One of my favourite passages in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) recounts an incident between Alice and the Red Queen. The Red Queen starts to run, holding Alice by the hand. The Queen keeps crying out: ‘Faster! Faster!’ Just as Alice is beginning to feel that they are going as fast as they possibly can, so fast that they are almost flying, they come to a standstill. Alice is taken aback to see that they are in exactly the same place as before. She questions the Red Queen, who replies promptly:
‘If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.’
The Red Queen’s comment, although frustrating for poor, tired Alice, feels very applicable to my spiritual life sometimes. With a perfectionistic temperament, I often have the nagging feeling that I have slowed down too much in my spiritual efforts and that if I ‘just did more’, all my problems would go away. My answer is to redouble my efforts, applying myself even more intently to daily spiritual exercises. Sooner or later, I discover to my exasperation that I still have the same problems. Just as for the Red Queen and Alice, determined sprinting seems to have left me in the same place.
At different times, the Lord in His great kindness has shown me that this isn’t His will. In fact, it is often the exact opposite that He is asking of me. He is asking me to wait, to slow down, and to let Him act in His own time.
Fr Robert Spitzer, in his great book on enduring suffering with faith, The Light Shines On in the Darkness, points out that one of the Enemy’s tactic, when he sees Christians making some improvement in a virtue like humility, is to suggest that they could do even better, go a little faster, apply themselves harder. In doing so, he tries to push them into ‘exhaustion or spiritual pride—or both’. These insinuations that we need to go ‘faster, stronger, harder’, Fr Spitzer writes, are ‘usually the tactics of the Evil One’. The answer? ‘Go back to who God is – the Father of the prodigal son.’
The psychologist Dr Gregory Bottaro talks a lot in his Catholic Mindfulness lectures about the failure of the ruminating, ‘doing mind’ to solve our problems. Sometimes, he explains, the reality is counterintuitive: we have to exert less effort to move in the right direction.
As St Thérèse wrote, doctors put their patients to sleep before they operate on them. In the same way, the Lord who ‘gives to His beloved sleep’ (Psalm 127) can work miracles when we are not looking. Some of the greatest graces I have received have been when I felt spiritually exhausted and inactive.
Fr Jacques Phillippe, in his beautiful book In the School of the Holy Spirit, says: ‘The only commandment is to love. We can suffer in love, but we can also rejoice in love and rest in love.’
It is very true that the ‘love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Corinthians 5:14) But at the same time, He ‘gives us rest in green pastures’ and ‘leads us near restful waters’. And sometimes it has been at the very hardest times in my life that He desired that rest for my spirit.
This Palm Sunday, listening to Luke’s account of the Passion, I was struck by the last words of the reading: ‘And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.’ (Luke 23:56)
These holy women were in deep grief and mourning. Their hearts were broken; Jesus was dead. But they still faithfully did the one thing that God was asking them to do: they rested. And how great was their reward the next day! On Easter Sunday, the time would come for action again. The holy women would begin running again in joy to spread the news of the Resurrection.
Good Friday was the time to suffer in love. On Holy Saturday, the call was to rest in love. And on Easter Sunday, the call was new again: this time to rejoice in love.
As women, we can easily feel guilty for not ‘doing’ enough, whether in our personal, professional or spiritual lives. It is beautiful and freeing to discover that at times, all the Lord might be asking of us is to fulfil our daily tasks peacefully, even restfully, and wait for Him to ‘make all things new’.
By Lucia Delgado.
Around this time 3 years ago, I made a decision to end discernment to religious life. It seems that I was doing the call for a priest who believed that I was called to this vocation. Deep down inside, I knew God was calling me to a different lifestyle.
Fast forward to 3 years later, I’m engaged to be married. My fiancé and I await the day when we start marriage preparation.
While there are people who are excited for us, there are those who don’t believe we should be married at all. Some people believe that I am still called to religious life especially a couple of priests.
Confusion and doubts settle in my heart. With help from the Holy Spirit, I was guided to read this Sunday’s readings for Mass.
From the prophet Jeremiah:
“All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.’
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.”
Throughout his life, Jeremiah learned how to trust in the Lord in spite of persecution from others. His vocation journey was full of twists and turns; he eventually accepted God’s call to speak the truth…to be a prophet in a world of darkness.
I knew I had no decision but to trust in the Lord. My fiancé and I pray often, especially during our courtship. We also went to adoration to ask for His will for us. We both asked the Lord to give us fortitude, peace, and trust. We freely made a decision to marry; we believed that God called my fiancé and I to marriage no matter what the world thinks.
