Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Signal grace: A musical miracle

Yesterday morning, my heart was heavy. So heavy I had a hard time getting out the door and to work. I know it's a symptom of depression, that kind of darkness. It was the 10th anniversary of my mother's death, and I felt the wound of loss more keenly than I have since that night in 2009. It was as if my body remembered exactly what it had felt like. 

I made it just barely in time for one of our killer 2-hour staff meetings, got ready to attend a service fair at the local college, and ate two hotdogs for lunch (which NEVER HAPPENS, people!). At the last minute I invited our seminarian Steve to join me at the service fair, and happily he was able to. Having him for company was a boon; he is a nerd and a man of spiritual integrity, so we get on very well. Afterwards, we grabbed a bite to eat at the local Wegmans, then I had a decision to make:  do I go to choir practice or go home and sleep?

I was absolutely exhausted in mind and body. Steve, who is also in the Traditional Choir, said, "Whatever you do will be best," and he left me to my shopping for body wash and chicken broth (hey, I was in Wegmans, anyway). By the time I left Wegs, it was 6:25. I had a choice - home or choir practice. I asked the Lord what I should do (because really at that point I was practically in a fugue state). I found myself driving to the church. Because, I realized as I pulled into St Casimir's parking lot, what better way to honor Mom's memory than to sing in the choir loft where she and I sang together for all those years when I was young. And hey, being with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is always good!

Practice was lovely. Steve had been concerned that it might actually make me feel worse, but indeed it was quite the opposite. Singing drew me out of myself, and there were a few moments where I was transfixed by Jesus in the tabernacle, and I kept chanting in my heart "Jesus, I trust in you," the Divine Mercy prayer. Singing in some way cleared the fog, and at the center of my being, there was Jesus where he is always waiting for me (for us), and my love for Him - or rather perhaps, his love for me - welled up and overflowed.  

Music heals, my friends, especially sacred music. We are beings of music. I'm convinced God sang and sings the universe and all of us into being. Music is the universal language that comprises mathematics and creativity. It can destroy as well as build up, depending on what spirit is infused - but it is, I am convinced, the 2nd most powerful force on earth, next to Love (God is Love). It can connect us because it is a part of us. Give this a watch if you don't know what I mean:

The last piece we rehearsed was "All Creatures of Our God and King" as the recessional for Sunday's 7:30 Mass (when the Traditional Choir sings). I remembered that when I was young, I used to sing a descant for this hymn. I could sort of hear it in my head but needed the sheet music to get it back. After a few seconds of discussion, Jessica, our Music Director, said the older music was still sitting in the cabinet by the stairs. Now by "older" I'm talking music from 25-35 years ago. So when everyone was getting ready to leave, I went over and started rooting around the antique music cabinet. I opened the bottom doors and poked my head in. It was total chaos in there. Among other things, I found two old tambourines and a triangle (ah yes, 80s liturgical music). Then sitting off to the side on its own, a very fat red folder. It drew my eye; it looked vaguely familiar, somehow.

I sat down on the floor in front of the cabinet and pulled it into my lap. I opened it. And saw my mother's name written on the inside pocket. 

I literally couldn't breathe for a moment, as I realized what I held in my arms:  My mother's choir folder from 30 years ago. Waiting for me, for this exact moment, on this night, precisely 10 years after her death. The Mass sheet for the Midnight Mass of 1990 was still inside. 

This was pure, unadulterated grace. I started sobbing. Mary, our Liturgy Director and Organist, came over with Jessica and Steve to see what was going on. They knew the significance of the day, so when I finally caught my breath, I looked up, holding Mom's folder close to my heart, and I told them, "It's Mom's music."  

They, too, were astonished. All the choirs and organists and musicians that have walked up and down those steps these last 3 decades, and no one had cleaned out the bottom of that cabinet. "Elena, you are so loved," Mary said. "You are so blessed." Blessed, indeed.

