To Give Up One’s Cloak

800px-St-martin-beuronWhen St. Martin of Tours encountered a poor, naked beggar, he tore his own warm cloak in half, to share it. Later, he discovered in a dream that the beggar was Christ. Throughout his life he had a special love for the poor. The story of St. Martin and the beggar provides a key to an area of Christian life that is often dealt with superficially and with suspicion. This area is the equality and dignity of woman. It seems to me that most voices on this subject do not echo Jesus in either His actions or His words. Jesus was a defender of the true equality of woman precisely because He always showed us the way to true dignity: a dignity that is shared by men and women alike, because they are human. “Did the Lord at any time make a distinction between men and women? […] But in His love He knew and knows now no distinction.” [1]

To understand equality and dignity we must hear the Shepherd’s voice. St. Therese of Lisieux speaks clearly as Jesus’ echo. She had the instincts of a healthy human being. She was not inclined to a mentality of victimization, nor did she skirt the truth. Instead she took the bull by the horns in one of the most challenging realities of human life.

Although it is difficult to give to one who asks, it is even more so to allow one to take what belongs to you, without asking it back. O Mother, I say it is difficult; I should have said that this seems difficult, for the yoke of the Lord is sweet and light. When one accepts it, one feels its sweetness immediately, and cries out with the Psalmist: ‘I have run the way of your commandments when you enlarged my heart.’ It is only charity that can expand my heart. O Jesus, since this sweet flame consumes it, I run with joy in the way of Your NEW commandment… Ah! What peace floods the soul when she rises above natural feelings. No, there is no joy comparable to that which the truly poor in spirit experience. If such a one asks for something with detachment, and if this thing is not only refused but one tries to take away what one already has, the poor in spirit follow Jesus’ counsel: ‘If anyone take away your coat, let go your cloak also.’ To give up one’s cloak is, it seems to me, renouncing one’s ultimate rights; it is considering oneself as the servant and the slave of others. [2]

Once, when I was rather depressed, I spoke to a priest who said to me: “Do acts of charity, and your soul will have wings.” Giving without asking, looking for, or expecting a return unites the soul with God in a stable way, and gives the soul strength to face even bitter humiliations. Sometimes simply being a woman can offer more humiliations than we have strength to carry. And yet, to be the first one to give of oneself then, in the pain of humiliation, gives dignity and joy.

St. Maximilian Kolbe proposed that equality ultimately could only be found before Jesus, because it is there, before Jesus, that we are equally poor, without anything of our own and receiving everything we have. St. Maximilian Kolbe goes further than equality, which ultimately, if held onto rigidly, becomes an isolative and destructive force. St. Maximilian says:

In reality, there is no sector of human activity exempt from misjudgments and shortcomings; and we must always examine the causes of such deficiencies, do away with the former and eradicate the latter. This is how it has been, how it is now and how it will always be, simply because man will never attain absolute perfection. In spite of all this, the human mind still desires to bring about a certain equality among men. Is there any possibility that this can happen? Yes, no doubt. Every man, whoever he is, whatever he possesses and whatever he is capable of doing, owes all this to God the Creator of the universe. Of himself man is nothing. From this point of view all of us are absolutely equal. Furthermore, we all possess free will, which makes us masters of all our actions. This too constitutes the basic equality of all men on earth. But the use made of our free will is not the same in all cases; […] It follows that not even after death will perfect equality be achieved; it will not in fact exist, because every man will receive a just reward or punishment according to his deeds, good or evil. […] In this regard there is a difference so great that the man who does not desire riches in this temporal life behaves in a very prudent manner, so that after his death, in the next life, he may not have to give a strict account for the worldly goods he had enjoyed. [3]

Now, to give up one’s rights is scandalous to the thinking of many people. It is a taboo of modern society. It is seen as an evil in itself and a degradation. We are literally supposed to walk over dead bodies to attain the degree of rights that elevates us to respectability. If there is one thing we have no right to do in the eyes of society, it is to give up our rights. But it is here that womanhood is utterly misunderstood. Woman is mother, and motherhood is giving. Therefore, motherhood and womanhood only make sense if self-giving is a good value. Society becomes an enemy of motherhood, ironically, when it shouts for equality, because when equality is the only norm, selfishness rules; and any eternal perspective is shouted out. But, equality and dignity are not the results of a hoarding of self, of honors, praise, or achievements. As St. Maximilian points out, we are already equal because God created us from nothing out of His love. We own nothing; everything is given to us. Equality is the result of the giving up of one’s cloak. When one can entrust and return one’s self to God, the reward is one hundred-fold, not because God wants to degrade us, but because the action of giving is an acceptance that our equality and dignity actually lay in our total dependence on Him. As St. Clare tells us:

For I firmly believe that you know the kingdom of heaven is promised and given by the Lord only to the poor because she who loves what is temporal loses the fruit of love; that it is not possible to serve God and money, for either the one is loved and the other hated, or the one is served and the other despised; that one clothed cannot fight another naked, because she who has something to be caught hold of is more quickly thrown to the ground; that one who lives in the glory of earth cannot rule with Christ; and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, You have cast aside Your garments, that is, earthly riches, so that instead of being overcome by the one fighting against You, You will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven through the straight path and the narrow gate. 

What a great and praiseworthy exchange: to receive the hundred-fold in place of one, and to possess a blessed eternal life. [4]

We must take the leap of faith in order to abandon the road that leads away from God, and have boundless trust that He will give us an opportunity to give of self always with the pure fire of charity, always united to Him. It will look impossible, or not even sensible. To let go control of the frugal giving that only donates a part takes faith, because giving of self to the point of self-emptying is, as Pope Saint John Paul II points out, a spiritual reality, and an impossibility on only the natural plane.

The very nature of the person is incompatible with such a surrender. Indeed, in the natural order it makes no sense to speak of a person giving himself or herself to another, especially if this is meant in the physical sense. That which is personal is on a plane where there can be no giving of self […] The person as such cannot be someone else’s property, as though it were a thing […] But what is impossible and illegitimate in the natural order and in a physical sense, can come about in the order of love and in a moral sense. In this sense, one person can give himself or herself, can surrender entirely to another, whether to a human person or to God, and such a giving of the self creates a special form of love which we define as betrothed love. This fact goes to prove that the person has a dynamism of its own, and that specific laws govern its existence and evolution. Christ gave expression to this in a saying which is on the face of it profoundly paradoxical: ‘He who would save his soul shall lose it, and he who would lose his soul for my sake shall find it again’ (Matthew 10:39). [5]

We have a natural fear of giving, of being treated as an object of commerce, and I dare say that this fear is stronger in women, and often well confirmed in the actions of others. Sin exists; degradation exists, but so does Love and dignity. There are probably many times that women are encouraged to ‘give’, when that word implies to ‘sin’: to break the tie between us and the Father, and perhaps even live in this separation from God. This is not giving! It is not charity, but death. It is to give only on a natural order, accepting the degradation God never wants, namely that of being an object, and to close off the road to the true and just giving that springs as a fruit from God’s own love in our hearts. “Love justice, you who judge in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart.” (Wisdom,1:1)

As mentioned above, St. Therese gives an example of a healthy human being. She does not give in to victimization. This is an important point, because without her spiritual health, the statement she makes of “renouncing one’s ultimate rights” and “considering oneself as the servant and the slave of others” would only be the exaggerated expressions of victimization. Victimization is a plague of womankind. It makes a woman ape the true giving and leaves her totally open to degradations that do, in fact, separate her seriously—and perhaps permanently—from God, and so from happiness. St. Therese of Lisieux, however, is giving a testimony of a mind and heart that saw with perfect clarity the possibility of dignity, of equality, of joy and peace, and she took it!

I finally had rest. Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was BURNING WITH LOVE. […] Love has chosen me as a holocaust, me, a weak and imperfect creature. Is not this choice worthy of Love? Yes, in order that Love be fully satisfied, it is necessary that It lower Itself, and that It lower Itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire. [6]

Ultimately, a woman has to find dignity—and thereby peace—in the embrace of the Heavenly Bridegroom, where she will say, “all I have belongs to You”. She will not find dignity in tailoring her independence, treading on dead bodies to bring it about; or in apathy and despair, letting whatever degradation attacking her have its way (be it even as small as irritation when something goes wrong). She can only find dignity in the conscious giving of self. She will have to be adamant about her giving, because she is taking on the whole world. She will be a sign of scandal; she will be a victim. If she is, she will be with Christ, and therein lie her dignity and her joy.

Notes:

[1] The Collected Works of Edith Stein, Volume Two: Essays on WomanSecond Edition, Revised, translated by Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D., ICS Publications, Washington, DC, 1996, p. 161.

[2] St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D., ICS Publications, Washington, DC, 1996, pp. 225-227.

