it doesn't last. But I don't think for that reason it has to be rejected outright.

This week during Mass, one of the prayers said something about turning from "false joys." It immediately struck me that I have always taken the adjective "false" to be permanently wedded to the word "joy." This view really cuts into one's ability to freely feel joy, that's for sure! And, it certainly takes me back to the days when joy had to be invisible. But, this is a firm denial of the Incarnation of Christ. There is such a thing as a true joy, because Christ has come into the world.

So, back to my struggle and to my friend at the shower. I remember what I learned as a Theology student: how the life we live as Christians is not one of rejecting "worldly" things in preference for the heavenly (ouch, been there, done that until I practically died from it.) We are not called to reject creation as evil, we are called to know that all that is created is good, but that it is not our ultimate Good. We sacrifice "a good" for The Good. The penultimate for the ultimate. We don't give up meat during Lent because meat is bad; we give up meat to declare that we desire God more than anything. The Christian life is about passion, desire, longing... it's a love affair. So there is something completely fitting about reaching out with arms, legs, torso and voice to embrace the Good. The trick is, the Good is the Eternal. It is "in" the sign, the shower gifts, the thing that enthralls, the person I love, but it is not the gift, the thing, the person itself, as an end unto itself.

Happiness. It seems to me the key is embrace with full gusto that which brings the happiness, but not with the eye to keeping, to hoarding, to grasping so tight so that I don't drop or lose anything of what seems to be making me happy. Or trying to grasp it as it fades, rusts, ends, moves away. Instead, sharing, serving, giving. Doing penance. If I can bear to give away from that which makes me happy, I am acknowledging the Something Bigger, the source. I am not addicted, focused on keeping myself happy at all costs. I am receiving this happy moment from the eternal source of happiness and good.

Living this way, I think maybe I can finally learn to be comfortable and safe with being really, really happy.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Through Suffering, Self-Mastery

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service. 

April 1, 2011


Dearest apostles, you are serving Me despite trials and temptations. That is why you are called apostles, because you follow Me and serve Me. No life is easy or without strife, and I know, dear apostles, that you experience your share of difficulty. These difficulties are important for you because through the suffering of them you gain mastery over yourself. When you conquer a difficulty, using the holiness you have received from Me, you become stronger spiritually and then when the next difficulty comes, you both view it differently and treat it differently. You view it as expected, because your experience tells you that life in general, and service to Me specifically, will include these difficulties. You treat it differently because you know that I am with you today as I have been with you in the past. Additionally, you understand that all difficulty passes. What is it that remains, dear apostles, when the difficulty passes? Your commitment to Me remains and the work I will for you remains. You are not overcome and I need your help. And so we go on, Jesus and His apostles. The work continues and comfort and salvation are brought to God’s children.  Be at peace, dear friends. I am with you and I am factoring in your presence as I plan for the advancement of the Renewal.