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I’m blessed to share my home with two adorable furry housemates: Sabrina and Alvis. In addition to companionship, comfort, and fun, they’ve also given me occasion to ponder my relationship with God, how I see Him, and how He perhaps sees me. Granted, the analogy isn’t perfect; God sees me as His own daughter, not as a pet, and at the same time, He is far more superior to me than I am to my cats. But it’s been helpful nevertheless.
No matter how unpleasant your situation is, no matter how little sense it makes to you, keep trusting!
To my cats, getting locked up in a carrier, being taken to a strange place to be poked and prodded by strange people, then coming home only to be force-fed pills or vile liquids–sometimes with the added indignity of being wrapped up in a towel like a cat burrito–is nothing but a series of meaningless trauma. They don’t understand that these things are happening in order to make, or keep, them healthy and feeling well. And it is surely mystifying that the same person who was cuddling and feeding and playing with them just a short time ago should now turn so cruel and cold, ignoring their cries and their squirming. So it is sometimes with me and God. Sometimes life seems to take a cruel turn for no apparent reason, and sometimes God seems like a completely different Person, seemingly ignoring my pleas.
But just as I know that taking my cats to the vet and treating any ill condition is for their good, so does God know what good may come from times of testing, purification, building and re-building, fortifying my weak spots, strengthening me where I need it, and chiseling away ugly spots or sharp edges. And if my will toward my cats is so good, then surely God’s will toward me is far better still! And well, at least He hasn’t given me the burrito-wrap treatment… yet.
At the same time, be prepared to accept and to marvel that God is a complete mystery.
Each and every morning, my cats witness an astonishing ritual. Each and every morning they see me close myself up in a small, cramped torture chamber that–horror of horrors!–sprays water all over me. Water! All over me! And I submit myself to this insanity willingly, even with delight! What sort of messed up masochist does that?! And that’s just one example of the apparent insanity that possesses me.
Likewise, there are things I just can’t understand about God–things no mortal human can understand. Like the Trinity. Like the Passion and Crucifixion. Like the Resurrection. Like what exactly He sees in me that is so special that He created me out of nothing and holds me lovingly in existence, a little speck afloat in the unspeakable vastness of the universe–not only that but that He loves me! These mysteries–both majestic and intensely intimate to my little life–always surround God, as He surrounds me with His marvelous deeds, His tremendous power, His unwavering attention, and His boundless love. And how He must smile when we gaze toward Him wide-eyed and bewildered, just as I smile at my cat sitting nervously outside my shower!
How many people prefer to dismiss Him today as something impossible and foolish to believe in! How many people are eager to dismiss all things that are mysterious and marvelous just because they cannot be examined by human eyes or neatly defined by human definitions! What a magnificent relationship they are missing!
You’re always your best when you are simply yourself, flaws and all–there’s no need to fear rejection!
My cats sometimes make me crack up with laughter (see: Sabrina being silly at left). They do it without any shame whatsoever. They are free spirits who do whatever comes naturally in the moment. Sometimes, they make me shake my head because they don’t realize how incredibly comfy and easy their lives are–but I wouldn’t ever want it any other way! Sometimes they’re a real handful–like when I’m trying to give them medicine and they just won’t be still, and I have to resort to the burrito-wrap. But I understand and just do my best to make it as quick and painless as possible (knowing full well that they would beg to differ). And sometimes they are so incredibly sensitive and insightful and tender toward me when I am sad or sick or in any kind of pain that it’s like God is acting through them. They may never know what it means to me that they are just who and what they are, and that I love them for it.
I think God regards us the same way, whether we make Him laugh or shake His head or even when we squirm and kick and scratch and protest and do our darnedest to shove Him away. He knows when we are trying to lie or hide or BS Him. He sees straight through us. He knows how we are made. He knows our limitations. He knows our individual personalities. He knows them–He loves them–He even died for them. And no matter how much we may reject Him–for He made us free to do so if we truly wish it–He never wills nor wishes to reject us. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? Sometimes, it’s a bit difficulty and even frightening to believe! We are so fearful of the rejection we sometimes suffer from our fellow man. We may instinctively try to throw up walls between ourselves and God.
