Saturday, September 29, 2012

Start it Over

All I can say for sure is that it is very, very clear to me that God is real and He is doing something new with me. I wonder if any other Christians get this sense of seriousness these days. The Lord is being very serious with me, very intent that I listen, now; that I focus, now; that I train myself on His will, not mine; and quiet my mind from dwelling in my thoughts and my pain so that I can sense and respond to His thoughts, and yes, His pain.

I seem to always come back to this point of feeling like I am just starting, that following the Lord is always a new beginning. This time, though, it feels even a bit further back than that. It's more like I'm being prepared to just begin.

Lately I am constantly, constantly getting the message that when the Lord sends a cross to one's life, love embraces it as love would embrace the Lord. I see how weak I am, I see how impure I am, I see how distrusting I am. But I also get these hints, these reminders that register like far off bells (I mean so far off one can barely hear) that after the cross comes not just the resurrection, but Pentecost, and a great task empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes in the midst of self-surrender and embrace of the cross, the thought goes through my mind that perhaps these hints are really just mental crutches, hopes against hope that life really isn't all a Great Vanity.

And humility. "Our own efforts will not work the grace of God unless they are efforts done in humility, unless they are efforts born of love."

I feel a bit like a melon that is being balled. That's what melons are for, ultimately. But accepting that it is my call, like Jesus, to become food for the hungry, is hitting me in a completely new way. I didn't realize just how it has to do with dying to self.


Now see.

Lord, have mercy on my weakness.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Falling into a Heap

Wow. Yesterday was a long time in coming. How do I even go about throwing this into words?

I think of Rich Mullins talking about how God is a wild man. Sometimes following the Lord feels like riding one of those mechanical bulls. But Rich gets to the paradox -- when one is in a situation like that, your instinct is to hold on for dear life. Cling in faith, stand firm, believe. But Rich gets to the point of what we actually need to do, and that is to let go for dear life.

I wrote recently about letting go of this situation with this friend of mine. That (insert rueful laugh here) was the easy part. That was but a sign of something deeper that was needed.

Yesterday I went to my second Carmelite formation meeting. I know this is where I belong and I trust this is where God has called me. I won't be able to say this adequately, but what I saw yesterday was my profound need for humility. And that part of that humility comes in not clinging, not standing, not believing -- at least not in a way that leaves every spiritual muscle I have strained to the popping point -- but in falling into a heap and needing the Lord to scoop me up.

Yesterday I fell into a heap, spiritually speaking. This time my husband had to be like Mary standing at the foot of the cross. Thank you God, that you always time these things when he is at home, because I cannot fall into a heap by myself.

I kept thinking of a scene that happened when I had begun to attend Mass but was still also attending the service at Risen Savior. One Sunday I happened to sit a few seats nearer to the music ministry than I normally did. We were singing John Michael Talbot's "Holy Is Thy Name," and after the first verse and the chorus repeats (we were accustomed to do many repeats), the head of music ministry handed me the mic and told me to sing the second verse. I guess he figured that as a Catholic wannabee, certainly I knew it. Which I did. So for the whole church I got to sing "He has cast down the mighty in their arrogance and has lifted up the meek and the lowly." To this day, the irony of that experience reverberates through me.   Every call to conversion I receive challenges my arrogance, my self-importance.

I like feeling important. I really do. But God's glory is breathtaking, and it is wiser to desire God's glory on His timetable over self-importance on mine. But I forget that. And I forget and fail to trust that He is real, and that this deal works. God keeps calling me, though. He does not get put off by my failures, and He is big enough to wrestle me to the ground and even pin me there until I come to the end of my strength so that I can feel the fact that my strength is like a fraction of a drop of water, compared to the mighty ocean of His roaring mercy.

Yes, I'm praying the novena to St. Therese right now. I wonder if it is significant that I received three beautiful red roses the morning before I even started praying it. Surely she is helping me to embrace spiritual childhood. Sometimes I think I've never been a child. Not yet, at least, but I'm getting there.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Like a Fire in my Soul

So, today I go to confession, right, and it's with a priest who is not my customary confessor. This priest gave me the same penance as the last time I confessed to him, which happened to be at an interesting juncture of my life. Anyway, this penance was basically to get into God's face and require Him to show me what He wants of me.

