Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for April, 2019

What Just Happened?

This Good Friday in 2019 finds me in a strange sort of reflection. Even as most of the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours point to our suffering Savior, and the Good Friday liturgy this afternoon will focus on the Passion story, my thoughts are turning to all of the people around Jesus and how the events of this day affected them (not so much how they dealt with what was happening, because as soon as I considered this aspect, I realized that the disciples really didn’t deal with it at all, not then and not for some time after).

What must the disciples have thought during the Last Supper? And I realize, considering it, that they didn’t even know it was the Last Supper. We’ve named it that from the perspective of history, but I imagine that some, if not all, of the disciples still thought that Jesus would come out victorious by their world’s standards – that they heard His statement that His hour had come as a prediction of triumph. I feel like even His promise that the Son of Man would suffer and be handed over to death might have gone over their heads.

So I imagine them around the table, having no idea that this was the last time they would be together with Jesus in exactly this way, listening as He taught them. I am reminded that the 12 who sat with Him that evening were truly disciples – followers who devoted their entire waking lives to learning from Him and literally following Him everywhere; they had been immersed in His teachings for three years, and with the exception of Judas, they had turned their hearts and minds completely over to Him. John’s gospel tells the story of the Last Supper as a sort of extension and compilation of Jesus’ teachings, culminating in Jesus giving His Body and His Blood to the disciples as their food and drink. He gave Himself to them in this lasting way before He gave Himself up to death for the sins of all the world.

Again, from the perspective of history and the teachings of the Church, we understand that in those moments, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. What if we didn’t have that perspective? As the disciples, gathered around the table with the remains of the Passover meal before them, heard Jesus’ words, then received the bread and drank the wine that He had made His Body and Blood, what did they think was happening?

When I try to put myself in their place, I imagine them being utterly mystified, with perhaps a slight dawning of understanding. They would have recalled, I think, Jesus telling them earlier that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they would have no life in them (John 6:53). If they wondered at His meaning then, what must they have thought at the Last Supper? When Jesus made His statement originally, many of His followers walked away, and Jesus asked His closes followers – these same 12 – if they, too, would leave Him. Peter spoke for all, saying, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). This could be considered Peter’s first act as the Rock upon which the Church would be built, but as he listened to Jesus that last evening, I think he was as mystified as the rest of them.

What can he possibly mean? they think. I wasn’t sure about it when he talked about this awhile back, and now here he is telling us that this bread is his body and this wine is his blood. Are we to be guilty of his death? What is he doing?

The juxtaposition of Jesus’ earlier admonition in John 6:53 and His actions at the Last Supper might have brought the disciples a glimmering of understanding about the real mission of Jesus. Having already confessed Him as the “Holy One of God” (John 6:69), this may have been a moment when they began to see more clearly that Jesus, as the promised Messiah, was indeed bringing a kingdom of heavenly, rather than earthly, power and glory.

I find myself wondering if they might have hesitated, at least in their hearts, before receiving the bread and the chalice He offered as His Body and Blood. What am I getting myself into? I’m doing this, and I don’t even understand why. Maybe everything will sort itself out tomorrow. This Teacher has always kept His promises to us. I don’t understand this, but maybe He will explain it as He often explained the stories He told us.

And so the Last Supper culminates in this moment of sacred communion, Jesus giving Himself in a new way to His disciples – a most intimate way that they do not yet understand. To say that nothing after that moment went as they expected would be an understatement. Nothing about the trip to Gethsemane, Jesus’ prayer of abandonment and agony, and the betrayal by Judas which ended in the arrest of Jesus, lined up with the disciples’ expectations and hopeful anticipation.