I tell this story first to glorify Christ and then to express how humbled I am by his everlasting goodness to me. And I must also give props to Blessed Mother Mary, whose intercession I implored as I neared that dreadful date of January 22nd. In light of the gift I've been given, I am praying ever more diligently for all those experiencing loss, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, or grief of any kind that leads to depression. You are not alone, and there is reason to hope. 
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:7

(Still haven't found the sheet music with the descant, tho. Nor a recording of it.)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

New blog post on Catholic Courier

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Newness of life

2018 ended with a grinding, gasping, crushing sound in my little world.

I found out a couple weeks before Christmas that a registered sex offender had been living downstairs from me, and although his crime was 20 years ago and had nothing to do with children, he had somehow violated whatever parole he was on. I saw the Staties leading him to a police cruiser as I returned home from work one night. I made eye contact with him; he threw me this sad little smile. I'd known for some time that he was lost and drifting, very nervous and paranoid. Now I know why. I pray for him because he seemed gentle but lost, not evil by any stretch. But it was distressing, and since I'd just moved into the apartment in October and had experienced quite a difficult transition, even more jarring.

A few days after that, I discovered some very disturbing news about someone who once meant a great deal to me. The reverberations of this are still rippling through me. My judgment of character, someone else's morally questionable choices, another someone else's moral depravity... sorry to be so obtuse. Suffice it to say that this is another challenge to rise above. The drama that encircled this situation several years ago has resurfaced, only now I'm confidently aware that I am not a part of the drama. I'm not even an onlooker. Because I've walked away from all that with my heart filled with love for a God who will see justice served where and how it needs to be. And a God whose mercy and justice are one in the same. And yet... I'm human. 

2019 began in a monastery for me, and although my desire to become a religious sister / nun has not at all abated in my almost-7 years of discernment, it's started to dawn on me that perhaps that might not be my calling. Because really, after almost 7 years and fruitless attempts to solve the Student Loan Dilemma, perhaps there is another life I'm supposed to live here. I'm not giving up on this inner pull toward consecrated life. But I am spending more time and energy living the life I have now.

Parts of a whole.
Part of that has been to join the local community orchestra. I went to my first rehearsal the other night. It was fantastic! I'm happy to be playing in the 2nd violin section. I'd had a great deal of anxiety going into it, at first. I was WAY out of practice and out of shape. But all my training and experience of the past kicked in immediately. It was like speaking a language that I hadn't spoken in many years. Yeah, I missed a bunch of runs and cues (I was sight-reading) but now I have the music to practice at home. Playing music is in my blood, and it's a part of me that was shut away for too long. I am grateful to God that I have this ability inherited from my mom and dad, and that my dear mother bought me a violin to replace the antique instrument that was destroyed at music camp all those years ago. Thank you, Mom! Jan. 22 will be the 10 year anniversary of my mother's death. I can't think of a better tribute to her than to be playing violin in an ensemble again.

I've also decided it's high time I make another little video. A good friend of mine, who isn't Christian, for some reason watched my video meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, and texted encouragement to make more little films. Now that I live by the river, there is a lot of natural beauty and drama that I can capture and place within some kind of narrative or poetic context. And/or, I have footage from Korea and Ireland that I can re-contextualize. And my awesome filmmaker friend who helped me make Desire of the Everlasting Hills has offered to help again. What providence that while we were both in L.A. when I made that film, we are now both in the same geographic region here in the mid-Atlantic states.

Last thing is that my Space: 1999 novel is back on track. Black Doves will be finished this year if it kills me!  Keep an eye out for announcements about that from Powys Media later this year.

And so as you can see, no "new year resolutions" but certainly things that I'm doing. I'm just doing them. I renewed my membership at the YW to get back in the pool. So I'll just do that. No pressure, just living a life that I can lead here while I'm here. If God opens a door to be someplace else, then I'll just do that. I'm done looking backwards and navel gazing at all the ways I've screwed things up or how my personality has this flaw or that flaw. Yah. I'm human. Made in God's own image and likeness. So there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Will those leaves ever fall?

The answer, of course, is yes. Everyone around me seems so relieved that summer is over and can't wait for fall to look like fall. Not me. I barely noticed the summer months because I was immersed in discernment, decision making, and moving.

