One of my favorite things is praying in the church when the only light is the gentle glow of the sanctuary lamp. It reminds me that no matter how dark things get, as long as Jesus is with me there will be light. And He is always with me. I need only turn my gaze to Him. As St. Elizabeth of the Trinity prays, “O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
This verse at the beginning of John has always intrigued me. The tense “has not” seems to allude to my own human uncertainty and the necessity of remembrance. When I am in darkness, I can wonder if we will ever see the light again. I can wonder if we will ever find happiness. I can wonder if God is love. But the darkness has not overcome the light. I can remember how God has come through, not just for His people but also in my own life. He who said, “let there be light” (Genesis 1) wants to speak those words into the dark corners of my heart and re-kindle Christ’s life within me.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2).
There may be times when it seems like light has vanished, but somehow in some way, it returns. In Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis reflects on how “the star is as much a character in this drama as are the Magi, Herod, and the Child. It appears and disappears at will; and it moves with total certainty and obedience toward the place that draws it toward itself.”
Just like the Magi, there may be moments when I cannot see the Great Light. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t there, continuing to guide me home. Even in the darkness.
“Even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is as bright as the day; for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139).
When I am in darkness, when I want light, I sometimes think I find myself asking for the wrong thing. This light isn’t consolation. It isn’t knowing what is going on or where to go. This light is the light of a God who is with me. A God who reveals Himself as Emmanuel. This is the light that isn’t overcome.
That is why “they will need no light from a lamp or the sun…” and “awake o sleeper arise from death and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). That is, Christ will give me Himself. When I ask for light, I need to remember that I am asking for someone and not something.
As St. Bernard writes, “It is good for me to be sad, O Lord, as long as you are with me, rather than to be a king apart from you, to feast without you, to boast without you. It is better for me to embrace you in tribulation, to have you with me in the furnace, than to be without you in heaven” (Office of Readings for St. Pancras, Martyr).
The light is a person. The light is Jesus. The light is Emmanuel, God-with-us.
“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Light, and our interaction with it, is fascinating. Our eyes do not see the objects themselves, but rather the light that is reflected by the objects. If there is no light, I cannot see. And this is very true for the spiritual life. I cannot truly see other people, situations, or things apart from Him.
When I cry out, “Master, I want to see!” it is the same as saying, “Master, Jesus, I want You!” I want You to be near me. I need You in order to see, because without you—without the light of the world—I am merely grasping at shadows. I want to see things as they really are. I want to see them in Your light.
Advent is my favorite season of the liturgical year. But all the liturgical seasons are different for me now than when I was in consecrated life. The hustle and bustle, invitations, social expectations, shopping for gifts…it’s a far cry from the quiet preparation I had become accustomed to. It can be a challenge even to find time for a few moments of prayer each day.
How is it possible to make myself worthy of celebrating Christmas when I can’t enter into Advent the way I want to?
The good news is: I don’t need to make myself worthy. In fact, I cannot make myself worthy.
Even if I am faithful to my Advent meditation every day. Even if I dutifully light the colored candles of my wreath. Even if I resist materialism and put up my Christmas tree at the “proper” time. Even if I put a piece of hay in a little manger for every sacrifice, making it soft for Jesus.
Even if I do all of this, as good as it may be, I cannot make myself worthy of Christmas. I don’t earn the right to celebrate the Incarnation by behaving well during Advent. Jesus alone can make me worthy!
On Monday of the first week of Advent, we heard the Gospel of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. When Jesus makes it known that he will go and heal the servant, the centurion protests, in words that have become very familiar to us:
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed” (Mt. 8:8).
We make those words our own at every Mass. And we can make them our own this Advent. I am not worthy to receive Christ anew this Christmas, but at HIS word, I shall be healed.
If you’re struggling with spiritual perfectionism or discouragement because this Advent has not quite been what you had hoped, be very much encouraged! The Lord meets us in our weakness. He comes not a perfect humanity, but a sinful one. He comes to redeem us, not expecting us to have already redeemed ourselves.
As we enter into these final days of Advent, let us dispose our hearts to the action of Jesus. Even if we haven’t done all that we had hoped this season. Let us remember that it is Jesus who does the doing. We offer Him our feeble efforts and wait with HOPE for the only one who can make us worthy.
A book review ofThe Hidden Face: a study of St. Therese of Lisieux by Ida Friederike Görres, Ignatius Press, 1959.
The best summary I can give to this book is “WOW!—but not the kind of “wow” that would indicate something extraordinary was revealed about St. Therese in this book. On the contrary, she is more ordinary than her statues and all the hype and all the “sweetness” that drips off her writings at times. (By the way, the “sweet” quality of her writings was not actually from her…but more on that later).
Not only that, but she was less than ordinary as a young girl when she experienced a type of suffering that these days would possibly have counted against her entrance to the convent, namely, what had all the signs of a mental illness, which afflicted her around the age of 10.
Yes, you have probably heard of her becoming ill as a girl, especially how she was thoroughly healed by the smile of the Virgin Mary statue. (Or maybe that detail is all that you ever heard about?) I was admittedly very astounded to read details which are understandably often “hidden” when speaking of that dark time of her life—such as how at times she “contorted her face, rolled her eyes” and “saw monstrous and nightmarish figures everywhere.”