But what liberty, what joy, what lightness of being and peace of mind can be ours if we will venture to just be ourselves before God! I could never reject my cats just for being the cats they are. And God would never reject me for just being the human being I am. Nor would he reject any one of us for being who and what we are.
As good as we are to our pets, those little creatures we share our lives and homes with, God is far better–infinitely better!–to us. And as much as we enjoy our pets, God rejoices so much more in us, His own children. And as much as we would love to spend our whole lives with our beloved pets, so much more does God desire to spend all eternity with us. So never doubt, never fear, never dismiss Him! Curl up in his arms with all the confidence and security that your pets curl up next to you with!
Alvis says “Relax!”
Well, this week has been a little bit crazy. But I still consider it a success.
I had a lot to shake off, and I think I’ve pretty much shaken it off, with lots of help from the Lord Holy Spirit. Tonight, I’ve reached the point where I feel I can breathe with clear lungs, think with clear mind, and rest a while in peace. I feel that my connection with God has finally been restored and my ties to the world have been severed. I feel much more recollected. I have my eyes back on the prize.
Tomorrow, the real, positive work will begin: the work of overcoming and ascending. Tomorrow I can pick up my full regimen of prayer and study. Tomorrow I resume the great journey heavenward.
So far, so good.
I had this little book sitting on my shelf and thought it would be helpful right now: Taming the Restless Heart by Father Gerald Vann, OP (Sophia Institute Press, 1999; originally published in 1947 as His Will is our Peace).
I read the entire thing, slowly, in maybe 2 hours. But boy did it pack a punch! And I really wish I had read it during Lent, because it’s all about keeping your eyes on God and keeping yourself in His presence… not turning in on yourself and your very limited resources… and not letting bad things get you down. It would have been a great “textbook” for my Lenten Lesson:
[The Lord] does not tell us that we must not work, must not plan ahead. He does not tell us that everything will be done for us. But He does tell us that we must not be always worrying and fretting and making a great commotion, as though we, and not He, were responsible for the universe.
Yeah… the Lenten Lesson! Well, reading this book really helped to reinforce the Lenten Lesson.
The book is written in a very clear, sort of conversational tone. It seems very much written for us ordinary layfolk–and Father Vann understands what we need! He doesn’t give us anything esoteric or complicated. In fact, he emphasizes the importance of starting with small steps and gradually, naturally building those small actions into lasting habits. He speaks of things very familiar to us all, such as the actions we do at Mass, our interactions with other created things–objects, animals, and other humans–and the power of the Our Father.
Even a small action like genuflecting can take on great significance with a bit of reflection and concentration:
To genuflect, to bend the knee: what does it mean? It is a sign of submission, of dependence, of loyalty and service, as of a subject to his king. It means: I recognize that You are the important one, not I. It means, in the words of the psalmist, “I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid.” It means, in short, “Thy will be done,” expressing precisely that union of our will with God’s which it is our object to achieve.
Now, we tend, of course, by force of habit, to make our genuflections rather automatically, unreflectingly; they become a matter of routine. But if we do that, we again miss a great opportunity.
In the first place, a genuflection is a sacramental. This means that if it is done with sufficient care and devotion in mind and will, it can be an occasion of actual grace for us; it can bring us nearer to God. And there is thus a sense in which, like the sacraments, although in a different way, it will effect what it signifies: it will lead to the bringing about in us of a deeper sense of that loving acceptance of God’s will which it expresses in symbolic form.
In the second place, we shall, if we are wise, form a conscious habit to counteract the effect of the unconscious effect of routine. We shall choose some phrase that, for us individually, expresses vividly and cogently the sense of worship and of creaturely concentration on God and the will of God,* and we shall make our genuflection deliberately enough to allow us to say the phrase in our hearts, with our eyes and our minds on Christ in the tabernacle, addressing the prayer to Him. And so we shall make His presence a reality to ourselves, until perhaps, in time, the sense of that presence becomes habitual with us even when we are not in the church…
* It could be, for example, the words of the publican: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13); our our Lady’s “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38); or the words of the apostle Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28); or simply “Thy will be done.”
