Roses Among Thorns: A Book Review

By MJ

Roses Among Thorns, Simple Advice for Renewing Your Spiritual Journey by St. Francis de Sales, published by Sophia Institute Press.

St. Jane de Chantal was the foundress of the Visitation sisters (Visitandines), along with St. Francis de Sales, her spiritual director. St. Francis is known for his keen counsels. This book contains 60 excerpts of some his most poignant and sweet advice, and it does just as the title promises: it renews your spiritual journey.

On the practical side, what I liked about this book, is that it is short, almost pocket size, so you can carry it anywhere. And, the excerpts are only a couple of paragraphs long so you can make a short meditation of it, or even read and re-read the same excerpt until the words really sink in. You can also read the excerpts as you wish: pick a topic per day; chose a topic at random; or read it cover to cover, it doesn’t matter – you will find it uplifting and full of hope.

On the spiritual side, I’ve always found St. Francis the Sales to be kind and honest, never condemning or harsh. If you’ve read “Divine Intimacy” or any other of his books you will realize why he is the model of spiritual directors. His style is personable, gentle and encouraging! It is as if a friend that knows you well was speaking with you.

For example under the topic: A Time of Depression, St. Francis writes:

“A melancholy humor has overcome you for a time, and from being sorrowful, you have become anxious. Do not let yourself become anxious. Do not lose your peace. Even though it seems to you that you do everything without any savor, feeling or strength continue to embrace our crucified Lord, and give him your heart, consecrate your mind to him with your affections just as they are…”

My humble and personal advice is that you pray to the Holy Spirit before reading any excerpt in this book, and imagine it is a good friend speaking to you. It will really soothe your spirit, it did mine. I am so happy to share this little gem with you. I hope you also enjoy it.

Trust in Him

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.

 

Jesus is the Way

By Erin.

There are a lot of difficulties when returning from religious life back into secular life. One that I hadn’t really expected, but that has become quite a challenge, is direction. When I was in the convent I thought I had my life figured out. I thought I had found my vocation. I thought I was living where I would spend the rest of my life with the people I would spend that time with. My direction was very clear and I knew I was in the Lord’s will.

And then I left. And I felt like my life was a mess and I had no direction. I fell into the trap of despair. I was sure there was no hope. But day after day the Lord has been faithful. He has been bringing me out of that trap.

By leaving I felt like I was leaving the Father’s will for my life, not at first, but I fell into that trap after being home a little while. I was consumed with trying to figure out a plan. I needed to figure out what my next career move was as well as my vocation. I wanted to figure every little detail out before I made any sort of move in any direction.

The reality, though, is that by leaving I was actually staying in the Father’s will. He called me out of the convent. I was listening to His voice when I decided to leave. And while that left me “directionless” in the eyes of the world, it really didn’t. It took as much courage and discernment to enter religious life as it did to leave. And both decision were made with the Lord.

I was reflecting/praying with the Gospel today and I realized I’ve been going about my return all wrong. Today’s Gospel is a passage we’ve all heard a million times, but the Lord used it today to bring me some new insight. Jesus addresses Thomas after he questions how they will know what direction they are to go after Jesus ascends into Heaven by saying,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

You see, I keep complaining about feeling directionless and like my life is a total mess. I want to know the future so I can make a move in some direction. But the Lord revealed to me today that I do know the direction to walk because Jesus is the way.

If I walk in Jesus then everything will fall into place because the goal isn’t to figure out what career I’m supposed to be in or what my vocation is. Don’t get me wrong, those questions are important, but they aren’t the be all and end all of this life. The ultimate goal of this life is to be in communion with the Father in Heaven. And Jesus tells me, and the disciples, in this passage that the way to the Father is Jesus Himself, not a specific career, living situation, or vocation. Our careers and vocations can help us get to Heaven, that is the whole point, but finding them and living them cannot be the ultimate goal. Then we lose sight of our purpose here on Earth which is to get to Heaven.

“Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things will be given you besides.”      -Matthew 6:33

So while it is easy for me to fall into the trap of feeling “directionless”, the reality is that I know the direction I need to walk. I know the way because Jesus is the way.

Re-published with kind permission from Erin’s blog Arise My Daughter and Come.

The Rosary: A Prayer for Comfort

By Lucia Delgado.

For most of my life, I prayed often. I prayed for my family, friends, the country, and the whole world.

When I entered the Catholic Church in 2004, my prayer life was under development. I was introduced to the Rosary by the Dominican friars and they helped me understand the Blessed Mother more fully.

I guess that is why I decided to aspire with a Franciscan community under the protection of Our Lady of Sorrows. I was attracted by their desire for prayer. After a brief aspirancy period, I left the community after praying and asking the Blessed Mother for help. It seems that I was entering religious life to please others. Six months later, I met my fiancé and we have a wedding date set.  During the discernment process I lived in fear; the marriage vocation scared me because of past family experiences. The Lord told me that everything will be fine… just follow Me. I sat up and accept the call to marriage and eventually motherhood. May God’s will be done.

The Virgin Mary was called not only to be a mother to the Lord; she was called to be a mother to all of us. Her fiat changed everything; she had peace know that God’s will be done.

In the month of the Rosary, I decided to reflect on this beautiful prayer which St. Dominic prayed in order to bring others to the Lord. I would that the brief aspirancy helped me to pray the Rosary and have a greater love for the Blessed Virgin Mary who leads us to Jesus.

By praying the Rosary, my fears are diminished. Mary was courageous enough to travel to visit her cousin Elizabeth; she trusted God throughout the pregnancy and the birth of Jesus.

She was sorrowful during the Passion but she knew that joy was coming.