And after coming home and tooling around awhile, I picked up the book I'd been reading and read the next blurb. Volume Seven, Messages from Heaven. And I read what is on this video:

Now, no one ever sees how long it takes for me to write one of these blog posts. Or what all cycles through my mind from the moment I open Blogger Dashboard to the time I click "publish."

See, this thing I read hit home, hard, but in a way that made me want to sit down and vent about how much I absolutely hate being a human being, how much I really do not want any more of this damn growing in holiness business, and how I am so sick to death of the idea of thanking the Lord for going through difficulties. Like I want to take my difficulties and shove them back in God's face.

And then, between answering phone calls for my son and being pulled this way and that, I also got into an interesting Facebook exchange on a friend's page, a friend I actually don't know at all, a Christian of a decidedly-not-Catholic persuasion who posted something claiming the Church is pagan and Satanic. I could not let that pass. My comment, that I had researched the Church's claim and become a Catholic, spurred other comments by her friends -- more people I know not at all. I came out with fire coming out of my nose. Not to politely disagree but to get my sword and lop the heads off error. To call people on their ignorance, judgmentalism and condescending "maybe you should read the Bible sometime" comments.

The fire in my soul makes me I realize it would be an absolute no-brainer to me to die for my Faith. To die for being Catholic. To die for my Lord Jesus Christ. There is no way I could face an opportunity like the possibility of martyrdom and walk away from it, and still be able to live with myself. That is what I am made for. The Lord Jesus Christ has proven His love for me over and over again in ways I cannot deny without becoming an atheist and a heartless, self-seeking jerk. He has given everything to me, and I love Him so much it hurts. He has asked me to show my love for Him by laying on the line everything in my life, at so many stages of my life, and I have. There has not been one time that I have held back, not for long at least. May it ever be so, or may God strike me dead before my love for Him grows cold. (And may I face my daily baby-step martyrdoms of which St. Catherine speaks.)

All I really want out of life is for everyone I know to operate on the same basis. Tell me that's not too much to ask.

This is my soul. Get as close as you dare. Believe me, some days I don't know how to do it myself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting Good and Angry

Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

That's what you say when the Resurrection dawns, and that's what I said at dawn this morning. Because sometimes it takes awhile for things to dawn on me. Like what a spiritual victory looks like. Here's what mine looked like.

Recently I've been struggling, really suffering, with feeling wronged by a friend. It hurt. A lot. Misunderstandings always do, especially if they have any depth to them. And this one went pretty deep.

In response to this struggle, I did something I realized this morning I have never done in a situation like this ever before: I confronted the person with my hurt and got angry at him, to his face.

It resolved nothing, sadly, but that's not the point. In the past when I've felt hurt and angry, I've done every manner of thing do avoid directly dealing with it. Beating myself up and forcing myself to "be better so this wouldn't happen" was my first choice years ago, then I advanced to adding layers of getting all nasty and bitter and hateful. I also tried the cool, sophisticated, intellectualizing approach. And all sorts of crap in between, including trying to convince myself that none of it mattered.

But I couldn't deny that this mattered without denying the Lord Himself. Getting nasty was like spitting into the wind. I quickly realized that the only option left was to feel the hurt, until such a time arose as I might actually speak to said person.

That went down, nothing was resolved, but, as my husband said, I did what I could.

And this morning, I realized I actually did what I couldn't. I have never confronted someone in an angry exchange, ever. (Not an adult, anyway!)

I have this feeling that my father was praying for me in heaven. The two phrases that came to me yesterday was first, to "Let Go and Let God," and then to take it one day at a time. My father, an AA devotee, had these phrases as signs in his garage for years.

My anger solved nothing, but I owned my sense of injustice, spoke out, accepted the non-resolution, and handed it to God, acknowledging that He is Lord, not I; that He is worthy of all my love and worship, regardless of whether I am hurting or not, and that He is big enough to fill me with joy, despite what I can't fix. I let it go to Him, since He is the author of everything in my life to begin with.

And this morning I suddenly realized that this is the victory. The "joy of heaven to earth come down" is literally to know that one has faced a spiritual crisis and won. The funny thing about Jesus' victories is that they seem like such defeat when you are smack in the middle of them.