All of us are called to holiness. God asks each of us to use our gifts and talents that He gives us to use for His glory. The marriage vocation is a chance for a man and a woman to lead each other to the Lord. Also, they reach out to their offspring and lead them to the Lord. The Father drew me to this vocation because He knew that I have a heart to lead others to His Son. My fiancé and I look forward to serving together as a couple in the Catholic Church. We will assist at Mass by being Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or read one of the readings of the day. We both love to pray, especially before the end of the day. We encourage one another to be more Christlike. Whether one is in religious life, single life or married life, we are called to be holy and encouraging others to follow Jesus. All vocations are pleasing to the Lord. He invites us to share, encourage, pray, and love one another.
If you are at a crossroads of making a decision about your vocation, talk to the Lord. A friend of mine told me to go to adoration to listen to God’s voice. She told me not listen to the voices of friends, priests, and others; only listen to God’s voice.
Going to adoration has helped me to listen to God’s voice especially when I was discerning with the religious community. I continue to go as a lay Catholic; I learn how to trust in the Lord’s will for my life.
For three years before entering the convent, I had worn a chapel veil at Mass. As a child, I’d been attracted to the beauty of the veils themselves, and in college I became exposed to the theological reasoning behind the practice, which cinched the deal for me. I bought my first veil (a real mantilla!) in Madrid at World Youth Day and I’d worn one ever since. I loved veiling and adhered to it religiously (pun very much intended!), and I eagerly hoped and prayed that the day would come where I would wear a veil not just in the chapel, but “full time” as a religious sister.
When I finally heard and accepted God’s concrete invitation to join a religious order, I was ecstatic. Of course, there were difficulties with the decision to enter: Shortly after requesting entrance, I was offered several full scholarships for graduate study at prestigious universities, the Order asked me to do an additional “optional” year of formation as a prepostulant at a house in a foreign country, I needed to change my lifelong vegetarian diet in order to be able to eat “from the common table.” And I was asked not to wear a chapel veil as a prepostulant. While this last difficulty was not the hardest of those decisions (after all, I had the prospect of soon becoming a fully-habited religious sister in front of me!), I will admit that I struggled with it. It was one of the first tests of obedience that the Lord asked of me in religious life.
I grew a lot over the course of prepostulancy and during my two months as a postulant. And when I returned home from the convent, while it felt natural for me to continue veiling in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, it was with a very different mindset than when I’d begun the practice.
Thus, a week after leaving the convent, I found myself at daily Mass trying to push aside my anger with myself, my anger with some of my former Sisters, my feelings of deep vulnerability, abandonment, and loss, and basically just an overwhelming amount of inner turmoil. While I was kneeling in thanksgiving after Mass was over, an older gentleman approached me. “It’s so nice to see a young woman with her head covered at Mass! The Lord is granting you many graces for wearing that,” he said to me. Whereas before, this comment would have spoken to my pride and made me feel flattered (“I know! I’m such a good Catholic!”), now I just felt irrationally angry. I wanted to yell at him that “With that mindset, the Lord would probably be granting me far more graces if I were still in the convent! You don’t know anything!” Noting my anger and resolving to take it to prayer to examine it later, I responded instead with a weary smile and as much restraint as I could muster: “I hope the Lord grants me graces regardless of what I’m wearing on my head.”
During a personal Holy Hour a little later, I returned to that interaction. “The Lord is granting you many graces [for wearing a veil]”, I quoted in my journal. “Well,” I continued writing, “I personally hope the Lord is granting me graces because He loves me and because I love Him and try to follow His will, not because of some piece of lace on my head. In fact, I have a feeling that I received more graces in not wearing a veil as a prepostulant than I do now in wearing a veil as a laywoman, since the former was done in obedience.”
“But God doesn’t love me because I veil or because I pray or because I entered the convent. He loves me because that is Who He is. And because Who He is doesn’t change, His love for me will never change. His love for me is not dependent upon what I do or don’t do, on what I wear or don’t wear. I am loved no matter what because He is love and He loves me.”
