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The soul power of chastity through all life’s changes

A good book I am reading* begins by saying that the legend of the long, winding history of the Indian Koohinoor diamond began when Krishna gave it to one of his disciples in response to his meditations. I tried to imagine Jesus giving me a diamond. “Have you ever given me a diamond, Jesus?”

“If so, what was this diamond,” I thought.

I know Jesus has given me everything, grace upon grace. But I was surprised when the first thing that crossed my mind was that he has given me the diamond of chastity, and it is of eternal value, and that it is my consolation now.

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Not too long ago, I ran across a secular video about celibacy. It was odd to watch because I am used to hearing about celibacy in religious terms, and this video’s attitude seemed to be, “Hey, look, people actually do this, and on purpose!” There were about five people presented with their various reasons for being celibate permanently or temporarily. The last person featured was a religious sister, who gave an explanation about Jesus being her spouse, and so her love in service was his love, broad, deep and available.

I thought about my journeys as a wife and mother, then a widowed single mom, and the evolution of chastity’s meaning for me. We are all called to chastity according to our state in life. My state in life has changed in ways that have been confusing. What is my vocation now? I don’t think of myself as a single person, really. Being a widow is different. I am someone who lived and fulfilled marriage vows. However, I am alone. At the same time, I am much aware of a deep spiritual connection with my spouses, so in that way I am not alone. I am forever changed by marriage, in all the best ways, and I feel its beautiful seal on my soul.

After the death of my first husband, Blaze, in a car accident at the age of twenty-eight, I didn’t understand what my life was- I lost that much of myself. I slept fitfully with the light on for years.

It felt imperative to me to understand my vocation, to understand what I was supposed to build on and be. I was still a mother. I still loved my husband. Just because he was dead, I did not stop feeling like his wife. I didn’t even consider dating. I had some very intense little girls to raise, and challenges that were hard to accept were mine.

Over the years my ideas about celibacy evolved as I moved from the chastity of a wife to the chastity of a widow. I was surprised to realize that I felt an expansiveness of love, of my womanhood, of my motherhood, as I developed in this new life I did not ask for, but slowly embraced. When I turned the light off at night, I felt enveloped in love and peace.

“Through the silent watches of the night, bless the Lord.” (Ps. 134:2b)

I wondered, during the quiet mutations happening in my soul, if this was how priests and religious felt- like they were half in love with everyone, like their hearts were available to people, and to God in a special way.

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My marriages were beautiful and life giving. I was a very happy, totally in love, fulfilled wife, both times, in every way. My present choice of celibacy is not a repudiation of married love in the least.

One woman on the video I mentioned said that she had always felt “asexual.” I wondered if she used that word only because she didn’t have the language to describe herself as a sexual being who is celibate in expression. In this present culture it would be hard to find any such language in every day public discourse.

I have come to recognize sexuality as a spiritual energy, so to speak. It is like a power current and a connection, body and soul, to and through God. This was so when I was with each of my husbands, and it is so now. It is just directed differently. The proper direction of the spiritual energy of sexuality is what chastity is.

Eventually I felt very happy and whole in my new life. I missed (and still do miss) my husband every single day. But more and more I felt that he was with me and part of me. I loved him as much as I ever did. And it was OK.

My reasons for remaining celibate were changing. It wasn’t because I was broken in that area anymore, or that I still felt I needed to be faithful to Blaze (though some of that has always remained.)

It was because I felt married to Jesus.

As my girls began to be interested in boys and have their teenaged heart breaks, I would tell them just to let Jesus be their boyfriend for a while. “He’s the best,” I would tell them.

I was so perfectly at peace with this idea, that God is the husband of the widow and the father of the orphan, that it was a very difficult adjustment for me when I felt I was being asked to consider loving Bob, ten years after Blaze’s death. It took a lot of prayer, a few “burning bushes,” and a couple of little miracles to help me see that loving Bob was now my way. I came to understand that Christ and I were going to love Bob together. Slowly this began to make sense, and I was able to let that love happen.

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I was very, very happy as Bob’s wife. I was more happy and unified with him than I can say. He said we were each other’s priests one time and I laughed because that is not so far from the Catholic idea of marriage. Truly, we formed Christ in one another and experienced Him living in our relationship. In an ineffable way, though changed, it seems to me that we still experience that.