Objectively, this doesn't fix anything with my rectally-investigative friend who, though bent on separation, can't seem to resist reading this. But God will manage. He always does.

Friday, September 14, 2012

St. Thérèse and the Man Thing

Recently I finished reading Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Thérèse. I was waiting for the lightening bolts of grace to crash through, because of so many people saying how reading it changed them, how it is the most powerful spiritual book of modern times, etc. Well, didn't really happen for me. 

I'd listened to Ralph Martin's lectures on her life, I'd read about her and become very familiar with the images she uses, and I've watched the recent movie about her a few times. I can't watch the movie without crying just because it is emotionally moving, but spiritually moving? I have to say it didn't register with me. At all.

And this made me feel bad. She is one of the most revered saints of all time. Even my daughter became fascinated with her as a toddler, and so I've considered her my daughter's patron saint. She's come through for me a few times after novena-attempts with a completely unexpected rose. But still she's been like the distant cousin at the reunion to whom you nod and say hello but never really develop much of a connection with. 

I think I've found it difficult to relate to her life. The key suffering of her childhood was losing her mother to death and her "second mother," her elder sister, to the convent. But these things were acute sufferings to her because of the intense bonds of love she knew in her family. Not only was she raised completely enveloped by intensely loving relationships surrounding her and enfolding her, but she also had profound and intense formation in the Faith. Their family was practically a Carmel in and of itself. While I can relate to some of Thérèse's childhood, like slipping off to pray and contemplate without knowing what prayer and contemplation were, for me these were not natural outgrowths of my environment, but the beginnings of special graces that indicated Jesus intended to put up a fight for me, rather than watch me be sucked down into hell by the bitterness and hatred I started to dabble in, responding to my own environment. Thérèse's life was one of being lifted straight up to God like a child by the elevator of His mercy. Mine has been more like a tug of war, a chance for my Love to prove His tenaciousness and determination (and ability) to completely break apart so many tendrils of deformation. 

So it wasn't her autobiography or the story of her life that got me. It was her exchange of letters with Maurice. I just happened to have needed to kill some time in our parish library, and this book, Maurice & Thérèse, caught my eye. It is nearly 300 pages, but I read half in one sitting and half in another. And somewhere in that second sitting, my heart cried out Thérèse! and I burst into tears. Not the sentimental tears of the movie, but the tears that happen when everything within you gets up and moves toward a person because of some undeniable recognition.

Her autobiography had pointed out that one thing she had longed for and prayed for all her life was a brother to join her family. She had had two brothers who died in infancy before she was born, and all of her surviving siblings were girls. She had wanted so much to have a priest brother, and she asked the Lord for this gift. And quite remarkably, God answered her. Maurice, a young man, struggling with his seminary formation, happened to have heard of the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, and happened to write, asking the Mother Superior if she could ask one of the Sisters to pray for him. The superior chose Thérèse. There were a few letters exchanged between Maurice and the superior, because it was considered "just not done" for a sister to exchange letters with a man. But when the superior became ill and could not respond to his letters, she gave Thérèse permission to simply do the writing herself. Thus was born a correspondence that had a profound meaning and impact in both their lives.  It seems that their relationship put into concrete reality the mystical yearning Thérèse had to become a missionary, and I suppose even the very fact that she is today the patroness of missionaries, despite having barely ever left her own backyard. And Maurice, who became Fr. Louis, became one of the very first to spread devotion to her.

Their letters (now here's something that makes it easy for me to love Thérèse -- the only reason she didn't die in obscurity was because of what she wrote!) reveal the tremendously ardent affection they had for one another. Maurice was unsure of himself and his vocation, plagued by his past sins, and not at all afraid to beg Thérèse for more letters and words of wisdom and consolation because they strengthened him and helped steel his resolve to follow the Lord. They had barely begun corresponding when Thérèse's health took a serious downward turn, and so a prominent aspect of their exchange was the growing awareness that she would die. What he did not know was how very much in pain she was, not only physically but spiritually as well. During the last 18 months of her life, she endured a spiritual darkness that required from her intense acts of faith to maintain that there even was a heaven. All the while she wrote to him of her promise to accompany him from heaven until the day he died, she battled the constant tormenting thought that after death there was only eternal emptiness. As she said, she "ate the food of atheists," but did so willingly as a spiritual offering for them.

