Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle in us the Fire of Love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and You Shall renew the face of the earth. O God who instructs us by the light of the Holy Spirit grant us in the same Spirit the gift of Holy Wisdom.
Lord, you promised in your Holy Word that the Father will not deny the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who ask for Him. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord to recreate and to deeply heal us in every way.
You are close to those who suffer and near to all who call. The only thing impossible with you is that you would remain distant and inactive. Grant that we may expect all things from you.
Still small voice within, you are the same Spirit who parted the Red Sea and guided your people through the desert in the pillar of cloud and fire. Help us to trust you completely and keep us in peace as we wait to see what you will do. We know you will do something.
Mary, Bride of the Spirit, pray for us that the Spirit will overshadow our lives and reveal Christ in our midst. May your prayer, the gift of a grateful heart, draw the Holy Spirit to rest on your children.
Oh God we praise you, we adore you, we bless you, we thank you, we pour out our hearts before you.
When mom and I got out of the car, at the Antique Rose Emporium* it was as if she shed her dementia and I forgot all about it. We wandered into a timeless, and for us, almost mythical place.
Roses are healing.
She walked, smiling, down the lovely rose-lined paths with her now faltering steps, and I followed her, no less affected than she seemed to be.
It was as if we both felt a sense of peace, restoration, familiarity and relief; those bright, curving walkways leading us to the past, expanding the present, making the future irrelevant for now- while the roses looked on, their sweet, serene faces gently swaying in the breeze, glowing in the mild, fall sunshine. They seemed to welcome us.
We walked, reading their names, these names as familiar as a litany of cousins, brothers or household saints; part of my mother’s every day language.
Duchesse Brabant, Old Blush, Abraham Darby, laMarque, Baily Red, Ducher, Cecile Brunner, Red Cascade, Mermaid, the Fairy, Graham Thomas, Dame de Cour …
We meet here in dreams- meet each other, or friends, sometimes even family members long gone. Here where past and present merge, and moments are easily savored, it is a perfect place for the kind of dream that imprints itself on the soul forever.
We meet here often in reality too: picnics, Mother’s Days, birthdays, tea parties with mom and her best friend, Ellen, or to pick out roses for planting time.
On some visits Mom and I were so engrossed in roses, we didn’t notice the kids under our feet, or that they were running down the path, disappearing with the wagon.
Pictures of us all in this place dot our family albums, as well as mom’s massive volume of photos, labels and histories of her own roses.
I was tired and did not want to take any pictures that day. Mom had left her camera in the car, too. Pictures can only snatch at time. They never really catch anything.
We wandered happily in the temple of our many meetings.
Mom and I exclaimed over scents, over loveliness both new and familiar. We passed the big old house with its wrap-around porch, walked down brick paths and gravel, around fountains and enclosures, past the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, where we had often stopped to pray with the kids. We stood in the center of the gazebo where my brother and his wife were married on another fall day years ago. Silent and still, we held hands, smiled and remembered.
“Roses are healing,” I said aloud, and the roses seemed to nod and smile.
“Yes,” she said, “they are.”
She chose four rose bushes, becoming more and more distracted, wandering off now and then, so that the process of buying them took a long time.
The spell, like all spells, must wear off.
I loaded up the roses, and we drove back to reality- or a different one, anyway. But I think we were both conscious of a special blessing.
Roses are healing. Roses are holy. And some places are made timeless by love.
This is a story of a love that grew between a very Catholic thirty-something widowed mom and a crew of very rough men who were not only physically dirty but rough in all the ways blue collar guys can be. They drank, they cussed, they smoked (and not only cigarettes), they did other things there is no need to mention or think of, some of them engaging in varying degrees of what one might call debauchery. I didn’t care though. And I was right not to.
They all knew me because my brother, Mark, had worked with them for many years though he was now in a different part of the production department. The crew had worries about my coming. First of all, I was female and they were and had been an all-male crew for twenty-five years in a job that isolated them from the rest of the paper, the rest of the world, most of the time. The press room is it’s own little world with its own culture and social structure, its own legends, history and lingo. How would a new, small, alien being fit into all that? They were also worried because my job would be very tough physically and I am a very small person. How would I manage — and were they going to have to do my work for me? Could I handle the rough environment, their dirty mouths, their nasty talk, their supposedly bad manners? They knew I was very religious…really, really religious. What were they going to do? How was this going to work? Would I try to convert them or get them to pray with me?
I was worried I wouldn’t be any good at this job, which was basically being their helper, “the Catcher” and catch-all, doing whatever was needed in that loud, filthy, fast-moving place, to help them every day. (Don’t worry I held my own. I think this helped a lot in getting along with them).