[3] The Kolbe Reader, The Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM CONV., edited by Fr. Anselm W. Romb, OFM CONV., Marytown Press, Libertyville, IL, 2007, p. 132.

[4] The Lady, Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, revised edition and translation by Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., New City Press, New York, London, Manila, 2006, p. 46.

[5] Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 1993, p. 96.

[6] St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D., ICS Publications, Washington, DC, 1996, pp. 194-195.

Advertisements

In the Fullness of Time

My daughter said, “I think it is neat that God knows everything that will happen in my life.”

We were eating breakfast at the time, and her reflection became the subject of our meal.

God wants us to think about Him. He delights in our “small minds”. last-judgment_bigWe think spatially. I imagine God outside of time, and He sees all of time at once. If it were us, we would have to limit God’s knowledge to the moment, or our freedom would be in jeopardy. As it is, we are just not able to understand what is not spatial. To us, time is spatial; to God, it is of course spatial too, because time is what it is: created by God. This thrills me! What a loving mind God has, to think and yet never be limited; to know, and yet never “impose His will”… He is a good God.

And so, God has one thought—everything in God is simple—and His thought is His Son. This Son, by the eternal decree of the Father, was predestined together with His Mother. Forever in His mind was His Mother, lovely, pure, human, and His.

So, God created time. His Thought—His Word—His Son—was with His Father—He was God. And the Word became flesh…

In the fullness of time…

In the Womb of the Virgin.mary and elizabeth

 

God With Us

800px-Fritz_von_Uhde_Heilige_Nacht“Behold, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son into the world.” Galatians 4:4

A major accusation of the Catholic Church is that it never actually happened. With “it” I mean Jesus coming to us and instituting His Holy and Apostolic Church—and that this, His tangible Church, has lived and worked ever since. I’m rather used to this accusation, in all its various forms, from my homeland (Sweden). I don’t know where I heard it, but something  we used to say at home when confronted with these blatant lies about the Catholic Church goes something like this: “the bigger the lie, the more people believe it”. To simply eradicate the entire existence of Jesus Christ and the life and work of His Catholic Church in history with one sweep of the “myth-making wand” is a tactic all too familiar to me, and to anyone who has lived under a communist government. Although Sweden presents a situation vastly different than the USA, I am aghast at discovering the same tactic here, favored among those who would like to make moral norms different from those a “decency norm” used to uphold. Ignoring history altogether is the more radical way; instead of bothering to rewrite it, one ignores it. There is only the moment now. Even Catholic spirituality might seem to confirm this, so who needs the past?

While doing some research into missionary activities in America during the 19th century, I found astounding evidence of the living and tangible Catholic Church. At a time that is now largely forgotten, when Native Americans suffered greatly under the pressure of incoming settlers who threatened their way of life, the Catholic Church managed, by the efforts of tireless missionaries (such as Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, and Bishop Frederic Baraga, just to mention a few), to create havens for them, where they were truly happy, and where they were able to maintain their dignity and their cultural heritage. This is obviously not something that is admitted by the general public. Everyone—so the story goes—was at fault, because they were unable to be as unbiased and as tolerant as our enlightened generation. Of course, in this scenario, there is no admission of the fact that Catholic missionaries were succeeding, precisely because they were not biased. Thus, it is essential to this version of history that Catholic missionaries did not succeed, because otherwise it would be impossible to say that “it was everybody’s fault”.

The reason for the tenacious longevity of this atheistic critique, even in the face of evidence, is the nature of a lie. As said, a lie is never more believed and impressive to the believer than when it denies an obvious truth. The greater the truth a lie negates, the more impressive and “true” the lie appears. I surmise this is because lying in such wise, on such a grand scale, seems to require a response of faith from the hearer, and believing in something is a deep-rooted desire in humankind. And, we seem to prefer having faith in lies, just to spread enough chaos around us to avoid owning up to anything, generating our own “freedom”…

During Christmas, the energetic suppression of everything Christian—in the name of tolerance—is just such an effort of preventing the reality of people of good will from making the Gospel known by their example, and by their humble celebration of Immanuel, God-with-us. We are not supposed to exist, so our existence is suppressed.

Nevertheless, Jesus and His Church do exist. Jesus has not failed to give us tangible evidence of Himself and the reality of His Church. It is for this very reason that Christianity is persecuted in our modern world. Present and active in the world is Jesus in His Holy Church that reaches out Her arms to the poor, the lonely, and the abandoned (despite those who try even within the very Heart of the Church to destroy Her and give false mercy instead of true mercy). The Church might be much smaller than we would like to claim in our defense. After all, only those who act on their faith and carry the Gospel like food to the hungry are truly Christian, and there are very few of those… Yet, they exist.

