Sunday, January 19, 2014

On the continuing process of conversion

All Christians are called to be holy. We are all called to be saints. To do that, we must be able to listen to God's call as Samuel did. We must not only hear His voice, but listen to Him. During Father's homily today, he said that we cannot do what we want to do and just assume that this is what God is calling us to do. Frequently what we are called to do is not something that immediately looks attractive to us. We must listen to Him and discern what He is calling us to do. We must become holy.

That's quite a challenge. It's impossible on our own, but through the grace of Christ in us, we can. We're given three examples in the readings today of people who accepted this call to holiness- Jesus (as prophesied in Isaiah), Paul and John the Baptist.

It's interesting to think about the time required for Paul to live out his vocation after he was called. The time between his conversion and the start of his ministry was certainly a time of profound growth and preparation for him. In other words- even when he was changed in an instant, time was required for him to truly become who he was called to be. 

I've done a lot of growing, a lot of changing in the last two years. But those changes were all written on my heart two years ago. It's taken me two years to follow through, to actually change my life. It hasn't happened in a single moment, and I'm not done growing and changing. My conversion is not complete. 

The word conversion is defined to be "the act or an instance of converting or the process of being converted". A synonym for conversion is changing. Conversion then isn't ended in a moment. It continues as we further let Christ into our lives as we offer Him more of ourselves and in turn receive more of Him. 

So for the moment, I'm stuck. I don't know what He's calling me to do. And it's a little terrifying to even consider. I was listening to a sermon on discernment and vocation today and it said that if you aren't challenged by your vocation, then it's probably not the right one. That seems about right- life doesn't get easier just because we're on the "right path". It certainly didn't get easier for John the Baptist or Paul. To be filled with joy and peace despite the troubles and struggles of life. To be certain in what you are doing. To be holy.

We sang this song at church today. It's always been one of my favorites. The music isn't fantastic. The lyrics at times are a bit over the top (I am your song... too much). And I find it to be a little stuck in time... not the timeless type of music I usually prefer. But it's a heartfelt and prayer-filled song that always moves me. 


What do you want of me, Lord? Where do you want me to serve you? Where can I sing your praises? I am your song.

Jesus, Jesus, you are my Lord. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.

I hear you call my name, Lord, and I am moved within me. Your Spirit stirs my deepest self. Sing your songs in me.

Jesus, Jesus, you are my Lord. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.

Above, below, and around me, before, behind, and all through me, your Spirit burns deep within me.
Fire my life with your love.

Jesus, Jesus, be the warmth of my heart. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.

You are the light in my darkness. You are my strength when I’m weary. You give me sight when I’m blinded. Come see for me.

Jesus, Jesus, you are my Light. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.

I am your song and servant, singing your praise like Mary. Surrendered to your Spirit, "Let it be done to me."

Jesus, Jesus, "Let it be done to me." Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Two Quotes from the Church Triumphant

"To pray means to think lovingly about Jesus. Prayer is the soul’s attention that is concentrated on Jesus. The more you love Jesus, the better you pray." -- Bl. Charles de Foucauld

I read this quote on Facebook and, as simple as it is, it made me stop and think. Then I searched for an image of Blessed Charles de Foucald and found this icon. I was blown away by the message it sends. This image perfectly describes the saints. They point us to Christ. They are humble and have surrendered themselves entirely to Christ. The quote below, which I read earlier this morning on a blog and had been mulling over so perfectly describes all of the saints.

"Examine yourself to see whether you have within you a strong sense of your own self importance, or negatively, whether you have failed to realize that you are nothing. This feeling of self-importance is deeply hidden, but it controls the whole of our life. Its first demand is that everything should be as we wish it, and as soon as this is not so we complain to God and are annoyed with people." -- Saint Theophan the Recluse

It's just so amazing that we have the saints! All of them. Not just the ones who have been recognized by the church, but all of the saints in heaven. All of the saints who pray for us, and intercede for us and, through their lives encouraged others and passed on the faith. Because the saints are the church. They have built the church up, and strengthened it through their lives, and continue to strengthen it through their prayers. They are the Church Triumphant- and they shared in the cross of Christ and now glory in His Resurrection. Because God loves us that much. So much that not only does He send His Son to save us, He lets us participate in His plan for salvation. He lets us be filled with Him. Just. So. Beautiful.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Holy Name of Jesus

So yesterday was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Apparently the feast used to be celebrated on January 1st along with the Circumcision of Jesus, but was moved to January 3rd to allow for the older celebration of Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. Both feasts seem to have good reason to be celebrated on the 1st, though it would be nice to celebrate the feast of His Holy Name on the day it was first announced. Regardless of the date of celebration, however, the feast commemorates the naming of Jesus and the salvation that comes only through His Holy Name.