Now the diamond of chastity is given to me again in different setting, with a new cut. I didn’t think this would happen again. But I cherish this beautiful gift. It is powerful and affirming.

Truly, it is a wonderful consolation. I am still growing to understand it and let it be a fullness in my life. Widowhood is to live with a bottomless loss. But it is also a very special kind of love, and celibate chastity can be one of its expressions. It is less an expression of emptiness, in time, than a different kind of wholeness. This love, this diamond, is the gift left to me.

I heard that a wife said to her dying husband, “I love you so much, what will I do without you?” He said, “Take the love you have for me and spread it around.” That is beautiful and I identify with it deeply, especially since that is something Bob would have said for sure. I think I have started to do this again now, and I recognize it as a sign of life. As Bob and I loved each other, and that love went out to others, this is what is happening in the relationship I am developing with God, in my life as a widow.

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As a daughter of the Church, I have the richness of Carmelite spirituality to draw on, and other Catholic spiritual traditions, too, that speak of the soul as a bride of God. Ronda Chervin, who has written about the spirituality of widowhood, calls this, “Jesus [as] the second Bridegroom.” * (In my case this would be “third Bridegroom,” of course.)

This understanding of my present form of chastity is profoundly healing for me. I feel filled, enclosed, and loved, carried and protected every day, in spite of my still very present loss. Celibate chastity is a positive, liberating presence in me, peaceful and meaningful.

To me, the virtue of chastity is a beautiful diamond, a true One Love that puts all other loves in their proper perspectives, making them even more vivid. Chastity is a vessel and an expression of love according to my state in life. But it is the same effulgence of brilliancy; a faithful, steadfast and complete love.

The more I learn about it, the more I am dazzled.

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“From His fulness, we have all received, grace flowing upon grace.” John 1:16

* Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan.

* For more on Ronda Chervin http://www.rondachervin.com/

Say, “This is the time for my soul.”

When your heart says to God, “you have cut off my life

like a weaver severs the last thread, “

when you’re alone in the desert on a cold night

with no fire,

and you’ve never known such emptiness

or alienation

and you say in your alarm, “no man can can be trusted!”

When your life is born away from you

like a tent struck down

and you feel you have nothing left to give,

that you are broken to the core

and you cannot imagine your restoration,

when even the sunrise seems cold and heartless

and you think, ” there is no love in my heart at all!”

know that all you ever had came from God.

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Don’t be afraid anymore.

Say to yourself in the cave of your heart,

“this is the time for my soul.”

God is closer than ever before.

Your restoration is in the depths of his will

and in time to come,

the love in your heart will be renewed

and be all his.

You have nothing to give, so wait to receive

in his time.

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Be patient in suffering.

Persevere in prayer.

Trust in not knowing

even who you are anymore,

except that you are his.

Be little, be weak, sit quietly in the shadow of death

and say to your empty heart, “this is the time for my soul.”

Allow this darkness of unknowing.

“Let it be done to me according to thy word,” she said,

even at the cross,

and on that desolate Holy Saturday

when she sat in darkness deeper than any she had ever known could be.

She suffered unspeakably.

Still she trusted, remaining present in the very bleakness of her heart.

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So you, her child, alone in your desert,

you desolate of heart,

when you say to yourself, “my one companion is darkness, “

say, “This is the time for my soul.”

A time of grace.

Your light will come

As God defines it.

And that joy no one shall take from you.

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A first aid kit for times of crisis

When you are in a time of intense suffering; grief, dread, or emotional overload, when you are walking around the house just staring at things, when getting through the day seems impossible, and you don’t know what to do with yourself, read this:

1. Do the next right thing. This might be eating a sandwich, sweeping the floor, going for a walk. Do one thing at a time. Do the task, and then do the next one. My mother used to say, “Wipe your table, sweep your kitchen floor, make your bed, and call me back.” It works.

2. Section off the day into manageable pieces.
You don’t have to suffer the way you feel, or the situation you are in forever, only for today. Divide the day up into sections. Think of something you are going to do at the end of each time period to mark its end and transition into the next one.

I have used:

  • calling a friend
  • reading a daily devotional or thought for the day
  • a novena prayed every hour instead of once a day
  • praying the Liturgy of the Hours through the day
  •  a short walk

These little things are anchors and dividers in the day to help re-center, reground, and chop a long, difficult day into chunks you can manage. This helps a lot.