To start with, I made a goodwill gesture by sending muffins for them with my brother a few days before I was to start. I got an e-mail from my future foreman that they were the best muffins they ever had and they ate every one of them. Still, my first day in the Eagle press room, the crew was nervous and could hardly talk. I could tell they were uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure what to do about it. But the first thing I did was laugh at their jokes. They were very funny guys. I got them to tell me their wild stories from back in the day when they were all young and played crazy games and pranks on each other and were generally very bad. I laughed at the stories too, which surprised them. I said I was going to write a book of “Eagle Legends.” They said not until they were all dead.
They still seemed to be nervous by the afternoon of that first day so I waited until the press was rolling, until we all had our head sets on, so they wouldn’t have to look at me, before I brought anything up. This way they could just go on being busy while we talked so it would be less tense. I pushed the button under my right ear that would let them all hear me. “OK,” I said, “What’s the matter with you guys?” Silence. “Do I make you nervous?” They looked around at each other.
Finally Mike said, “We’re trying not to make you mad, or make you cry. We’ve been trying not to cuss or say anything bad all day.”
I thought about it.
“Well, I know I am supposed to but I really don’t care if y’all cuss. So that’s not going to bother me. Just don’t talk dirty to me and we’ll all be fine.” They thought they could comply with that. And they did.
Not only that but they were such gentlemen in the true sense. I already liked them. In fact, they turned out to be the best guys in the world. They still are.
I was in the lowest place, certainly, but the lowest place is not so bad when the people above you make little platforms for you to stand on so you can reach things, when they make a big deal about everything you do right, when they clap when you come out for the first time dressed in your blue pressroom uniform, when they are rapturous about everything you cook for them, and laugh at all the things you waste time on (like the day I decorated all their coffee cups and another time I figured out each of their Captain Underpants’ name, and that one prank I pulled that was pretty funny if I may say so myself).
I obeyed them with love and devotion and all my work was to help them and keep them safe. When I mopped behind the press I did it to keep them from slipping. When I helped them at my end of the press (catching and stacking the bundles of paper as they came out) and agreed to go for hours and hours on a long run without a rest when they had a heavy day, it was to ease things up for them and help them get their work done smoothly. I found out this was how they worked, too, they each worked for the sake the others.
They loved me and I loved them. We were happy.
I listened intently to their problems, put Band-Aids on their wounds when they got hurt (pressmen get hurt a lot,) and they tried to help me with my troubles, comfort me when I cried, and make sure I didn’t lose my keys.
Ways we confronted the culture clash between us were playful and respectful. When they used the Lord’s Name in vain, I smiled and said, “I LOVE that guy!” At first they stared at me but then they laughed.
When my rosary broke they thought that was very funny and tried to figure out how I broke it. (Praying too hard for them?) Red fixed the rosary for me with the tools for tiny parts in the workroom. He asked me how to say the Hail Mary. He never made it all the way through the prayer without a joke you wouldn’t like. But when his dog was bitten by a rattlesnake he said he couldn’t remember what to do with the rosary, but he had held it up and asked God to please help Chester. Chester, happily, is alive and well. I gave Red a rosary. It still hangs in his truck.
I made fun of them about how they couldn’t get anything done when the female electrician was there and they kept tripping over things. They laughed too.
As to the question about handling gossip…truly, I loved them so much, I didn’t care what they said. But I teased them that they gossiped like Jr. High girls, which made them laugh. They did try not to “talk mess” around me though, since I explained I wasn’t supposed to. “I can’t be doing that,” I said… and I tried not to.
If they messed up and talked about anything dirty, I had playful ways of dealing with that too, though it hardly ever happened. One time I said, “OK let’s talk about sex then!” They were very uncomfortable. I started talking about Theology of the Body and got my Bible from my backpack and started reading them the Song of Songs with a big smile on my face that was totally authentic, I promise. You wouldn’t believe how bashful, sheepish and embarrassed they were and how much they balked at the steamy language in the Song of Songs. They didn’t really want to talk about sex. They just wanted to be gross, I guess. I could not stop laughing about their reaction, and they wondered why I was so crazy.
We laughed at each other. We laughed at each other a lot.
Eventually if they had something they wanted to say that was “bad” they would tell me to turn off my head set. So I would roll my eyes and turn it off. After a while I did not have to turn it off so much. We liked to make each other happy that’s why.
Richard got me a kid chair to put with everyone else’s in the formans’ office so I could have my own seat at our morning meeting even though the catcher is not usually a part of that at all. I didn’t find that out until later. I just assumed the meeting was for me too and they treated me like I was supposed to be there. They accepted me. They let me in.