For those who have left religious communities, know that joy is coming soon. We are not abandoned by our Lord and His Mother. He gives us His Mother to comfort us.

Hence each Ave Maria is a prayer for comfort.

From My Inner Cell (3): Let the Light In!

By AfterEpiphany.

Don’t be scandalised… but it took me a while to get excited about the Luminous Mysteries when St John Paul the Great first gifted them to the Church. If even a tiny bit of me had held on to that initial lack of enthusiasm, that is now well and truly gone! The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary have been a particular comfort to me over the past few months as I’ve faced some more-intense-than-usual challenges in my own post-convent journey.

Anyone who has spent any time at all in religious formation will know how painful it can sometimes be to grow in self-knowledge… and the growing and learning doesn’t stop when we return to the world. When faced with something about myself that is difficult to accept, it is unhelpful to hide from the Lord as did our first parents in a certain primordial garden. Facing difficult truths and difficult situations is far less intimidating when done in the presence of Our Lord, lifted up to Him in the Blessed Mother’s maternal embrace.

It was in this way – taking something that I found distressing about myself to my rosary one Thursday – that I got distracted from my distress as I reflected on what it was to invite our Lord to shine His light into difficult personal discoveries. It was almost like He was telling me to stop obsessing about the problem, and simply fix my contemplative gaze upon HIM. The moment I stopped looking at the figurative soot on my hands and started gazing deep into the dancing flames I felt drawn nearer to the Fire, taking comfort in the warmth it afforded, all the while dazzled by the brilliance of the light. This is where that meditation on the Luminous Mysteries ended up that day:

The Baptism of Our Lord: In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI explained the significance of Our Lord’s Baptism as the moment where He took on His own shoulders the sins of the whole world throughout time and space. It was a prefigurement of His shouldering the Cross, it was a prefigurement of His harrowing of hell and it was a prefigurement of His Resurrection into new life, all at once. The weakness I’ve just discovered in myself was something Jesus already knew about in His eternal now and purposefully took upon Himself those centuries ago in history when He was baptised in the River Jordan. The Lord of Heaven and Earth, who loves me personally and perfectly, has long anticipated this moment when I would lay this very weakness of mine at His feet.

The Wedding Feast at Cana: Pope Benedict XVI also talks about how St John takes great care to say that the Wedding at Cana happened “on the third day” – clearly related to the Resurrection, of course, but also related to the traditional, Old Testament understanding of the appropriate time for “Theophany”, i.e. the manifestation of Divinity. At the Wedding Feast at Cana, Our Lord shows us that He is God, but also demonstrates that He is both able and willing to provide the good that is lacking in our lives. He can turn the insipid water of my weakness into the rich, abundant new wine of Christian joy!

The Proclamation of the Kingdom: As comforting as it is to know that Our Lord has taken my weakness upon Himself and is longing for me to let Him provide the good that is lacking my life, He also invites me – requires me, whilst never violating my freedom – to change. In filling me up with the new wine and revealing His goodness to me, He asks me to conform to a way of life that will help me to become more myself-as-He-created-me-to-be. We all need this reminder… and sometimes it is more helpful to focus on the virtue to which we aspire than it’s related vice with which we struggle. Meditating upon the beatitudes and His parables… what beautiful treasures He has given us to ponder in our hearts! Such pondering, after the example of Our Lady, will gradually enable Him to fashion our hearts into the new wineskins that will be able to contain that new wine He seeks to give us.

The Transfiguration: When I follow that invitation to change, and ponder His words and continue my interior dialogue with Him, He draws me still further… up a mountain, as it were, to contemplate not just the way He would have me live… but to look upon the radiance of His Face, to allow my desire for Him to be heightened as I behold His resplendence to the extent that He reveals that to me. As I’ve worked through my own recent challenges, I’ve been more drawn than ever to spend time with Him in the Eucharist and I do my best to get to make a holy hour several times a week wherever possible. I’m quite convinced that this increased desire is His doing and to be honest it’s a little exciting to wonder what changes in me He might be working away at whilst I sit and gaze upon Him, none the wiser as to the details, but growing in trust that He IS doing something!

The Institution of the Eucharist: With this increase in desire has come a reminder that the most important thing I will do on any given day is attend Mass and participate in the Eucharist. For me personally, this is gradually conforming my heart to be best able to receive the love He wants to give me, as I attend His sacrifice re-presented on the altar… but it also puts the rest of my day into perspective. The difficult meetings at my workplace and my frustrations with my own personal and daily failures pale into insignificance when considered alongside the beautiful half-hour during my lunch break where I get to witness the meeting of Heaven and Earth and receive Him in the Eucharist. This temporary union with Him, the magnitude of which I can only scratch the surface here on earth, truly is a foretaste of that eternity for which I was created…
As you can see… having followed all of the above line of thought I found myself all of a sudden marveling in His goodness to me and less and less distressed about that personal weakness that I took to prayer in the first place!! I still have my weakness… but now I’ve invited the Lord into that, and followed His invitation to dwell more on Him… my relationship with Him is strengthened in the dialogue, I’m less scandalised by my faults as I realise the truth of who I am and the truth of who He is, and my trust in Him and dependence on Him grows every time I get out of my own way, lay my troubles at His feet and ask the Blessed Mother to pray with me and for me.

Whilst it can be tempting to cast the Rosary aside, now that there’s no longer an Horarium requiring you to pray it, it’s really important to resist that temptation! I really can’t recommend the Rosary enough as one way of spending time in your inner cell, working through the challenges you face in everyday life with Him. Go to Our Lord through His Blessed Mother and let the light in!


Q: What is “From My Inner Cell” all about?
A: From My Inner Cell: Conversations with God for convent-leavers