I think of those few when I read the messages from “40 Days for Life” and the remarkable evidence of just how effective their testimony is. It is “enough” that people stand on the sidewalk with a rather small sign, with a small message like “pray for life”, to convert hearts and save lives.

At Christmas, perhaps more than at any other time of the year, many give in to despair, and to the atheistic message: “you might as well do away with yourself, because you are alone, after all”. It seems like a merciful way out… Or, if one doesn’t wish to carry despair to this extreme, a smaller version of the same idea is absorbed. In effect, more than ever, Christmas becomes a dark time.

All the same, a little Child was born in Bethlehem, just as concrete as a baby can be. Christmas, then, is a time for us to give evidence of our joy that we are not abandoned, that God is with us—the very evidence that will be belied and suppressed, but which will give hope, mercy, and loving kindness to those who are abandoned.

Merry Christmas!

800px-Fritz_v_Uhde_Schwerer_Gang_(1)

Love Cleans House

Mary_doing_laundryWe might find that a conversion is necessary. Life constantly needs to be renewed; human nature needs its spring-cleaning. As Catholics, we have an advantage, because conversion involves not only our personal attitude, but the embodied spirit and the spiritual body as well, and we have the theological backup to inform our understanding of our capabilities and our limitations as humans. To allow the Holy Spirit to turn our heart around, open it and work salvation in us and for us, we cannot rely only on a mental image of our goal in life. That mental image does not, in fact, exist independently of soul and body, and very soon what was a good intention of bettering ourselves becomes a cruel accusation that we are not performing well enough, which leads to the self-imposed burden of changing what we can’t change, and ultimately despair. The mental image is empty, but the knowledge in our heart, the propensity to love, is full, and ready for us to adapt ourselves to it.

We might as well know what we can do from the outset, and then maybe we would have a better chance of succeeding.

I think, to start out, it helps to know that we have a piece of glass in our eyes, like Kaj in the story of the Snow Queen, by H. C. Andersen. Mistakes and sins are strangely unique to each of us. Each one of us has a set of mistakes, a piece of glass looking not quite like any other. We might feel emboldened in the unique hardness of our heart because the world does not look to us as it looks to anyone else, because the special distortion of our piece of glass is not like any other. The generation of evil, or the mystery of iniquity, is something belonging to the quaestiones disputatae of religion, something giving theologians trouble since early on. One has to be either very unobservant or uninterested in the human drama to have missed the fact that life contains a strange generation of evil. It seems—although we know that it is not of the life of God—that evil can in fact generate, that is, one evil generates another. One side of this not so pleasant reality of life, is that this generating of evil also has the quality of uniqueness. And so, I find that my forms of despair and temptation are specially tailored to me. The sins, and the outlook from my closed, hardened heart, feels like my self. I become so familiar with my own “ego”, because it follows me like a faithful dog, and I might think I know it better than anyone, and that it “understands” me better than any other. Of what this ego actually consists has qualities not unlike the portrait of Dorian Gray. Consequently, conversion, or “soul-spring-cleaning” relies on the fact that love is stronger than death. The life of love—the life of God—is stronger than the primordial monster of my ego. My sense of uniqueness, or subjectivity, has to become subject to Love. I have to give up my ego for self-sacrifice. In St. Francis’ words, I must begin to wish “not so much to be loved as to love”.

As soon as love is allowed to go to work it rejects the ego and throws out the nicely settled dust; that is, Love cleans house. What was familiar turns gray and “into hay” (the Swedish translation of the bible passage—is it in the Preacher?) and there are again possibilities of life, of goodness and of beauty. With surprising swiftness, a new trail is blazed. This trail lies in a direction opposite to the tailored temptations and despair of the ego’s path. Love generates gratefulness. Gratefulness for what we have, for what we can in fact do, builds up—I believe—a sort of immunity to despair, because the possibilities of living a good life are endless and generate great joy. We should really love life, because Life loves us!