One of them had trouble letting me in. That was Luis. I could hardly get him to talk to me. But I found out he liked whistle candy and got him a big box of it. We played with the whistle candy and slowly started talking. We ended up great friends. Whistle candy is one of our inside jokes.
I loved hearing about their lives, and Mondays were my favorite days because I missed the guys over the weekend.
One time they were talking about a new girl that was working up front and I asked if beauty was kind of healing for them because they liked looking at her so much. They liked this a lot. “Yes,” one of them said, “I guess you could say that.” They were all smiling. They thought I was funny. And I thought they were funny too. We knew how each other was. And it was all fine.
I got mono one time and they kept calling me to see about me and ask when I was coming back. One time my brother got on the phone, “Get back here! They are right back to the way they used to be before you came! They’re awful!”
I loved that these guys had been together all their lives, watched each other’s kids grow up, had been there for each other in bad times, had played maybe a thousand or more basketball games together and remembered every one of those games and could tell you about it, as well as every repair they had done on each others’ cars and motorcycles and houses and plumbing and so on. They were the best press crew in Texas, and rightly proud of the excellent work they did. They were honorable guys in so many ways. There was so much good and beauty in each of them.
They came to like me too and accept my quirks and oddities — like the way I don’t eat meat, (or drink, or date, or smoke, or do anything fun as far as they could tell at first), the way I will cry easily, don’t take criticism well, the way I daydreamed and lost count of the bundles coming out or how many skids I stacked at times. I alarmed them by blowing bubbles on the roof when we were supposed to be putting up the Christmas lights (and people on the busy road were staring at us and the publisher was sure to hear about it.) I glazed over when people talked about boring stuff like engines, money or tools.
I got mad at Wayne from the mail room when he refused to take a cookie from me and stalked past me without a reply. I put a handful down his shirt.
Wayne and I learned to live in peace. He shakes his head when he sees me, and I call to his attention how much I love him- “See? I love you so much, I didn’t even say anything when I saw you! Not even good morning!”
The guys put my impulsive loss of temper at Wayne into verse. Never mind about that.
When I made fun of them they thought it was great. One time they went too far teasing me and I went in the bathroom and cried and wouldn’t come out. They were totally freaked out until I did come out. When I finally did, they were so sorry and I just wanted them to forget about it and not feel so bad.
Usually when I showed evidence of my shortcomings, they would start laughing and say, “We gonna tell them Carmelites you said that!” Or Mel would tell me I would have to go to Confession that Saturday if I didn’t stop that. “I’m surprised at you!” he would say. When I got on their nerves, Jason would start asking if it was 2:45 yet. “Isn’t it time you went to pick your kids up from school?”
I tried not to annoy or offend them. I want to be good for them and they want to be good for me. At the same time we accept one another. I think this is a good balance.
On my birthday one year they wrote me a song, “Our Angel,” and performed it at our morning meeting. Bob played guitar and they all sang it to me. I cried, I was so touched. I could barely stay in the room with all that love, appreciation and acceptance. They understood. They had to tell me it was OK . “Just listen.”
One time Red had said they wanted to heal my broken heart. I hope they know they did. They brought me out of myself and loved me and helped me be part of life again.
I remember all their middle names. I remember their birthdays. I make them cakes every year for their birthdays still and one of them (usually Mike or Mel) will call me on mine on behalf of them all. I ended up marrying the only one of them who was a complete atheist. (That was Bob, and he ended up Catholic).
They have fixed my cars, helped me around the house, cared about my kids and at times have fathered them when they needed it, and are still there for me though I have not worked there officially for a few years now.
When I bring a cake there for one of their birthdays they stick to the tradition I started of singing Happy Birthday to the birthday person and telling stories about him. If I forget, they remind me.
Now and then they remind me that my rosary that I prayerfully hung on one of the press motors when the press was down one terrible night, is still there, (at this writing,) melted into the metal that got so hot during the crisis. I think that is symbolic. We are melded into each other’s hearts.
Looking at them one time, and thinking about who each of them was, I prayed to Jesus about them, that He would bless them and not worry too much about some things, because the good things were so good. I reflected that He knew them better than I did and loved them better too. He brought us together and He knew what He was doing. I realized that I was finding Him in them.
Maybe that’s what “bringing Christ to the workplace,” or any place, really is. Maybe when you look for Jesus in others, you transmit His love and grace in a mysterious way the Spirit knows. If you find Him, you give Him, and receive Him, too.
Jesus said, “Whoever hears you hears me.”I hope it also means, “Whoever loves you loves me,” because I love those guys. And they love me. “Where my disciple is there will I be also.” We all turned out to be disciples even though maybe some of us didn’t know we were. “Wherever there is love, there is God,” said St. Thomas Aquinas.