Until that moment, I’d never realized or admitted to myself that I’d been trying to earn God’s love, but that’s what I’d been trying to do. I didn’t feel worthy of the Lord’s love, so instead of accepting that I am unworthy and He loves me
anyways, I tried to make it “worth it” for Him to love me. But somehow, in that place of brokenness, of realizing just how weak and sinful I am and how insufficient all my “great big efforts” to make myself “worthy” of being loved by God actually are, the Lord spoke Love into my heart. “Oh, little one,” I heard Him say, “My dear, sweet little one, you don’t need to try to win My love, you don’t have to earn it. You can’t earn it. My Heart is already yours and nothing you do will ever alter that.”
I am eternally grateful to that older gentleman for helping open my eyes to the reality of the Lord’s love for me and for helping open my heart to His healing. His comment led to a moment of deep insight and consolation that has been helping me navigate the stormy waters of these first few months of post-convent life.
I still wear a veil at Mass. I continue to love the tradition, and it helps remind me that I am both beautiful and His bride, even if I’m not a religious sister. But I now veil with more humility and less rigidity because I realize that it won’t “earn” me anything. It’s one of the many precious insights that the Lord has so graciously granted me since leaving my former community.
“You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride;
You have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes.”
(Song of Songs 4:9)
Here’s the final post in Lucia’s beautiful Theology of the Body series!
After knowing of God’s immense love, a woman can go forward with finding out what God calls her to. This response is not immediately one of vocation to married or religious life, but rather a call to respond to God’s love.
When one knows that they are loved by another, they desire to give themselves completely to that person in love. It is in such an act that we truly find out who we are. As St. John Paul II points out, “Man cannot fully find himself except by making a sincere gift of himself”. By receiving God’s love and then giving ourselves in love and trust to Him, we truly become who we were created to be.
I started out my second blog post with the theme of hope. Hope: What do I mean by this? How does this relate to the Theology of the Body and how it expresses the Gospel message?
“The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man: it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.” (Catechism, 1818)
Amidst your experience, whether it is one of joy and freedom or pain, suffering, and low self-esteem, how is God leading you to hope? How is He calling you to happiness and the desires of your heart? You have great desires for to love and be loved, and He has put those desires in your heart for a reason. Allow Him to guide you ever closer to Himself through these desires!
God wants to marry us. St. John Paul II expressed this beautifully, “With an act of redemptive love, Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. By the same act he is united with the Church in a spousal manner, as the husband and wife are reciprocally united in marriage instituted by the Creator.” (TOB, Audience 93). Even if you are not giving your life in the radical vocation of religious life, this still is very true. God created each of us for a deep and intimate union with Him, and our vocation is only the means by which we enter into a deeper relationship with Him.
Now, ask yourself, “Do I truly believe this and live this out? Do I believe that even if I am not a religious that God is still calling me to a deep personal relationship, and not only that, but that He has a particular and irrepeatable mission for me? Do I believe that I am called to an intimate relationship with Christ, based not on what I do, but rather the fact that He loves me unconditionally?” Sit with the Lord and go through asking these questions with Him. Allow Him to stir the deep desires of your heart that are so beautifully put there by Him, and He will lead you to find out who you truly are.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
The other two posts in this series are available here:
The image of the Schoenstatt Unity Crucifix in this post is used under a Creative Commons Licence, and the owner is Enrique Lepez-Tamayo Biosca.
The canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of Saint Therese, is set for October 18th, 2015!
To celebrate, here is a post about the difficult and beautiful process of growing toward sainthood as a family, written by mother of four Elissa Jasko.
Several months ago I was asked to write a couple blogs about growing in holiness through family life. I don’t think of myself as an expert in such areas, but when I sat down to write the first one, Motherhood: A path to holiness, I found the Lord was working in my life and the process of writing allowed me to organize and meditate on what He was teaching me. What a blessing! I looked forward to working on the second, which was to be a reflection on how we help our kids discern their vocation and obtain sainthood.
I want to let you know that what I am sharing today is different from what I thought I would share when I began writing this blog. Instead of an explanation of how my husband and I are working to grow virtue in our children, I will share where God has taken me in the days since I first opened this document and began typing.
When I started, I wrote out all kinds of great thoughts about being made in the image of God and how God calls all of us, no matter our age, to live the life of love. I believe parents can help their children live as images of God by recognizing and celebrating the amazing, innocent way children can spread love and joy. One of my personal favorites is how many people are so moved by the miracle of life that they are uncontrollably compelled to touch or even kiss the pregnant belly of a complete stranger. It is not easy to welcome this gesture, but I chose to see this invasion of personal space as a way I am allowing my unborn child to touch hearts.