Housewives Extinct?

the-pride-of-the-housewife-1930It goes without saying that one has to have a lot of courage to be a housewife. I’ve sometimes contemplated the idea of writing stories about the housewife as an extinct form of human being–myself being one of them. But despite the challenges, I prefer being at home with my children and being a homemaker than doing anything else. I am not (as yet) prepared to back down. Sometimes I get a “sweaty” feeling that I’m not really doing anything (even though paradoxically I seem to always have more than I could possibly do, no matter how hard I work) and that I am getting by without working as hard as those who combine a career with having a family. The issue is sometimes frighteningly subjective. Perhaps there is no ultimate confirmation available to those who choose to stay at home. Perhaps that is one of the most challenging aspects of the vocation. For myself, I’ve found in my life as a housewife something that I have not found anywhere else. It pops up eventually when I ask myself why I am doing what I am doing… The home is a reference point for a religious life and a real challenge to everything “natural” (such as looking for comfort for myself). It is, in fact, a supernatural vocation, which is why it requires the supernatural grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony to be a successful vocation. It is a true life of service (or can be). It also contains aspects of the religious vocation, combining with the life of service the humiliations of being neglected. I am hidden, forgotten, thought to be extinct, and yet I am alive and active. Even though I don’t exactly know why I am at home, as long as I am, I can at least say that I am one of those who are… and then, housewives aren’t extinct after all!

Stabat Mater Dolorosa—Weep Over Sin

Just recently, I read Ali Baba and the Forty thieves for my children. In this story, the wife of Ali Baba’s (unfortunate) brother and her servant girls lament and cry by his corpse, retrieved by Ali Baba from the thieves’ cave. Their lament announces to everyone the death of Ali Baba’s brother. This is just one of many examples of weeping done not only because of a spontaneous desire but with a specific and sometimes direct ritual meaning. [1] And whenever there is a ritual, behind it lies the desire to express a deeper human reality. The ritual, the task, vocation or place, is there to encompass the entire human being when she (the soul) comes in contact with a reality beyond ordinary expression. Or in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf, “not all tears are an evil…”

The task of lamenting is one forgotten in the Western world, along with most meaningful rituals. If one ever shows sorrow, one is advised it does not exceed what is prescribed by the ethic standard of “enlightened self-interest”. It is said to be unbalanced if one doesn’t “go on” with one’s own life and liberate oneself from the pain and sorrow. The liberated human of our times searches for an independence, which severs the soul and the body, the mind and the heart. Whenever emotions are the call from a deeper awareness of our own existence they are tranquilized with diverse medications…

I don’t think there is a more critical situation, when the agenda of the “liberated human” is clearer, than the situation of sin. The sin itself is protected by law, and the call of the body to the soul not to accept the wounds that sin inflicts upon us is suppressed. This separates the soul from the body in the depth of our identity. We cease, at least in our own understanding and identity, to be human.

This independence—or separation—can only exist in a maze of contradiction. It is a maze too deep to allow anything lasting for the human being. If one looks for coherence, unity, meaning, one better not hope to find it in independence, because truth is not allowed to exist. Instead one is supposed to enjoy the flowing of some sort of pan-existence of Choice where my uniqueness is eventually swallowed up… It is just me and my freedom in a dream existence. This liberated human is really just one part serving to give power to the Necromancer.

Our_Lady_Weeping

In sharp contrast to this “liberated human” stands the Mother, weeping beneath the Cross:

Stabat mater dolorosa

Juxta Crucem lacrimosa,

Dum pendebat Filius.

 

(At the Cross her station keeping,

stood the mournful Mother weeping,

close to her Son to the last.)

She weeps, and takes within her heart all the pain of her suffering Son, redeeming with her sorrow, while the Son redeems with his suffering. In the words of St. Catherine of Siena: “O Mary […], bearer of the light […], Mary, Redemptrix of the human race because, by providing your flesh in the Word, you redeemed the world. Christ redeemed with his Passion and you with your sorrow of body and mind.” [2]

To mourn and weep challenges the world yet more when the sorrow is sorrow for sin. There is an interdict against the feeling of compassion and sorrow for sin, because we are not supposed to interpose any restraint on the choice of anyone else. My tears for the sin of someone else might make that person feel restricted in his choice. (Choice forbids!) So, it takes courage to weep, to mourn, to pour out the lament of the soul that comes not just from the eyes, but from the “recesses of the heart”. Yes, I do feel sorrow that someone else sins, and I will lament over it, cry over it… I want to save the soul that sins, save it from the death of sin, free the soul from the hell of contradiction, free the soul from the slavery of sin.

Is there one who would not weep,

whelmed in miseries so deep,

Christ’s dear Mother to behold!

 

Can the human heart refrain

from partaking in her pain,

in that Mother’s pain untold?

