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It is impossible not to be struck by the epistle from today’s Mass:
Brothers and sisters:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.
St. Paul gives us quite a tall order, and he frames it in our relationship with the Holy Trinity: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.” We are all children of God, and naturally, how we treat each other is an integral part of how we relate to God–and vice versa. For if you love God and have a strong and true relationship with Him, you will be much more cognizant of how you treat other people, and all other things that He has created.
Probably the most difficult thing in the above scripture is to “[forgive] one another as God has forgiven you.” This is not a new idea, for it is part of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is also in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” And in other places in scripture, the point is made very clear: mercy comes to the merciful, and those who receive mercy are obliged to show mercy. No Christian can claim ignorance of this teaching.
And yet, to forgive and to show mercy… I find it extremely difficult sometimes! Even though I know how merciful God has been to me, and how merciful other people have been to me many times, and even though I know my obligation to forgive others… I often find it much easier said than done. Fortunately, the priest spoke to this difficulty during his homily. He said that forgiveness will almost always be willed long, perhaps very long, before it is felt–but that the will to forgive is the more important of the two, and that God will always accept and work with a willingness to forgive. It might take a long time before the heart catches up with the mind–but that is often true.
So, we should not worry nor fear nor be anxious if we don’t immediately “feel like” forgiving somebody, or even feel like we can forgive them. God in His wisdom has made a point of drilling it into our minds that we need to forgive others, and that forgiving others is the best thing for us. Even if we feel a great aversion to forgiving, we should offer it up to God, saying, “Lord, you know how greatly I am suffering from what so-and-so did to me, and that I’m having a very hard time forgiving them. But I want to forgive them. Please help me do so, and to heal from the sufferings they’ve caused me.” I pray this way often. And gradually, I do find healing and find that I am able to move beyond whatever injury I’ve suffered.
It’s not easy, but it’s far better than allowing “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling … along with all malice” to dwell within us and fester. Those things are the raptor claws of the devil that inject poison into us and seek to tear us from God’s side forever. It’s far better to just try your best to forgive–no matter how feeble you may think your efforts are. God will not let them go to waste.
As it turns out, I have more to shake off than I realized. And what I expected to be a refreshing rest has been more like lying on an operating table. Once again, I should have known better–for it often happens: I reach a point where I myself cannot loosen the things that immobilize and bind and mar me.
So now, God has His chisel in hand and is slowly but surely chipping away at all the pieces that still need dislodging, chipping away at things that hold me captive and mar my form, chipping away at the barriers I’ve thrown up myself.
It’s a painful process, and difficult to remain still and be utterly trusting in God’s sure hand and eye. The baser parts of my nature resent it and cry out, “Why are You doing this to me? I’ve turned to You for help, and yet You cause me such pain!” But the higher parts of my nature understand perfectly. After all, what am I but a clump of earth that God has seen fit to fashion in His own image and–wonder of wonders–to love? And if He is willing to work, again and again, to bring forth the greatness He sees in me, to liberate and purify and beautify me, then why should I complain?
It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain:
One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.
(HarperCollins, p. 34)
Or, as St. Augustine said, “The doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because his patient is screaming for him to stop.”
There are many, maybe hundreds, of other sayings to express the idea that pain is sometimes necessary and beneficial for us. It is one of those timeless and universal human experiences. That gives me a little comfort. Just a little! So does looking forward to the final result. It is always worthwhile. But for now–just gotta be still and be trusting!
The seasons have changed once again–both physically and spiritually. Summer is my least favorite season; I know that in some places it’s lovely, but I don’t live in one of those places. It is uncomfortable, often oppressive. The sun is hot, the wind is hot. Cicadas fill the air with a drone that dampens other sounds, creating a kind of strange quietness. Most of the delicate things of Spring cannot withstand the heat. Clouds and rain become rare, unless a big tropical storm or hurricane spins them up this way–but I don’t want them at that cost.
I know it could also be worse; I don’t exactly live in a desert. Spiritually, however, I feel like I’m in the middle of a desert. It’s like a completely different world. In the Spring, I was grateful that my life had changed with the seasons, but I should have known that Summer would take over. Somber, oppressive, tiring Summer, and spending it alone in the desert.
The rosy new relationship that had brought so much new happiness and hope has wilted away, its soothing blooms replaced with wounding thorns. I thought I might be able to hold on to it and maybe revive it. But it’s proven too difficult and painful.