I tried to move to Massachusetts, but interviews and trips out there notwithstanding, it didn't happen. In fact, I wasted a whole lotta time worrying about that. As if... as if Jesus weren't right here, as if God doesn't have a plan for me, as if he's not guiding me. I am sometimes haunted by the past, which as we know, doesn't exist. What God has forgiven, what right have we to keep dredging up? Renounce it and stay with God in the sacrament of the now.

Ultimately, I made my peace with staying where I am with the parish in Elmira, but I did end up moving apartments (not without some drama involving mice, a parking ticket, and random weirdness in my new neighborhood - but that's for another post!).

In June I made a 2-week visit to the Carmel in Danvers, MA. I have applied for entrance and am now officially an "aspirant" who hopes and prays to enter that community some time in the 2nd half of 2019. I am committed to seeing my Confirmation teens through their Sacrament next May, and then God only knows how things are going to play out after that.

I'm also now fully committed to seeking assistance in paying my student loan debt so that I am free to enter the Carmel. This would likely be assistance in making payments while I'm in formation, so that if I were to discern out, the loan balance would still be there with my name on it. It's an act of humility to ask for help - especially monetary help. But I believe it's part of my discernment. How important is it to me to get to Carmel? Will I ask for help or just let it all slide by with no decisions needed? Jesus asks me to decide, and so this is my response right now.

I admit I've avoided this step until now because I wanted to be sure my attraction to Carmel wasn't just "my plan" and that I wasn't engaging "Elena, Project Manager of Life" mode rather than actually discerning. The last few days and hours have shown me that in fact, now is the acceptable time, and I don't have to be afraid of going after my heart's desire, for it was placed there by God, himself. 

Today is the Feast Day of St. Margaret Mary Aloqoque, to whom Jesus gave the devotion to his Sacred Heart to promulgate. Her words are very appropriate:
But above all preserve peace of heart. This is more valuable than any treasure. In order to preserve it there is nothing more useful than renouncing your own will and substituting for it the will of the divine heart.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The other day I was at a party at the home of dear friends of mine. One of the party-goers waited until we had all sat down with our paper plates of deliciousness and (I swear) waited for me to shovel a mouthful of food in, and then asked me, "So, as our only Catholic representative, what do you have to say about the ... terrible things going on...?"  It was a moment out of a cartoon, where everyone stopped talking all at once. You could hear a plastic spoon drop.

I had inwardly prepared for this moment, because I do know well this particular group of friends. I responded evenly. I looked at him and said, "It's horrific. It's beyond-words-horrific. We need to do better. We will do better, because this is the Church Jesus Christ founded." Someone suggested the cause was "men priests" and others hinted at celibacy as the problem. I wound up the conversation by saying something about the deep need for reform on many levels (without getting into specifics, many of which I don't have as a lay person), and that as I see it, clericalism is a huge factor in the cover up and hidden subcultures that led to this crisis. 

After that I can't recall exactly what I said. Because really it was the Holy Spirit speaking up. And you know what? I can take a little heat. My tiny bit of discomfort is nothing and can only be offered up for the healing of the victims and sanctification of priests.

I'm not here to get into the whys and hows and what do we do now. There are literally hundreds of articles all over the internets. I can recommend reading and for varying perspectives on the related topics and issues.

One of my good friends always likes to say, "Focus on what you know to be true." So that's what I'm doing here.
  1. Jesus is here as he promised. He never abandons us. This is most important because the temptation is to throw the baby out with the bath water - ditch the Church and abandon the Body of Christ who are hurting so deeply right now. 
  2. Grieve, get angry, but do not sin. Jesus constantly invites us to REST in Him no matter the circumstances. 
  3. I am praying for the healing, restoration, and peace of the victims, and I'm offering up what I can for them.
  4. I am praying for our good and loving clergy, and for their sanctification.
  5. I am offering up what little sacrifices I can make (a la "The Little Way") for the reform and cleansing of the Church as a whole.
  6. The Church will be reformed because it needs to be, and because it's the Church Christ founded.
  7. The Church has always been in need of reform and is constantly being reformed because (see #6).
  8. I also have to pray for the clergy who have committed such heinous immoral acts of depravity. That one is a lot harder than numbers 1 - 7, but it is still what Jesus commands. 
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...  Mt 5:44
Ouch. Not easy. Not by a long shot. But we need to pray for everyone involved while we attend to this.