My mom used to say, “Brush your teeth, wash your face, say your prayers, and start your day over again.”

“You can start your day over again,”  she would say, “any time,” and as many times as you need to.

3. Master your thoughts. In times of crisis the mind becomes crowded with speculative, negative, or questioning thoughts that are very unhelpful.

These thoughts might be about blaming yourself or others, trying to figure out how or why something happened, why or whether God allowed it, or going over and over possible outcomes to a frightening situation you may be in.

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These lines of thought, and others like them, are tricks of the well meaning brain, trying to problem solve, predict the future, or give us a sense of control or order.This not only wastes precious energy, it overloads us emotionally and mentally, and can block us from accessing real wisdom and strength which would help us to peace. As my dad says, “There’s no truth in those thoughts.”

When you find yourself spinning your wheels this way, try to catch yourself and dismiss unhelpful thoughts. Don’t be mad at yourself, don’t be mean about it, just say to the mind, “Nope. Not today.”

Routinely stopping and observing your surroundings, and saying a set, short prayer, might help you let go of the offending train of thought.

I like to imagine putting all my fears and problems into the hands of Jesus, or putting them in Mary’s lap to pray over for me.

If you dismiss unhelpful thinking over and over, it works surprisingly well to help you feel better, make room for grace, and give you a sense of true empowerment.

4. Be your own best friend. It’s hard enough feeling horrible, but you can make it so much harder by being disappointed in yourself, and by what psychologists call  “negative self -talk.” One day I was so mad at myself for not being further along in my grief (whatever that means,) for not getting anything done, for being a wimp.

I felt that the Lord asked me if I would treat my friend, Jocie, that way if she came over feeling like I felt right now. “No, I would never talk to her like this.” I would love her, encourage her, and take care of her. I understood that this was how Jesus wanted me to treat myself for His sake.

Please be kind and accept yourself. Be sensitive to yourself. Understand that some days you’re doing well just to make it through the day and let it be that kind of day, if it is that kind of day. Do for yourself what you would do for a best friend. Think of it as a way to practice surrender and humility. Because it is.

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5. Pray. You will feel like you can’t pray sometimes. The 11TH Step of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions prayer as “conscious contact” with God.  That is always possible. It’s OK if you don’t feel prayerful. Today, focus on what St. Therese called a “simple look toward Heaven.” Some things I have done in times of shock, fear, trauma, or grief, are: clutching my Bible to my chest simply holding a rosary making some physical gesture of prayer without forming any thoughts or words offering my pain to God in union with Jesus on the Cross visualizing putting my head against Jesus’ chest just being in the darkness, knowing, with “naked faith” (St. John  of the Cross) that God was with me.Holy music can really help. Try playing spiritual music that centers you, on these kinds of days. This is setting up and environment of prayer for yourself.Strangely, prayers of praise in the midst of suffering can be a powerful catalyst for peace of heart.

“Blessed be God.Blessed be His Holy Name.”~ The Divine Praises

May God’s transforming love be with you in your suffering, as we, the Church, are with you, and may the Holy Spirit comfort you and give you peace. Right now. Today.

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Sunrise: through the dark faith of Advent to the brightness of Christmas

Traveling through Advent with grief this year has led to me to soul search about what Christmas is, and, in the process, to notice similarities between the journey of Advent into Christmas and the stages of the soul’s progression into the heart of God.  According to Carmelite spirituality,  the soul first travels through and away from outward distractions, into inward beauty, then into the deep pain of the dark night when even these lovely interior gifts are removed and the soul’s perception of them and consequently, of God, is radically changed. This happens so that the true nature of God can be apprehended by naked faith and purified love. In this way, the soul is prepared for union with God, and begins to radiate peace and love through His indwelling presence.

Throughout this journey, the soul finds that the things around God, even things that point to or reflect God, are not God Himself. The soul has to learn to relate to all these other things in a whole new way that has to do with loving God as He is in Himself. This is something which God will begin mysteriously to teach the willing and loving soul, who responds to God, in and through this suffering, with more and more surrender and determination. God will transform that soul, making it able to receive God in pure faith, hope and love.