 

For the sins of His own nation,

She saw Jesus wracked with torment,

All with scourges rent:

 

She beheld her tender Child,

Saw Him hang in desolation,

Till His spirit forth He sent.

It is love that urges the tears to flow, love that is not proclaiming its greatness in independence, in self-interest, but love that admits and lives in unity with all of God’s beloved sons and daughters. To mourn and to weep for sins is a necessary task, a testimony for this parched land, the desert of the world. The tears call out: No, sin does not give peace; No, sin does not give happiness.

O thou Mother! Fount of love!

Touch my spirit from above,

Make my heart with thine accord:

 

Make me feel as thou hast felt:

Make my soul to glow and melt

With the love of Christ my Lord.

 

Holy Mother! Pierce me through,

In my heart each wound renew

Of my Savior crucified:

 

Let me share with thee His pain,

Who for all my sins was slain,

Who for me in torments died.

 

Let me mingle tears with thee,

Mourning Him who mourned for me,

All the days that I may live:

Stabat Mater means the Mother standing. Again the contrast is clear to the maze of senseless, meaningless contradiction, to the lie, unrest, and fear. The Mother stands, or in the translation above, “Her station keeping”. She does not run about; She knows her place, her station, beneath the Cross.

By the Cross with thee to stay,

There with thee to weep and pray,

Is all I ask of thee to give.

 

Virgin of all virgins blest!

Listen to my fond request:

Let me share thy grief divine;

 

Let me, to my latest breath,

In my body bear the death

Of that dying Son of thine.

The tears that the Mother shed were an expression of the depth of Her sorrow, but they served also to open up her heart—already to God totally accessible—to the mercy that would flow from that Cross, from her Son. She is the purest vessel of Grace. She caught in her heart all grace, all mercy, that Jesus, Her Son, poured from the Cross with His Blood.

Wounded with His every wound,

Steep my soul till it hath swooned,

In His very Blood away;

I can be a pure vessel of grace, if I shed tears over sin, because those tears open up my heart, make me receptive to God’s grace, to His mercy.

Where did she come to know this honor of being fused into the blood of the Lamb as she was baptized in the power of that blood? In his open side, where she came to know the fire of divine charity. This is what my Truth showed you, if you recall, when you asked him, “Why, gentle spotless Lamb, since you were dead when your side was opened, did you want your heart to be pierced and parted?” He answered, “There were plenty of reasons, but I shall tell you one of the chief. My longing for humankind was infinite, but the actual deed of bearing pain and torment was finite and could never show all the love I had. This is why I wanted you to see my inmost heart, so that you would see that I loved you more than finite suffering could show.” [3]

Grace, and mercy, is given to me, not for me but for all humankind. Mercy is the fruit of the sorrow of sin. Mercy is the fruit of the tears I shed over sin. Mercy can only be the fruit of love—and then not empty—if it springs from the desire to free souls from the slavery of sin.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,

Lest in flames I burn and die,

In His awful Judgment Day

 

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,

Be Thy Mother my defense,

Be Thy Cross my victory;

 

While my body here decays,

May my soul Thy goodness praise,

Safe in paradise with Thee.

 

Notes:

[1] Entry on lament, http://www.wikipedia.org/.

[2] St. Catherine of Siena, as quoted by Msgr. Arthur Burton Calkins, “Mary Co-Redemptrix: The Beloved Associate of Christ” in Mariology, a Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, Queenship Publishing, Goleta, CA, 2007, p. 370.

[3] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, translated by Suzanne Noffke, O.P., Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 1980, p. 138.

 

At Jesus’ Feet

Clara MB Fleischmann

 Gaddi_MagdaleneWashingFeetOfJesus

For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord

The small, forgotten child of God is always happy, radiates happiness, and lives in simple enjoyment of His Presence. I studied the saints of North America with my son, who’s in second grade, and we came across St. Andre Bessette 

After his vows [in the order of the Holy Cross Brothers], Brother Andre was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys age seven to twelve) as a porter. There his responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail. Brother Andre joked later, “At the end of my novitiate, my superiors showed me the door, and I stayed there for forty years.”

With the help of St. Joseph’s intercession, he built…

View original post 252 more words

Mary, My Ideal

the-holy-family.jpg!LargeIs it useful to have an ideal? Yes. Is it good to have an ideal that I can never match? Yes. And this is not just talking philosophically—i.e. that since I am imperfect and cannot be my own ideal, my ideal ought to be someone other than myself in order to be an ideal. It does not suffice to make my ideal the inherently unattainable personhood of another person. In other words, it is not enough for my ideal to be merely a human person other than myself to satisfy the criteria of a true and wise ideal. If I choose someone I admire as my ideal—maybe it is my parent, or a friend—then that person cannot guide me except in part, because each one of us has our own destiny and has to find our own way through life, weighing decisions wisely against each other.

