Piece By Piece…

pieces

This year, we have been talking a lot about the spiritual life!!  We have looked at St. John of the Cross in detail…and it is not over yet!! So, once we have made it through our discussions on the Dark Night of the Soul and the Living Flame of Love…we will discuss…well I am not sure yet…I am taking suggestions if you would like to leave them in the comments box…it will be a surprise for me too!!

I want to leave you with this wonderful dialogue written by John Roedel (thank you Mr. John!)  I think that there is a message in this for everyone, and especially since we are discussing the Dark Night of the Soul, there may be some interesting insights to take into the New Year.

The dialogue below is by John Roedel, author of Hey God. Hey John.  Here is a link to his book and Facebook page.

Me: Hi God.

God: Hello…

Me: I’m falling apart.  Can you put me back together?

God: I would rather not.

Me: Why?

God: Because you aren’t a puzzle.

Me: What about all of the pieces of my life that are falling down into the ground?

God: Let them stay there for a while.  They fell off for a reason.  Take some time and decide if you need any of those pieces back.

Me: You don’t understand!  I am breaking down!

God: No- You don’t understand.  You are breaking through.  What you are feeling are just growing pains.  You are shedding the things and the people in your life that are holding you back.  You aren’t falling apart.  You are falling into place.  Relax.  Take some deep breaths and allow those things you don’t need anymore to fall off of you.  Quit holding onto pieces that don’t fit you anymore.  Let them fall off.  Let them go.

Me: Once I start doing that, what will be left of me?

God: Only the very best pieces of you.

Me: I’m scared of changing.

God: I keep telling you…you aren’t changing!  You are BECOMING!

Me: Becoming who?

God: Becoming who I created you to be!  A person of light and love and charity and hope and courage and joy and mercy and grace and compassion.  I made you for more than the shallow pieces you have decided to adorn yourself with that you cling to with such greed and fear.  Let those things fall off of you.  I love you!  Don’t change!…Become!  Become! Become who I made you to be.  I’m going to keep telling you this until you remember it.

Me: There goes another piece.

God: Yes.  Let it be.

Me: So…I’m not broken?

God: Of course not!-but you are breaking like the dawn.  It’s a new day.  Become!!!

Author: John Roedel

 

Pull Up Our Socks…Time to Get Into Shape!!

pull-yr-socks-up

I heard a really beautiful story recently about a five year old girl who went with her family to see a relative who is a Nun in the Cloister.  The family was speaking to the Sister and to their amazement the five year old girl started to climb up the grill, and she asked “How do you get in there?”  The Nun replied with a smile, “You have to want to get in!”

I suppose this is similar to our Spiritual lives.  In order to be in union with God, we need to want it!  God will provide everything we need to be in union with Him, and God is ultimately in control.  All we need to do is say “yes” and cooperate with His grace and God will send us everything we need in order to be united to him.

We have been talking about various aspects of the dark night of the senses.  People can have various experiences with the dark night.  It may depend on the degree of love that God wishes that person to have.  It could also depend on what sins and imperfections we have had in our life.  It may even depend on a person’s strength of soul. I found a quote by St. John of the Cross who says, “God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”

The information that I will be providing in this post is from a course I took entitled Introduction to Christian Asceticism in St. John of the Cross.  The professor based the course off of St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul and has given me permission to use the information from the course pack that was provided and I am very happy to share it with you!

The more strong a soul is, the more quickly they will be brought to perfection in their life experience.  Strong souls will undergo clear and pronounced dark nights that they receive with gratitude and peace of heart.  They know that plunging through this dark night will bring them to God and this is very consoling.  Strong souls will also experience trials that are typically more severe.  For example: severe temptations against chastity, and other purging of the senses.  They may even suffer severe scruples and interior trials.  They might experience external trials of misjudgment by people they love, persecution for doing good and physical trials.

Weaker souls are brought more slowly to perfection through their experience of the dark night.  They experience the dark night for a longer period of time, but every once in a while God will bestow consolations on them.  Their perfection will come at the end of life.  We need to persevere!!  We need to persevere and not turn back!!  It might be in the end that we reach perfection!  Do not lack courage!!

Souls who never reach perfection in this life are souls who occasionally receive the night of the senses in order to remain humble.  They rarely or never receive infused contemplation.  God will grant them Divine consolations so as to prevent them from returning to the world.

I really recommend speaking through these trials with a spiritual director because the trials we are experiencing do have spiritual elements to them, but they could also be a result of an emotional, mental, or psychological difficulty that needs to be addressed by professionals.  Sometimes our trials can be the result of experiences in the past that we need healing from.  Do not automatically assume that it is just a spiritual trial you are having.  Speak with a spiritual director and they will help you discern the next steps!

I know you are reading this and probably thinking: WHAT??  Why can’t the road be easier??  Why can’t God just zap me and make me a saint right now!  The truth is God can zap you and make you a saint right now if He wanted to.  However, this is typically not the way it works!  God chose the way of the Cross in order to redeem us…so we also have a “way of the Cross” to help us on our way to the kingdom of heaven!

