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It’s a little hard to believe, but we are a mere three days from the beginning of Lent! I feel somewhat fortunate that I’ve already begun thinking about it; in previous years, Ash Wednesday has completely caught me off guard.
Each year, I want to observe Lent better than I did before, and this year is no exception. I’ve been thinking about how I wish to observe this season, how I wish to practice sacrifice and discipline, self-denial and self-giving. I don’t want to be lax. I don’t want to approach Easter with the least regret that I could have observed Lent more faithfully and deeply. But each year has been better–this will be might eighth Lent since returning to the Church–and each year I have become more reacclimated to the rigors of this season. I’m no longer quite the fledgling I was. I feel this year will be very edifying.
One simple thing that I have found helpful and motivating is Father Jonathan Morris’s Lent Challenge, “A 46-day plan for spiritual growth in mind, body, and soul.” For each of those three areas, mind, body, and soul, he encourages that we decide on one thing to give up and one thing to do. He will share daily messages of encouragement via Twitter and Facebook.
I also found this quotation from Pope Benedict XIV in 1741:
The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should men grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.
This quotation speaks powerfully to me; as I’ve mentioned before, I respond to nothing more readily than to a call to arms. I am best motivated to conduct my life well when I am reminded that how I conduct my life affects the world around me–when I remember that it’s not just about me. It’s about what, and Whom, I stand for. More than any other time of year, it is about carrying the Cross and following Christ toward Calvary, trembling in every footstep. Not that we are not always called to do this, but this special season exists for our benefit, to focus us and make us stronger, to amend our lives. It’s a special journey, a special march, a special campaign.
I pray that I might enter into this season with deep devotion and dedication, together with all Catholics. Let us pray for each other!
I think I am something of a rara avis among women. I like war stories. I like hearing about people’s experiences in the military. Not to say that I don’t shudder and shrink at the brutality, the inhumanity, the pain and death and trauma. But I like being amazed and humbled by the realization that people have been willing to put themselves in the way of those things for the sake of country and countrymen, to stand between those horrors and the rest of us. Sometimes I hear people dismiss or disparage soldiers because war is such a tragedy, such a shame, such a burden. They don’t consider that if it weren’t for soldiers, then all of us would be more directly impacted and imperiled by war, and we would all be forced to fend for ourselves. War is never a thing to love or desire or be proud of. But the soldiers and other people who suffer and endure and even sometimes overcome in extraordinary ways… these are people to be respected and admired and grateful for. They are heroes, every one.
I know this probably sounds like a post for Veterans Day or Memorial Day. But these thoughts shouldn’t be reserved for just certain days. I think them often. They inspire me. They motivate me. They instruct me. They drive me. They help me to remember that life is precious and a very dear price to pay. They also encourage me in the spiritual life, the spiritual war, the Good Fight as St. Paul called it.
This is a war that we are all in the midst of–some are officers, some are foot-soldiers, some are pilots, some are special forces, some are spies, some are medics, and some keep the fires of home and camp burning. We too can be heroes. Even if all we can do is stand our ground and declare where our loyalty lies–in this fallen world and even more fallen society, those things alone can be radical and heroic. And like all soldiers, we put ourselves between the enemy and those who cannot or will not defend themselves. We usually do it without any recognition or thanks–nor do we mind such things; we sometimes do it to the derision of those we long to protect. This is what life is like in the Church Militant, the Church on her long march Heavenward.
I sometimes fear that the Church and Christianity (never mind the rest of our society) have become too soft, too self-indulgent, too complacent, too undisciplined, too indolent–and God knows I’ve been my share of it all, much to my shame and regret. We all have chinks in our armor, after all, and the enemy is very subtle and slithery and knows just how to get though to us. But I fear that too many of us have forgotten altogether where we are and what we’re meant to do. We’ve forgotten our duty. We’ve gotten so fixated upon false, watered-down notions of peace and love and tolerance and niceness and upon feeling good at all costs without the least concern for being good. We count our own opinions, emotions, and preferences as far more important than doctrine, reason, and obedience. We give more loyalty to moral relativism than to the natural law inscribed upon every human heart.