In a similar way, the journey through Advent prepares us for the very real grace of Christmas, which is beyond all of the outward and even inward trappings that surround Christmas itself. We journey through all these things to the heart of Christmas, and thereby receive its true grace.

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Advent is full of things that are good and point the way to Christmas, but they are not Christmas itself. I can be distracted by the outward show of the season; the lights, the gifts, the traditions, the social interactions. These outward things can be good, used to serve others and remind us of the birth of Jesus. But they are not Christmas itself.

Even the people in our lives, whom we love and enjoy, and/or who cause us a lot of stress at this time of year one way or the other; they point the way to Christmas because they are our school of love, forgiveness, mercy, sacrifice, and communion. They reflect the love of God to us. But people and relationships are not actually Christmas itself.

The events we plan with our families and friends, as good (or as stressful) as they can be, are not Christmas either.

Our feelings, memories and thoughts, so intensified (sometimes painfully, sometimes happily) during this time of the year, are part of our journey. Our expectations, our longing for unity, joy, peace, justice and beauty, are all from God and are holy. They point us to the meaning of the Nativity, and to the joys of Heaven. But even these are not Christmas itself.

Sometimes I am happy about shared love and memories with family and friends. Sometimes I am keenly aware that I am in deep mourning. Some years I have truly felt that I have known Christmas joy. Other years I did not feel it. But it is still Christmas, whatever I think or feel.

Cultural expressions of the season, social events, our relationships,  and even our inmost feelings, all these things, painful or joyful as these may be, are not Christmas. These are things that surround Christmas, that reflect its light.

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What is Christmas? Is it just a remembering of the birth of Jesus? I think it is that, but what else is it?

Does something actually happen at Christmas?

I think Christmas is a remembering by us, the Church, that makes present and re-presents an eternal reality. With this remembering, I believe, Heaven cooperates whole heartedly.

I believe that at Christmas, by a special grace, there is a sunrise that bathes every face, a release of extra love and light coming through the heart of the Church, Christ’s Body, that shines on everyone.

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The Church prays for it: “Grant….that the the coming solemnity of [the Nativity of ] your Son may bestow healing upon us in this present life.” ~ from the Liturgy of the Hours Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Jesus has come into the world and continues to be with us.

Christmas is true no matter what happens with events outside or inside myself, or how I perceive them.

Christmas is real, and that sunrise is there.  It’s coming.

The God who brought light out of darkness has shown in our hearts.

-The God who brought light out of darkness has shown in our hearts.

To give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory that appears on the face of Christ.

-He has shown in our hearts.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.~Responsory from Morning Prayer from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours, Feast of St. John of the Cross.

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  • I originally wrote this piece in Advent of 2015

Kiss the sky; a blessing

A priest and I have met in a cool, bustling lobby on a hot summer day. We smile at one another. We don’t know one another really except by sight and a few short conversations. But we have a warm, positive regard for one another and I feel safe and encouraged as soon as he comes in. I am so grateful that he is here.

We are about to head up to bless the place where my brother committed suicide. I know this is not a light task to ask someone to come along and join in.

I came here twice before to make sure I could handle it. The first time I sat in stunned silence for an hour and a half without even realizing the time that had gone by. The second time I was pretty sad but I thought I was ready. I am ready.

I am impressed that this priest who barely knows me responded to my request so readily and agreed to come here for this.  He seems to understand the need for healing, both emotional and spiritual for all concerned.

Our plan is also to commend my brother’s soul to God, and to pray in that place for my family’s healing.

Father walks with me toward the elevators, which we take to a high floor. We walk down a hallway, then through a stair exit, and out onto a tiny bare balcony overlooking a pool area.

“Just be however you need to be,” he says reassuringly.

This is the spot where my brother, Mark, sitting on the railing here, shot himself and fell down to the concrete below even as friends and family repeatedly called his cell phone and frantically texted him begging him not to do it while the police looked for him not knowing where to begin. I have thought of those moments over and over, tried to understand, tried to feel the way he must have felt, wondered why it had to be this way, watched my family and our friends do the same.

What is there to say in a place like this?

After a time of respectful silence, Father talks to me earnestly about how the Cross conquers everything. “I believe that,” I say.

He has such a kind face, I think to myself. It’s an easy, open, playful face, too. He is the kind of person who puts others at ease.

