The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.
Trust takes time. And plenty of it. But I have found in the midst of doubts, in the muddle of impatience for the future—God is so good to me.
Right now it is easier to think that I won't accomplish everything I desire…both before entering a convent and afterward. I am afraid I will not make a good sister, or a good teacher. I know in spite of this fear that God's grace will provide for me. Furthermore, as long as I continue to have a desire to help people (and I truly long to be helpful to people in any way I can), God will use that desire.
I am gearing up for this coming weekend: a Come & See retreat with the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. By "gearing up" I mean I am choosing to spend more time in adoration this week, and I intend to make it to Mass every day. But a part of me is a little worried: what if I hate it? And if I hate it, is that because I'm just uncomfortable with the monastic style of their charism (and its relative increase in silence when compared to a familial order)? Or maybe I'll hate it just because I'm not called there?
I don't want to go even thinking I might hate it. Because when I went down to visit the Handmaids last November, I just remember being so thrilled to go on retreat, filled with such longing to be there and contentment and joy once I got there. Just because I'll be meeting sisters I don't know doesn't mean I'll be miserable. Best of all, I'll be meeting my Beloved there.
So. Enough with the worries and anxieties. These are the foxes in my soul. And I refuse to let them steal my joy.
What is a human being? A body and soul together forever. –Sr. Helena Burns
Ok, so I had a "mindblown" moment. An epiphany is the most acceptable term. I like to think of it as that moment in Despicable Me when Gru says, 'Liiiightbullllb".
It started with Sr. Helena Burns. Who happens to be a pretty awesome, funny, faithful sister with the Daughters of St. Paul. I am shamelessly plugging her blog here
She gave a few talks last spring about Theology of the Body. One of my friends shared the podcasts of the talks with me
. For the discernment-specific listeners, I really recommend her talk on "Everyone is called to Virginity/Everyone is called to Marriage". Of course, the beauty of this talk is that is addressing basically everyone in the human family. Because we're all called to one or the other, and because they are both paths to the Lord, one could make the argument that every human soul has a need for both.
So, at one point in her other talk on the Theology of the Body, Sr. Helena spoke about the complete union of body and soul that makes a human being exactly the kind of creature he or she is. She asked the question: which of the following is more correct? a) I have a body or b) I am a body.
The answer is (b). And it immediately started the cogs and wheels churning in my little brain. I said to myself, "But wait! Why is that true if I have heard over and over that C.S. Lewis said, 'you don't have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.'" And if Sr. Helena (and thereby Bl. JPII) is more right than C.S. Lewis, then why did he say that? What did he mean by that phrase? Now, we do have to remember that C.S. Lewis was not Catholic, and also that he was not around when the Theology of the Body was taught as a collection of sermons between 1979–1984. But after Googling the phrase and his name, I stumbled across a fascinating article that debunked the quote altogether: claiming it a misquote and that he never actually said that. This was, perhaps the big "lightbulb" moment of my experience with these talks. You can read the article here
, though I found the last two paragraphs the most enlightening. So there you go. C.S. Lewis wasn't actually way off-track with his thinking about the relationship between our bodies and souls…he never even said such a thing.
Ok, now back to Sr. Helena Burns. She tells us that "I am a body" is correct. Not "I have a body". To "have" is to possess, it is something outside of you, a thing to be used. "Am" or to be is an intrinsic part of me. As I quoted at the top of this page, the definition of a human being is body and soul together forever.
Yes, these bodies are corrupted, broken, fragile, imperfect. Yes, our souls are also imperfect, tainted by sin. But if we believe in the resurrection of the body after death (which Catholics profess to do every Sunday) and if we believe that death is a result
of sin and unintended by God for His creatures, we understand that this definition is true. God created humans to be
body and soul together forever. They were never supposed to be imperfect, they were never supposed to be separated (your body and soul) by death.
So what does all this revelatory stuff have to do with the title, "Made for Love". Oh, I don't know. Perhaps I just liked that title. Perhaps today I am especially feeling the love of the Lord for me. Perhaps I recognize what a miracle it is that we are images of God in our souls and
in our bodies. That we have a reason to hope, because the imperfections and sins we can sometimes see so glaringly clear within us are not permanent
. We are meant for an unending, glorious, exhilarating love that will blast away all that is "not right" in us, and enfold us in joy and a union we never thought possible…but nevertheless always longed for. Can we even imagine how it is that our Creator made us for such a love like that?