We're embarking on a long, dark journey. It may well get worse before it gets better - cleaning and dressing the wounds means they have to be uncovered, first. As Chris Stefanick Tweeted last week:

Be sickened. Do not lose heart. Be saddened. Do not despair. Be angry at the abuse of power. Do not be ashamed of the power of the Gospel. One is from God. The other is from satan.  This is no time for weakness.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Litany to Freedom

Lord, deliver me from all that robs me of freedom and interior peace.

Freedom from enslavement to my fears
- not being good enough
- being poor
- being abandoned

Freedom from enslavement to my cravings
- food beyond nourishment
- comfort instead of fulfilling responsibilities
- distraction instead of openness to God's will in my life

Freedom from enslavement to the demands of the world
- busy busy busy busy busy busy busy
- money money money money money money money

Freedom from enslavement to status and power
- gotta look good for others to judge
- can't let anyone get the drop on me
- gotta be in control
- can't be caught looking foolish

The enemy plies each and every one of these fears against me.
Lord, deliver me from evil.
Grant me freedom to embrace you in my daily life, the life of moments.

Freedom to do what I ought
- righteousness in the sight of the Lord
yah, not my own righteousness
the righteousness of Jesus Christ who transforms me
with His Body and Blood
- fearlessness in the face of persecutions

Freedom to be myself with you, O Lord
- no masks, no pretend saintliness
- no lies about what I do and how my life
impacts the lives of others
- accepting responsibility for my choices

Freedom to GIVE IT ALL to you, O Lord.
The good, the bad and the ugly. Also the beautiful and the sincere.
The tender and the gruff. The falling down and the getting back up.

Freedom to look at you, Jesus, not at my own faults and failings.
For therein lies true freedom and your Peace beyond all understanding:
Not that I have loved you, but that you have loved me.

Paper chains, indeed.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Rest in Peace ... Br. Justin Young, OSB

Dear Friends and Family,

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Br. Justin Young, OSB. He died suddenly on Wednesday, April 4, from a brain hemorrhage. Also please keep in your prayers his family members, brother monks of Mount Saviour Monastery (Elmira), and all the Oblates and many friends of Br. Justin and the Monastery. 

Brother Justin was a dear friend of mine and of many others who sought his deep prayerfulness, winning smile, outrageous laugh, and constant thoughtfulness. He was the Porter at Mount Saviour, greeting guests and preparing their morning meals for them. He also did a hundred other things of which I'm not even sure. He was a creative and a mystic at heart, and that's how our bond developed. He often sought me out after Mass and gave me some little encouragement, prayer, or intuition that had come to him regarding my own spiritual journey. I will treasure always a copy of St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life that Br. Justin gave me last year. I have been and am deeply blessed that he was (and is) a part of that journey.

Br. Justin was just 69, and had just recently had his Final Profession (spring of 2016, I believe). Before entering Mount Saviour Monastery, he had been a Missionary of Charity Brother (Saint/Mother Teresa of Calcutta's order). He had met her and was devoted to her memory and status as a saint of the Catholic Church.

I'm positive he's on his way to heaven, and that his prayers are now storming the gates of heaven for all of us. I miss him terribly and am still in shock at his sudden absence, although I am rejoicing for his sake.

Thank you for reading and for your prayers. May God reward you.

In Easter Joy,

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Joy

Well you can't very well write about Good Friday and not write about Easter! I spent the weekend with a good friend in Binghamton, so am just getting around to writing a bit tonight.

On my drive back from Binghamton, this prayer entered my heart: "Lord, let me see myself in the Light of Your Resurrection." Our ideas about our lives and our very personhood are too often determined by others, when the only Person who can speak who we are is God. A God who knows the realities of human existence, but who offers the final Word - LIFE. There is joy, humility and peace here. The joy of knowing that humanity is resurrected in Christ, and that by His stripes, I am healed. 