I continued my blog with more examples of how I have encouraged and observed my children to receive God’s love and let it flow to those around them, but something wasn’t right. I couldn’t figure out how to finish. I had complete writer’s block.
And then naptime ended.
Back to the reality of life with four kids ages five and under, and I hadn’t completed the blog. As my children started running around and playing, all the thoughts and convictions about letting the love of God flow into your life and through you to others flew right out the window. The rest of the afternoon went poorly. I was frustrated and irritable. My mood deteriorated so much that by evening I not only doubted my qualifications to write a blog about raising holy children, I doubted my qualifications to parent children at all.
By the grace of God, the day ended with an honest, quiet bedtime conversation with my 4-year-old daughter about
how hard it is for me to be a good mommy. I told her I want to be patient and let God’s love flow through me to her and her brothers. I apologized for failing, and asked her to pray for me. Then she shared that obeying and being kind is hard for her, and I promised to pray for her. That time of sharing was invaluable. I hope we have many more real moments like that together.
“A saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” I found this saying the first time I attempted to write this blog, but I dismissed it as irrelevant. I wanted readers to be left with my positive message “encourage children to live the life of love God is calling them to now so it comes naturally when they are making permanent vocation decisions.” The idea of “keep on trying, you’ll get ’em one day” seemed like an unnecessary downer.
It turns out that God had His own message in mind. He has shown me that this saying is one of hope. God knows life is hard and our flesh is weak. He knows we will fail. Learning to pick ourselves up and continue on is a critical lesson to learn. The fact that He forgives and strengthens us for our journey says so much about His Love. Thank you Jesus for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for continuing to show me perfection is not a prerequisite for parenting. By sharing the ups and downs of my weak efforts to grow in holiness I am modelling to my children how to grow in love with You.
This lesson applies to more than just parents. I think we could all learn more about God’s love by honestly sharing with each other our own struggles to be loving. Yes, we should strive to be patient and always act in love, but the truth is, we all fail at it. None of us is a saint yet, but the Lord who began His good work in us is faithful. In humility, we admit our failings. In love, we receive forgiveness and healing. In grace, we are given strength to try again.
I pray that as my children grow, they will not be discouraged by failure. I pray they will realize that living a life of love is worth dusting off your pants and trying again. I pray that together as a family we will take time to celebrate love’s victories. In doing this, I have faith that we will find where God is calling us to love and grow in union with Him.
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!
Ever seen Kung Fu Panda?
I watched the movie with my postulant class and felt at the time like it pretty much described our early religious experience. Rigorous training and self-discovery were on the menu, served up with bok choy and steaming, hot rice. It got me thinking about what it is to prepare oneself for a life of service to Him. The Ignatian idea of soldiers for Christ comes to mind here. The similarities between military and religious life are manifold, after all:
– Early mornings.
– Obedience to Superiors.
– Intense discipline.
– Frequent exhaustion.
– Detailed schedule.
– Ordered sleeping quarters.
– Standard issue clothing.
– B-grade coffee **grin**
Even the standing, sitting, following in the breviary and bowing in unison of praying the Office together is somewhat analogous to the experience of ceremonial drill with synchronised marching and weapon handling.
By way of further illustration, allow me to share my own personal occasion of deja vu.
People had been murmuring all afternoon, you see. It was rumoured that there would be a midnight training exercise. We had been moved out of the Officer’s quarters for that evening, which was unusual. We were shifted to the enlisted flats. Unusual just doesn’t happen in the military. Routine happens. Predictability happens. People are squared away.
Instinct told me to go to bed partially dressed, and it is just as well that I did. At approximately 3.30am the following morning, the peal of an aluminium whistle simultaneously sounded with the thud of a shoe being whacked against the door of my quarters. We were ordered to report downstairs on the grass outside the flats, in full DPCUs (disruptive pattern camouflage uniforms) but with our running shoes instead of our boots, formed up in rank and file. Initially I congratulated myself. I was almost completely dressed – I only had to pull on and button up my camouflage shirt and pull my shoes on… wait… what shoes? I had my boots, but not my running shoes. My running shoes were in the trunk of my car, parked downstairs outside the flats.