I have lately been stumbling upon new sensations of wonder. Awe for the Lord. This morning it was a brief moment on the bus when I crossed the bridge over a frozen river, only to see the breathtaking masterpiece He created in mixing the brilliant hues of persimmon sunrise with the blanched Alice blue
of the riverfront frozen in snow and austere in ice.
Or I wonder at the joy He gives me in little things. I stand in awe of friends who share so vulnerably with me of the deep things in their hearts. The mother-look and voice of wisdom my spiritual mentor has when she speaks to me. I stand in awe before the flashes—instantaneously here and gone—of so many emotions on the face of a toddler. A two-tooth grin. A brow crease of momentary consternation. I wonder at the fortitude He gives to those who sacrifice so much in fighting for what is true and good.
The micro-expressions of every example of humanity I see are assaulting the senses of my soul. That sentence is probably meaningless to you, so let me rephrase. Every encounter I have with another human being these days feels like it is marking my soul with a deep impression. An impression of his or her humanity. An impression of how incredibly beautiful that person is. An impression of God's Providence unfolding in that person's life. Maybe it was one single smile during our conversation that struck like a bolt of lightning into my soul. And it leapt up, John-like, and exclaimed in secret, "Behold, the Lord! You are here, with her, with me! Who am I, that my Lord should come to me, hidden in such a small way? That I should greet Him in the smile of a coworker."
I must retract a bit. I do not think I have been so attentive to every instant of my interactions with others to take all the moments together into my soul and distill the purity of each moment into a lasting impression. All I mean to say is that I stand in wonder and awe before the Lord who made them. Every "he" or "she" I talk to, shake hands with, smile at, hold in my arms, or merely nod to in acknowledgment.
And last night I had a jam-worship session with a beloved sister of mine. It was a bit exhilarating, not necessarily in the moment, but in reflecting upon it, to see how "full" life was. To just worship the Lord with another, two guitars, two souls in love with the Lord. Just getting creative, sharing laughter, building upon one another's songs, weaving different verses or riffs or choruses together to form a spontaneous stream of worship, unrepeatable. I don't pretend to be a great musician or guitarist. But I love the creativity, the freedom, that comes from that kind of worship. Where "rules" of how a song works, when it ends, what its words are, all fall apart in light of the purpose
of the song. It's not meant to be saved
or recorded, or replayed or even teachable. It's only meant for that one moment. For that hour that stretched out of time and into eternity because our souls were speaking a language God alone could fully understand. We translated it as song, music, worship. He translates it into love. Into union.
Wonder and worship. This is the Way. LIFE 100%. Pure and essential.
It is tough for me to be patient. In general, and even with myself. The sample of my life that relates to this topic (recently) is my fear. Or insecurity. Whatever you want to call it.
I will just call this particular moment an "episode of irrational emotion." Yes, I am in control of my emotions. Yes, in my head, I can argue rationally about anything I may be feeling. Did it make me feel better at the time? No.
I knew I had no reason to feel lonely. I had no reason to spend nearly the whole day on my own. I could've called a friend. Or my mom. Taken the initiative to spend some time with another human being.
Instead I got lonely, and I let myself wallow in that feeling, which then turned into frustration, because somehow loneliness in me often turns "righteous", though not rightful. It gets all huffy, and tries to make its argument by saying, "Look! For all the so-called friends you have, not one of them is calling you! No one is looking for the chance to hang out with you. Doesn't that mean something? Are you expected to always be the one to work for that friendship?" Loneliness (mentally personified) then goes on to relate all the things I have done to make myself worthy of a friend, all the little things I have put into a particular relationship—any relationship—to show I am a "good" friend. A person worth having around.
So, I shed a few tears that day. Still alone. And I told myself (rationally) that it was ridiculous to get so worked up about such little things. That I had God, and could never truly be alone. That I was so much less "alone" than millions of people in the world. That I would feel better the next day. That I shouldn't be so hard on myself, and I should be patient with my fears. That it's ok to have insecurities once we acknowledge them in ourselves. Because then I can bring it back to the Lord. It is not my own little dark corner, unrevealed to the Light and hidden even from my own eyes.