Eventually God will not let me hide behind either obedience or blind trust to avoid the interaction with Him, which I can only attain by rolling up my sleeves and living. With my admiration affixed to another imperfect human, it is not unlikely that I will end up in the conundrum of Sartre’s student. When he came to ask for Sartre’s advice of what to do Sartre gave him none, but said: “You are free, choose, that is invent”. And even if I made a better choice than admiring Sartre, still, since my ideal is forever different in essentials from me, that person is unable to decide for me—or in other words, live my life for me. The mystery of our absolute “un-translatable” life is unavoidable. If I hang on to my ideal, I run the risk at some point in my life of being betrayed by those I chose to trust, because they were only human after all… Even very loving persons cannot tell me what to do because they are banned from that inner center of me where decisions originate. My heart belongs to God, and He is a jealous lover. He will not suffer another love. He will make it evident that nothing and nobody other than He will satisfy me. If I stubbornly hang on to my admiration of others these ideals will paralyze me, making any decision impossible to make and carry out. Not even the dearest and most beloved can decide for me or take the initiative in which a decision must originate.

So, what am I to do? Is it possible to live without an ideal? If I would answer “yes” I would certainly not be alone. For one, I’d be in Sartre’s company, for what that is worth. To be honest, I would prefer another partner. I see nothing magnanimous or logical in the cold, merciless denial of the fact of a person’s admiration and wish to emulate. It is a very shortsighted mentality that refuses to accept that we are inherently moldable, dependent, and actually vulnerable. Such a view of human nature is false, and the person who holds such a view must necessarily give no advice or interact in any meaningful way with any other person. It is a mockery of human nature. In short, it is hell on earth.

Instead, I like to think of what Jesus did. He set a child upon His knee. He pointed to the little one as the answer key when the crowd pressed around Him, hungering for His advice. He could have just let them stare at Him. After all, Jesus knew that He is the only proper ideal, the only one who can and will advise, guide, help; the only One worthy of admiration. But He didn’t do that. Instead He did more than that. He put a little one on His lap.

I like to think of His Mother standing near when He placed the little one on His knee. Maybe She smiled when the little one looked from Jesus’ lap on the crowd of people, gathered around with their eyes and ears peeled. I like to think of that little one staring back at them and their silent questions: What would the Master say? What would He tell them to do? It must have been an experience to remember for that little one: meeting the eyes of the crowd, probably with serious eyes, maybe with his small finger in his mouth… Jesus had been little like that. Did His Mother remember that, with another smile on Her calm face? She was not eager and worried like the crowd. She knew Her Son. She had held Him just like that so many times. That is my answer key. Jesus not only showed them a child, who cannot help his or her desire to imitate, who watches and admires, but He did something. His action spoke. By putting that little one on His lap He showed how He wants me to admire; to find the face in the crowd who recognizes me, who smiles back at me with full recognition, who will lead me. He looked at that face; He admired that face; He imitated Her. I want to share that Ideal with Jesus: Mary, His Mother.

Halloween and Heaven

night-at-sea-1858.jpg!Large

 

October begins with the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, patron saint of the missions. The same month ends with Halloween, or the Vigil of All Saints’ Day, soon followed by All Souls’ Day (Nov 2). On the surface, these three feast days may seem to have nothing in common, since mission may seem unrelated to death, but a closer look shows that both mission and death have a common denominator: Heaven. Mission, or “gospel”, is bringing good news to kind ears, good news of Heaven. Saints, too, are only saints because there is a Heaven. And since Halloween is the vigil of All Saints’ Day (and not to Christians a feast of the occult) Halloween celebrates Heaven.