And I already have other difficulties and pains that I have no choice but to bear. My loss and grief for my father’s death have increased, along with my yearning for his strong and dependable support and warmth and counsel and reassurance. April brought the anniversary of his passing; June brings Father’s Day and his birthday, which are now and always will be commemorated in a cemetery.
I know I’m not really alone. I know. But I feel alone. And I am lacking the sense of my own worth that my dad, more than anybody else, gave and reinforced for me. Again, I know I have worth, and that nobody can take it from me–but I don’t feel it. My heart is parched and thirsting. It feels barren. Everything feels barren.
In the same way, I know that God exists and that He loves me and provides for me. But the feeling and the certainty are nowhere to be found.
The desert is where faith, hope, and love become acts of sheer will. It’s a test, a training drill. I’ve been here many times, in many circumstances, and have come through it with varying degrees of success–but always better than I was. I understand what it is, and I see the purpose and the ultimate reward–but that doesn’t make it easier. It’s a place where one must face death. People and relationships die. Sometimes, they disintegrate quickly and completely, as with my romance. Sometimes, they just change so radically and earth-shakingly that your entire life must become re-oriented and re-built, as with my father’s death.
It’s also a “Memento mori” place where you must face your own death that is coming, be it in a very near or still-faraway moment. While we hope in the afterlife, death is still death, and we will experience it as such–a moment where everything and everybody we’ve ever known falls away from us, we lose every feeling and sense of joy and love, and we are alone. Whatever eternity lies beyond it, we will experience death as death, even if for a brief instance. That is part of what it means to be human. Even Christ, in His humanity, had to experience this, hence his cry, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?”
Likewise, Christ spent time in the desert–both physical and spritual desert–in preparation for His life’s work and for His death. And so, I am hardly alone in this season and this place–all Christians must follow Christ, and the desert is part of this. I know it’s not supposed to be easy. But please, in your charity, offer up a little prayer for me to be steadfast of will and keep my eyes on the prize!
(Photo source: Chris Schenk, U.S. Geological Survey)
My goodness, where has this year gone? It seems like only yesterday we were at the end of the Church’s year, and yet here we are again, approaching the first Sunday of Advent!
I’ve decided that, as a way of entering more deeply into the liturgical year and a way of deepening my spiritual life, I am going to make some resolutions for this new Church year.
In general, I want to keep living my life more and more by the mottoes “What Would Mary Do?” and “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
What I want to work on most is having and maintaining a constant spirit of joy and love, no matter what is happening to me or around me. Being joyful and loving is always a choice–and I want to make the right choice more often, so often that it becomes habitual. This includes being joyful even if I am hurting or feel sad. It also includes being loving to everybody, even those who have not been good to me. I want to do these things freely, without counting the cost or expecting anything in return.
Also, I resolve to write blog posts far more often than I have been!
I think that should keep me plenty busy and challenged for a year!
A happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day to my fellow Americans! I am looking forward to feasting with my family tomorrow! :)
Yes, this is another thrilling post about my relationship with men. The topic that has been foremost in my mind lately. Writing about it preserves my sanity–and also, perhaps, helps other women. Sisterhood is sooo important at times like this!
Anyway, you know what drives me up the wall? When a man who knows I have taken a liking to him, and who I thought felt the same for me, tells me he “just wants to be friends.” And is then mystified or offended when I say, “Um, no.”
Now understand, I have plenty of male friends. But they are not “just friends” as a substitute for some other kind of relationship. As if to say, “I know you want a relationship with me, but I’m not going to give you the relationship you want–oh, but I’ll allow you to be my friend.” Right, because it is so darn friendly to hold an unrequited love over a woman’s head while you go merrily and live happily ever after with someone else.
None of my proper male friends would be so inconsiderate and selfish to me. The difference with a proper male friend is that the friendship is mutal and two-way. It doesn’t only benefit him or me. It benefits us both. That is a requirement for any friendship, is it not?
I refuse to substitute anything else for it. I refuse to have anything to do with a lopsided, one-way relationship. I have more true friends than I can ever count. I don’t need half-way friends. And I definitely don’t need a man to treat me like I’m just one of the guys whom he can call up and hang out with when he isn’t with his lady love.
Again, it’s not that I don’t enjoy male friendship. Actually, I tend to get along extremely well with men. I drink whiskey, I read Patrick O’Brian, I play video games, I like watching sports (sometimes). But I still expect to be appreciated and liked for who I am–and that includes my womanhood.
So, Mr. Just Wanna Be Friends, focus on your girlfriend and/or on your real female friends. If you want “just friends” then for heaven’s sake, go meet some other men–leave me out of it.