I have to continue being patient with myself. Particularly with my weaknesses. Maybe they're faults. Fault/weakness—it all means imperfect anyway. And the root of this particular episode is not, I think, a fear of loneliness, but actually a deeper belief in my own control of my world. That fear of loneliness was only a symptom of my belief that I can actually do things to be something. That I take action, "take steps", toward being a better friend.
Yes, of course, this is exactly what virtue is. Actions that turn into habits that make us better people. But underneath all that is this current of truth. I am not the maker of my life. I have the free will to choose, to decide which way to go. But my being something, my existence, even my being someone can never be defined by what I do. It can never be controlled in that way. Why? Because I exist in the thought of Another. I cease to exist if He ceases to think of me. I am someone because a Being outside of my control loved me into that someone. And I could no more remove my own "someone-ness" than I could turn into a bird.
The Lord's got to take the reins. It's clear to me that I need to lose a bit more control.
I was in prayer this morning, asking God to provide greater clarity in my personal mission, that unique something
I am called to do, that only I can do. That missing piece in the heart of Christ and the Church that can only be filled when I commit to live it out. I especially prayed that my personal mission, whatever it may be, would be made clear in light of
or in harmony with
the mission of one of the orders I'm currently discerning. Below are the charisms or "mottos" of the three orders I am interested in.
Sisters of Life: to lay down our lives that others might live
Dominicans: to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of our contemplation
Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus: to live in imitation of Mary as handmaid, virgin, and mother in the diocesan life of the Church
I should make the disclaimer that I have taken these "mottos" directly from the charism/about us pages of these orders' websites, and have not necessarily heard them "straight from the horse's mouth." Excepting the Handmaids, with whom I have already been in somewhat regular contact, ever since my retreat with them.
I know I must not merely think about which mission I like best, or which order has the most appealing apostolate, or which horarium is most suited to my disposition/current routine. I must pray about it.
Furthermore, I know that since I have not yet clearly "received" or "discovered" my heart's greatest longing and my life's unique purpose, I cannot perceive the unity or harmony both missions can participate in.
But I put my hope in the Lord, in this, as in all things, for He has said to me (in one of my favorite Psalms)
"As the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for her brood, my home is by your altars, Lord of hosts, my King and my God."
Just listen to this song while you read my musing for today. It made me weep yesterday, as I contemplated the worship of those Wise Man seeing the beautiful infant eyes of their Creator. Here's the Latin/English translation:
O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
Dominum Christum. Alleluia!
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord. Alleluia!
What a wonderful Creator we have! What a splendid, humble Savior we claim as our own! What a miracle is this! That a Savior should be born to us, given to us, as an infant dependent on His mother. That thousands of years later, I receive Him as my Lord and King, my own Savior, my own Beloved. That His eyes are still looking upon me. That He is still really present. That He has still revealed Himself to His people, that His heart is still longing to draw all our hearts to itself. That we are made for one thing alone: to adore Him as these wise and powerful men once did. That we believe it a ridiculous thing, a self-conscious thing, to throw ourselves at the feet of a baby in adoration—the world calls it a folly and laughs at it and squelches its power over their hearts. Yet their souls—our souls—gasp in recognition of this ridiculous sight. For it is the least foolish thing we could do, it is the one thing we were meant to do. We are made for adoration, both of body and of soul, and we do nothing more fitting for our humanity than to prostrate ourselves before the Savior Who loves us more than we can even fathom.
Though there may be questions in my heart, though I may grow weary, or restless, or doubtful, this is a time of consolation. I know that. Why? How? Because God is present…I can see his presence. I acknowledge with total faith that He is working in my life. Were I desolate right now, I could not so quickly or easily recognize His love marking every day out for me. He is tracing the minutes of my day in His loving blessings, as He traces the shape of my face in His gaze. I know I am loved. And such knowledge gives me a blessing and a power I did not own. It is the blessing and the power of the adorer. We fall down and lay these crowns of blessing and power, the crowns our King of Love has fashioned for us, we lay them at His own two feet. And He will pick them up and crown us again, for we cannot give ourselves any glory. The glory must be a grace, not a privilege earned or a prize held as our own by right. O great mystery, that our poverty only draws us closer to His loving arms.