At least once she “had to be forcibly restrained” and “could not be left alone” (page 79). Ironically, the more I read of her extreme condition at that time, the more hopeful I became that any of us can become a saint.
Other misconceptions of her were also broken down. For instance, as I mentioned above, the “sweetness” of her writings was not so much from her. Rather, a lot of it came from the hands of her sisters, who found her writings to be too simple and not “like” a saint’s writings. So they just added some sweetness to what she had penned before it became public.
This book not only made St. Therese seem more real, but also made me see why she stands out as someone to be venerated, even in her convent. The author states that “if we assemble and consider the evidence scattered through many sources on the nuns inhabiting the convent at that time, the picture is on the whole not very glowing…” (page 197).
You may have heard, for instance, that one of the superiors, Mother Marie de Gonzague, was a very difficult character. Yet St. Therese loved even her and would not join in when other sisters engaged in critical talk about her .
Therese also tried not to just “go with the flow” in the convent, as she kept to the rule when others were violating it. Her sisters, holy and good examples in many ways, still did not match Therese in these points.
If you love St. Therese and want to know more about her—or if you are repulsed by her, as some are, because of how “perfect” she seems to be, you will find this book eye-opening, refreshing, hope-inspiring, and challenging.
I could have done without the lengthy commentary on the part of the author at times, but the book is worth “watching”—giving you a unique glimpse into the life of a saint who is not as well-known as you may think.
Photo of the Chapel of St. Therese in Belgium taken by Jmh2o on Wikimedia Commons
Jennifer shares her magnificat of what God has done in her life since leaving the monastery. She battled depression and anxiety, but through all of this, she has grown so much. She’s not called to be a nun, and that’s okay. God has called her to marriage, and this is the vocation through which she will serve Him.
Jennifer wanted to be a nun since she was 14, and she put her all into it. Sometimes we feel so sure about something, but God has another plan. It’s hard to let go. Jennifer offers encouragement to all who are struggling with letting Him lead.
A review of Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life by Marie Baudouin-Croix and translated by Mary Frances Mooney, published by Ignatius Press, 2017
Certainly of great interest to all Leonie’s Longing readers, this book offers a likable and believable portrait of the “lame duck” Martin girl whose devotion to her younger sister St. Therese’s “Little Way” bore great fruit for holiness. By the time the author wrote this commendable biography in 1989, Sister Francois-Therese (Leonie) was “remembered with joy” by the four still-living nuns who had known her before her “saintly death” in 1941 at the Visitation convent where she had lived in Caen, France. (see page 14)
Through this book, the Leonie’s Longing reader walks the path of our patroness’ difficult childhood years, empathizes deeply with her tearful journey to find a permanent home in the religious life, and admires her growth in holiness along the Little Way under her saintly sister’s living and posthumous guidance.
As a child, little Leonie was physically weak and often ill. Her aunt, a Visitation nun who prayed fervently for her at (St.) Zelie’s urging, was a conduit of grace for Leonie, leading to a great deal of healing for her. Yet even as her health grew stronger, Leonie “became a little rough, a bit of a daredevil.” (see page 21) One could argue that the bulk of Leonie’s troubles stemmed from a hidden suffering she had been enduring, which came to light and finally ended only when she was almost 14 years old, after her loving aunt’s death.
The biography contains many letters, written by her, her mother, St. Therese, and other family members. I found very refreshing some letters between Leonie and her sisters about the “mundane” issue of plucking out facial hair! Marie’s reply begins with, “Now, dear little sister, a few words to teach you how to use your famous tweezers without hurting yourself.” (see page 123) It gets better, but you will have to get the book and see what I mean!
Lastly I just have to say that, there is absolutely no doubt Leonie understands you and loves you. Here is a quote from a letter of St. Therese about the day they saw Leonie after her third departure from religious life: “We were overcome with emotion when we saw her; she was crying so hard that we were unable to make her say a word.” (see page 84) She understands. In fact, I imagine this experience is in large part why, years later, back in the convent, the author describes, “One evening, Leonie noticed tears in the eyes of a postulant. After the Office, she waited for the girl at the door of her cell and embraced her in silence. The young postulant was greatly comforted.”
She is ours! You will be blessed by opening the pages of this biography to learn more about this great friend of ours, a guide, a helper, one who understands and loves us.
A few weeks ago I (Cate) received an email with a unique and fun contribution to the blog – a post-leaving playlist. This submission from Catherine reminded me that I had my own list of songs written down somewhere – songs that had given me hope and emotional release in those months (and even years) after I left my community. Music is a powerful tool and can be a means of great healing.
Here’s what Catherine has to say:
Not sure about you, but I’m one of those people who likes to have a “theme song” or two for the significant moments and stages of my life, including entering and leaving religious life. I find that music helps me to connect with and process my emotions, make sense of all that’s going on and understand how I can respond to it.
So, here’s my “post-leaving playlist.” I’ve tried to include a mix that covers the spectrum of emotions and stages of processing that happens. Some of these are songs to cry to, others to dance to. Some are Christian, others secular. In all of them, there’s a note of hope and encouragement.