Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Become a Disciple of Love

Lately I have felt myself drawn back to a particular moment during last summer's pilgrimage to Poland. It was a moment of awareness about my life that came mid-way into the journey. I suddenly became aware that I had been wasting a lot of energy in my spiritual life. I had been trying hard, pushing, being austere, getting tough, setting my bar high, and talking up this spiritual lifestyle to my kids. And it was all me. Lots of empty froth. It was "of the flesh."

I was praying in a 1000 year old church when the realization congealed within me. I saw that I had gotten stooped over, spiritually, in my efforts towards austerity, and in stooping I had lost clear vision of God's incredible love which beckons me outward, to Him and to others. My efforts left me pulled into myself. In that ancient church, in that foreign land where I had nothing else to distract me but what was ahead of me that hour, I saw more clearly that the only true value is love, and that I was over-doing my effort.

Lately, also, I have remembered a time 25 years ago when the Lord began to teach me from these simple words, in the context of learning to be led by the Spirit of God: "Using your own energies wears you down. Using my energy builds you up."

I lived a deeply passive lifestyle in my young adulthood, so it was a victory when I learned to assert effort. We do need to live with all of the strength of our heart, mind, and soul. However, it is just as important that we continually turn our natural strength over to God, and be willing to die to it, to take up His supernatural strength. To put it more clearly, we need to purposely soak ourselves in God's love daily, meditating on the reality that we are nothing -- zippidee doo da -- without His love. His love is the power of our lives. His love that becomes ours is to be our power. Love is the value.

To become a student of love, a practitioner of love, a disciple of love... this is the call of God I hear right now. Again. And always.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thoughts on Story of a Soul: Chapter III

I'm reserving the right to be completely random and start a series of posts in the middle of a book.

I've been through Story of a Soul several times now both before and during Carmelite formation, but this time I am actually able to glean something from it. Follow this link for my many comments previously regarding my relationship with this particular Doctor of the Church.

I think what I am learning now is to enter spiritually and theologically into the experiences she reports. I am intuiting that she chose to report the details she reports not simply because she is reminiscing, but because she understands very well the meaning of her life. She is opening the book of her life for us to read God's writing there. Never before was I able to see what I feel I can see now. It has taken me some time for my vision to adjust.

What strikes me in this chapter in overview is how she is struggling to appropriate for herself this parrhesia, the humble boldness, this confidence of being loved as herself by God. She does not know how to bear herself at school with the jealous girl (of whom she said, "She made me pay in a thousand ways for my little successes."), and she does not have the mature detachment to not become overly sad at Pauline's entrance into Carmel. The help and healing comes from the Blessed Virgin Mary when she has exhausted all of the love from her family, realizing that even though it never failed her, it is not enough and she needs divine help to satisfy her soul. And yet, she doesn't know how to handle that grace either. She wants to, or at least she does, share it with Marie and the Carmelites,  (whether she really wanted to or not) but neither comprehend it exactly as she has experienced it. (They can't. It was for her.) She has the disappointment of not finding the union of wills on earth, in the way she talks about having had with her cousin. Her will is meant for union with heaven. This seems to stress her love for her most beloved ones.

Her discussion of her fragility at school was very enlightening to me. She silently suffers the jealousy of the girl who "made her pay" for being first in the class, because, she says, she didn't know how to defend herself. She didn't "have enough virtue" to "rise above" these miseries, but -- and there is a helpful word here -- when she returned home at night her "heart expanded." I can identify strongly with young Therese, her heart shrinking in some situations and expanding in others. I thought to myself, if she lacked virtue, what virtue might that be? I thought of 1 John 2 where we read "remain in Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of confidence and not shrink back from him in shame." It seemed that the opposite of an expanding heart is a shrinking heart, and that in turn is contrasted with confidence. That was when I came upon this paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2778 This power of the Spirit who introduces us to the Lord's Prayer is expressed in the liturgies of East and of West by the beautiful, characteristically Christian expression: parrhesia, straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness, the certainty of being loved.

This seems to summarize St. Therese's life, the Carmelite vocation, and my life, too. This is what she was made for. But at this point in her life, it was what she struggled with. She had to learn to own her own honor and glory, and to fully accept them as hers from God.

