While I am still very much with the Pope's Sunday homily on what it means to worship, along with other must-blog bits, I also wanted to run through the rabbit trails leading to how a certain homily struck me today. (I have a purposeful, but energetic rabbit, by the way. We aren't going nowhere, but we might go everywhere.)
I was once very legitimately asked, in spiritual direction, "When you say 'God told me...', how is it that you know God told you something?
It's a very good question, because it isn't like I have a broadcast receiver inside my head, picking up audible or telegraphed messages from God. I do believe that heaven communicates to people very frequently, far more frequently than we generally realize. If we a) knew how to listen and b) wanted to know, and believe we would realize this is true.
I also believe that people can get very, very goofy with this, to the point of gross self-delusion. I knew a woman in her 50s who had had hysterectomy who was convinced God told her she was pregnant, and I've heard claim of a "prophetic sweat stain." I have plenty stories of my own stupid and painful mistakes like this, too. I admire the courage it takes to go out on a limb to share what one believes has been "a message," but alas, some limbs climbed out upon only make one plummet to terra firma below. And that, really, is a mercy.
Because there is validity to God directing us in subtle and more direct ways, and mistakes serve the purpose of teaching us to discern the valid from the invalid. God does direct! In the Catholic tradition there is the term "actual grace." This is a gift God gives that tells us, in a particular situation "go there, do that, say this, give these." One might "just have a feeling" one should do something, and then later discover that it was one link in a chain of events that was very significant. It generally takes humility to respond to something like that; it seems there is always a hint of "I might look stupid if I follow through with it" involved. Sometimes we reason ourselves into comfort and safety -- and then wonder why our lives are so dull and unsatisfying. God will take you on an adventure if you give yourself to Him without reservation.
Ok, so meandering back to the point I began with: how today's homily struck me.
This morning, I got up before dawn to pray the Office of Readings. The fact that I did this is a grace in and of itself, and I'll explain why. First, in the fall when I was in a particularly bad way and I was inspired to ask the Lord for specific direction, one of those directions was to get up early. Yeah, great. I've only struggled with getting up in the morning my entire life. But then, several weeks later, I specifically sensed the Lord say to me at Mass to pray and fast for X for a certain amount of time, and I knew right away that the fast that was fitting was that I would get up earlier than normal. The following day, I learned of the huge need that X had on their hands, that I didn't know about the day before. A couple weeks after that time was finished, a friend commented in passing on Facebook about the Benedictine rule of getting up the moment one wakes in the morning. My conscience was pricked, and I knew I was being called to embrace that. The following day, I lazed around in bed, mulling over that call (and not getting up). It was an awful day; I felt like God allowed me to go through that day devoid of all sense of consolation. The following day I got up at 6 to pray, and (with the exception of one very bad day that I went on strike) I have gotten up early to pray every day since then. That was over four months ago.
So I was up early and praying. That was a gift right there. After I finished those prayers, I simply drew into silence for a few moments. My mind went to Bl. Titus Brandsma. He is a Carmelite martyr, and that much I knew, but since I haven't yet met everyone in my new Carmelite family, I didn't know much more of him. Yesterday, however, when I was with my kids in Pittsburgh, I happened to come across a picture of him. I thought about this, and then about how I'd read that sometimes when God wants to communicate something to us through the life of one of his saints, they'll just show up in our paths like this. So, I paid attention to that, and made a mental note to check into his writings. And since my mental notes often get lost, I jumped right on it and googled him on my phone while waking my kids up. I read a letter he wrote to his sister a few days before he was executed while in Dachau, being beaten daily, and having medical experiments done on him. It was filled with friendly and polite inquiries into the well-being of his fellow priests, and ended with "Not too much worrying about me." As if he were on a summer beach holiday. Another account told how he would ask all his fellow prisoners to pray for the guards and Nazis, that they would be converted.
Then, I read that he would shout out "Not my will but yours be done!" while he was being tortured and experimented upon.
Immediately upon reading that it hit me that God's will, in these circumstances, is for a huge and mysterious good that is far beyond human comprehension. The Lord did not say this, and saints do not say this in a sense of being a doormat to a vengeful God who is full of blood lust who demands and loves to watch suffering. Masochism is sick, not saintly. Saints know that, having been created by God, the safest and most glorious place for their lives to hide is in His will, even if it means the ultimate physical loss.
I was mulling this over while I prayed Lauds with my friends. The Scriptures spoke to me (constant theme) of the anawim: those who humble themselves to the dust, know they are powerless, and who put all their hope, trust and confidence in God who alone is all powerful.
Then I went to Mass, still with the scent of these thoughts surrounding me. The homily was on doing the will of God, and how it generally is easy to do, and obvious. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed. I found myself praying for the priest (who is not my pastor!) to be roughed up and graced with some new challenge to his spiritual life. Does that sound harsh? But honestly, no. For us to do God's will always involves some true giving of ourselves, and true giving brings on at least a bit of hurt, a bit of sacrifice. That ain't always easy. Because when we do God's will, it is only by God's grace. When we do stuff by God's grace, we do it like He would do it. We sacrifice. We extend. We give ourselves, and because we live in this same world of sin into which the Lord is constantly pouring Himself, sometimes what we give gets refused, gets ignored. When we love with Jesus' love, we experience some of the pain Jesus receives, too, even if it is mild. But sometimes an act of grace is met with torture and execution, even.
And I thought back to a dream I had in Japan that was very instructive to me. I was in my 6th grade classroom (quite a symbol of suffering!), and at the head of the room was Jesus on His cross. First I saw Mary looking at Him and asking others to look at Him. Then I was with her, doing what she was doing. Most people were not looking, but chatting with each other, laughing, or just otherwise busy. Occasionally someone would look up, and their demeanor would change. It made Mary suffer greatly that so few would pay attention.
I think sometimes we sail through our Christian lives thinking we are being morally great. But if we aren't looking at Jesus, if we don't contemplate why He suffered, if we don't consider that love hung Him there -- we are missing everything. If we miss love, we miss everything. If His crucified love does not grip our hearts and draw our affection and our wills to Him, to love and give to the point of ouch, then damn our do-gooding.
So, that's my little homily comment, and the path that brought me there.