I Need…

gift cover

If you go back in the days of your childhood, I am sure you can think of a gift that you received that made you so happy and so full of life!  Maybe it was a doll, a toy train, a book that you really wanted to read.  Perhaps it was a person in your life.  Maybe it was that newborn baby that you and your husband have been praying to have for a long time.  Your husband, wife, children, family are gifts that you have received in your life and I know are very important to you.  Perhaps you have received the gift of Faith, friendship, laughter.  How do we show gratitude for all that we have received?

God gave everything when He gave His Son Jesus.  “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.  Jesus is the greatest gift that we can ever receive.  Jesus in the Eucharist is the greatest gift that we receive today!

You are a gift!  God created you out of love!  He chose you…from all eternity to be His entirely!  He wanted you to have life…He saw you in His plan…and He made you very good.  You are an important piece in this life.  God made you as you are for a reason…your life is a gift!  YOU are a gift!

Because of our wounded state, we forget “gift.”  We sense that there is a void in our heart…an empty space.  We feel the need to have many things, even at times things that are not ours to have, because things make us happy…but only for a time.  Too much of a good thing (money, food, pleasure, social media) is not always a good thing, because it hinders us from seeing everything as a gift and it hinders us from loving the God who has made this world. For example, ice cream is good…but if I want more and more and more ice cream all at once, I am going to get sick and need to go to the hospital!  Having too much of something hinders us from seeing and loving the Giver of every good gift, God Himself.    Sometimes we want things that are not ours to have, (covetousness) in order to satisfy our own selfish desires.  This we can call avarice (greed/covetousness).

Don’t get me wrong!  It is good to want things!  I sincerely believe when we have desires, God is just reminding us of our great desire for heaven!  The problem comes when we want things in a disordered way, when we want what we want for selfish reasons (example: so that we look good in the eyes of others).  The problem also comes with what we desire…sometimes the things we desire are not ours to have.  An attitude of greed says, “It’s all mine!,” when in reality whatever good we have received comes from God and belongs to God.  Also, the problem comes when we are not happy and thankful for what God has given to us.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that you would do anything to get it?  Did you get it?  Did it make you a better person?  Did you grow closer to the Lord in getting that thing?

What are you wanting right now?  Do you know, inside of yourself that getting what you want right now is good for you? 

Have I ever thanked God for what I have been given? 

The interesting thing is that we can oftentimes go through avarice when it comes to spiritual things.  St. John of the Cross points out that some people can never get enough of hearing spiritual talks, seeking advice, reading books and as a result are very unhappy if they do not find consolation in these things.  (The Fulfillment of all Desire: Ralph Martin 339).  Wanting to possess spiritual things, simply because they are attractive, beautiful and fashionable to the eyes, does not help in gaining poverty of spirit.  The question is, are they helping us grow in our relationship with God…or are they just pleasing to our senses?  For example, sometimes we get all caught up about possessing spiritual objects such as rosaries, and medals only because they are attractive and pleasing to the eyes. St. John of the Cross says it himself that people weigh themselves down with over decorated images, and rosaries….preferring one cross to another because of elaborateness.  In the case of spiritual talks, or seeking advice, sometimes individuals will find themselves emotionally lifted up…and they want that all the time…the more they go to, the more they will have this emotional happiness, and it is an escape from facing the Crosses that are necessary for our sanctification.  St. John of the Cross makes the point that true devotedness comes from the heart.  However, it is very important to understand that we should want things to be beautiful in order to bring glory to God.  We should want to attend conferences and spiritual talks that lift our minds to God.  That is good!  However avarice takes it to a whole different level because there are times when we use things in order to fill a void in our heart!  Perhaps, we are trying to fill the emptiness that is inside with external things, because it is an escape to what is really going on in the inside.  St. John discourages individuals from having “possessiveness.”  St. John of the Cross explains that possessiveness only brings about loss in the end.  There is a difference between possessiveness and freedom.  Possessiveness says, “Mine!”  Freedom says, “Thank you!”  The Scripture says, “Anything I do not possess before God, I have lost.” (Romans 4:2).  If we have things, but do not wish to give God glory, then we are lost.  Anyone or anything who is outside the presence of God is lost.