She goes on to say that she needed assurances in her family life that she was loved, or her life would have been too hard. Again, I can relate to Therese. And it is somewhat amazing that I can. That is, now I realize that I need assurances of love. I do. And I did in the past, too, without having them, and life was essentially too hard, and I became that way too. But the beautiful thing is to be able to say "I need." Sometimes for me the only way that I become able to say "I need" is to feel my lack, to feel ignored or unloved. Perhaps I need, as an exercise, to practice saying "I need" before I get to the point of feeling ignored. Perhaps it will change how I respond to other's needs.

I continue to relate when she says she didn't know how to play with other children, and she was bored by their games and dancing. She was pleased by being alone with one friend, by playing hermit, by practicing surrender of will (until she knocked over the shopkeeper's display by walking with her eyes closed).

She has a real union of love with her sister and experiences Celine's First Communion with as much joy as if it were her own. She shows zero jealousy. This is a delightful expression of selfless love.

Then there is this moment:

"In one instant, I understood what life was; until then, I had never seen it so sad; but it appeared to me in all its reality, and I saw it was nothing but a continual suffering and separation. I shed bitter tears because I did not yet understand the joy of sacrifice."
This is why she needed all of those assurances of love. It is also interesting to know that she shed tears when Pauline announced her leaving, but she shed no tears when her mother died. But this is also the moment of her realizing her personal vocation to Carmel. And this is why she says she should have not despaired so, because as of this time, she knew she too was meant for Carmel (no slow processing for her!).

And yet, after this, she falls ill. She goes to visit Pauline at Carmel with her cousins and aunt, and out of consideration for them, Pauline does not direct many words to Therese, and Therese feels herself abandoned by her. It is too much for her, and she collapses under a mysterious sickness. The assurances of love are missing, even her father's desire to distract and entertain her don't cut it. She fears she is faking her sickness. It does seem that there is something morbid going on psychologically. Therese herself at the time of writing is certain it was demonic. But somehow when she calls to Mary, instead of her sister, she is healed. It seems to me that the assurances of love that she needed and thought she could not live without had to fail her.

The bit about not wanting to talk about the grace that happened to her shows me there was a disconnect between these who were closest to her and she struggled to make the grace her own, to fully accept it as hers from God. This is the same kind of disconnect that she experienced with the kids at school. Except now it detached her from those she loved the most. Fascinating.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Should We Do the Works of Jesus? Really?

Today's Mass gospel reading brought my childhood to mind.

On leaving the synagogueJesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.They immediately told him about her.He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.The whole town was gathered at the door.He cured many who were sick with various diseases,and he drove out many demons,not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.Simon and those who were with him pursued himand on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you."He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villagesthat I may preach there also.For this purpose have I come."So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.   (Mark 1:29-39)

 It is not that my childhood was filled with miraculous ministry. That's not the connection.

When I was a child, the message that I gleaned from my Protestant church was that when Jesus said things like "Love your enemies," "Sell all you have and give to the poor," and "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," He didn't really mean what He said. He was setting a standard, an ideal, a new law. But we are sinners and can't do that stuff. He didn't mean it. Just be glad God forgives you. We are weak. It's basically wrong to think you should do what He said.

The primary theological difference between my faith then and my faith now is the reality of grace. The Catholic Church does not teach me that grace is about positional status change. It is not a legal fiction God creates in order to declare sinners not guilty. The Church does teach me that grace actually transforms the human soul, changing our very nature, giving us the very life of God alive inside of us. Therefore, it is not only possible to love (which is radical enough in itself). We are actually called to sanctity -- total and thorough soaking transformation by grace of our nature, so that we are "divinized" as 2 Peter 1:4 has it.

I wonder, though. How many Catholics hear gospels like today's in the way I heard most of Jesus' teachings as a child? Oh, Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons, but He did that because He is God. We can't imitate that. Can you heal the sick? Of course not. We're not God. He didn't mean for us to be like Him. If we think this way, we have to come to the conclusion that Jesus was modeling something other than God the Father's will in His life. Or, we are simply unaware that Jesus commanded his disciples to do the works He had been doing. Or, we think the era of miracles has passed. (Let me tug you aside and discuss transubstantiation, in that case.)