I just love how he delves into the meaning of that small gesture we so easily take for granted. I am definitely going to take a moment to offer a small prayer as I genuflect from now on!
I highly recommend Taming the Restless Heart for a brief but very inspiring spiritual pick-me-up.
Yes, there are things of dreadful import occurring in the nation. Pres. Obama continues to calmly, coolly tear down our pro-life policies. Things look grim for religious freedom and conscience rights. You can read all about that at real blogs, like this one and this one, among others.
I’ve been reading. And reading. And… reading. And it’s not that I don’t care or indeed enjoy writing on current issues… but there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said better by somebody else. Not right now, not where I am in my life at the moment. Honestly, I need to unwind just a bit.
So I’m offering something a little different:
Cute cat pics for everyone!
Sabrina taking a snooze in her little basket:
Sheena threatening to vaporize me (or at least my camera) with her death ray eyes:
Currently, Sheena has deigned to sit in my lap. But since my lap is generally part of Sabrina’s “territory,” she will likely be in soon to chase Sheena out. And things may get a little rowdy around here. As long as they settle down by my bed-time, all will be well.
We have to enjoy life’s little moments of peace whenever we can.
This is probably by far the simplest part of the story. But as Georges Bernanos once wrote, “The simplest things are by no means the easiest.” I could simply say, “I decided God was calling me to become a Lay Dominican, and so I did. The end.” What kind of story would that be?
I guess I will start by saying this:
It is true that the Lord knows when we’ve reached our limits–we only have to trust Him. Just when I was reaching mine, He gave me a deep and much-needed respite. It coincided with the beginning of Lent, 2007. Unlike the grueling Lent of 2006, this Lent was serene and restful.
I felt closer to the Lord than ever before, and for once there was no friction. I thought back to my relationship with my late fiancé, Patrick: I remembered that when the relationship was in its infancy, we each had our rough edges and sharp corners that needed smoothing; after a while they were smoothed and we were able to grow closer together, more comfortably. I think something similar happened between God and me.
That Lent, I learned what true happiness and fulfillment are: not emotions, but rather a Person. In that happiness and fulfillment I found rest and peace. And even when I was having troubles with work or grief, that ageless, eternal, unchanging Happiness was there for me. On 25 March I wrote:
Lately (and, generally, as usual) my passion is more of the Garden of Gethsemane variety. And still I am learning about happiness! Because when you’re in the Garden, you are with Him. More than that, you are with Him when none of His other disciples are. You are alone with Him. You are with Him in one of His most vulnerable, most human times–blood, tears, fear, anxiety, dependence on the Father. In the first, He was any and every one of us… in the latter, we must strive to be like Him. Oh, to be in the Garden, alone with Him… the Garden is an even better training ground than the Desert. You can’t do aught but suffer with Him, and also suffer your own helplessness to console Him. But you also can’t help feeling the joy and the great privilege of such an intimate encounter with God at His most human, and of the ignition within yourself of a love so spectacular in its selflessness and desperation.
Love is love, no matter how pained. The same is true of happiness.
What does this have to do with my becoming a Lay Dominican? At the end of Part 2 of this story, I said, “In searching for my vocation, I was finding my relationship with God.” The opposite was true as well. I didn’t understand at the time how intricately intertwined vocation and relationship with God are. Of course, it makes sense: vocation is a calling from God. And how are you going to hear it, much less obey it, if you aren’t close to God?
Becoming close to God is what made finding my vocation simple at that point. But that still isn’t the whole story.
Lent ended and Easter began. And then 28 April came–the 2nd anniversary of Patrick’s death. And it wasn’t a horrible day. Not only did I have a closer relationship with God, but I had also formed a nice little circle of Catholic friends by that time, and could feel myself being borne up and surrounded by their prayers. And it inspired me to pray too. The Rosary had been my life-line many times. And I’d always felt closest to Mary, the Lady of Sorrows, in times of grief.