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photo Renee Bork

I get out my phone and show Father one of my favorite pictures of my brother. I briefly tell him about Mark, about my symbiotic relationship with him, and what happened to him as best I am able to understand it now.

Mark Timothy Manning

This gentle priest takes all this in thoughtfully.

He tells me what he would like to do, how he would like to proceed now.

I show him what I have brought: a grocery bag full of rose petals, some bubbles; a small bottle for each of us.

He smiles. He says the bubbles are a great symbol for what we are doing with the commendation. He blesses them.

He puts a thin priestly stole over his shoulders and smiles at me.

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We begin with the Sign of the Cross together. He prays the prayers for the blessing of a place, telling me we are also reclaiming this place for God. In our prayers we invite the angels to come and drive every trace of evil from here. We bless and bring healing to this place where there was so much pain, where there was such a tragic, senseless death.

Seriously and with purpose, he begins to fling holy water all around us; over the rail, down the stairs, all over the balcony, the walls of the building, and splashes it down to the concrete below. He blesses this place in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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I tell this dear priest how hard it is not understanding what happened, and how I agonize still about how my brother could do this. Didn’t he know we loved him? Didn’t he know that any of us who loved him would have forgiven anything, given anything, done anything for him? How could he do this to us?

Tears are running down my cheeks.

Father listens closely, nodding.

I tell him how I have come to understand that somehow, that for some reason I will never know, my brother wasn’t able to let our love and support change what he did. Maybe to him we seemed so far away, he just didn’t know his way back.

I have to cry a little bit.

“You’re being really strong right now.”

“Thank you.”

He reminds me that as Catholics we believe every soul is given a moment of choice at the time of death, an encounter with God’s merciful love and truth, so each of us has a chance to choose the embrace of mercy.

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“Jesus” By Bob Chapman

He mentions that our Lord is here on this balcony with us, and that our Holy Mother Mary is here with us, too, to pray with us.

I am moved to talk to her. I tell her I had never thought I would be OK again but now I see I can have a new life and that Jesus wants me to have life. I spontaneously renew my consecration to her offering my life to her and committing to follow her Son better than I ever have before.

I can hear Father quietly praising Jesus as I speak these words of my new hope to Mary.

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I close my eyes and smile. I say, “I love you, God.”

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In his gentle voice, the priest reads a reading from one of the Gospels, and we pray for my family’s healing. We pray the Our Father together. I pray for the deep inner healing of the Holy Spirit for each person in my family. We say Amen.

We talk. We pray more. I tell him about the evolution of my understanding of my brother’s death through the tenderness of God in my prayer life right through all the horror of this death, this overwhelming loss, and fear I had of finding out something that would make this even worse. I explained that I still needed to understand all the same, and how I feel God helped me in His ingenious ways.

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I feel so much less alone as the priest listens quietly and with compassion to all I am saying. I don’t think even I knew how much this day would mean to me. I am grateful for his courage and kindness in coming here.

He said he would like to pray the Prayer of Commendation now, that we use for funerals. He says it is our prayer to send the soul to God, commending the person to God’s mercy and love. It serves as some release to us too, allowing us to send the person forth with love, to God.

So he prays the beautiful Prayer of Commendation.

Together we pray a Litany of the Saints.

We blow bubbles and watch them glide out shimmering, into the sun, cascading down the side of the building, drifting out over the pool. We send streams of them up into the blue and watch them float gently. We can’t help but smile.

I open the bag of rose petals and toss some out over the rail. I sprinkle some over Father. ‘Yay! Thank you so much!”

We grab more and more handfuls of petals and throw them out, everywhere, like confetti at a party. Some of the petals drop quietly onto the water below, some waft out on the breeze, some scatter themselves on the patio.

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“Did you SEE that?!”  he exclaims, as, amazingly, some of the petals suddenly spiral upward into the sky and away. Laughing we throw more and more of them everywhere, as if we are showering the world with roses.

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He takes some holy water and blesses me with the sign of the cross on my forehead.

With trembling hands, I drape a rosary over the end post of the rail and fasten two white silk roses to it.

Something I need to say to my brother:

“You’re not that.” 
You are not the way you died.

You’re just… my beautiful brother.”