I went to Easter Sunday Mass at my friend's church, and although I knew no one else besides my friend, I felt totally at home and welcomed. People had friendly faces and friendly spirits (oh that it were so in every Catholic parish!). But it soon became clear that we chose to sit near a family with a toddler who was NOT having it. "I want down. I want get down!" the little guy wailed and squirmed in his grandfather's arms, almost to the point where he squirmed right out of his little pants. 

Yeah it was annoying because I had to work really hard to focus on the homily. But I also felt like I understood that kid really well. Like, sometimes I just want to wail and squirm out of the arms of the Lord when He's asking me to do something I don't like or don't get. Sometimes he's just asking me to be still and rest in Him. Okay, most of the time that's what He's asking me! He only holds me in love, but when I fight Him, I make it harder for myself (and often for others around me).

My prayer for the Easter Season and the coming year is for all of us to allow Him to hold us and not to wail and squirm and demand to do life our own way. God is the only one who knows us perfectly, and He's the only one who can speak who we are. But we have to let Him. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Take Up Your Cross

In my Good Friday tradition, I am starting my day with scripture. Yesterday at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper, we heard from the Gospel of John. Today, I'm reading the Gospel of Luke, in particular the Passion Narrative. Here's what has struck me this morning: 
As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.   (Lk 23:26)
I realized after meditating on this passage that for most of my life, whenever I heard the phrase "take up your cross," it evoked an image of me dragging the impossibly heavy burdens of life around the world on my own, with Jesus far off on a hilltop, looking down and giving me the thumbs up sign. I know, that's ridiculous. 

But really, in a culture that emphasizes individualism and self-reliance, it's not too surprising that this is how many of us think of "taking up our crosses."  Like we have to muscle it ourselves and hope God is noticing. That recalls a line from Jesus Christ Superstar (Simon Zealotes): "Christ, you know I love you; did you see, I waved? I believe in you and God, so tell me that I'm saved." There's a very human desperation in all of this.

But what results from this self-reliance in suffering? Substance abuse, isolation, workaholism, depression, addictions to sex, food, exercise, escapism, and abuse of others in our lives. 

Jesus wants us to make an act of will so that we choose to engage our suffering. But he doesn't want us to try to go it alone. He wants us to share that burden with Him, or rather, in a sense, we are sharing His burden. It becomes OUR burden, and He lightens the load by a) giving meaning to our suffering (for the salvation of souls), and b) accompanying us with His love, drawing us into deeper relationship with Him. 

The supernatural grace with which He infuses us will transform us (not just "cover" us). In this way, He uses the suffering we experience to divinize us, to make us more like Him - if we let Him. This is not the old pious saying that "suffering is good for the soul," a vacuous comment that is neither compassionate nor true. This is God taking the sting out of death.

Death's sting is removed because we enter into eternal life with Jesus when we enter into his Passion and carry our crosses with Him. Our loads will be lightened because we share them with the Saviour; we ourselves will be resurrected in spirit when we die and in body on the last day - this He has promised us. But to begin with, we must share the burdens of life with Him, inviting Him into deep communion - or rather, responding to His invitation to deep communion. In this way, we share in the Pascal Mystery.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

O Come, Emmanuel

I am waiting in the silence for Messiah, the One who saves, the One who is Love, to come into my heart. Ah! He is already here, yet He seeks even more of my heart. 

This Advent I was wracked with mono (since October) as well as stomach flu (last weekend). At first I was angry: how unfair, why did this happen to me, why now? I was planning to go "home" to be with family on the South Shore of Boston for Christmas as usual, and as usual, the hype and stress of getting everything done before I hit the road for a 7 hour drive to stay at other people's houses (even people I love) was starting to ramp up. To give you an idea of how this feels:

One night in the midst of stomach flu ickiness earlier this week, I was awake, sweating, feeling so horrible I almost felt out of my body. And that's where I met Jesus. "Accept everything." That's what my spiritual director had said in his voice mail message that morning. "Jesus I trust in You." It's so simple, yet it was all Jesus was asking. Accept Me, accept what I am doing, even if you don't understand it or don't like it. Trust Me. And I did. I surrendered. I felt a release, and it was as if I was new again, almost like a re-birth.