And then, there were the Saints. I knew that 28 April was the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, one of my very favorite of Saints. But on 28 April 2007, I happened to learn that it was also the feast day of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort–one of the more famous devotees of the Rosary, and, as it happens, a Third Order Dominican. The next day, I learned that 29 April is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena–Patron Saint of Lay Dominicans. And the next day, 30 April is the feast day of Pope St. Pius V–another Dominican! Even at that time, I thought to myself, “This is no coincidence.” The Dominicans were definitely being kept at the front of my mind.
The Liturgy of the Hours came onto the scene around that time too. I happened to come by a free trial subscription to eBreviary. I knew that if I did become a Dominican, the Liturgy of the Hours would be part of my life every day. So I tried it out and fell in love! But I decided fairly soon that I really needed a print breviary, so I ordered a copy of Christian Prayer.
Finally, 11 May came–the 2nd anniversary of my re-joining the Church. And the next day, a Saturday, is when it happened. It wasn’t a Road to Damascus experience. It just came to me, gently yet unmistakably, in the quietness after receiving Communion. I simply knew that I had arrived at a threshold, and that it was time to step over it. So I did. When I got home, I found the Web site for the Southern Province Dominican Laity. I shot an email to the provincial vocations director and to the moderator of the local chapter.
I shortly received some very nice and informative emails from both of them. But just as if that weren’t quite enough to convince me that I was on the right path, I learned about the patronage of my local group: Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, and her devoted servant, Bl. Bartolo Longo. Here’s what I wrote in my journal on 13 May:
The most significant thing about this story is how much Bl. Bartolo’s early life reminds me of my own high school and college years. I was, like him, caught up in every variety of error–all of Modernism’s irrational trappings as well as theosophy and various flavors of occultism and paganism. It all caused significant physical, mental, and spiritual damage and brought much suffering and grief upon me and my whole family. But there was hope for Bl. Bartolo, and there was hope for me… a hope revealed when much of our lives were seemingly reduced to rubble. He rejected and denounced his past errors, and I have rejected and denounced mine. He went on to do great things… and I pray I might also!
All of this provides me great consolations! For one thing, I’ve been introduced to a new, sympathetic, understanding, and inspiring ally in Heaven! And my local Lay Dominican chapter happens to be connected to him! Coincidence? You know I don’t believe that for a minute! Rather, I think it’s a providential sign that I am definitely going in the right direction and toward the right place!
This is so exciting! I feel like a child with a whole future ahead of me! I feel like a traveller on the brink of a expansive new horizon of adventure! I feel like I really will set the world on fire as St. Catherine of Siena said!
I was invited to the monthly meeting of the local group, and I was determined to go. It was pretty much a repeat of what had happened when I went to the vocations retreat. I was terribly beset by temptation and spiritual oppression. The devil and his demons were hell-bent on my not going. But I had my memories of that retreat to inspire me and keep me focused. And so I went. On the long walk up the path to the priory entrance, my insides were in knots and I was trembling. And then I stepped inside… and all the anxiety just melted away!
I had never been there in my life. But I felt like I was home. Just as if I had grown up there. I felt at home. Such peace and happiness. Home.
After that, I never looked back and never doubted, even though I occasionally met with some disapproval: “Oh, you’re just compromising–if you were really devoted to God and the Church, you’d become a sister or a nun.” And I’d just smile and shake my head. I’d think about all the months I had thought and prayed and discovered and doubted and discerned and retreated and surrendered. I’d think about the times the Holy Spirit had put me through wringer, testing and trying and training. I’d think about being with Christ in Gethsemane. About Mary and the Saints. I’d think of the Dominican tertiaries who had gone before me: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, Bl. Bartolo Longo, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati–did any of them compromise?
After an initial training phase, I was admitted to the Order of Preachers on 9 March 2008. And people still tell me that my face lights up whenever I talk about being a Dominican. The happiness and fulfillment I found in my Lord have never left me.