What is the cure of this avarice?  Simply, learning to be grateful for the gifts we have received and placing our eyes on Christ.  Be grateful for what has been given whether it is a retreat talk, a good book, a nice rosary.  Perhaps try sharing what you have received with a friend.  Look at how these spiritual things can help us grow in our relationship with God, to true love of God.  Place your eyes on Christ and everything will become rightly ordered!  I once heard a very good priest say, “how long do we spend asking God for things…do we spend the same amount of time thanking God for what He has given and granted to us?”

He Humbles Himself…So Should I…

Christ washing his disciples feet icon (2)

There is something special about teaching kindergarten children.  There is a spark in them of wonder and excitement at the beauty of life!  They always have something to say…and what they have to say is very important!  I remember hearing a talk by a friend of mine Deacon Bob McDonald on one of those Lighthouse Catholic Media Cd’s and he once asked a class of young children a curious question just to see what they would say.  He asked: “How does Jesus get inside the bread?”  One little girl put up her hand and said, “He loves His way in.”

Indeed, Jesus loves His way in.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…He humbled Himself, accepting even death, death on a Cross…” (Philippians 2:7-9)  Jesus’ obedience and humility brought our salvation.  Through His humility, we gain eternal life.  Adam disobeyed God, but Jesus in humility empties Himself…for you…and for me.  Jesus is so humble that He, the Son of God washed the feet of His disciples!  Imagine!  The Son of God going down on His knees and washing the stinky, dirty feet of His Apostles!  I love this image at the top of Jesus washing the feet…Peter looks as though He is saying, “Awkward!”  How does Jesus respond?  “You also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14).  Jesus teaches us that humility means being a servant to all.

Jesus gives Himself entirely…and He still gives Himself entirely through the Holy Eucharist!  Jesus, the Son of God, King of the Universe, became one of us and now humbles Himself again so that we can actually receive His Body and Blood everyday in the Holy Eucharist!  In the Eucharist we receive grace, and a heart that is more ready to give love and receive love.  Through receiving the Holy Eucharist with the right dispositions, our hearts are transformed through the Holy Eucharist and we receive grace which is God’s very own life poured into us!  Why is this important?  Simply this…we are made for union with God…and as we grow in the life of grace, we grow closer in union with God.  Grace helps us to live in light, truth, beauty and goodness.  Grace helps us to have the strength to heal, to forgive others and ourselves, and to see the goodness in everyone…including ourselves.

Life is hard.  Humility is hard!  We want to grow in union with God.  We want to live in the light.  We want to be who God is calling us to be…but we struggle…oftentimes struggle can come because of our pride.

Often when we think of pride, we think of someone who is thinking “high and mighty of themselves.”  We might think of someone who only thinks of themselves.  St. John of the Cross points out that even people who have a desire for perfection can have a deep pride that needs to be rooted out.  He claims that sometimes we minimize our faults, and become discouraged because we are not perfect yet.  They become impatient and angry saying: “Oh no!  I am not a saint yet…poor me.”  Sometimes people who are on this path of holiness are very anxious because they want God to immediately remove certain imperfections they have because they just want to be at peace.

As mentioned in earlier posts, there is a time in the dark night of the senses where God can be purging the soul of certain vices in a passive way.  Remember that the passive night of the senses means that God needs to act directly in the soul in order to “burn away” the filthy vice.  Spiritual pride is when there is an excessive obsession with self in accomplishing spiritual tasks such as prayer, penances and good works.

What are some signs of spiritual pride?  St. John of the Cross makes the point that someone with spiritual pride prefers to instruct rather than be instructed.  He has a tendency to want to be heard, especially when it comes to speaking about certain spiritual graces that were received, and they are happy when others notice their spirituality.  They are upset and angry with people who do not approve of their spirit and tend to judge people in a harsh way.  They are easily discouraged when they fall, and approach Confession only to excuse themselves.

Now after hearing this…I know what it rolling in your head because it is also running in my head: “Oh No!  I am proud!”  Calm down.  Recognizing it is already a grace from God!  In order to combat spiritual pride, we need to know the characteristics of a humble person.