A couple days later, I decided I would stay home - MY home - for Christmas this year. So here I am on Christmas Eve eve, enjoying the peace of my own home. The closeness I feel with Jesus-being-birthed in my heart and in my life is indescribable. I will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Mount Saviour Monastery (another sort of "home") with the monks and in a silent Christmas retreat. Being alone, not being afraid to be alone, knowing my own decision-making is based on clear discernment is empowering as well as humbling.

I'll go visit my awesome family for New Year's Eve weekend. And I'm thinking I may do this every year from now on.

Fourth Sunday of Advent:  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
On a separate but related note... my dear, lovely mother-in-law died last Thursday, Dec. 14th after six months of difficult recovery from a massive stroke. She surrendered and received the peace of Christ in eternal rest. May perpetual light shine upon her.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

On being vulnerable

Months have passed since I've written here. Been writing and working full time in youth ministry, but at least I've thought about blogging. I'll hit on a particularly moving topic in my car or shower and  think "gotta blog about it" but it's forgotten in fifteen minutes. But I actually thought of something this morning before starting the day. 

The terrorist attacker in NYC, killing eight people riding their bikes, has left us with a renewed feeling of vulnerability. We've amped up security in airports, government buildings, concerts, and in virtual spaces. Yet something as innocuous as a rental truck can wipe out human lives in five minutes or less. I've seen commentaries and declarations about how "unsafe" we are and how "vulnerable" people feel. Well... yes. Nothing has changed in one sense; we've always been vulnerable. The evil one is ramping up his game and instilling fear. That's a powerful tool. Fear causes people to close their minds in a variety of ways.

Yet we can stand in this vulnerable space knowing that no matter what happens to us, God is with us. God is for us. God honors free will, but we can trust that as Jesus has promised us, he will be with us to the end of the age. Nothing is unseen or unknown by God, and we can rely on God's mercy and justice to prevail, even if we can't see it with human eyes, in human terms. And uniting our sufferings to the suffering of Christ for the salvation of souls is a powerful antidote to what ails us. In fact it is the only way to accept what is and to stand in the vulnerability of being human without growing hardened and closed off. Praying for those whose lives were taken so suddenly and violently is what we are called to, as well as for their loved ones experiencing such a shocking loss.

Today is All Souls Day, when we pray in a special way for the deceased, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We can offer our sufferings and the sufferings of others for them, and for ourselves.
Purgatory, BTW, isn't a limbo or a half-way point between Heaven and Hell. It is a place of purification on the way to Heaven. Hence we say "holy souls" or "friends of God" in Purgatory. Since nothing imperfect can enter One who is perfect, we are then made perfect by the stripping away of our attachments to anything other than God. Then we can enter into that perfect union with the Holy Perfection that is the Trinity of Love.
Many writers and saints have done a much better job of addressing vulnerability as the beloved of Christ. For me, the vulnerability is something to accept in a spirit of humility. I cannot change the world this instant to fix the problems or heal everyone. Nor can I snap my fingers and make my life what I think it ought to be. Funny that! But I can trust that in this place of vulnerability, I am (we all are) treasured, sustained and cared for lovingly by the One who loved me enough to die for me. 

Those whose lives were cut short in NYC, and those who die daily from violence, hunger and disease (most of which is preventable, BTW, with more and better human effort aided by God's grace) need our prayers and our love as we stand in this vulnerable place with Christ at our side, remembering his own humble vulnerability before the forces of evil in the world. Through his ultimate sacrifice, death is destroyed, and we need not fear our vulnerability in the world.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summer of Love

I just finished a marvelous week with my family in Massachusetts and would be feeling refreshed if I weren't so tired. Actually, I do feel refreshed. My mind is clear and my spirit is refreshed, even if I need to go to bed earlier than my grand nephews' and grand niece's bedtime. However, I feel the need to blog since a couple things hit me during the past week that deserve airing.

A close family member of mine is asking the tough questions about God, including, "If he's all-loving, why does God allow suffering of innocents?"

The question was asked not as a philosophical exercise, but with righteous anger. Appropriately so. We should be angry at injustice and suffering. If we're not, we need to take Human lessons.

