Thursday, November 29, 2012

Patron Saint of the Year

It is nearly the first day of Advent, and though it is hardly a virtue I've been pretty much chomping at the bit in anticipation of its arrival. For several years now I've had the custom to choose, or have selected for me rather, a patron saint of the year beginning with the first Sunday of Advent. For the last little while I've used this site. Some people find the practice akin to superstition, or at least to the practice of "finding a word from God" by randomly opening the Bible to a verse. But truly I have found great and profound meaning, and specific help from God in doing this.

In fact, so much was this the case that I don't think I ever mentioned to my husband or to anyone else who my patron saint of this last year has been, until last week. I was a bit taken aback when last Advent I "was chosen by" St. Helen. She is the patroness of divorced people and those with troubled marriages. I also right now have two other patrons that I chose based on particular situations and needs, one that I've kept on board for over a year, and one for the last several months. Both of them were also decisive messages to me, and I'm sure their prayer helped me profoundly in all the weirdness of this last year.

So, I'm over-eager for Advent because I foolishly surmise that I've learned my lessons of this year well enough to leave those tutors behind, and I want to start in with someone else. I'm going to stretch my patience and wait until Saturday. I don't suppose there are any "and they lived happily ever after and never had to do anything difficult again" saints. Saints are able to teach us something because they all point us to Jesus, His cross, and His glory.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I guess I'm in a silent phase right now. It's weird -- I know that good and deep things are happening to me, but every once in a while something brushes across my path that threatens to trigger a swift and sharp reaction, like a stab of pain. Each brush gets less severe, but the swiftness of my reaction always startles me.

At the same time, I know more now than ever that I am on not only the right path interiorly, but the one that I most desire. I guess what I mean is that sometimes I am aware of certain desires of my carnal nature, things that really appeal to me on one level. Mostly they have to do with me being the center of the universe. But then I am aware of certain desires of my spirit. These things appeal to me on a very different level, and they appeal to me not as something I want to chase after, something that I jealously long for, but something that I have and which I desire for to keep growing. These things make my carnal desires seem totally paltry, empty, useless, stupid. It's not like I even want to have these ego-centered desires. But I also have no magic wand to wave to make them go away. The trick is, I want them to go away, but I really hate the process by which they go away. I guess it is like having a severe toothache but being terrified of the dentist.

At Mass this morning, it occurred to me. (An aside: there's this priest whose preaching I've heard a lot of over the last several months. It baffles me how his homilies vacillate between being, in my opinion, some of the most banal and point-missing that I've ever heard, and being not just inspiring, but downright prophetic, like the Lord Himself answering my secret prayers out in the open.) Anyway, this priest was talking about trusting in God and not being afraid of death. And I realize that this is what the Lord has been leading me through these last many months: a death. Sometimes, I doubted that the Lord was really leading me at all. Oddly enough, in these times that God has been so strangely but darkly active in my heart, I've gone through three distinct bouts of temptation to atheism. Because the only two things I can logically conclude is that either God is leading me, or there is no God. What I concluded, and told my confessor, is simply that I know God is leading me, but I just don't like how it's going. It's back to that toothache thing. More than anything, even more than my desire for comfort, I want God's way. It's just that when I get to the part where my comfort gets shredded (always in ways I don't expect or could even imagine), I start to yell. Oh, I know it's the only way. I know if I were orchestrating my own happiness I'd be miserable. I know I can and must trust the Lord to have far superior ways to my own. Dang it, can't I die and stay comfortable at the same time?!?

I also remembered this blog post that I wrote almost exactly three years ago. I realized this morning how every single word in it represented a grace God was giving me. There are words in it that only I understand, and I know that at the time I was sort of haphazardly flippant with whether I really believed that God was leading me or not. I think one thing I have learned since then is to treat the graces that come to me as precious. Yet, even when I don't, God is so generous. He does not go off in a huff when He, King of the Universe, is not honored to His liking. In other words, He does not have hangups about getting His ego-needs met through us. In other words, He is not me. (Thank you, Lord.)