Today was also First Friday, so I had the chance to go to a parish I don't get to attend as much as I would like for adoration, mass, benediction and nocturnal adoration. The church was beautifully decorated for Christmas and I couldn't help taking a few pictures of the empty church!

The pastor touched on the parallel to Exodus where God tells Moses "I AM who I AM" indicating not only His existence outside of time, but also that He is the only one who can make that statement, and the Name of Jesus, revealed to us precisely because that very Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He also spoke about St Bernadine of Siena who encouraged devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus during the early fifteenth century. St Bernadine was responsible for adding the name of Jesus to the Hail Mary (Luke 1:28,43) and founded an order dedicated to reparation for the damages caused by the profane use of the name of Jesus.

Father also mentioned the practice that some have of making a prayer of reparation every time they hear His name misused. He referenced John Paul II who said that every moral act, be it good or bad, has two effects, an effect on the person committing the act and an effect on the world. Making an act of reparation, then, is a virtuous act that can help to restore sanctity and atone for the damage caused by the profane act, as well as give us another opportunity to pray for the person committing the act.

I find the Golden Arrow prayer, given to Sister Mary of St. Peter in 1843,  to be a beautiful prayer for this reparation.

May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable,
most incomprehensible and unutterable Name of God
be always praised, blessed, loved, adored
and glorified in Heaven, on earth,
and under the earth,
by all the creatures of God,
and by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Choosing a Patron Saint for 2014

I intended to do this last year but then didn't really allow through. I decided to try it again, using Jennifer Fulwiler's Saint Generator.

Apparently this tradition goes back to the middle ages, where nuns and monks would draw a saint to be their patron of the year. According to tradition, the saint chooses you. St Faustina records the devotion in her diary.

"There is a custom among us of drawing by lot, on New Year's Day, special Patrons for ourselves for the whole year. In the morning, during meditation, there arose within me a secret desire that the Eucharistic Jesus be my special Patron for this year also, as in the past. But, hiding this desire from my Beloved, I spoke to Him about everything else but that. When we came to refectory for breakfast, we blessed ourselves and began drawing our patrons. When I approached the holy cards on which the names of the patrons were written, without hesitation I took one, but I didn't read the name immediately as I wanted to mortify myself for a few minutes. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my soul: ‘I am your patron. Read.’ I looked at once at the inscription and read, ‘Patron for the Year 1935 - the Most Blessed Eucharist.’ My heart leapt with joy, and I slipped quietly away from the sisters and went for a short visit before the Blessed Sacrament, where I poured out my heart. But Jesus sweetly admonished me that I should be at that moment together with the sisters. I went immediately in obedience to the rule.”

So my patron saint for this year is...

St. Paschal Baylon

Throughout 2014, I will try to learn more about him, and ask for his intercession in deepening my relationship with God. Just from reading some online, he's a patron saint of cooks, shepherds and Eucharistic congresses and associations. His feast day is May 17. 

What I'm reading

One of my goals for 2014 is to read at least 1 book every month.

My current reading list:
1. The Sanctifier  by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez
I'm really enjoying this work on the Holy Spirit. Originally published in Spanish, the first English edition was in 1957 after his death. Martinez writes in way that incorporates the solidity of truth into spirituality. It's quite beautiful and powerful to read.

2.  A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor
Written by O'Connor when she was just 21-22 years old, this journal contains some beautiful prayers and thoughts. "Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon." ... "My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us."

3. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
A well-written novel that explores the world of English Catholicism in the 1920's through the view of an outsider.

4. The Secret of the Rosary by St Louis de Montfort
I read de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary last year. This work emphasizes the beauty and power of the rosary through meditations on the prayers of the rosary, the mysteries and also stories of the miraculous intervention of Our Lady in the lives of those who have upheld this devotion.

5. Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations, and the Telling of the Beads by Kevin Orlin Johnson
A history of the rosary detailing it's development as a way to communicate and pray the gospels. This book contains very valuable information on the rosary.

6. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
I'm almost finished with this gem... in all honesty I've been putting off reading the last few pages because they are such a delight to read! Chesterton's wit makes this an entertaining as well as informative read.

7. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
This is my first introduction to Merton and I will be reading more of his works. His story alone is a fascinating tale of conversion.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

On loving God here and now and being in His presence… regardless of the promise of heaven. Why we are truly saved from hell in the present

I’m tired of this world. The things it contains… well, they simply don’t appeal when compared to the glory of God. But that’s no reason to shut myself off from it. Or is it? Should I consider more seriously a contemplative life? A convent? A third order lay apostolate? 

The strangest part for me is that if I looked back on how I felt about all of these things 6 months or a year ago, or two years ago, I wouldn’t recognize my current state. Well… maybe a year ago, by that point my ideas were evolving, and I had begun to shift my focus.