We’ve seen the results of this. We’ve seen the Church splinter from within. We’ve seen unspeakable tragedy and scandal shake her down to her very foundation. THE enemy and those who serve him point and say, “You see? I knew you Christians and your Church were rotten to the core. You hypocrites! You oppressors! You can’t even save yourselves much less than the whole world. Give it up! Cast off the shackles. Forget about your so-called sins and your so-called virtues. Be nice to everybody and otherwise just do whatever feels good. Go with the flow and get a life!” They say this as if the Church herself and all of her loyal adherents were the source of all the misery and humiliation. In fact, it is because some people within the Church have persistently and remorselessly done exactly what the enemy would have us do!
What serves the enemy most is serving ourselves. Loyal service, on the other hand, demands that we lay ourselves down, set ourselves aside, and when necessary let ourselves be nailed to the cross! Generosity is at the heart of all loyal service, be it in an earthly military or the Church. Generosity steels our courage and discipline. Generosity ignites faithfulness, obedience, and charity. Generosity enables us to be selfless.
And so, one of the most helpful spiritual practices I’ve found recently (via my confessor, who always seems to know me better than most anybody, even though he never sees my face) is this Prayer of Generosity, traditionally attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who knew a thing or two about service and obedience:
Lord God, I want to love You, not that I might gain eternal Heaven nor escape eternal Hell, but simply because You are my God. Teach me to be generous. Grant me to give to You and not count the cost; to fight for You and not mind the wounds; to toil and not to look for rest; to labor and to ask no reward, except the knowledge that I serve my Lord and my God. Amen.
Such simple words to pray. And such difficult words to live by! But pray, and it will be given, often beyond our wildest expectations. I have found this simple prayer to be very powerful. Transformative, really. Exactly what I needed to call forth the heroine in me and keep me from straying from my duty, which is to serve God and my fellow man, and to reach Heaven, my true Patria. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I just want to say that I am honored to be part of the Church Militant. I am honored that God and Church would entrust such service and duty to me. And I pray I never completely let them down. I pray I can stand firm until the Good Fight is finished.
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.
I don’t know what I was thinking! All those ideas about having a nice, clean, regimented, scheduled retreat… it’s like I was daring the Holy Spirit to take matters into His own hands. And did He ever!
The short version of the story is that these last two days have not gone as planned at all. In fact, I’ve been rather miserable. But–and this is the important part–I have learned a lot. And grown a lot. And grown closer to God. And become a bit truer to myself as well.
I wanted to just withdraw and rest. I wanted to meditate and contemplate. The Holy Spirit was having none of that! He likes to throw me into a fire and have all of my flaws and impurities be burned away and all of my soft spots and jagged edges tempered. He likes to throw me off a high cliff and see me learn to fly. While my soul is screaming and crying and begging and flapping around for dear life, I can sense His delight through it all. I can almost hear His laughter.
Of course, He knows what sort of creature I am. He knows that when He tries me and when He takes delight in it, it ratchets my determination up to the max. “I’m not going to fail,” my soul says with gritted teeth. “I am not going to give up!” And my soul strives ever harder toward God, toward faith, toward love.
I guess I should be thankful that the Spirit allowed me at least one day of relative calm. I might say that I hope He allows my coming days to be full of calm… but I don’t want to tempt Him! I’m not sure how much more of His tough love I can stand just now.
Self reflection, along with the observations of people near me, urges me to embark upon a retreat. I need to recollect myself, refocus, and recenter. Lest my dear, faithful readers fear another prolonged silence, let me assure you that writing will play an integral part of this retreat. The inability or unwillingness to write is for me as dire and bizarre as it would be for most people to be unable or unwilling to talk. It’s not as if I have some adequate alternative mode of self-expression.
I’ve realized that I simply haven’t had anything worthy of writing about, and that tells me that my life has lost its focus. I’ve been adrift amid distractions. I’ve become disconnected from the things that matter to me and that evoke thoughts and emotions so great that I cannot bear to keep them inside me. I’ve lost my spirit. And I must regain it.
In the spirit of my recent Independence Day post, I have decided to declare my independence from distractions. From all things vapid and inconsequential. From all life’s petty comforts, fleeting concerns, and overblown dramas. From all self-pity, self-coddling, self-importance, and self-indulgence. From the judgments of other mere mortals regarding my appearance, my station, my values, and my character.
The only things and only people worth depending on are things and people I already have and that are not going anywhere. What more do I need, except to just become more myself so that I can give more of myself to those that matter?