So what is the advice in this story? “Look for God in your co-workers so they can see Him in you,” or “Find Jesus everywhere,” or maybe, “ Stop being so uncool.” After a while Jesus shines out on both sides. It’s easy then.
If you’re reading this, guys, I love you! Get back to work too!
* Dear Reader, please take a moment and pray for my guys. ❤
* Originally this article was published in the Flos Carmeli, the Provincial Newsletter of the Secular Discalced Carmelites of the Oklahoma Province. I was asked to write about “Bringing Christ to the work place,” as a Carmelite, and to offer advice about dealing with the everyday worldliness, gossip and rivalries lay people encounter at work. I decided to tell you a love story instead, and maybe the story would cover some of those points. It was later re-published for ATX Catholic and also The Eagle in my monthly column in a more edited form. I thought it would be fun to bring it out in honor of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. 🙂
As soon as my friends and family stop laughing that I am writing anything about this subject, we can begin in earnest, Gentle Reader…
Well, never mind then. We will just go on anyway. I deserve it, I know. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I had better meditate on Philippians 2:12,b EVERY DAY! My step dad, Tom’s reaction to my writing this was, “OK, you got guts!”
Actually I enjoy housework. It’s just that with my ADD (I believe I mentioned it to you before a time or two) it is very hard for me to stay on task and to be consistent or plan my work very well. This is called a lack of executive function, I believe. Also I have trouble practicing habits that make it so I don’t have to play bulldozer when I do clean (that’s called being a bit of a slob I believe.) I am quite likely, as my witnesses know, to pick up a book to put it away and suddenly realize I’ve been sitting on the floor reading it a good while, or to start a grand project and then find myself staring out of the window thinking of my next “hum” in Pooh-Bear fashion.
I’m not lazy. I like hard work. My last job was in the press room at the local newspaper, which was very hard physical work. I loved it. So work is not the problem. As long as I am not distracted or confused, I will be fine. An overwhelmingly messy laundry room, however, causes a kind of short in my circuits that makes me gaze unseeing or become instantly distracted. OK, maybe I run away.
My difficulties confessed, I do think I have something to say about housework and its sacredness. I may even offer some advice for other ADD and AD/HD sufferers or people with small children and/or busy schedules (or maybe just anyone!) that might not be so out of line about getting a modest amount of work done in a prayerful way.
My house is clean right now. Roise was slightly helpful in the way that a mopey 15-year old can be when she really wants her friend over, and Mom has said, “Not until this house doesn’t know what hit it!” Still it was mostly myself working on this goal. Roise took a few Facebook breaks as mopey teen agers will.
When my kids were small, I used to go with them one room at a time to work with them side by side. We used to offer up our work in each room for a different prayer intention. Maire, at age 7, usually offered her room cleaning for Brittany Spears. She was always worried about her. When we finished a room, we bowed, before lighting some incense in the clean room; a ritual we got from their dad, Marc Blaze, that added a sense of completeness and made our work feel sacred.
My second late husband, Bob, taught me a lot about the holiness of work around the house and of conscious service to the family. He said this was part of what he called his “skin religion.” He said his work in the yard, for instance, was a form of prayer. He was mindful, as he mowed the lawn, picturing Maire and Roise’s bare feet on the grass and how nice he was making it for them, how soft it would feel on their feet. He said he wanted us to look around and see the things he had done for us around our house and feel like each one was an “I love you,” from Bob.
House work and yard work seemed to open him to the “sacrament of the present moment” * and to fill him with love.
We do look around and see his “love notes” all around us. One can hardly look anywhere and not see something he did for us.
I was at Bob’s side a lot of the time as we painted our house the exact blue of my sister-in-law, Jamie’s, eyes. I felt a sense of loving gratitude toward my house as we painted and like I was getting to know our house better. We thought about how meaningful it was to be painting this house that had been drab, dirty white for so many years. We were covering it with brightness like a metaphor for how colorful our lives were now that we were together and so happy after so many years of loneliness for both of us. It felt like an act of gratitude and a recognition of the sacredness of our home. Later Bob made me a painting of our house shaped like a heart with the two of us contemplating it. We went on to paint the garage green and to put in a pink antique front door.
When I wash my mixing bowls, which belonged to my granny and then to my mom and now to me, I have a sense of being close to them, and that those bowls are holy. So are all the dishes on which I feed my family and all those who come to my house as guests. Cooking is holy too. The Sufis believe food cooked with love, especially by your parents, carries a special blessing- which indeed it does. We should always try to cook with love. My mom did.