Theologically, if miracles are not part and parcel of Christian life, Catholicism has zero leg to stand on. Could it be that it is Christ's followers who have lost touch with the reality of what grace really is?

Could it be that now is the time, when talk is so cheap and lying so prevalent and trust so destroyed -- that now is the time that God wants to demonstrate the power of His love through people who know He is good, strong, loving, and wise?

If you think perhaps the answer is yes, I'd invite you to carve out 75 minutes to watch this video. Tell me what you think.

Monday, January 02, 2017

What Just Happened Here?: Onething 2016 and the Catholic Ecumenical Track

What I'm writing here is a spiritual first draft. That means that while thoughts and inspirations have passed through my heart and soul about my topic, I haven't explored them yet. This is writing of discovery.

If you don't know what the Onething conference is, look at this, and if you don't know about the little history of the Catholic Track and MajorChange, then go here. I'm not going to spend time explaining the event from a technical perspective.

And suddenly, just as I sat down to write, my clear entry into my thoughts is not clear any more. But this is part of the process.

I remember the spot where I stood, in a kitchen in Japan about 20 years ago, when I realized that to evangelize means to tell someone the reality of who they are. To be evangelized means to have revealed to one the truth of who they are. And in this regard, we need to be regularly evangelized. It simply means to have God's truth about us spoken over us. God's truth is incredibly good news, and it is also a call, and it is also a challenge.

This, I think, strikes at the core of how I experienced the last several days at Onething. On a simple level, we spent a lot of time meditating in various ways over what is contained in the chorus:

You're a good, good Father -- it's who You are, it's who You are, it's who You are
And I'm loved by You -- it's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

This is meditation on truth. This is healing to our minds and souls, and doing this, especially in the wide context of Scripture meditation, prayer, praise, Eucharist, and fellowship with the saints, this meditation becomes a river of revelation through which we invite and "free" the Holy Spirit to bring all sorts of goods to us. Our attention, heart, and desire, focused on God, tunes us in to that which He has patiently waited to pour out to us. Part, I think, is our lack of interest (reason for not otherwise receiving his outpouring), but part of it is that God does this sort of thing when His people gather. And when they gather to seek Him. St. Teresa of Avila knew that "God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres," and if we want God to move among us as a Church, we need to persevere together, which involves gathering and seeking. We also spur one another on to love and good deeds. Yes, we need to encourage our own hearts in God (this is actually incredibly vital), but we can't do without gathering for mutual encouragement.

Ok, so. During the 18 months that I spent post-conversion, on my way into the Catholic Church, God spoke to me a lot about the importance of being myself. This is another way of saying, about knowing who I am in Him. And not just about the category of self-knowledge in the spiritual life. I mean, about me being me. Because all these great principles have to get applied and lived in each one of us. I believe it takes incredible faith and courage, and grace, to do this. The Christian life in totality is supernatural, you see. This was another central message. From many corners the message came that now is a time that God wants signs and wonders carried out by His people, in order to reach the lost and dying with salvation and hope. People need to see Christ. Christ healed, delivered, raised the dead, and miraculously provided. People need to see Christ. This is not about anything but love, obedience, and purity, and responding to God. Because that is Who Christ is, and it is what He came to earth to do.

The daily supernatural activity I am called to is to be myself. This is also about love, obedience, purity, and responding to God. Of course, to respond to God, I need to be in constant contact with God by prayer, Scriptural meditation, Eucharist, and the fellowship with the saints. And, I need to live in reality, because this is where God is ALWAYS found.

Personal observations.
During the first segment of the Catholic Track, people from Columbus, Ohio talked about how God is leading them to start seeing supernatural manifestations in ministry of praying for healing and words of knowledge, and they led us in practicing this. (They are doing some kind of something-school-of-this in the fall, and I am already there in my heart.) As I prayed with a woman, I could see immediately how normal this is and I could identify the interior issues I need to address: namely that I put myself under pressure, feeling a need to rush along instead of staying comfortable with God at God's pace when another person is in the mix. Also, I realize I have a tremendous need for physical silence, which may not be a problem at all, just something I personally need to learn how to address.