Tonight as I was washing dishes in a daze, the answer rose up in my mind in a phrase:
God allows suffering so that we can love.
Allow me to 'splain. God has given humanity free will to either love each other or hurt each other. Throughout human history, we've continuously chosen to hurt each other. In big ways and small. In personal slams and international affairs of state.

Yet in every situation, we have a choice. Do we do like God and love (e.g. not judging but listening, not lashing out but taking time to pray, not digging in one's heels but working with others for solutions, not complaining but accepting with trust, not seeking vengeance but forgiving) or do we do like the evil one and fear, hate, cheat, complain bitterly, and waste time, talent and treasure (a.k.a. sin). We have that choice. Every one of us, every moment, no matter what. There is always a choice.

When we choose evil, others are hurt. Personally, internationally, and generationally. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Evil is perpetuated (original sin) and continues on down the line. Now, God could step in and eradicate our free will, forcing us to do good, to do right, to be like God. To love God.

Since when is forcing anyone to love you considered real love? Cause that's what it would be if God took away our free will and made us love him and each other. It would't be love. God doesn't want slaves or robots or mindless adorers. God wants us as he made us to be - capable of choosing him, of choosing love, of accepting grace to evolve and grow.

Okay, but what about the Holocaust? The Rwandan and Armenian Genocides? The Syrian refugees? The starving multitudes in third world countries? God lets them suffer so that everyone gets a choice?

It has never been God's design for anyone to suffer. Period. We live in a fallen, imperfect world. We inflict this suffering on each other through our individual, collective, current and historical choices. But God has not abandoned us to this fallen world of suffering and death.

God's grace floods into every place and every situation and every person. If we cooperate with grace, we will find a solution to those problems. We will at least try. Those who have tried are the saints and heroes of history. In the midst of horror and evil, people have chosen to do the right thing and be loving. That is God's presence in the world, through us. Incarnational spirituality. He's waiting for us to accept the grace that is constantly offered through Jesus Christ for us to make those choices for life, for love.

If God eradicated all evil and placed us in a stasis of mindless obedience and adoration, we would not have that choice. We could not love.

Love isn't a feeling, love isn't having our needs met, love isn't using your or another's body to escape pain, and love is definitely not all wrapped up in clover. Love empties itself. If it doesn't, it's not love. Love empties itself completely and totally, in complete self-gift to the other. As Jesus did for us. He was innocent, and he allowed himself to suffer immensely, to be tortured and to die, so that we could live in Eternity with the Triune God, the Community of Love. The gates of death have been destroyed. But only through the suffering of Jesus. And through Christian Baptism, we are called to die with Christ and then to rise to new life with him.

God brings goodness out of the pain and suffering that we experience - he doesn't leave us alone, even if it feels like he does sometimes. Jesus is with us in suffering, because he suffered like us and he promised to be with us to the end of the age. One of my favorite lines right now is this: "God writes straight with crooked lines." 

The human story isn't over. The end result of human suffering is not fully known. But we can be assured that we are being empowered to love, should we choose to, and that God never abandons us.

Next time: Wasted suffering. Or, "why me, why now?" Or, "why does Luke Skywalker whine so much?"

Friday, June 16, 2017

True Serenity

In the last three weeks, my life has been turned a bit upside down. Life is change, as a former film prof of mine recently reminded me. I've never been particularly good with change. In the past, I've either resisted it and suffered immensely, or I've run away to start over -- only I'd bring all the old bag and baggage with me that was never dealt with. 

In the midst of this current round of uncertainty and movement, I've been reminded that the appropriate response to any kind of big change is to offer up thanks and gratitude. But I know from my own experience that empty words of gratitude don't amend my heart, and they only end up tasting bitter rather than being sincere and true thanksgiving to God. I'd wager most people have experienced this at some point. I know of a few tender souls who struggle with it daily, in fact.

The other morning as I sat on my porch with my morning coffee, watching the finches duke it out at the feeder, I felt the very near Presence, and a word resounded in my mind:  acceptance.

Whoa! Okay, wait, what? You want me to accept all this crappy stuff that's happened and is happening? You want me to acknowledge that it exists and that I can't change it and to accept it? What are you, nuts?