I have a few habits when I am working around the house that help me stay in tune with the holy and remind me that my housework is not only an offering but it can be an adoration of the Lord who is continuously present with us in all we do. I know it’s weird but I have a tendency to pause and genuflect now and then in the kitchen. Bob used to ask why I did “church stuff in the house.” I said I was just praying while I worked. He understood that.
My Carmelite Community has a “Day of Recollection” each December. One time the Holy Cross Brother leading us in our day asked us what we imagined ourselves doing as holy people, as we are all called to sainthood. What did we see ourselves actually doing? He said he saw himself writing. I was surprised that I saw myself sweeping the floor. Well! That’s already true. I could think that’s pretty disappointing, or I could think that is worth pondering. Maybe God is telling me to find Him in these things I am always having to do anyway. It is true that He has given me some great moments of insight and growth in the middle of a daily task like sweeping the floor or folding laundry.
This sense of love and holiness involved in caring for my house makes me more mindful of each task and even makes me handle material objects with a loving gentleness more like I would if I were putting the vessels of the alter away, were I to be doing that. I do sometimes feel an infusion of love and awareness of God’s presence when I am engaged in simple tasks.
So why is it so hard for me to be consistent, to get started on a project and stay with it? You remember. I’m terribly ADD.
If you are too, or have young children, or are otherwise busy and pre-occupied, here are some things I do to get myself through an afternoon of housework and grow in the awareness of God’s presence at the same time. Maybe you have some tips for me, too. I bet you do.
First, Roise and I ask the prayers of St. Anne, the patroness of our house, as well as patroness of house wives. This is her house so I ask her to pray for me while I clean. Sometimes, if I am badly distracted or overwhelmed, I lay a novena to her out on the kitchen table and set the oven timer for 30 minute increments. I will stop and pray another “day” of the novena each time the timer goes off. It keeps me going.
Also I trick myself. I tell myself I am only going to fold five towels (when I have a huge, intimidating pile of laundry) and then I’m quitting. Once I get going, it is not an unpleasant task so I keep going. Anyway, it fascinates my cats.
The timer is also useful for seeing what I can get done in 15 minutes. My house used to be a duplex and my dear friend, Andrea, lived on the other side. One of us would watch our kids in the back yard for 15 minutes while the other rushed around her house to see what she could get done in that much time. We were amazed at how well this worked and how much we got done in such a short, focussed period. Both of us still do that sometimes even now; set the timer for 15 minutes and see what we can accomplish.
It’s hard for me to stay on task so one thing I do is follow a rule that it doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t stop doing things, just keep moving and bringing myself back to housework like I bring my mind back to prayer when I get distracted. Audio books help me a lot too. They get me to stay in the room, and if I’m caught up in St. Julian of Norwich the work is a breeze; I’ll stay right with it and listening to her could only increase my consciousness of being immersed in the Source of all Good. Holy music can help with this too, though I like Metallica for mopping.
I saw a painting of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, in which she is washing dishes and holding up a dinner plate like an offering. I liked that picture a lot. It expresses well what I am trying to do.
Brother Lawrence, author of The Practice of the Presence of God, said that he felt just as close to God when he flipped an omelet for love of Him as he did on his knees in chapel as if there was no difference. As St. Teresa of Jesus said, “God moves among the pots and pans.”
That he does. Finding Him and hanging out with him there is what I’m working on a lot lately; even if I have to trick myself to get started.
Laugh. It’s OK. I don’t mind. 🙂
“Father, may everything we do begin with Your inspiration and continue with Your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in You, and through You reach completion.” (from the Liturgy of the Hours Monday Morning Week I)
“You who work in this house…. Mary counts your steps and your labors.” ~ Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified
I was a conscientious objector to the world as soon as I was old enough to notice how it was going, and how apathetic everyone else seemed to be about it all. “What’s the matter with you people,” I used to think. Engaging in the news just made me feel overwhelmed by the suffering of those who suffered, and filled me with contempt for everyone else for letting it all happen!
During my particularly opinionated and concerned teens, my dad disliked watching the news with me because I would become so outraged.
He used to ask me, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?”
This is a problem. How do you “want to save the world,” love everyone in it and not freak out when you attend to the day’s news?
For a while I cut myself off from the media. Who needs a head full of all that stuff and what good does it do anyone to hear it? Especially once I became serious about my prayer life, I felt the news distracted me and cluttered up my mind.
What I eventually found, as I developed spiritually over time, is that we can make our intake of news media a form of prayer, and that Mary’s is the perfect example of the praying, listening heart, ready to cooperate with God on behalf of the world, and constantly doing exactly that.