for merely creative reasons, i am going to leave off all capitalization from this blog post. who needs capital letters in every sentence, really? although, i will make the one exception to capitalize the name of my Beloved. because the name of Jesus Christ is always worth perfectly correct english grammar. digression you think? don't worry, it won't last long.
my soul is feeling its worth. just like that lyric of my favorite Christmas hymn, o holy night. long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. there are many ways a soul may feel its worth. this hymn lays bare the mystery of the incarnation. the mystery that tells us we are so profoundly worth-filled or worthy that our Creator, our God would lower Himself and come down and become just like us. so much like us that His spirit would become encased in a human shell, capable of crying, capable of needing a mother, capable of being cuddled, capable of hammering nails into sturdy wood, capable of peering through human eyes to see the light and darkness in all the people, all the other ordinary human beings around Him. miraculous. we were worth that. our souls are worth that experience. God Himself wanted to become one of us for only one reason—that we could come to live in His house, could come close to Him and touch Him and remain in His presence. it would not have been, but for the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
i am feeling the worth of my soul in other ways, too. in its vastness. yes, our souls capsulated in our little bodies are vast. sometimes i imagine my soul as a sweet little home where Christ comes to dwell…it becomes my ideal cottage, even with its little cobwebs, its peeling paint, those things i attribute as my sins. but today i imagine the vastness, the cavernous quality of my soul. how empty it is while it waits for Him. and it is vast because it is a landscape meant to contain only one Being: its Creator. what wondrous love! far deeper than the ocean, wider than the distance in the skies from one star to another, my soul is pinned into this body, awaiting a love to fill it, fill it, and overflow from its vastness into infinity. can we even conceive the beauty of our own immortality? for we will live forever, and as we will it and God graces it, we will live endlessly in whole and complete love. no more longing, no more thirsting in the depths of these cavernous souls.
i am learning the worth of my soul in the painfulness of my sin. wondering, perhaps for the first time since i felt Him asking me to be His betrothed, whether i will fail Him in this. wondering whether i was really meant for such a lofty vocation. whether i desire it because it is actually His will for me, or whether i want it for the "virgin's glory" for the poster-child it will create of me. do i want it because i want to be notorious? the girl who became a religious, of all things? do i want it because i am lazy, and want to spend my time in "prayer" more than in "work"? i feel the worth of my soul in my motives, because they are tainted and that imperfection makes me question whether i can really risk such a priceless creation as my own soul for the sake of my blinded will. it feels as if i'm walking in the pitch dark, trying to find the door to get out of the dark, and in my hands i'm holding a glass rose that is so light and hollow it will shatter if i move too carelessly. i am terrified of tripping and falling.
all i can do is pray for a light. to trust that the darkness cannot last. for love is a light that guides me where i am meant to tread.
I have been struck, recently and most powerfully, by how much my vocation is also a marital vocation. In a very real, albeit spiritual sense, I take Christ's family as my own Mother, my own Father, even my own foster father. St. Joseph, protector of virgins, pray for us!
On Sunday, the last sunday of Advent, I began to weep after receiving my Lord in the Eucharist. I cannot tell why, for it is a stirring of my heart without words, but I believe it stems from a sense of overwhelming loved-ness. I feel so loved in that moment. And on Sunday the choir sang the above song, Of the Father's Love Begotten, during the Communion reflection, so that only inspired a deeper love for my Lord as my Father. This version of the song
gives you a clearer understanding of the song's lyrics.
Then I had my first less-than-positive-and-nowhere-near-delighted reaction to my announcement to join the convent. An old friend of my grandmother's (product of the early post-Vatican II generation) warned me that her sister "tried that out" but was asked to leave because she was questioning a lot of rules, there are a lot of rules, and she was causing division in the community, etc. I just smiled and let it pass. But before I left the event, my dad, who had heard the conversation, took me aside and told me (with a choked up, earnest tone) that he did not like her warning, that he did not agree with her saying a consecrated person just has to "follow a lot of rules", and that he is delighted with my decision, and he couldn't be happier for me. I just received it with a smile and a "thank you", but as I was driving from the occasion, I was crying for the second time that day, just from gratitude for my Heavenly Father, who has given me His Son and my own vocation as a virgin bride, but Who has also blessed me with such a loving and wonderful earthly father. I know my father will be sacrificing much in "giving me" to the convent—little things like the daddy-daughter dance, the walk down the aisle, the father's toast; and big things like grandchildren—but he has supported and rejoiced in my vocation and for that I am ever grateful. Even my prayer meditation this morning included this (paraphrased) word from my Father: "Every father delights in receiving that simple tenderness which his little girl gives him."