A humble person is someone who thinks about themselves less.  They would prefer to learn from others rather than be the teacher themselves.  They want to do their good works in hiding so that the praise will go to God and not themselves.  They are eager to manifest their faults…especially in Confession.  They think that others are better than they are, while not losing sight of the fact that they are a child of God who has value, dignity and worth.

So to be a humble person is hard.  Humility means becoming a person of service, but it also means being a person of silence, both on the interior and exterior.  I sincerely believe as we learn how to pray in sincerity and truth, we will think of ourselves less because our eyes are on Jesus.  We read a really good book for table reading during meal times called the Power of Silence by Cardinal Robert Sarah.  It is a fantastic read!  I really hope that I can have a few blog posts in the future to talk about silence and how essential and crucial that is in growth of the spiritual life…but I am going to use Cardinal Sarah’s Book on the Power of Silence.  Another really good book that we are reading now is called: The Day is Now Far Spent by Cardinal Robert Sarah.  That is another fantastic read…you will find it very fruitful!

On that note…I will be quiet now.

Lean On Me…When You’re Not Strong

Healing blind man

I like music!  There are some songs that just stick in your head.  Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi, Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams, Everything is Awesome by those guys in the Lego Movie, The Song That Never Ends by those kids in the commercial riding in the back of their parents car…are just a few examples of songs that come into your head when your washing dishes, doing the laundry.  It is fun in the convent!  Sometimes you sing one line of a song and all the other Sisters start singing with you!  That’s pretty awesome!  I know that you have heard the famous song “Lean on me.”  It is one of those songs that sticks in your head forever…sorry about that!  I like the lyrics of that song: “lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend…I’ll help you carry on…”

To have a good friend is a special gift…someone that you can share your likes, dislikes, what you hope for, what you are upset about.  I have always found it a comfort to say to people, “can you please pray for this situation or this person.”  When the Cross is heavy, somehow God gives tremendous strength to carry it, provided we cooperate with His grace.  Sometimes that strength comes from sending a friend.  By having that friend, God is revealing to us more of His mercy…that He is with us through that person.  There is something special about sharing a burden with someone…it helps us grow in trust.  There is something special when that friend takes your hand, or puts their hand on your shoulder making sure that you know they are there for you through it all.  Treasure the people that come into your life!  Thank God for them everyday.  How do you know when you have found a good friend?  When they challenge you to be a better you!  When they challenge you to grow in holiness both by their words and actions.  When they look at you and you know that no matter what you have done or said in your life, they love you, because you are you.  Then you know you have found a treasure!

God permitted our Lord to be helped by Simon when Jesus carried His Cross.  We all need Simon in our life…and we need to be Simon to others as well.  By now in our journey of the spiritual life, I think we are beginning to see that we desperately need to rely on the grace of God.    I heard one priest say over and over in his homilies: “We need God’s help!”  That is a good ejaculatory prayer: “Lord help me” or “Jesus have Mercy, Mary help!”  Don’t be afraid to make “help” prayers to the Lord.  Remember in the Gospel when the blind man cried out to Jesus.  He cried, “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38).  What did Jesus do?  He asked the blind man: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)  After asking Jesus that he may see, Jesus responds, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 18:42).  With prayer like that, God always sends help!  Going into the dark night does not mean that we are losing our sight, rather it means that Jesus is helping us to come out of the darkness and to be able to see.  When we are experiencing a dark night, it is actually the Lord saying to us, “Receive your sight!”  Let’s not let the dark night make us afraid, but let us see it as a healing from darkness to light.

In order for us to heal and to be who God is calling us to be, God needs to correct things in a passive manner.  This is a point in our spiritual journey when we really need to lean on the Lord when we are not strong.  In the active night, we strive to do our part in being purified, but “despite all our efforts, which are only possible through God’s grace, we will fall short unless the Lord Himself acts deeply within us” (The Fulfillment of all Desire Ralph Martin pg. 337).  Passive purgations go to the depths of our body, soul and spirit.  Our spirit is perfected, and so is our senses.  We desperately need to lean on the Lord!

There are two phases of the passive dark night.  The night of the senses where God heals the disorders which are still present in the senses which we may not even be conscious of.  The night of the spirit is when God reaches into our intellect, memory and will and purifies them in order to come closer to that full and complete union with God.  We will begin with the passive dark night of the senses.