Mary did not and does not sit out on God’s movement in the world. She was always part of it all her life. If we love, and we want to pray, neither can we sit out. With that idea in mind, I try to keep up with the news to a reasonable degree these days. It’s one way of participating in the life of humanity, it’s part of loving, praying, being part of the family.
With a Marian perspective, being informed can become less about taking in information and more about listening to the world, and interceding for it. We can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice and this, too, is prayer.
Mary listens to the cries of the world right now and her hearing becomes her prayer in the presence of her Son. We can imitate her listening heart and we can join her in prayer as we tune in to the radio, open the paper, click on a news story on-line. Then we receive the news purposefully aware of God’s presence, actually praying it with the Heart of Mary, rather than just reading or hearing it.
How is this done?
It’s simple and beautiful, and human, just like Mary.
Have you ever had something from the news cling to you and you couldn’t stop thinking about it and you prayed about it with or without words?
Have you ever had nothing to say to someone’s sorrow except to pray in silence as you sat with him and listened, or you were just present with the sufferer as prayer itself?
Have you ever heard the Scriptures read at mass and you knew God was speaking right to you and you listened and responded to Him from the heart?
Have you ever stopped what you were doing because of something you heard or read or saw, and simply closed your eyes in silent gratitude?
If you have, then you have listened, pondered, and cherished, with the heart of Mary, and God has come through you to comfort the world, to heal and restore it.
You opened a door in your heart, and Heaven came through. It touched everyone.
Isn’t that prayer? Isn’t that what Mary’s life exemplifies?
Her small foot -prints trace a beautiful pattern for us of Christian prayer.
By her prayerful receptivity, Jesus came to us. In our prayer of quiet, we too, are channels of His grace.
Pregnant with Jesus, she sang the prophetic praises of God in her Magnificat.
Jesus lives within us and we too sing the Divine praises.
As a young mother, she pondered the events in the life of her Son, reflecting on them in her heart. We pray and meditate on the Life of the Lord always.
She confronted His seeming abandonment and expressed her hurt dismay to Him at the Temple
She was perceptive of the young couple’s problem at the wedding at Cana, interceding with her Son, eliciting His first miracle, and His disciples believed in Him. We intercede for others and pray that they, too, may be helped in their troubles and opened to God’s self-revelation in their lives.
She walked with Jesus as He carried the Cross. She stood with Him in His suffering. She allowed her heart to be “pierced with the sword” in cooperation with His sacrifice, herself to be given as a mother to the beloved disciple. We accept suffering prayerfully, trusting in God that in Christ He will turn grief into glory, and that through our sorrow He will open us, in compassion, as a gift to others.
After the Resurrection she stood with the disciples watching Jesus, Who she loved and lived for, ascend into Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could flood the world as He promised. We pray and make sacrifices as well, giving up our own desires as a prayer that others may be comforted and know the love of God.
She was in prayer with the early Church when the Descent of the Holy Spirit changed the world forever and the mission of the Church began. The Church is still in prayer with Mary, and still on mission, full of the Holy Spirit.
What Mary hears and experiences passes through her heart as prayer offered to God. She is the exemplar of the praying, receptive soul who gives the world to Christ, and Christ to the world.
This is what Mary did with her life, and what she does with her life in Heaven. This is for us to do, too. As St. Ambrose says, “May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to glorify the Lord! “
In Mary’s life with Jesus, the Holy Spirit was most active in her soul, and therefore in ours as well, through the prayer of silent, loving receptivity that conceives and gives birth to grace in mysterious ways only He knows. Trusting this brings a deeply spiritual dimension to the everyday experience of keeping up with current events.
We are still going to react emotionally to the news. Praying the news is not a way to escape the piercing of our own hearts. In fact sometimes the news of some atrocity in the world brings more tears to my eyes than ever before. I cannot begin to imagine how Mary feels, how Jesus feels, about these things.
We will still disagree with some things we read or hear sometimes. (I admit I will argue with the radio.) But our own reaction is not our focus anymore. Our focus is to accompany Mary in prayer, and to become “a smooth channel for the outflow of [the] Divine Will into this world.” (Fr. Adrien Van Kaam)
After the breaking of the Bread and the Prayers in the house of John the Apostle, when all the others had left, Mary sat me down, bringing me water and a plate of olives. She walked quickly through the house, putting things away, straightening mats, stirring a stew she was making for John and me for dinner. Finally, after much motherly bustle, she sat down, smiling at me expectantly.
I marveled at the way her gently lined face still looked like the face of a little girl, and wished I could see all that her kind and peaceful eyes had seen.
“So, you understand why I came, and what I am working on?” I asked her.
“Yes, how wonderful!”
I took my writing materials out of my bag.
I was nervous but felt calmed by the comfortable, child like enthusiasm on her face.