Smiling, Father and I take pictures of each other, of the balcony, of the draped rosary, and the scattered petals, so my daughters can see what this looked like today.

 

We hug, and peacefully we leave the rose petal strewn balcony.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O God.
~ And let perpetual light shine upon him.

 

Stabat Mater: the strength to be still

She remained still, even inside herself. She was still because she was listening for God, and she was occupied with His will, and, because of her love, being completely present as the unthinkable happened to her Son.

The Scripture says only that she was there. There was no way her instincts as a mother were not the strongest that could be. However, she did not attempt to stop anyone, scream at anyone, blame anyone, say anything, do anything, but stand as she watched her Son be tortured and murdered before her. Any parent would find this hard to imagine. Since we know she was an incomparable mother, we know this stillness was not wrong of her. It was right.

 

She chose to be still because she trusted Jesus, and she took her lead from Him. She remained focused on Him, and she let nothing get in her way. She would never let anyone steal her treasure: her union of heart and will with Jesus, no matter what was done to her heart and soul by what was done to Him.

She faced everything, even this unbearable violence, as it happened, not knowing the future. Nothing could stop her from loving and doing what was asked of her in the moment, even if it was to stand and be desolated. And that is strength, if that is what is right. And it was totally right.

In this stillness she kept, she was able to sense her call to ally herself completely with the offering of her Son and join Him.

Her silent strength and her courageous proximity to her condemned Son must have been a rare wonder to those standing by. She needed to remain completely present to Him, loving Him. She wanted to be totally open to God’s plan as it unfolded in her life, no matter how horrific it seemed. She had to pay attention and keep watch with her Son, listening for the Holy Spirit, trusting the Father. She understood this, and nothing could stop her, not the hatred and mockery of the angry people around her, not the cold efficiency of the soldiers of Rome, not even her mother’s heart crying out within her in the face of what she had to see and experience.

In the midst of all this, she was still. Such was her fierce focus and priority.

She was neither passive nor weak. She was unbelievable.

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Sometimes it’s time to say, “Son why have you done this to us,” and sometimes it is time to be silent, to be present, to be still. She knew how to respond or not respond, because she listened and she watched, and because, “her heart could not want what God did not want,”* even when she lost everything, “even God her own Son.” **

Her response of stillness on Golgatha models for us the Gospel meaning of turning the other cheek:            “I will not be turned back from love.” Her eyes were on God.

Incomparable Mother, incomparable disciple.

Allow me to praise you, O Sacred Virgin.

Give me the strength to be still,

and to remain

close to the Cross. 

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*St. Faustina: “Her soul yearned for Jesus with the whole force of Her love. But she was… so united to the will of God that her heart could not want what God did not want.”

*Chiara Lubich  ” … she knew how to lose everything, even God her own Son.”

To learn about the hymn: Stabat Mater (The Mother Standing): 

 

 

Let yourself be loved: a challenge for Lent

The sunlight obscures him in its intense brightness on the horizon, but I can still see his figure walking ahead as I follow at a distance. I have to run a little just to keep him in sight. I am wondering if he wanted some desert alone time and whether I should let him be. He seems to sense my hesitation. He turns to glance back at me, stops right away, turns on his heal and heads toward me more quickly than I would have thought walking would bring him.

“Follow me. I have something I want to teach you this Lent.”

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We walk in silence for a while. Eventually he leads me to where he has set a camp fire in front of a small cave. I am surprised he seems to be cooking. I thought we were fasting. He has made me a simple meal of lentils and bread.

He explains to me that he knows that for me, especially at this time of shock, grief, and upsetting change in my life, eating is harder for me than fasting. This is why he asks that, for now, I take up the discipline of eating, of letting him feed me. This brings us to a larger issue that he wants to sit and talk over as we eat.

He hands me a clay cup full of water and we sit on the warm ground to eat our meal.

Even though we are quiet after the meal blessing, I sense that he wants me to remember that he understands what I am going through and that he experienced it himself. Briefly I remember it as he remembers it, that he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief of every kind. He wants me to remember so that I will feel deeply understood by him, and I do.

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He wants me to let go of what anyone else is doing, and of what unfolds around me, even and especially the things that hurt me the most.