Think of it this way: let’s say you are preparing to run a marathon.  You know you need to exercise and “get into shape” in order to run it successfully.  Otherwise you would be huffing and puffing and you will feel like you are going to die!  Exercising and stretching…that all takes work and self- discipline too!!  You might need to eat more healthy (goodbye chocolate chip cookies… hello vegetables!!), you might have to get better rest…all of these things are difficult and hard.  It is going to test everything you have!  But in the end (spoiler alert!!) it is going to make you a stronger person…because it is not only about the running!  The preparation will teach you discipline, perseverance and how to give your all!  This preparation can teach you life-lessons about commitment, respect and how not to give up on God, yourself, or others.  And…the bonus…you will be in shape!!

You may say “I don’t feel like exercising, and stretching…and I hate green food…but I still want to run the marathon.”  You need someone to say to you: “Honey, stop crying…pull up your socks… and do whatever it takes to prepare well…it is worth it in the end!!”  In the end, you will be so happy that God permitted you to endure what you did.  Had you not endured it, you would not be the person you are today.  You would not have grown stronger…you would have stayed swimming in a sea of pride and arrogance.  This can be a hard lesson, especially in times when the suffering is very great.  But if we make the decision to trust in faith then we will move forward with confidence and trust in God.

The saints knew that their suffering was not a waste…that it was actually strengthening them in virtue!  Let’s not waste our suffering…let’s offer it humbly to God for our own growth in holiness and for the holiness of others.  Any suffering born patiently and out of love is worth more than we can ever imagine!  Suffering can be a proof of love.  We can learn so much about ourselves and others when we suffer.  When I was a teenager, I was at the “cool stage, and at the “cool stage” it is easy to be arrogant and rude.  I remember a few times my mom telling me: “I carried you in my belly for nine months!  Don’t forget that!”  Our mothers have done so much for us!  When we were babies and crying at night, they were the ones getting up and feeding us.  Our moms changed our diapers…yes…it was nasty…. and they did it!! It caused them pain…but because they love us, it was worth it!  Thank you mom!

Jesus Himself said: “Greater love hath no man than this, then to lay down his life for a friend.”  St. John of Cross says, “The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly be resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.”

Suffering actually purifies our love for God, for others and even for ourselves.  Suffering can help our love to become more like Christ’s love.  I think it is equally important to realize that you are not alone in your suffering.  God is present entirely!  He is holding you and embracing you like a good father.  We can get angry and tell Him to go away…but he won’t because He knows that His place is right there with you.

So what do we do when we are experiencing the dark night of the senses?

  • Complete and loving submission to the will of God, accepting with patience and resignation the painful trial of the dark night for as long as God decrees i.e. the soul abstains from seeking consolations.
  • Perseverance in prayer in spite of all the difficulty purely out of imitation of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane with absolute trust in God.
  • In prayer, the soul must remain in peace and quiet, content simply with a loving gaze on God, without any particular consideration and without any desire for delight or sensation.
  • Docility to a prudent and experienced director if available, if not, God will use other means to guide the soul.

If you are going through a dark night, do not be afraid.  Jesus is with you.  He has your name in His Sacred Heart, and He is carrying you through!

 

Smile!!! There are Benefits!!

smile

We all want benefits!  I am sure that in your places of employment that is one of the first things you ask…what are the benefits that my family receives if I work here??  I know my family was always very happy when there was coverage at a workplace in order to go to the dentist.  I always found the dental profession very interesting…spending your time looking into people’s mouths and poking at their teeth with sharp objects…what an interesting profession!!  We need to be healthy in soul and body…that includes our teeth!  Thank you dentists!!

So…back to the topic of benefits.  You might ask Religious Sisters or priests: “what are the benefits you have received in embracing this call from God?”  I would say the great benefit of being a priest or Religious Sister is that we have embraced a life where God is to be our everything.  We are striving to have a life, where everything is centered on God and loving God.  But to say that we have embraced a life where God is our everything means that we are striving to be holy and that means embracing the joys and beauty in the life.  It also means embracing the Cross when it comes.  You might ask: “Sister, you are actually saying that carrying the Cross is a benefit…you mean that the Cross is actually something valuable?”  The answer is “yes” provided that we carry it with our Lord in a spirit of Faith, Hope, Charity and I add with patience and humility.  Embracing the Cross can help you become a great saint!  The Saints became saints because they carried their Cross with love.  We can do that to!

So what is the benefit of the dark night in our souls…well there is not just one…there are about three that I can think of.  Firstly, we have a greater knowledge of self and our own misery that leads to respect and reverence toward God, spiritual humility, love of neighbour and obedience and submission to others.  Someone who has gone through the dark night sees they are totally dependent on God and they need to have an awe of God and true self-acceptance.  Having spiritual humility involves recognizing our sinfulness, but also seeing and loving that God has set His merciful gaze upon us.  We see that as we go through the dark night our compassion and love for our neighbour increases.  When we look at our neighbour, we no longer judge them as we used to do, but we just see God’s mercy when we look at them.  Finally, obedience and submission to others, especially to parents, Superiors, teachers etc… gets easier as we make our way through the dark night.  Obedience comes easier when we realize we are not the center of the universe and that we don’t know everything!!