Then I remembered one line that I wrote in a post this July. It was a rambly post, not unlike this one, but I finally got to the point of saying that the scary thing to me about love is that I always hear it shouting "I will die one day." Not love, me. I think I have been afraid of love and loving, to the extent that I have, because deep down I know that everything on this earth has an end. We know change here. We know beginnings, and ends. It is true that death brings a very pleasant and blessed change, but to be honest all we see beforehand is the part where stuff ends.

One of my favorite movies is Shadowlands. I love the part where Joy tells C.S. Lewis that the happiness they experience together while she is alive is part of the sorrow he will experience when she dies. The whole vibrancy, the whole power of love is knowing that there is death, there is the surrender. Without a deep living of that surrender, an embrace of it, a welcoming of the death, there is also no real freedom to love. There is no passion in one's life without acceptance of the suffering of surrender. Sometimes people are happy enough to drag along, flat lining, numb to pain and numb to love. I decided long ago to refuse that kind of "life." Nothing, nothing makes me sadder than to see someone choose numbness over love and pain. Sometimes I feel like my mission in life is to be a witness not only to my love but to my pain.

Which, I guess, is why I ramble on about my struggles. This is my practice in embracing what I have to embrace. I don't want to be uncomfortable. But I'd rather be uncomfortable than go to hell, frankly. And there comes a point where Jesus asks for a conscious choice: Do you want to follow Me, or do you want to turn back? Do you want the cross, or your paltry, empty, useless, stupid way?

Jesus gives me so many graces, only I suppose it takes me a good long time to recognize them. It also takes me a good long time to not wince and yell "Damn it, no!" when death brushes past me once again. This is why it takes courage to draw close to God, as St. Teresa of Avila teaches us. It takes courage to face those moments of death that only you yourself know about. They are practice for bigger things.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Different Twist on "The Other Nine"

Something struck me the other day when the Gospel reading at Mass was the healing of the ten lepers. I know this gospel is coming up again (in this country at least) when we celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday.

The ten are healed, one comes back and gives thanks to Jesus for his healing. And Jesus says "Where are the other nine?"

I think in every homily I've heard, the point has been that there were nine ingrates and one who had the decency to thank Jesus. And Jesus' comment to the thankful man seems a little huffy that nine are so impolite.

Maybe I just really like being a contrarian. Maybe I cannot stand to hear the same homily over and over again. Maybe there is something to the thoughts that went through my head when I heard it this time. But how is struck me is that this one man left the company of the others, and Jesus is causing that one to think: are you just going to leave them? Sure, you're grateful. But you've lived your lives together, ostracized together, suffering together. Are you just going to check out and leave them behind, now? Where are they? You didn't think to ask them to come with you? They are obviously not here giving thanks, but you are. Now that you have been with me, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to go off, glad to leave your past behind, including your past associates? Or are you going to go back to them and tell them about our little chat here -- about why you came, and what about what I reminded you of?

You come to me to give thanks, and that's great. But don't forget about them. Tell them I asked about them. Maybe they need you now more than ever.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dear Trial: Take me Somewhere

I haven't been able to get myself to write much, of late. It's not that I haven't had thoughts along the line of which I would normally blog. It just hasn't happened.

So for the moment, I just want to gather up the major themes upon which I've been ruminating, and post a little sketch, which I may or may not enlarge at some other point.

First, everywhere I look in Scripture, the theme of God's covenant people has been standing out as if in giant bold print. Especially this theme of the anawim as I've mentioned in recent posts. God's people are in distress, they call out to Him in their helplessness, and God saves them, though not without their trial leaving a definite mark. How this is striking me is that this process stands in contrast to the ubiquitous human desire to "do something" about one's struggles. Don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of passively staring at one's problems and simply wishing they would go away. But the desire to "do something" about the sort of distress that cuts into our covenant relationship with God betrays our lack of understanding of the brokenness of our nature, and what it really takes to fix it. It is more than we have within our capacity to "do." It must be a movement of God's grace, and therefore waiting on God's initiative is absolutely necessary. The wait is the birthplace of humility, a crucible of purification, and a test and testimony of our faith in God, our hope in God, and our love for God.