Basically the dark night of the senses is a time where there is aridity (dryness) that puts the soul in a painful state with severe tests of perseverance on the journey towards sanctity.  Many people stop advancing at this point unfortunately because souls are afraid.  In one’s prayer life during this period, God is weaning the soul away from milk, and beginning to give solid food. This means that God is instructing the soul to pray in a new way.  The dark night of the senses is caused by infused contemplation where God is communicating his grace directly to it by passing the sense faculties.

St. John of the Cross points out in his writings that a soul who has entered the dark night is usually someone who is detached or detaching from venial sin, has built up a life of virtue, and is also practiced in meditation and affective prayer.  This is a person who is striving to control their imagination, who practices penances and is striving to overcome self-love.

The soul enters this dark night because there is a need to purge unconscious attachments, even the delights that come from one’s spiritual life.  St. John of the Cross also explains that God is granting infused prayer and the soul is not accustomed to it, so the person experiences a dark night.  In other words, if a soul is attached to consolations in prayer, underneath this practice of prayer is a hidden self-love and this needs to be purged!  God is bringing light into darkness, and the soul realizes that it cannot rely on the things of this world.  The soul knows that only God is their salvation through this time of darkness.  God is communicating to the soul but in a different way…he is giving great spiritual grace that the soul is not accustomed to.  This is the point where the capital sins resurge!  We will begin going through these in the next few posts.

So this is a point where we really need to lean on the Lord because we are not strong…the song is still in my head!!

 

Step By Step…

jesus taking steps

 

First Steps of Our Saviour

Watching a baby learn how to walk is one of the most beautiful and funny things I have ever seen!  The parents are standing behind the child holding their hands guiding them one step at a time.  The child’s legs feel like jelly…this is something new…they seem to be getting the hang of it!!  Then…the moment happens!  Mom and Dad let go of the child’s hands.  The child lets out a high-pitched cry of distress and if they could talk it would be something like this: “Mom and Dad!  Come back!”  Mom and Dad move to the other side of the room… the child sees this and again if they could talk they would say: “I’m here!  I’m coming!”  The child musters all the strength that they have…they rise… and step by step they go, with legs that move like jelly and big eyes…they continue forward.  Mission baby: fall into the arms of Mom and Dad.  Mom and Dad are saying with the most beautiful high-pitched tone of voice: “Come on honey!  Come to Mom and Dad!”   Mom and Dad catch their little one with great joy! They finally made their first steps!!

I sometimes wonder what it was like for the Mother of God and St. Joseph to see the Son of God take His first steps on earth.  I am sure that it was a moment fixated in the mind of Mary in which she pondered often.  The feet that he took His first steps with would be the feet kissed by the sinful woman in whom our Lord would forgive.  Those were the same feet which would travel miles and miles in order to do the will of the Father.  Those were the same feet which would travel up to Calvary, and the same feet which would be nailed to the Cross for our salvation.  And those are the same feet that we all fall down before in our brokenness and weakness and in a spirit of contrition.

Taking those first few steps is one example of “letting go.”  It was a moment in which we needed to let go of the hands of our parents.  However, there are moments in life where letting go is very hard to do.  When someone we love dies, or is separated from us for long periods of time, we experience grief and struggle.  When someone does something to us that hurts us, it makes it very difficult to move on because of the pain, we have a hard time forgiving and letting go.  Jesus tells us “Come to me…and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Letting go takes time, patience, faith and great love.  We cannot do it on our own, especially if it is a matter of love. Letting go does not mean that we stop loving, but it means that we love in a deeper way.  When we are attached to creatures, it means that our love is disordered in some way.  Attachment is not love.  Attachments do not bring us closer to God.  Love brings us closer to God.  The dark night is meant to help us break the attachments so that we can really love.  This means maintaining healthy boundaries with those we love and care for, and have everything in our lives properly ordered. God must help us and by His grace we are able to do it!  Letting go involves making sacrifices and knowing that God is in control.  Letting go means giving God control, surrendering to Him and His plan, and then cooperating with His grace.  It calls to mind the story of Abraham when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac…this was a test of his faith.  God gave this painful task to Abraham; however (spoiler alert!) God was only testing Abraham and so Abraham did not kill His son!  Abraham’s story can teach us so many lessons, but one big lesson that it teaches me is learning to let go of my own will in order to follow God’s will.  Other saints had to experience this process of “letting go.”  St. Maximilian Kolbe comes to mind because he was willing to sacrifice his own life so another man would live.  St. Augustine had to let go of his life of impurity in order say “yes” to God.  St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi chose to let go of their lives of luxury in order to follow the Gospel.  Sacrifice is hard.  Letting go is hard, but if we see with the eyes of faith…once we let go we know through faith that we receive everything in return…because God is everything.