I also rejoice at receiving Christ's mother as my "mother-in-law" but really, as a deeper union of mother and daughter than I have received from her before. My parish just put in a life-size statue of Mary in which she is depicted as very pregnant with Our Lord, her hand protectively resting on her belly, her other hand extended to receive all her other children. And I love that statue, first because it is the only time I have seen such a pregnant statue of our Virgin Mother, but also because it is such an incredible witness of Mary's role not as queen, not as virgin, but as mother
. She is protective, she is responsive, she is tender, and real to her children. She is preeminently present
in her children's lives, if they seek her out.
And as much as my mother has supported me—even joking about having Jesus as a son-in-law or throwing an engagement party for me—I receive so much intimacy and tenderness in my discernment from our Blessed Mother. She is a mother pondering the depths of my heart alongside me, showing me the path to live spiritual motherhood as well as joyful virginity.
And in his silence, in his immediate action
for what the Lord asks of him, St. Joseph is my model of the contemplative-active lifestyle I seek.
Thus is my vocation a family affair. I am bound up in all the glory and virtue of my Holy Family, and ever grateful for the imitations of this Family I see in my own parents.
Every day lived for God is a rare adventure. –Mother Mary Francis, PCC
Mother's quote above is from a passage in her book, A Right to Be Merry, in which she explains what the Poor Clares do throughout their day. But it spoke into my heart, too, because any life in the Christian faith could be called "a rare adventure". All it takes is a soul living wholly for the Lord.
This is, to me, a great consolation, a great gift, as I wait. I am waiting upon the Lord, I am waiting to receive the next "call" to a particular charism. And yet, my love does not wait. My joy is overflowing and I will not pent it up for days ahead. I must live it and share it now. In the present moment. I am nowhere near "the final countdown". And so I must learn patience. The grand adventure of patience in this season. It is a rare adventure to be experiencing this "engagement" joy, to experience it during Advent, to see the coming Christmas through eyes that recognize it may be the last time I share it with my family as "a single woman". And I must live that adventure fully, drink deeply from the gift of life God gives me today.
What part of this rare adventure are you living? What do you receive from the Lord that causes you joy, or hope, or the quietness of gratitude in this present moment?
And just because I love typography, I'm giving you another picture with the quote from my post title. :)
I have actually started reading A Right to Be Merry
by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C. of the Poor Clares. (See my post about recommended reading here.
) There is a very beautiful passage in which she talks about the kind of girl who would desire to enter a cloistered convent (these Poor Clares are cloistered). Much of this particular chapter is dedicated to answering the questions about what kind of girl would choose this. "The neurotic? The lovelorn and disappointed? The selfish and shiftless? The social misfit?" (p. 52) After debunking the myths that cloisters harbor such women, Mother's next tack is to answer the question, "What is the point?" If a cloister requires a girl with a sense of humor, a girl wishing to give her love only to the Most Deserving Person she could, a girl who is willing to be selfless in everything, a girl who must be sane and normal and "fit for the world", even so, why should she spend all her time in prayer? Why, when there are so many activities in which nuns are needed? So many hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, and orphanages that need such capable young women. And here is her beautiful answer, that struck such a chord in my soul:
But where is there a more essentially practical Christian than the girl who rises in the night to pray for those who do not pray, who performs with joy a whole lifetime of penances for those who sin and wish to do no penance, who chooses the obscurity of the first thirty years of the God-Man's life rather than the activity of the final three, who elects to dwell with our Lady in a cloud of silence and at the immediate beck and call of her Lord?
Now, I am actually discerning an active-contemplative order, and not a cloistered one. Still, this applies the same way. Every sister is an example of this. And even those who are not called to religious life can practice these habits in small ways. Turning off the radio in the car during a commute somewhere to unite in silence with Our Lord. Offering up sacrifices and penance for those who are unbelieving. Refraining from complaint when we do not achieve "success" or we aren't "noticed" by others…and remembering the obscurity of Christ's life before active ministry.
I don't have to wait to be a religious to practice some of these things. I think it is because such habits begin as attitudes of the heart, more than actions of the body. Fiat.