Second, I have been asking the Lord frequently, as much like Mary and as little like Zachariah as I am able, why exactly He allows me to go through these cycles of forming attachments to people, only for Him to ask for them back again. (I mean of course that Mary and Zachariah both asked the angel "How can this be?" only the former asked with faith while the latter asked in doubt.) My daughter happened to read to me from her Fr. Lovasik saint book tonight the entry on St. John of the Cross, where he was quoted as saying, "Live in the world as if only God and your soul were in it; then your heart will never be made captive by any earthly thing." Now, that struck me as a balm tonight. Just a few short years ago, I was influenced by a spirituality that was quite different from this that emphasized the encounter with Christ in the Church (i.e. other people) as the only authentic way of encountering Christ. I don't think these two thoughts contradict each other in the least, but they certainly lead me in two different directions. That was then, this is now. St. John of the Cross was a Carmelite, and so he knew what it meant to belong to a specific community of believers, and how essential this was (and what terrible, awful suffering it was, too!). One cannot authentically encounter Christ all by oneself, shut up with one's Bible. And yet, within the Church, some are called to a deeper interior solitude. I keep thinking of this particular passage from St. Claude de la Colombiere that spoke to me so profoundly on Holy Saturday of 2011, when the Lord called me to place this friend of mine in His hand. I should post the text, I guess. It was such a strong call that I have taken the text as something of a promise from God. The gist of it was St. Claude's prayer that in handing over his friendships, Christ would take the place in his heart that these friends had had, and that likewise in the friends' hearts, Christ would take the place that St. Claude had in theirs. He speaks of it as a most painful sacrifice. I did this immediately when the Lord called me to, though I saw no fruit of this prayer for over a year. Now the fruit is clear to me. And the Lord is beginning to fulfill this word on my end. It is becoming my greatest prayer that he would fulfill it on the other end where my friend is concerned as well.

Then, there was that election. I wasn't terribly surprised Obama won re-election. I certainly was not happy with it, but neither was I dejected. Nor did I find it an occasion for panic. What I did find in my heart was a sure sense that I have been through a trial in the last several months that is preparing me for something else. Something that is moving me to a different spiritual place. Something that is necessary for where we stand in history. I don't know how to say it, but the sense is clear.

All I long for, really, is to do and to become what God wants of me. It is humbles me to admit it, but lately I realize that this friendship that I coveted so strongly can and could never really give me the sort of happiness I long for, even if it were miraculously restored today. Only God can fill my heart. I also know through and through that what made me so adamant about clinging to this friendship in the past was that I did experience amazing graces -- God Himself -- through it. I think of the Psalm verse that says "This is what causes my sorrow: that the ways of the Most High have changed." I was like Peter, wanting to build a booth on Mount Tabor, to stay right there with that glory forever. But what God wanted me to see, which I could describe months ago, but only experientially know now, is the immense gulf between Him, His grace and the instrument He chose to deliver that grace. It's that old God and goodies of God thing. Our relationship is with Him as a person, not with ways He chooses or particular paths down which He leads us for a time. I see that He will never (if we are determined to follow Him always) let us get stuck on His blessings so that we lose Him. Oh, of course it is possible to stop being determined to follow Him and take a deadly detour. I see now how deeply tempting it is. But the heart is never satisfied (for long) with less than God. If we want to stay satisfied, we have to keep moving, with Him. I know that He never, ever prunes us back without purpose. We can never give to Him without Him returning to us in greater measure. Oh, we can do lots of futile "something" to make ourselves feel productive and fluff our wounded pride. We don't get a return on futility and pride. But I think we always get a return when we are focused on living in the covenant, in faith, obedience, trust, and humility.

It's just that those things are so foreign to our way of life, that it seems absurd and even immoral sometimes to embrace them.