Now, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind. "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." And of course there are other, more modern, less pious versions, such as "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the stupid." But that's not so helpful. And even in its pure form, I don't think this prayer fully expresses what I'm getting at here.

Acceptance. It doesn't mean roll over and die. It doesn't mean not to feel your feelings. It does mean to feel them and give them to God, to let them go, rather than wrap yourself up in them like a shroud of victimhood from which to accuse the world's injustice. It doesn't mean you don't speak truth about justice, righteousness, or mercy. It does mean you live your best life and allow others their God-given free will. It means we understand that God's will is always present, always moving, even when humans choose otherwise. God's will cannot be overwritten. It involves trust. And as that acceptance takes hold, true gratitude can begin to germinate.

Once the gratitude takes hold, all things become blessings. You will see the people, situations, and things around you that you have taken for granted, and you'll give thanks. You will see the problem or change or situation you are facing as a blessing, and you'll desire God's will to be done (and trust He has plans for you). And only then will you have serenity. But it all starts with acceptance.
You cannot give Me thanks until you have fully accepted that things are the way they are, through no action of yours, and that your job is to stay with Me and let Me lead the dance. Trust that I am in control, here. There's no other way. You've tried it the other way, and you know that doesn't work. That leads to anxiety, anger, and depression. Those things make it harder for you to see Me and know My infinite love for you. Remember, I died on the Cross so that you could live. Accepting your cross is part of union with Me.
Lord, grant me the grace to accept all things as my share in the cross and to stay with You, my eyes on You, alone, and my heart open to receive the gifts that are present, which are also from You, in loving trust.                   

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Liturgy of the Hours: Sanctifying time and work for the Kingdom

As I've continued to understand myself in this process of discernment, I've realized that it is essential for me to live a life where the Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office) are prayed. The reasons are several, and I understand them to be universal, not tied to my own personal preference.

  • We are called to pray unceasingly by Jesus Christ.
  • Sanctifying the hours of the day permeates what we do, who we are, and how we love one another.
  • Stopping our work to pray is a reorientation toward God against the temptation to make our work about us, rather than about the Kingdom.
  • The Benedictine Ora et Labora isn't just a simple "prayer and work" translation; rather, prayer is work/work is prayer and it all points to God's will. The classic Catholic both/and, in other words. Prayer informs our ministry, ministry informs our prayer. There is an ebb and flow here, not a "now we do this" and "now we do that" binary concept.
In the short term, The Liturgy of the Hours allows us to unclench our minds, to sit waiting in the presence of God. Chanting the psalms has the effect of switching our brains to a different "mode" if you'll forgive the non-scientific term. We no longer seek to figure everything out, remember everything, worry about things. It is like taking a hot soothing bath for our minds, and the water is the Holy Spirit. When the mind is unclenched, the Holy Spirit has room to move and breathe in us. 

Eventually, this mindfulness and practicing the presence of God permeates the day and our entire lives, so that the flow of prayer and work is seamless. At first, stopping work and turning to prayer may feel forced or somehow chopping up the day, but when done with an open mind and heart over time, and if we in fact have the grace to live that life, it will produce fruit of constant mindfulness - prayerful living and living prayer.

If you work full time and still want to consecrate your day, The Church has also created the book of Shorter Christian Prayer just for you, and in fact encourages the laity to join in the prayer of the Church. It contains Morning Prayer (Lauds), Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline). It is what I am using now on my own while doing active ministry as I discern. In addition, I pray the Angelus at the traditional times of noon and 6:00, and at 3:00 p.m. I either pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet or if I can't take that much time, I pray an Act of Contrition. 

I encourage you to try to pray as much of the Liturgy of the Hours as you can. If you can't quite get that together, try just slowly and thoughtfully reading a psalm and then praying the Our Father in the morning and evening, and at night, review your day and offer it in all its complexities and successes and failures to God. 

At the very least, consider making a daily "Morning Offering" to set the intention for your day:

O Jesus,
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works,
joys and sufferings
of this day for all the intentions
of Your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins,
for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
and in particular
for the intentions of the Holy Father.