Just a few months ago I seriously started looking for a relationship with a man again. This is the first serious effort I’ve made since losing my intended husband 6.5 years ago. And, as you may have gathered from some of my recent posts… to say the least, things have not been going very well!
I don’t know if I’ve just had the bad fortune of running into lousy men, or if I am just so rusty with interacting with men that I have been making my own lousy mistakes, or if the rules have changed drastically in the last 6.5 years. Maybe it’s just that I am 6.5 years older now, and decades more mature than a person my age should be.
In any case, it has been so hard not to get utterly discouraged and fall into despair. Yeah, it’s only been a few months, but I’ve gotten quite a few fresh wounds in this short time! My spiritual life has been pushed nearly to its limits as I struggle not to lose hope and patience and trust in God.
However, I have also found great comfort in God and the Church–particularly the Communion of Saints. I have found some novenas that are said to bring wonderful, even miraculous, assistance in finding a spouse:
Currently, I have just completed the Novena to St. Jude–since finding a decent man and potential husband does seem like a rather impossible cause.
I also pray each day this prayer to St. Raphael the Archangel.
In these and in my daily Divine Office and Rosary, and each time I go to Mass, I pray that I will soon meet a good man to be my husband, and that in the meantime, I will devote myself to growing deeper in love with God and to preparing myself to be a good wife and mother, with the Virgin Mary as my role-model.
I also pray for all the other single Catholic women who are also longing for a good husband and marriage and children.
I offer prayers for my future husband and children and ask that we all be together as a family soon.
I pray very hard for all the single men out there, especially Catholics, that they will fervently and steadfastly and courageously pursue the vocation of marriage and be open to loving women, no matter how many times they may have been hurt or rejected.
I pray that all of my own wounds from the past will be healed so that I can give myself whole and healthy and happy to my future husband.
Overall, I am just trying to put God first in my life and trust that He will richly provide for every need and desire I have. I am trying to be mindful of, and very grateful for all that He has given to me and done for me, to focus on the blessings I have, rather than focusing on what I lack. And I am trying to always remember that I am His daughter, and He is my Father. He loves me, and I love Him, and from that love springs all others.
Whenever I ponder love, I am brought back to this quotation from the film, Diary of a Country Priest:
Priest: We did not invent love. It has its order, its law.
Countess: God is its master.
Priest: He is not the master of love. He is love itself. If you would love, don’t place yourself beyond love’s reach.
Words to live by.
I am reading Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s masterpiece, Transformation in Christ. I am currently reading the chapter on “True Simplicity.” If there is one thing I can always use more of, it is simplicity!
Von Hildebrand writes on this topic at length, for there are many (erroneous) ways to define “simplicity.” If we consider his own life during the time he was writing this book, we would scarcely consider it a simple life; he was being chased down by the Nazis, fleeing for life itself. And yet one would never guess that if one were reading this book without knowledge of that context. The text is radiant with clarity, with calm and very detailed analyses of many topics, as if the author were completely at leisure, at peace, and in comfort.Von Hildebrand was obviously writing from personal experience, from his own transformative relationship with Christ. That is one of the things that makes this book so great.
Below are some brief excerpts that I found helpful in thinking about how I can better live my life and weather life’s many storms. I already know that I need to keep things in proper perspective and keep God as my focus and my highest priority. I was reflecting just yesterday that one source of many of my life’s problems is that I get fixated on people or on things, worrying and fretting over them, trying to exert some sort of control and order of my own. That always results in life becoming all askew and frustrating. Life can’t be otherwise whenever we leave God out of it.
And so, Von Hildebrand says:
The more our life is permeated by God, the simpler it becomes. This simplicity is defined by the inward unity which our life assumes because we no longer seek for any but one end: God. … One supreme point of view governs our entire life and in subordination to that point of view all else is judged and settled. It is the principle of conduct enjoined by these words of the Lord: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
If we consider all things in conspectu Dei, every genuine good finds its right place in the cosmic order and discloses its specific value more splendidly than if we attend to it in arbitrary isolation, merely for its own sake. … We only take true account of a genuine good if we see it in the place where it properly stands in the thought of God. Nor do we fully honor or love a created good of genuine value unless we honor and love God more than that good.