She wanted to know everything about my work.
I went over with her the information I had gathered in my process of talking to eye witnesses of the events, my list of parables, details of healings, outlines of teachings, the order I proposed for the narrative, my sources, one of which I hoped would be herself.
She asked good questions, gave thoughtful replies, made helpful suggestions. She was wise, warm and encouraging.
“Luke! You have done so well already! I am sure God has chosen you for this!”
“Mother, I will need to include some truths about you that will help me show the nature of your Son, and to record events only you can tell about. Especially important is… the way Jesus was conceived, and how it came about. The Church needs that story. We need it from you.”
I could see she was troubled.
She looked out of an open window, to the quiet garden outside, to the sky above.
A light breeze moved, as if in consoling answer to her inward prayer, rustling a tendril of her hair, stirring the air, stirring my heart. I remembered what I had heard: The presence of the Holy Spirit is felt when one is with the mother of Jesus.
Then, she looked at me and smiled, touching my wrist lightly to reassure me.
“It would be easier for me if we walked. Walk with me?”
I rose, alive with excitement that I was perhaps about to hear things no one else had ever heard.
“You must pray and decide what to leave in and what to leave out,” she said, as she took her wrap and draped it over her shoulders.
Outside she put a small hand on my arm, and I saw that she still wore her wedding ring, a simple band of carved stone. It touched me to think of her love and faithfulness to Joseph. How she must miss him. How she must miss her Son.
“How can I ever do her justice?” I thought.
At times we walked in silence. At times she spoke. When I had to, I asked questions. At some of the things she said, I caught my breath and tears came to my eyes.
I had not known, no one had known, just how this conception had come about.
Ah, the Angel Gabriel? Of course, how fitting. The Book of Daniel came to mind, and its implications.
She stopped and turned to me at certain points in her story, as if to make sure I heard what she said,
“He shall be great…. And shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David! And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever!”
She would squeeze my hand, nod at me, and we would walk on while she thoughtfully considered what to tell me next.
The hardest part for her to talk about was the experience of her conception of Jesus. She almost could not do it.
She had been overcome with holy fear, she said. As Abraham was filled with godly dread in the night before his visitation and the sealing of God’s covenant with him, so it was with her when Gabriel appeared to her, and said, “Hail, full of grace!” She had not known what it meant, she had been overwhelmed, overcome completely.
But when the Angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” she found that she was not afraid at all. She was allowed, she said, to gaze in wonder.
In reply to the astonishing request the Angel brought from the Almighty, and the announcement about the coming of the Messiah through her, she had been perplexed. She and Joseph had felt so strongly guided by God to remain virgin. They had made a vow. How was this child to come to her?
After her questions had been answered by the Angel, she had said, in a rush of love, exultation, and understanding, “Yes! The Lord knows everything! He knows that I love Him, that I love His people!”
She stopped walking now and closed her eyes, stretching her arms forth in prayer, remembering, “Then I said, with great joy of heart, ‘Mighty Gabriel, see, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Amen! Let it be done to me as you have said.”
She rested her hand on my shoulder, we began to walk again. I thought of Sarah, and of Hannah, of daughter Zion, as a light breeze rustled the new leaves on the trees around us, rippling the hem of her veil. I enjoyed the light of both the sun and the glow of inner joy on her face.
“Holy Gabriel had said the Lord was with me. I thought, ‘I must have been made for this.’ But… I didn’t quite know what to do when the angel left me. I prayed, what happens now?”
Mary closed her eyes, her hand on her heart, our steps slowing on the path.
“I felt the great and tender Spirit of the Lord, asking me to welcome Him. I said in my heart, ‘I don’t know how. Show me. Command me to receive You, and it will happen.”
She said that suddenly her senses and inner faculties were suspended, all was still, and she knew only Love, only God, only tenderness, as if light flooded her soul, even her body; light so bright, she was inwardly blinded.
For the first time she was aware that God was One God in Three Persons, as He revealed His very nature to her- like three suns rising in her heart as one.
He never left her.
She cried trying to tell me this, and she said she knew she had not gotten it right, not expressed it as it should be told, but she trusted that I would know what to say in the Spirit.
Yes, I knew. I thought of the Scriptures about the Arc of the Covenant and the cloud of the Lord’s presence, the shekinah glory that would settle over the mercy seat in the holy of holies in the Temple. I knew what I would say. It would be simple.
I would protect the secret of her soul, except what I must write in Jesus’ Name, of what the Angel himself had said, that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her.
In the days to come the holy mother would tell me many more stories of the Lord. She trusted me for the sake of the Gospel.