“Just seek healing for these forty days. Care for yourself as I care for you, let yourself be loved, and pay attention to your prayers. I want you to stop worrying about things that are mine to take care of. I would like you to stop wasting energy doing things I am not asking you to do, and to say yes to doing as I am asking. When you do what I have not asked, you wear yourself down for nothing. When you do as I am asking, I will give you all you need to accomplish everything.”

I have to think about this. Then I start worrying about certain situations in my life. “Trust me. Get out of my way and let me care for you in all those situations that are not really yours to do anything about, but mine.”

I have to think about this, too.

photo Maire Manning-Pauc

He says he has heard my prayers asking what he would like me to do for Lent.

His answer is that he wants me to take care of myself in ways that are hard for me right now.

He goes over with me his idea of my to-do list.

Me eating on a regular basis seems to interest him a lot. Me paying my bills on time and taking care of other things that are mine to take care of are high on the list. Me standing up for myself in certain matters that he wants me to seems important to him, too.

He wants mercy in this: that I let other people love me, that I let him love me, that I take care of myself and my life with love for his sake.

Well, this is different than what I was thinking. But I can see he’s serious. He has given me a lot to think about. In fact, I feel a bit upside down right now.

The lunch he made is good and we eat in appreciative silence next to the fire in the shade of a rocky hill. I glance into the cave at his simple belongings- a bag of some kind, a sleeping mat.

He catches my eye, and I look at him across from me, chewing casually on his piece of bread. Then I catch my breath because suddenly his eyes go straight to my heart, his gaze like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon, laying my broken inner world open before me. I can see it in metaphor; a bombed-out building I have been trying to live in as if it were not rubble. I see the chaos from the outer world that I have let in like a flood of bad water over what little I had left to live on.

I see that I did not welcome him when he came to pay his mourning call to me to comfort me.

I had given him his usual seat, I had sat near him, so to speak, but did not allow more than his proximity most days. I did not care for myself, nor did I let him care for me. I did not see him cry for me. I was not looking.

I don’t even know how to fix this problem; not this broken heart, not my inability to open it right now.

He gently helps me understand that even this is not mine to do. I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be willing.

I feel at peace as I look up and see only him, still chewing on his bite of bread, gently brushing off an ant.

“In silence and in hope will be your strength,” crosses my mind.

Photo on 9-3-17 at 11.51 AM

He says, “Just don’t move without my will.”

He shows me myself moving in tune with him through my days as I set about my house work, my bill paying, my phone calls, my cooking, driving, working, my encounters with others; in all these allowing him to care for me in how I care for myself.

He shows me myself quiet in my prayer, breathing his gentle love, his presence, his mercy, his holy Name, into my broken heart, allowing him to rebuild, to redefine, to transform.

The tenderness I feel from him is almost frightening right now, and I realize it is because of all the pain I have been feeling but trying to carry alone without realizing that was what I was doing. I need to trust him. I need to let him in more to the places that hurt. That is what he wants.

He says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed, he will save.”

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I understand what he is asking me to do.

I have to do what I am supposed to do in life right now, and it isn’t very much. He will take care of the other things.

He will protect my heart.

He will defend my heart.

He will heal my heart, no matter how impossible it may seem, or how many times it must be renewed or even remade.

He will do what it takes.

He already did all this with his willingness to have his own heart, his own life, broken for my sake. I understand that he stepped radically into my sorrow, inhabiting it himself in his incarnation, his life, suffering and death.

“Let yourself be loved,” wrote St. Elizabeth of the Trinity.

“You are not your own,” says St. Paul. We are each bought at an infinite price and are of unspeakable value to the Lord of love.

To love ourselves perfectly in God, through God, and for love of God, is the fourth and highest degree of love, that signifies union with him, wrote St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

It seems to me the deepest and most humble of surrenders.

This is my challenge to grow toward for Lent 2018.

I look up at the bright sky, and suddenly he showers me with rose petals of every color. They smell beautiful as they fall around me and over me, sticking to my face and shoulders, piling up in my lap, getting between my toes.

He is laughing. I smile. Jesus is Lord. He can laugh and dump rose petals over my head if he wants to.

I will just have to get used to it.

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Something related you might like to try: 

Prayer of the Heart (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition)

Sit quietly and recollect yourself.

Imagine your heart, visualize it and keep your attention there.