My regimen for this retreat is simple–it’s basically just to live more faithfully according to my rule of life as a Lay Dominican: to pray, to study, to preach, to be a person for and with others, and to cut away anything that doesn’t contribute to those four pillars.
I am currently setting myself to read and re-read Transformation in Christ by Dietrich von Hildebrand, as well as writings of the Dominican masters, such as St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue. I shall also be exercising disciplines such as fasting and being faithful to the present moment–which is something extremely difficult for me, as I tend to pine for the past and yearn for the future.
This isn’t going to be easy. But I am being called, pulled, compelled to it. My poor soul yearns for her self, and even more for her Lord. Please keep me in your prayers.
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)
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.
As you probably gathered from my last post, I’ve been struggling with my faith quite a bit. I’ve really gotten off track, more than ever before. I can’t really explain it. There is no kind of excuse.
But there is a cure, a way out. Or rather, I think, a series of spiritual medicines.
The first and foremost of a spiritual medicines is the sacrament of Confession. I didn’t really want to go. I had to force myself, convince myself of its benefits. I doubted it as much as I’ve been doubting everything, even God.
And then, the exchange between Christ and St. Peter came to me. When all the disciples were leaving Christ after the shocking Bread of Life discourse, Christ turned to the Apostles and asked them, “Will you, also, go?” St. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
That was all the convincing I needed. I had come to the place where one must choose definitively: shall I stay or shall I go? Where do my loyalties lie? Whom shall I serve?
And so I went. And of course it helped me. How could I ever have doubted that? Perhaps doubt itself provides a valuable shot in the arm, a vaccine against indifference.
That was the first round of treatment, to make me well enough to persue further courses of action.
The main one: daily Mass. This has been the biggest missing puzzle piece in my life for way too long. I have allowed many things to get in my way and distract me. My priorities have been mixed up. I’ve decided that starting tomorrow, I am returning to the 6:30 AM Latin Mass. That shall come first in my day. It doesn’t matter if I have to rearrange my schedule or giveup some activities. It just doesn’t matter! God matters. I know where my loyalty lies and Whom I shall serve.
Other than that, I shall dedicate myself to living by my Lay Dominican rule of life: the Rosary, Divine Office, frequent confession, and wearing the white scapular which is my blessed privilege.
And loving others. I may not be the most socially adept person, but I can always strive to simply treat others as I would want them to treat me. It’s really not complicated. It is all very simple.
Nonetheless, I will need and appreciate prayers for the firmness of my will. I shall pray for you in return, as always.
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.
We’ve had quite a winter storm this week. I think the Super Bowl teams brought it with them from up north! This whole region has been iced over since yesterday. Most roads are impassable. All the schools, including my university, have been closed since then, and some will be closed again tomorrow. So, needless to say, I haven’t left home!
Although I worry about people who have no homes, or no power, or no choice but to get out on the hazardous roads… I have to say I am thankful for this respite. It has helped me to relax and to get my head on straight, without the stress of missing work or class.
What I need more than anything is to re-focus on my relationship with God and my spiritual life. Both have been a little… cold, if you will. I feel the iciness outside within me.
I’m sure it’s partly the usual pall that grief and clinical depression cast over them, and everything else. But it’s partly just me. I’ve been focusing on the wrong things and the wrong people. Getting my priorities mixed up. Lacking in discipline. And then, there’s discouragement.
Sometimes I feel like I have completely regressed and devolved in my spiritual life. That all the experience and insight I’ve received over the last 5-6 years has up and abandoned me. I sometimes feel that even God has abandoned me. I feel so in the dark.
I know intellectually that there is probably a good reason. Maybe I’ve been relying on my own knowledge too much, fancying myself to be wise, when in reality I’ve been losing touch with true wisdom, divine wisdom, He who is Wisdom.
I know intellectually that I will learn and grow and benefit in many other ways. Virtues will flourish, my spiritual compass will sharpen, my trust and devotion will deepen.
I know intellectually that God is still with me, just as close as ever, and perhaps even more so. A priest told me that sometimes God becomes so close to us, so entwined with us, that we can’t see Him. It may seem like He has gone away, but He is really closer than ever. I believe that.
I know all of this. But it certainly doesn’t feel good. I feel lonely and lost and on the verge of hopelessness. Spiritually frozen. Yearning for warmth and light.
I’m trying to think of it as just a natural season, like a winter that will soon enough turn into spring and bear fruit.
But it’s still difficult.