I believe I came to know her heart in those hours spent with her in the garden behind the house of John. Some of what she said was to remain with me, some of it was a gift for the Gospel. I let the Holy Spirit decide which was which.
I am often asked about my time with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Christian soul, child of Mary, you may ask her in the Spirit anything you like. I have said what is mine to say.
In Misericordiae Vultus, (“The Face of Mercy,”) the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy from Pope Francis, he has given us new seeds, a bright and verdant diagram, a vision of joy, a plan of hope for the renewal of the “oasis of mercy” that is the Church, and of the the living sanctuaries of mercy each of us can become in Christ.
Reading The Face of Mercy, I am reminded of St. Therese discovering that her vocation was love; to be love in the Heart of the Church. St. Therese taught us that this is the underlying vocation of all the various callings in the Lord.
The Holy Father is calling us, now, to be mercy at the heart of the Church.
One of the things that stands out for me in Misericordiae Vultus, is that Pope Francis talks about mercy in a way that shows that one of its primary aspects is deep acceptance and gratuitous love. This accepting love is so powerful that encountering this simple grace of mercy that God plants in us will inspire others to bloom before our eyes, just as we open like flowers before the Lord’s complete and total love.
“Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.” ~ Pope Francis
How do we each become an oasis of mercy?
Pope Francis says we should draw our ability to “adopt mercy as our lifestyle” from contemplating the Word of God in silence. What does that do?
I think it does the same thing that sun and rain do in a garden.
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land,and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. (Mark 4:26-27)
How God works in the soul through prayer is a mystery, but it is very simple. We make time to open our hearts to God in stillness every day, and to ponder His Word. In this way we prepare the soil.
St. Faustina says God’s will “is love and mercy itself.” He will sow in us seeds of mercy and love that will grow under His care.
If we are willing to work at His side, we can also expect Him to take out any choking weeds that inhibit us in mercy, to set in order all that needs order, and to allow that which should be left lovely and wild, free to blossom as it should. We can trust the Lord of the garden to shine on whatever is cold and dead, to heal what is damaged, to bring to our attention any work we ourselves have neglected.
When our souls are well nourished by prayer, we can be a quiet place for people to sit, a shade tree of peace surrounded by bright flowers of acceptance and tenderness. Our souls can be cool and and quiet fountains of the gentle healing that comes from God.
The healing nature of my garden can heal the most broken of hearts.” ~ Santa Montefiore
Years ago my brother-in-law, Frank, went to Assisi with his family. This story is about a quiet moment on a busy day, a simple conversation in a shady place. But it has always enchanted me.
As we went down this crooked street, we walked past the church of San Stefano. It was tiny, more of a chapel than a church. There was a small garden next to the church that was surrounded by a fence. There was a gate with a sign on it. The sign said in several languages: “Come in, if you think it will do you good.”
Inside the garden was a picnic table and some benches. There were two gnarled, old, olive trees serving as shade. A nun and a lay woman greeted us. They offered us a place to sit, and gave each of us a glass of ice water. The two women asked us where we were from. They were genuinely interested in who we were and why we had come to Assisi. We rested a while. Then we thanked the ladies and made our way back up the hill to our hotel.
The hospitality was simple and open-hearted. I won’t ever forget it. ~ Frank Pauc
Mercy can manifest itself in quiet and unassuming ways; by a simple, accepting presence. Mercy doesn’t push itself on anyone, it invites and makes itself available. It respectfully speaks the language the other can understand, in a conversation with no agenda but that of connection and service, giving the other room to decide for himself. “Come in, if you think it will do you good.”
“[Jesus’] person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously.” ~ Pope Francis
As people who follow Jesus, this is the shape we want our gardens to take: to become oases of gratuitous, accepting love. We want to make room for fragrant, herbaceous borders, for winding paths of compassion and peace, along which we can walk with anyone who comes for refuge.
God will plant in this garden the flowers He likes best to see in it, and we will know the fruit of hospitality of heart.
He’s drawing up His plans, and showing us His ideas, giving us seeds to dream over; about gardens, flowers, fruit, and Spring.
Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” ~ Pope Francis
And the seeds of the Kingdom will be sown, everywhere we go.
“All the broken are mending/The mournful rejoicing/Seeing through tears/Of peace overflowing/And You walk with me/You never leave/You’re making my heart a garden” Matt Maher
*You can read Misericordiae Vultus, (The Face of Mercy) here.
In no way do I intend to present any other idea about the life of St. Mary Magdalene, but that which the Catholic Church believes and teaches about her through Scripture and Tradition. (See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09761a.htm for a history of the Church’s thought on St. M.M., “Apostolora Apostolorum” Apostle to the Apostles)
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.
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.
*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.”