I am especially struck by that last sentence: “Nor do we fully honor or love a created good of genuine value unless we honor and love God more than that good.” It makes perfect sense, of course. True charity is to love God above all things, and to love others for love of God. When we regard other people as fellow children of God, when we see His image shining through them, do we not find that love naturally wells up in us in greater abundance? Do we not have much greater respect for created things when we remember Who created them? God is the source and fullness of all love and all being.
Sometimes, I just need to read or hear things put in a different way, I guess, and Von Hildebrand is one of those people who constantly sheds new light on things for me.
So, for a while recently, for reasons I won’t go into, I’ve suffered frustration, exasperation, and indignation on account of men. More specifically, bad men. Men who are bad to women (and who have been bad to me in particular). Men who are bad in general. And believe me, I have been wanting nothing more than to vent my rage in some public forum… such as this blog. To just let it all out and prove, once again, how correct William Congreve was when he wrote:
Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
But, no doubt due to a God-given measure of grace and self-control, I have refrained. For one thing, nobody wants to read it–and I don’t blame them. For another, no matter how justified my anger might be, I would only come across as a bitter, petulant, and overall ugly shrew of a woman–and that is not what I am. For another, enmity between the sexes only serves the devil–he helped start the whole mess, and he hasn’t ever gotten tired of congratulating himself over it. And finally… I’m just above that. My own character demands that I guard my passions and any words that may arise from them.
I also know many more good men than bad. Men who know my worth and help me to know it. These are the men who matter. These are the men I want to write about. These are the men who bring out the very best in me.
So, here is to all the fathers who have gone before me, from whose lives and blood I have sprung. Here’s to all the fathers, both biological and spiritual, who have prayed for me and shown me my way forth into the world and toward Heaven, who have protected me and mended my wounds, and cherished me, commending me to the future and to God as a gift and a legacy they are leaving behind them. Here’s to all the men who have cared more about the future and about their descendants than about themselves and their own interests.
Here is to all my friends–brothers, really–with whom I have grown up and learned. Here’s to all the men of my generation who have been bold enough to stand firm against the assaults of our culture, those who have refused to dirty themselves and their regard for women. Here’s to them who have dared to remain pure and honest, respectable and responsible, diligent and dutiful. Here’s to them who are reviving that rare breed known as the Gentleman and, Lord willing, the Saint as well. Through thick and thin, these are the brothers who walk by my side.
Here is to all the heroic men who have deemed themselves unworthy, unequal to the responsibilities with which they have been charged, and wrongly believed themselves to be inadequate when in reality, they are just weary from the efforts they have already made. Here’s to those humble enough to cast ego aside and receive from my lips a whisper of encouragement and belief, or from my hands some small token of support and esteem. Here’s to them humble enough to regard me as their benefactress, just as Christ regarded Veronica when she gave Him her veil.
Here is to all those men of great stature, and more importantly, great hearts. Here is to all those men God-fearing and God-worshiping. Here is to all those men clever, resourceful, and wise. Here is to those who have allowed me to be daughter, sister, friend, patroness, counselor, teacher, pupil, gift, treasure. Here is to those who have entrusted to me their love, courage, selflessness, esteem, admiration, respect, and desire–and cherished mine in return. Here is to those who have been willing to die upon the dread hill, to shed their blood–or time, or money, or toil–that I might live more happily and securely.
Here is to all of those men who have placed themselves before me to show me my own value and worth, my own beauty and preciousness, my own goodness and genius. Here’s to those who have shown me who I am as a woman and a daughter of God.
There are way too many of you to name–I think, and hope, that you know who you are. I thank you and love you from the bottom of my heart! And I humbly call upon you to pray for me, for the healing of my pains, disappointments, injustices, and betrayals at the hands of men, and that someday not too far in the future, I may find a good man, one of your true brethren, to be my husband.
One more thing–because I’m not a saint yet–to all of those men who do not fit any of the descriptions above: Grow up, grow a spine, trash the narcissism, and stop making excuses. You’re an affront to both men and women. And stop making empty apologies to me when you know I can’t do a damn thing to hold you accountable–that’s way too easy. Instead, try apologizing to God, because He knows full well how you’ve treated me, His creature and His daughter. Even if I don’t have a man on this earth to stand up for me, God will. I promise He will hold you accountable and I shall receive justice sooner or later.
Because so many dear, thoughtful people have taken the time and care to check in on me to make sure I am OK… and also to drop reminders–subtle and not-so-subtle–that it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything here… And because I am so touched and grateful for it all…
I just wanted to let everybody know that I am indeed OK and that I am not unmindful of how long it has been since I posted here. :)
In fact, I should love very much to flood you with fresh blog posts. The only problem is that I’ve had trouble thinking of anything worth posting about (with the exception of the upcoming retreat with my Lay Dominican community, of course). I’ve had considerable writer’s block with regard to the blog. However, I have not been letting my creativity wither away. In fact, I have been quite busy with various off-line pursuits: writing fiction, doing some drawing and coloring, reading.