And in this state, Thérèse wrote nothing but encouragement to Maurice, teaching him to immerse himself in the mercy of God. He was afraid that his failings and his instabilities made him somehow displeasing to God, and even that after she got to heaven and would be able to see more clearly who he was, he feared that he would be displeasing to her. She taught him her Little Way of confidence. She gave him the example of a father who had two sons. They both had disobeyed the father. The first son, when he saw the father approaching, was afraid and ran away from the father, trembling. The second son ran to the father, threw himself into his arms and told him all about it, holding the father close, and then asking to be punished with kisses. This is not manipulation but childlike trust in the merciful goodness of the father. Childlike trust and confidence in God, she insisted, is the way to holiness, because in these we stop with the self-obsession over our own wretchedness and start looking at and responding to the immense love with which God surrounds us. Eyes off self; eyes onto God. Then we start to become like the One we behold.

The doctrine is rich, but it wasn't even that that moved me. It was their love for each other. Thérèse held nothing back in expressing all the pure affection of her heart. Maurice held nothing back in how beholden he was to her. She was canonized, is the patroness of missionaries, and is a Doctor of the Church. He was ordained, arrived at his mission in Africa the day after she died (October 1, which is her feast day), suffered horrendously and died in a mental institution -- the same one where her father had lived for several years. When she had told him how she feared she would miss the sufferings of earth in heaven, he asked that she beg for him the grace to take her place in suffering. And since she promised to accompany him from heaven, I'm thinking what a gift it was to her to spiritually attend him in the very place her father suffered. His life was not about becoming a brilliant saint (he wasn't). He is remembered because he was enveloped in a brilliant love.

Karol Wojtyla explains in his book Love and Responsibility that for women, being loved is about being freed to give, and for men, it is about being freed to receive. Somewhere in this is the key to why the image of God in humanity is in our maleness and femaleness. It is why our maleness and femaleness images the Trinity. The mystery of God with us is all about giving and receiving. Nothing is supposed to interrupt this flow. The mutual love that is suppose to characterize Christians and the Church is simply this flow of love that enables giving, love that enables receiving. Love is the fuel that puts the gospel in action. Both men and women need to give and to receive (for we can't give something we haven't received), but I think JPII means that it is inscribed in the nature of each of the sexes to especially need to either give or receive if we are to stay human, or become holy. 

There's so much I could say about this "man thing" in my life.  Sigh.  My Lord is determined, tenacious, and victorious, and He has made me the same. St. Thérèse got me because I see in her the example of a pure, ardent affection pouring out of her that filled her last days of suffering with intensity of purpose, a way to more fully and completely be herself, because she was freed to give in a way her heart longed to be free to give. It was all for God, and it was God who rewarded her. God, who always uses His people as His instruments, because we need to receive His love as much as we need to give it.

Maurice Belliere

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This, Too

This, too, is the face of my well-Beloved.

You called to me, oh Lord, and for three years I've followed you. Your words tugged at my heart; I could not help but follow. You taught me, and my heart was set ablaze. You healed me; I was made whole. You sent me, and I actually thought that was scary. I came back, only to be taught by you not to be so full of myself.

But now, what is happening? I know you told me plain enough this would be so, but I never thought it would be so... so like this. Everything is tumbling inside me. The last three years really did happen, didn't they? It wasn't one long self-deception, was it? Have I built my house on the sand, like you warned me not to? Lord, your words have become the bedrock of my life, but looking at you now, none of them make sense.

Wait. There's one thing that makes sense.

Mary is here. With John. And the other women. And there's St. Thérèse, catching the drops of blood that fall from your lacerations. She's bringing it to the souls of sinners, and they are being converted. Countless priests, feeding the nations with the food you provide. Countless suffering souls, who in you are not alone. Millions and millions and millions and billions of prayers ascending, ushering forth the mighty flood of mercy which you are unleashing for the life of souls in every corner of time and space.