The second benefit that I can think of is that the dark night helps us to grow in virtue and uproot vices.  In our unconscious there are things that need to be rooted out.  Our initial virtues begin to become strong virtues.  We no longer seek the delights that we received from spiritual exercises.  We are more aware of our sinfulness and we move towards unity with God and love God through the aridity.

Finally, the third benefit to having the dark night of the soul is that there is a purity of love that happens.  The soul grows in love for God and begins to love God for Himself.  After the dark night the devil is vanquished (yes!!)  The soul is now full of zeal…now the soul needs the night of the spirit.

What is interesting is that we are not all called to the same level of holiness as each other.  God calls some to higher levels of sanctity.  Not all souls have the same starting point…some begin their road to conversion later in life.  However we all need a purgation…we all need a cleansing…just like our teeth need cleansing once in a while (thank you again dentists!) …so does our soul need cleansing and the more open we are to God’s work the more shiny and beautiful our soul will be before the throne!!

I once heard a priest talk on one of our annual retreats in the summer time, and he talked to us about heaven.  He said that when we get to heaven, there will be no jealousy about the holiness of another saint.  Our conversations will be much like: “Oh!  What a great degree of holiness you have!! That’s awesome!!” and the other will reply, “Your degree of holiness is awesome too!!”  It was super funny when he was explaining it.  He was making the point that we will not have the same degree of holiness as each other in heaven…but the important thing is that we will be there together for all eternity!!

 

 

A Time to Hope…Not to be Stubborn!

hope

Have you ever noticed how little children know how to get what they want?  I remember hearing a story about a little girl who threw a tantrum because she wanted something…she wasn’t getting her own way.  Her father, observed her jumping up and down screaming!  He went up to her, took her by the hand and started doing the exact same thing she was doing: jumping and screaming…she was so embarrassed that her dad was doing that, she never threw another tantrum again.  Obviously, he was trying to prove a point…to help her to see how ridiculous she is being by being so stubborn.

Sometimes when we don’t get what we want…or we just don’t understand if we want something that we know is good, why doesn’t God allow us to have it?  Some things will remain a mystery…hidden… but in eternity we will know.  Maybe what we did want was not the best thing for us at the time…or maybe God wants us to have that good thing, but He is asking us to be patient and wait…or maybe there is something even more wonderful just around the corner and God is whispering: “Wait until you see what I have for you!”  But we can be so stubborn and needy…God challenges us to trust…and wait…but not just to wait…to wait in hope!

Waiting…that reminds me…Happy Advent everyone!!!  We are so blessed to have a time of preparation and waiting for the Saviour, yet our waiting is with joy-filled hope!  Jesus is our hope!

As we have been discussing in these blog posts the seven deadly sins and how to grow in our relationship with God through them, I hope that it has helped us to see that we are weak and that we need God.  However, I hope that it has also instilled hope inside of you because if God allows you to pass through the dark night, it means He wants you to be a great saint!  This is certainly a reason to hope!!

It is very important to be able to distinguish between the signs for discerning the dark night, and the signs of us just being stubborn!

First of all, we need to understand the need of three signs that we have entered the dark night.  The first sign is that the soul experiences no satisfaction in creatures.  In the dark night, prayer becomes hard, and performing works of mercy and charity becomes extremely hard.  God is purging the soul of spiritual consolations and delights and so the soul does not find satisfaction in creatures.  The soul seeks for God alone!  The second sign is that the memory ordinarily turns to God with solicitude.  This means that the soul may think and feel that it has turned away from God yet, this is not the case at all!!  Their desire for God is so great…they do not feel like praying for example but are still committed to prayer.  A stubborn soul (lukewarm) is one who does not feel like praying and then stops praying because they just don’t feel like it!  A lukewarm soul does not long for God because God does not seem to be communicating through their senses.  The third sign is that the soul will have an inability to meditate.  They experience a type of “dry thirst” during meditation, yet the spirit is strengthened through it all!  The soul must persevere and be content with just remaining in the presence of God and offering to God their poverty, and “empty hands” during meditation.

So how should a soul conduct themselves during the dark night?  There are three ways that the saints explain how a soul can do this!

First, a soul must stop discursive meditation and remain in the presence of God.  They must simply wait in the stillness of God.  Secondly, a soul must persevere with patience.  Prayer will seem like a trial and a cross, however perseverance is very pleasing to God!  Thirdly, a soul must have a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God.  The soul must lose any concern about how they feel and must learn to let go of control.

The saints know the dark night!  Take hope in the words of St. Mother Teresa: “God speaks in the silence of the heart.  Listening is the beginning of prayer.”