I wish I could say that my spiritual life is going swimmingly… but it’s not. It hasn’t been for quite some time. I’ve experienced a long arid spell. Loving God has been mostly cold-steel sheer will–it’s been a while since my love has been the unquenchable, all-consuming fire that it is often capable of being. Which is not to say that I love Him any less. Just that it is a different sort of love. Love would be pretty boring if there weren’t some variety to it, right? I often experience God’s love of me in a similar way–sometimes it’s all warmth and tenderness and beauty, almost a kind of romance, and then sometimes it’s like being cranked through a wringer or tossed off a cliff, tough as nails (yes, Lord Holy Spirit, I’m talking about You!), and then sometimes it is reserved, still, silent, a desert wind, an encompassing darkness–but never empty or indifferent.
So, it’s not going swimmingly, no. But it is all right. It is going. It is bringing me somewhere. Teaching me something. It always does. In hindsight, I always look back and can’t believe I didn’t realize how very close God was to me, and how much He was saying to me and doing for me.
Health-wise, I can’t complain. The worst I’ve had to deal with is bursitis in my foot. The depression is under control.
At least, the physiological aspects of depression are under control. I still have lots of emotional and psychological stuff to work through. Mainly grief and sorrow. I know that the physical elements are under control because I have once again turned my mind to the elements that are beyond the reach of medical science. They are quite huge and intimidating–even frightening. But I can stand them now and begin my passage through them. And that is quite a relief, actually. I want, and need, to set out on that path.
We are in the middle of a long, extremely hot, drought-ridden summer here in Texas. We’ve had about 27 consecutive days with high temperatures above 100° F (38° C). It’s gone on so long that I dare say (while shuddering) that I am almost used to it! But I still avoid being outdoors as much as possible. Summer has always been my least-favorite season. But in general, as I have matured, I have come to appreciate some things about summer. As long as there are luminous, long-lingering evenings, glowing fireflies and singing cicadas, and a bottle of Sho Chiku Bai chilling in my refrigerator, I find that I can face summer with a rather peaceful and poetic outlook. I think it is this outlook that has so inspired my artistic endeavors of late.
So this is where I am. Typing words about love and summer and God and life. Admiring the silhouettes of trees against a powder-blue sky sketched over with faint apricot-colored mares’ tails. Holding a cold sake cup delicately in my fingers. And thinking about you, whoever and wherever you are, very thankful that you have paused to read these words.
God bless you.
You readers who have been with me for a while may have noticed that I have not mentioned my annual “Lenten Lesson.” Usually, I get an inkling of it near the beginning of Lent. A certain theme emerges. A certain issue is raised. A certain goal is set.
That didn’t happen this year. Oh, I started out with my typical plans: give up sweets, pray and go to Mass more often, attend the Friday evening Stations of the Cross.
But God had other plans, nearly all of which centered around other people. People in need. People making demands. Whenever I really wanted to just go to church or stay home and work on my spiritual life, I found myself going to somebody else or doing things for somebody else. Whenever I asked God what my Lenten Lesson was supposed to be, He would send me a person instead.
I have to say, I found it very frustrating at times, but whenever I began to feel frustrated or tempted to complain, there was always a voice in my head saying, “Be there for them. Love them and put them before yourself and your own desires. Be Christ for them. Do it for love of them. Love them for love of God.” And so, I managed to keep my mouth shut and my face free of frowns (although taming my mind wasn’t always successful).
Slowly, gradually, those words sank into me and took root, and acting as they prompted me to act started to become habitual. And during Holy Week, I finally realized it: that was my Lenten Lesson! To grow in charity, that divine virtue of loving God and loving other people for love of God. When I finally recognized what the lesson was, and realized how much I had been learning through experience, I felt much the wiser, and extremely grateful!
I see now the wisdom in not cluing me into the lesson ahead of time. Had I known it ahead of time, I may have acted charitably out of a kind of compulsion other than pure, simple love. I also may have become prideful and focused on myself, instead of focusing on God and others. By not setting forth the lesson ahead of time, God effectively took me out of it and made it more genuine and more truly other-centered.
God truly works in wondrous and mysterious ways, with such great wisdom!