No, I don't see all this with my eyes, just like I don't really behold your bloody body. But there you are. There they are. And here am I. Mary, and all you holy ones, and all you who at least show up -- stay with me, so that I can stay with you. And together we can see what happens next.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Joy of Good Friday

In the early 1990s, when I was a Catholic-wannabee and then a neophyte, God showered my life with a lot of graces in a rather intense way. I've come to think it was because I was taking such a huge step forward and I needed lots of extra help to stay the course. Also, I was suddenly in contact with tons more "means of grace" as the Lutherans would have said, than I was accustomed to.

Conversations with God flowed pretty freely in those days. For Christmas in 1991 (the day after God called me to become a Catholic) I received as a gift a little cloth-covered book, like a mini-diary. I quickly got the idea to write down in it whatever I believed the Lord spoke to my heart.

And so it is that I have one of these conversations written down. I will quote:

Sunday, August 15 (1993) -- Assumption
On the way to Mass, I asked the Lord what His most joyous moment/day on earth was. For many minutes I thought of what it might be. Then the Lord reminded me of Luke 15:7, of the great rejoicing over the one sinner who repents. So I asked Him "which repentant sinner gave you that most joyous moment/day?" And He replied, "Peter."

Now, at the time, what I focused on in this was the importance of Peter as the head of the Church, as the one with the charism as leader. This was very powerfully important to me at the time as a new Catholic, because I understood for the first time that leadership in the Church is primarily a spiritual, supernatural thing.

But just the other day, the Lord brought this 19-year-old conversation to mind again. I read it again, and thought about it some more.

On what day did Peter repent? What, by extrapolation, does this very personal conversation with the Lord serve to teach me (regardless, of course, of its completely unverifiable veracity)? Well, that day was Good Friday, the day the Lord died. Lord, what was your most joyous day on earth? Good Friday.

Now that thought blew me away.

This is called having the perspective of heaven, the perspective of eternity.

Lately the Lord has been calling me to rejoice in Him and His great and powerful work, despite the fact that simultaneously I see things with my eyes that cause me to think of anything but rejoicing. But it makes sense. Jesus Christ is the ultimate reality of the universe, and He is here, now, in the midst of our sufferings and sadness, and witnessing all of the evil loose on the earth. He is with us through all of it. Heaven surrounds us with grace and help and power to overcome. Heaven empowers us to call down that grace and make it flow here. Christ is risen; this means that no cross we can bear is the final word of our lives. We know the final word, and it is Hallelujah.

As the old saying goes, "It's Friday, but Sunday's comin'!"

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

September 1 Message -- Direction for our Times

The cycle of messages given has now finished, and we double back to the beginning for the prayer groups and personal reflection.

September 1, 2005
"God's little children know great suffering on earth, it is true. There will always be those who are suffering. Extend the greatest love and assistance to those who carry the cross because you will carry it one day and you will then benefit from the help of others. Dear brothers and sisters, all is well. I can say that all is well because I view all from the perspective of heaven. Can I ask you to share that view with Me? I will give you this view, if you are willing to accept it. From heaven I see that souls cry out to Me. They ask for a relief from darkness. I am sending relief, My dear faithful ones. I am sending great conversion graces. There are times when a child is having trouble and the child cannot see how to solve a problem or remove himself from a situation. The parent sees more clearly, of course, and often understands what the child requires to recover. What parent is unfamiliar with the protesting cry of the child who wants to do it his own way, despite the danger of the child's intended path? The parent must then step in and avert the child's course, showing the child the better and safer way. Such protests a parent must endure. But a good parent perseveres in the course that will benefit the child in the long run. I am the parent in this time. I am looking at the world and I have decided that it is time to pierce the darkness with My light. I have told this to My beloved apostles. Please trust Me. Please support Me. Please do as I ask and examine your role in the Renewal each morning, when you offer Me your day. I will then continue to flow My light through you into the world. Dearest friends, I am your Saviour. I do not abandon you. Do you understand that heaven is your intended destination? Do not object when others come to heaven. It is for this they were born on the earth. I understand earthly grief. You know that I understand because I experienced great human grieving on earth. I will comfort you. I will sustain you. You have been asked to spread My heavenly calm. All is well. You know this because I am telling you this. You are one who believes your God. Spread My calm, My grace, My joy. Will you support your Jesus in everything? It is this I am asking of you. Rest joyfully in your soul with Me. I will give you exactly what is needed for your world and you will be a holy carrier of My grace. I am with you. Rejoice."