There are ideas of how mission ought to be conducted that seem to exclude this simple and perennial standard. We are told that saintliness is too lofty a standard for us “ordinary” people; that we ought to give up the lofty goal (i.e., we are recommended to forget Heaven) and thoroughly wallow in the dirt… I don’t know how such missionary activities are supposed to solve the contradiction that sets in as soon as we start staring at that dirt, but I know that anything less than God’s promise of Heaven is a “tinkling cymbal” when I am faced with death. Emotions are rather fickle and empty to start out with. If I will be a Christian, it has to be because Christ Jesus accomplished something more than just “a good feeling”…

In the face of death and grief, words are futile; moreover, it seems they are insults to the depth of grief, being, as they are, unable to fathom and describe properly the degree of loss. Still, we seldom have much more to give than simple words of condolence. These words have a way of testing our faith in Heaven; the action of speaking reveals to us if there is something in our interior that corresponds to the words we are speaking. It is the heart, after all, that draws the line between sentimental, empty words and words of meaning and substance. The presence of Heaven—our hope and God’s promise to us—is felt in the moment; be it poignant or mundane.

Love lies like a seed in the heartache of loss, just waiting to spring forth. The strength of love is most visible in the face of death. God comes very close to me. Empty words or mental constructs cannot comfort me when my heart aches in pain that breaks my mind. The love of the Lord does comfort me, because it invites me to do the same as He: love. Heaven comes down to me, in the face of death, and He breaks the gates of Hell. This is not a matter of feelings, but a belief and a reality that there is something deeper and nobler to human kind, something common to all; namely, a heart. This heart is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The ladder between Heaven and earth is our Lady, the spouse of the Holy Spirit. Unless She is invoked, I believe it is impossible to have the balance that keeps Heaven before our minds while we still remain actively loving on earth. Her presence is critical, because Heaven only makes sense when it is begun on earth, and reciprocally, life on earth only makes sense when it continues in Heaven.

St. Therese of Lisieux said, “I will spend my Heaven, doing good on earth.”

St. Therese was not satisfied with something less than sanctity. She strove for Heaven with her feet firmly on the ground, because she was rooted in trust of Jesus. There was nothing unrealistic, for want of a better word, in her approach to life on earth. What the reformation of Luther failed to do—give the Christian reason to trust without bounds—Therese’s faith did. This brought Heaven straight to her, still on earth. God is willing to visit and dwell in a heart that welcomes Him.

“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” [reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians 2:19, Mass reading for Tuesday, October 21st 2014].

St. Therese was a transparent “little Mary” by following her “little way”. She held Jesus in her Heart like her Heavenly Mother had once carried Him under Her lovely Heart. She leaned her head against the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and she learnt its secret: “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.” [John 14:23]

I don’t think it is a coincidence that October is not only the month of our great mission saint, Therese of Lisieux, and the month with the “finale” of Halloween, but also the month of the Rosary. The rosary is a good means of missionary work. It brings us close to our Mother; we listen to her; we imitate her; we have Heaven on earth.

Those who think we ought to forget Heaven and focus on earth forget that the Christian vocation is to love. It is impossible not to do mission if we love. St. Therese of Lisieux lived a cloistered life, and yet she is patron of the missions. She loved passionately and purely, like Christ. This love purifies and enkindles love in others, and it brings God and Heaven to earth. Christ’s love is irresistible; it makes saints out of sinners. There is no need to fear it or hamper it. It is better to let it consume us.

“Jesus said to his disciples: I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” [Luke 12:49]

 

 

 

Comfort our children

little-one-who-straight-has-come-down-the-heavenly-stairs-1888“Everything will be fine…” How many times a mother says just this, with or without words… Are these spontaneous words empty of content? No! God guarantees the fulfillment of a mother’s promise! In fact, the words are a prayer, even when they are just a sigh or an ache we feel. When a mother consoles her children, God sees to it that her consolations become reality, in one way or another. Everything will be fine. Don’t worry. Don’t cry. Rest in my arms…

Your heart aches. Your mind is numb. You feel empty of both strength and courage. But, don’t worry… God lets the voice of a mother become the voice of a prophet. He wants to fulfill her consolations. So many examples guarantee this. Our Heavenly Mother rocked her Baby, even in the face of torture and death. What incredible trust She had, because her Heart hurt and still She consoled Him… And her consolations were fulfilled.

Mary, comfort us, so we can comfort our children.

Mary, my mother, help me trust the Lord, trust that He put me on this earth and knit my babies in my womb for me to console: Don’t worry—I am here for you! This is the joyous task of a mother: to be a prophet of God’s will for her children with her consolations. We are the arms, the lap, the voice, and the heart of God for them… When we hurt because our children hurt, God holds up our arms so we don’t tire. He is closer to us than we can understand, feel, or ever will perceive… So, cuddle the little ones. Tell them: Don’t worry, Mommy will hold you… and know that God is saying this, through all sorrow and pain. His promises are not empty.

Everything will be fine.