I grabbed my car key and ran like a mad thing in bare feet out onto the dew-kissed grass to grab my shoes. I ran to my place in the line, secured my car key in a cargo pocket and managed to get one shoe on before time was up. It was mostly dark, and I put the other shoe on the ground partially on top of my unshod foot as we stood to attention and listened to the Warrant Officer brief us on the exercise that was about to take place. I played it cool and counted on poor visibility and the hope that an inspection would not take place to survive the next 5 minutes… and was grateful when we were given a minute between the briefing and the commencement of our first task, which was enough time to get the shoe on. My failure to be properly prepared had miraculously flown under the radar that morning. What followed was a “character building” road run of many miles, where we were required to drop to the side of the road every few miles to do pushups, where our hands held the curb, but our bodies had to go down a further 6 inches lower than the level of our hands in order to allow our noses to brush the asphalt. Such was the cruel creativity of our task masters. We were then required to travel a certain distance in walking lunges before teaming up with a fellow Officer Cadet and retrieving, in pairs, heavy ammunition boxes with the objective of getting them from one side of a deep water obstacle to another. All in all, these torments continued for approximately 90 minutes, at which point we were given leave to shower and get ourselves to the Officer’s Mess for a well-earned breakfast and some liquid gold.
Fast forward some 4 years.
I had been wearing a uniform of a very different kind for approximately 2 weeks. I was now a baby postulant.
At approximately 1.15am, the morning bell rang. I woke and groggily looked at my clock. Seeing the time, I was quite sure it was just a dream and I turned back over in my bed and went back to sleep. Meanwhile, more savvy and obedient sisters than I were dressing in the neighbouring cells, despite the hour. Rushing between cells and bathrooms transpired over the few minutes that followed before the message made it around the dorms that we were to go back to bed. Suffice it to say that rising at 5am after the drama a few hours earlier was… “sanctifying.”
After breakfast the following morning all novitiate sisters were asked to meet in the Community Room where the Novice Mistress addressed us to debrief the incident of the night before. It so happened that a sister who often struggled to wake to an alarm or a bell was responsible for ringing the bells that week to regulate the horarium. Her anxiety had been building over the course of the week, so determined was she to do her duties well for love of her sisters. She woke in the middle of the night, panicked and thought she had missed the time that she was supposed to ring the bell to wake the house, pulled on her slippers and her robe and ran out to ring the bell, not realising that we were still entitled to a further 4 hours and 45 minutes of sleep. Seasoned by my prior military experience, and skeptical about the explanation we had just been offered, I raised my hand and when the Novice Mistress called upon me, asked her directly in front of the rest of the novitiate: “Sister – are we being hazed?”
You can imagine the laughter that ensued.
Anecdotes aside, where is the point of distinction between “character building” and “sanctifying” ?? What makes two types of life with so many shared experiences remain so radically different in character??
I think the answer resides in a fascinating tension between love and duty, between glorification of God and glorification of self.
In my experience there is a sort of perfectionistic quality about the typical military officer, more pronounced in some than in others, coexisting with a desire to serve. The typical officer takes great pride in a polished appearance, in elite physical conditioning and in finely honed discipline. The typical officer seeks to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, more courageous… because the life of self and of others may depend upon that one day. This need not lack virtue if ordered correctly under God, but often this is not the case. Ordering one’s betterment within the framework of God’s plan and created order is certainly not the focal point of the training, that is for sure! Duty is the fulcrum and assiduous training the lever as the officer aspires to be propelled toward a successful military career. Duty. Training. Discipline. Courage. Loyalty. These are all good things, but at the service of oneself they are sold short!
There is, however, a good that is objectively higher: love.
There are still temptations in religious formation to want to glorify self, temptations to a disordered perfectionism that quite simply kills the love between sisters and bears no fruit. Yet opportunities abound to grow in love, and the community construct is uniquely fitted to the task of helping to motivate sisters to authentically love and to serve rather than to simply to better one’s capability. The eternal life of self and others may depend on that predisposition to love and serve in response to His grace, one day!
As one grows in obedience and self-knowledge, (perhaps without the bok choy and rice,) one learns to live by the dictum I first heard from my Postulant Mistress:
“Do the best that you can with the time you have for the love of God.”
My former superior used to speak of religious life as a school of love… but isn’t ALL of life that, really? Novitiate was like LOVE101. Back out here, in the world, amidst family, friends and coworkers? I feel like it’s just an extension of that other school of love – definitely the intermediate class!
So what has this former Air Force Officer learned so far?
I’m just a little one.
I don’t have to be better, faster, stronger, smarter or more courageous, as good as all of those qualities are.
All I need to do is learn to love in response to Love.