Lead the mind from the head into the heart, and say mentally, with your breath, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” slowly and reverently. Imagine you are breathing “Lord Jesus Christ.” into your heart. Then on the out breath, think, “have mercy on me.”

If your mind starts doing its usual job, thinking, gently bring it back to the prayer and continue mentally repeating it, visualizing your heart and keeping your attention there.

Be patient and peaceful, spending some quiet time with God in this way.

 

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Kiss

Five years ago today
It was raining
And my mother died
In the other room.
My house
where I had been caring for her
witnessed the exit of her spirit.
 
My step dad said
her every rose
bloomed that day.
Her last words
I heard were,
    “OK!
I’ll be there in a minute,”
 
And my name.
 
I still need you, Mom.
And from now on
I will kiss every rose.
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“This is how,” Jesus says.

A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians 2:19b-20

I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

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The last few years have been so traumatic for me that I have felt alienated from everything and everyone, and like I would never be myself again.

Part of my healing in this latest phase of my journey has been to investigate for myself what really happened and to face the truth around my brother’s suicide, to ask questions I had been too freaked out to ask before, to recognize and re-claim my own experience of what happened after a truly dysfunctional family response that left me confused, dismayed, and even more traumatized.

I called my truth- seeking mission “The Immaculate Heart of Mary Detective Agency.” I thought this appropriate because the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, Simeon said, was “so that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed.

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I wanted to truly love my brother by understanding all of him, not just the parts that I had enjoyed so much all of my life, but all of him. I wanted to try to understand what drove him to do what he did.

I realized I didn’t have to wait around for people to quit lying to me and tell me what was going on. I could find out for myself. So I started asking questions and interviewing people who had the information I wanted, or a different perspective from my own as the sister and room mate I had been at the time.

Unexpectedly, the whole experience of the IHMDA has been empowering, though I uncovered rank injustice and malice I hadn’t known some people were even capable of.  I feel more alive than I have since all this tragedy began. I have a glimmer of an idea that I have a life and a future.

It seems to me that Mary’s heart has helped lay bare many truths, and strengthened me to deal with them.

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I am not sure what I will do next. But it seems God thinks my next step is to forgive. That message was in last Sunday’s Gospel. It seems to pop up everywhere I turn. I seem to read or see or hear something about forgiveness every day.

There is hardly anything I have not lost to some degree in the past couple of years of shock and trauma; my home, my life savings, my family, and the cohesion of my group of wonderful friends. Everything is strange now. I have even felt like I lost myself.

I am grateful for the good relationship between my daughters and me, though honestly, at times, even those sacrosanct relationships were violated and temporarily distorted by lies and manipulation.

What do I do with this horrible story? Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself.

How can I forgive the unforgivable? And how can I ever be a whole person again? How can I bear this?

I have been asking all that for a good while.

I realized, praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours today, when I read this reading, (above)  the answer to these questions. “This is how,”Jesus says.

“You will do and experience both of these things because your life is not your own anymore. It’s better than that because I live in you and for you. From within you, I will forgive, I will live, and we will have a beautiful life together. I have loved you and given Myself up for you. You have loved Me and given yourself to Me, no matter what life has brought you. ” 

I thought about this. It is a miracle that the thing I have not lost or had to re-negotiate, so to speak, is my faith in God. Even though I have been broken inside beyond anything I thought it was possible to experience, I have an inner rock solid foundation of faith that God has not let me lose.

I have discovered that, as St. John of the Cross speaks of in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, I am “supported by faith alone,” now, in spite of how disjointed I feel psychologically and socially.

No one and nothing can take me from Christ’s hand. He is even more real to me than I am to myself. And even though my heart is broken, it does know it is safe. It does know Who it belongs to and Who lives there forever. Not even my own death will change that.

In fact, Paul also says that the spirit of Jesus in us is so real, it is that power that will raise our bodies from the dead.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (This turned out to be in Evening Prayer tonight.)

All the lies and malice, misunderstanding, persecution, blame, rejection, trauma, loss and grief I have suffered, and that the whole world has suffered, are no match for the Truth of God who is Love, and Life.

In a way, in comparison, these terrible things are not even real.

The reality is God.

And I am glad to be only ashes and dust.

That is exactly how I have everything I will ever need in this life and in the next:

“It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”

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