How do the things I love in this world bring me closer to God?

Are the relationships that I am in currently helping me to grow closer to God or further away?

What or who am I attached to?  How can I maintain healthy boundaries?

Is there a little sacrifice that I can make today out of love for God?

Going through the dark night means being ready to let go!  I already spoke about attachments in a previous blog post, however, more can be said in this regard.  God is outside of creation…yet He became one of us in order to love us and save us.  He transcends everything.  All wisdom and power is contained in God. God shares His goodness through creation and He calls man to be holy.  We realize through Jesus that holiness is a supernatural gift.  Man cannot be holy on his own; God is holy, therefore it is by God’s grace and our cooperation with Him that we become holy too.

St. John of the Cross tells us that God is All and creatures are nothing (nada).  Creatures are something in so far as they are made by God, but in the light of eternity, how do creatures compare to almighty God?  The creatures of the world are things that we need to detach ourselves from.  In order to ascend to God, we must be detached.  This does not mean that we cannot enjoy God’s creation.  God made creatures out of His great love, and He wants us to enjoy them and give thanks to God for them.  However, creatures are finite which means they are not everlasting.  What are finite things compared to the infinite God?

So overall, two contrary points cannot exist in one person.  St. John of the Cross points out that to live in the darkness means to be attached to creatures.  To live in the light means to be attached to God.  If you have a love for higher things, you enhance your dignity and you become more of who God is calling you to be.  If we are attached to creatures, we become slaves of the world, carrying within ourselves a heart of a slave rather than a heart of a son or a daughter of God.  When we are in union with the Lord we lose nothing, but gain everything!

Have you ever been hungry?  Like really hungry?  They say never go shopping when you are hungry!!  I know from experience that this is very wise advice.  Our appetites can sometimes be intense!  What we crave can take hold of us!  In the dark night, God wants to purify our desires for things.  He wants to help us order our passions and appetites so that they will give glory to God and not to ourselves.  St. John of the Cross makes a good point: behind every appetite there is a desire for God.  We might have appetites for friendship, union with a spouse, food, sports, etc…  If we take our appetite for friendship as an example, behind that desire for friendship is a desire for union with God.  My professor of the course that I took on Christian Asceticism of St. John of the Cross told us that “creatures are meant to wet our appetite for God.”  He told us that creatures are meant to awaken our desire to see that which is to be revealed.  Appetites are not bad things…but too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.  Our appetites need to be mortified and disciplined, since their purpose is only to draw us closer to God.  If our appetites are ordered and detached, the proper object that we attain is union with God who is our infinite good.  However, if our appetites are not properly ordered, we attain a vicious cycle of disobedience and discontentment and so the object we attain is self.  Happiness is a state of being where we are in communion with God.  Our appetites need to be ordered upward to God through Faith, and so we must put them under the rule of Faith and thus we will be happy.

So you see now the necessity of the dark night.  Creatures cannot totally satisfy us.  Our selfishness cannot satisfy us.  Power, success, money, and pleasure cannot fully satisfy us.  Thus God needs to purify and strengthen us to see that all our desires point to the fact that we are thirsting for God, and in order to be in union with God which is our ultimate purpose, that means we need to learn how to let go of all our attachments.

The next post we will begin to discuss the dark night of the senses, specifically the passive purgations and what that means.  We have already spoken a lot about the active night, but we are now going to discuss the passive night.  We will go through each of the seven deadly sins in detail such as spiritual pride, spiritual avarice, spiritual lust, spiritual anger, spiritual gluttony, spiritual envy, spiritual sloth.  Then we will discuss signs of discerning the dark night which will hopefully be very beneficial to all of you as it has been for me!