And then folks prayed for folks for an impartation of grace. I indentified myself to the man who prayed for me as a Carmelite, and told him I sensed God wanting more for me to give, basically. He said he saw me walking up Mount Carmel with a backpack, but God wanted to trade what I want in that pack for His pack and the more He wants in it. Completely agreed, we prayed. Well, a few nights later, when Bill Johnson was speaking and again praying prayers of impartation and commissioning for this very thing of bringing God's signs and wonders, and I prayed, offering myself for those I always pray and offer myself, I felt my back burning -- burning -- essentially in the shape of a backpack.

The next morning (I hadn't really seen this chronology before), during the Catholic Track, we gathered for worship and prayer. We had done this one other time (truly, the days and events blur together when so much happens), when some folks were asking for prayer, and Iwona was inviting people to come and pray for others, if they felt like they should pray for others. And here is where this practical stuff about being myself came into play. I have a very strong pull to be a dutiful person. I also have a strong sense of submission and response to what is asked. But this, I realize, is where discernment is needed between the difference of what God asks of me, and what someone asks of me, even if it is someone I know and love and generally would always want to respond to. I knew that one of the big but general differences for me this year from Onething 2015 is that last year, I felt that I had to dutifully stay with every single last thing from every single last speaker, every last worship song, keep my heart attuned to them, respond with my energy to the people involved. And for that reason, I think I felt more dragged out. I did not feel the freedom (or the wisdom) to simply say, "What's going on here right now, that's not for me. It's not my duty." So. There I was at the aforementioned time of prayer in the Catholic Track, and while I am a prayerful type, and I don't have a problem praying with or over other people, I simply felt that wasn't for me. And I didn't. I felt the need to pray for the whole room.

So now, let's make our way back to where I started the last paragraph, that Saturday morning of worship and prayer. I settled into the worship, again, not doing exactly what other people were doing. I wasn't singing what other people were singing. I can't always put my mind into meditation mode, because God takes me somewhere else. And at first, where He took me was a meditation on my Carmelite name, the name I chose back a few years ago. We were singing John 1, and my name is Elijah Benedicta of the Incarnate Word. I chose this, in part (there are many parts) because for years I have known that God is after my mouth. He is after my use of words. God was dealing with my heart about who I am. How I am Elijah Benedicta of the Incarnate Word. In part, the profound impact here was that, I know that as a Carmelite and as an intercessor I am basically a hidden part of the Body. And a huge part of my story, personally and in terms of my theological and mental formation, has been countering the lie that my life and my actions essentially have no significance and no importance at all. And essentially God showed me my significance and my importance. And then, in this communion, I began to pray. This is something I cannot explain apart from faith and the experience, but as I prayed things forth, I saw them happen. Again, and again, and again. It is all essentially about living the reality of God being with me.

And then I stood up and gave a 40 minute talk on intercession that was supposed to be some vague plan of a conversation with a group and a priest who ended up not showing up because of illness. I had nothing planned (zip!) but I asked God on my way to the bathroom what it was I should lead with, and two things came immediately to mind, and there it was. And afterwards a woman who heard me asked if she could talk with me, and we talked for hours and she found hope, we prayed, and we understood each other very well.

And the biggest problem in the Church at large is that we are not in love with Jesus. We don't need to be emotionally hyped; that is largely an attempt to hide and cover, I think. Being in love is something else. It makes you want to study, to discover, to spend time, to think about, to be with, to work with, to give to. It absolutely absorbs all of your emotions, but it makes you more yourself, not less. Is there a love potion to make people fall in love? I need that answer.
People who see other people who are in love can feel deeply judged, rejected, and hated, and it can make them come out swinging, and/or plunge them into depression. It sometimes surfaces nasty crap in others because they start to feel what they lack. But the healing is in the revealing.

Still I think seeing people who are in love can melt hearts who don't even know they are isolated from love. Love is a call to self-giving. First, to awakening.

I want the Grand Theater in my town to become a place where people gather to pray and worship something like they do at IHOP.

I also want people to understand Mary's prophetic role.

Mostly I want more people to fall in love with Jesus.

I want to be myself and clearly recognize what choices I need to be get firm about to walk that way. I want to live every day with Jesus, with prayer, meditating on Scripture, the Eucharist, and the fellowship of the saints.