Here’s the complicated bit though. I know full well that nothing in this world that God created is inherently wrong. Nothing He has given us is errant on its own. We can misuse this life, or we can use it to bring us closer to Him, now. That's where I'm struggling. I feel like I want to completely distance myself from the world... to shut myself off in a little tiny box and stay there. Where no one is hurt and there isn't any pain to be seen. But it also would never lead me closer to Him. I was reminded recently that He who is in our hearts is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Christ is triumphant. God gives us the grace to turn from sin and be faithful to Him, here in this place, where it's messy and where there is so much pain. He gives us the chance to see how great He is when He works in the world.

The problem with thinking about heaven as something which comes only later is that we miss the times we can experience Him now. Catherine of Siena said “all the way to heaven is heaven because Christ is the Way” and that makes so much sense to me. We experience heaven and Christ when we are following Him. Heaven can be described as God containing us, whereas here, on this earth, now in the present time, we are called to be the temples of God, to be His dwelling place, and let His light shine through us. But that just the thing… those moments when I fell Him so strongly, holding me and filling me is an experience of heaven.

It’s not just that those moments are more than enough… because in my weakness I seem to always need more reminders of His presence and strength in my life. No, it’s not that those are enough for us to fully sense the love that God has for each of us, his children. But it would be more than enough for us if that were all there were. Because nothing of this world can compare to that indwelling.

Which is why I don’t understand atheism. Because even if this world were all that there is… even if there were nothing after this life. I wouldn’t trade the person I am now for the person I was two years ago. Even if this were it. Because being saved doesn’t just mean being saved from hell. It means that we are saved from the here and now, too. That we are set apart from this world. That, though we reside in the world, we are not contained by it, because our God is not contained by it.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never understood the reward-based mechanism we set-up to describe God and the afterlife. As if we can somehow earn a place in heaven. I understand theologically, that we are saved by works and grace. That the works would be impossible without the grace. And that faith without works is dead. But what I don’t understand is why the type of rewards-based thinking would really motivate anyone to do better. 

I guess I’ve never been motivated to act in the here and now for anything other than the heard and now. It’s better now to choose God. Not just later. And I usually find that in the things that are built on a “wait… the reward comes later” mechanism in other things, too. I did well in school because I enjoyed learning, not because of the promise of a far off piece of paper. There’s a reason NOW to do good works for the kingdom. Good works are by nature good, and so have meaning and bear fruit now. Yes, there are times when I am certain that a current struggle or some sort of growth I am experiencing will be useful later, but that doesn’t detract from it’s use today. I guess I have very little patience and like to see the current benefit of my actions, though I realize that the consequences of a specific action may be more far reaching than I am currently viewing.

I am reminded that Satan will ultimately fail. As tempting as he makes the false pleasures he sets up for us in this world, the hunger that humans have for the experience of God is still there. And when one experiences that love, that power, one is forever left changed. Because even in the parts of this world that seem most controlled by Satan, the people are still hungering for God. I can’t lay claim to the idea that those people, despite the vice that they are seeking are truly reaching out to the Lord for help. The things of the world that bring them the closest to what they know of Good, they continue to seek. It us up to us to be the temples then, that they may come to see and experience God and to recognize Him. 

So it’s difficult… because the hardest thing for me right now is to see people so wrapped in sadness who cannot see it themselves. Because Satan is smart- he has learned well how to set up something that will look like heaven. What else is our current society but the very best that humanity can offer on its own? We have well shown that we can have ALL of our material needs taken care of, and most of our wants. Not that the list of wants grows shorter as we near the end of the list, but that we have things that we take for granted today that our ancestors 100 or 200 years ago could have scarcely imagined. Sometimes, we are left to remember that we are not invincible. though we have made modern medicine into one of our gods, and money into another, we are sometimes faced with struggle that we cannot battle on our own. We occasionally come to moments when even the most atheistic recognize their powerlessness. That wasn’t the case when disease ran rampant, when hunger was encountered daily, if not in your own life, then in the life of someone you knew. People in these circumstances knew that they were not in control.

The hardest thing for me to do is to give that control back to God. To acknowledge that I am not in charge of anything other than my own will. To acknowledge that God is God and I am not. to acknowledge that I don’t know what God’s plan for my life is next year… and to be okay with that. I’ve grown a lot, because two years ago, I could have told you for certain that I would be teaching for the next thirty years. Because I was in control. It was my choice.  And today? Well today, I’ve become, dare I say it, comfortable with the uncertainty. 

The thing is, God will use me wherever I am, if I let Him. But I want Him not just to use me, but to use me to my best purpose. To use the me He created, and not the me I have tried to make on my own.

A good reminder for the first of the year

It seems like I need to remind myself of this daily... and sometimes hourly! Once again the Little Flower gets it right.