The moment of communion, with all that word suggests, is shattered by the understanding that Jesus – their Rabbi, their Master, their Lord, the one they understood to be “the Holy One of God” – has been delivered into the hands of His enemies. He is now – in the disciples’ eyes – under the control of those enemies and at their mercy. He is now – in the disciples’ eyes – an utter failure. They still love Him, but they do not understand how things could be ending so badly. They do not yet understand that God, the God Who created all things and Who has been seeking the reconciliation of His sinful creatures to Himself, the very God of heaven and earth is in complete control of what happens next. From their human perspective, all is shambles and chaos. They do not yet have the perspective of the Holy Spirit. And so, with Jesus taken captive, they make themselves scarce. In their human minds, not yet fully enlightened by the Spirit, not yet fully taken up with grace, everything they thought was good and right these past months has disappeared before their eyes.

And so it goes, into Good Friday. From a distance, they watch as Jesus is mistreated and tortured, mocked and beaten. Any attempt to help or defend Him comes to nothing; Peter goes from staunch protector to denier to bitter grief, and John literally runs out of his clothing to escape those who arrest Jesus. As the hours pass, events that seem to be as bad as things could be lead to even worse things. The word spreads among them that Jesus is to be crucified. Can it possibly be that only the awful things he talked about are the ones that will happen? How can he possibly come back from this to the glorious kingdom, to the places in heaven he promised us? How can this be happening to the Holy One of God?

And finally, the crucifixion. The ultimate and most humiliating punishment for those regarded as the worst kind of criminals. The disciples and other followers of Jesus, in the midst of their horror at what was being done to this man that they loved and followed, must have felt utterly crushed by what seemed like the loss of everything they had hoped for. Their minds must have been unable to process what was happening in the light of the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. For three years we have believed He was the Messiah, and now it’s over. Their defeat comes from their choice – perhaps natural, perhaps inadvertent in its way – to accept the prophecies of the Messiah’s glory and ignore those of the Messiah’s suffering. Again, they do not yet have the perspective of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus breathes His last tortured breath, as the sky darkens and the heavens rumble and the earth quakes and the veil of the temple is torn, as the dream they dreamed with Him ends (or so they think), they drift off, perhaps hoping that they can just blend in and not suffer the same fate…and yet the spark still burns in their hearts. He did, after all, make promises. He changed them, changed their hearts, with His teachings. They drift off, but they still cling to each other. They don’t know what will happen next, but there must be something….and there is still His Mother. They, with John, will look out for her.

We are, I think, most particularly blessed as we celebrate the events of our Holy Week, that we do so with the perspective of history and with the perspective of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus gave His life for us in this most horrific and somehow, in the eyes of His disciples, unexpected and unexplainable way, we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism and are showered with more of His gifts in Confirmation. We live our whole lives, really, with what the disciples received on Pentecost, that is, the enlightenment of faith so that we can understand the awful, terrifying events of Good Friday in the context of the glory of Easter.

We celebrate Holy Thursday, not with the nostalgia of remembrance of time spent with loved ones now dead and gone from us, but with the joyous sense of reunion and communion in the heart of our faith.

We celebrate Good Friday, not with the sadness and grim resolve of our observation of the anniversaries of terrible events like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, but rather with a heart that, even in the quiet solemnity of our worship, sees the coming glory.

We celebrate Holy Saturday, not in the dread and anxiety of those who don’t know what is going to happen next, but rather with hearts full of hope, knowing that with dawn comes the Resurrection and with the Resurrection, all the joy and glory of promises fulfilled.

We celebrate Easter, not with a fleeting sense of relief that the worst is behind us, but with a stunning and glorious joy that the best is ahead of us. We celebrate because when we, with the women of Easter morning, peer into the empty tomb and learn that He is risen, we know that we are the children of a Father Who keeps His promises. Now, in the light of Easter, we remember that there is yet one promise, and we look forward to it joyfully. He will send His Spirit, and His Spirit will fill our lives with His gifts.

That’s a promise. It’s personal.

And I can live with that.


A quiet house, and no early morning Mass because truly, the only time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper is in the evening, and nothing on my calendar until 10:30 this morning – it’s an ideal combination for reflection, and reflection almost always leads me here to write, or at least to capture a few notes for writing later.

My thoughts, this morning as I went around doing my morning things, turned to how Jesus might have spent this last “normal” morning of His life on earth. We know from the synoptic gospels only that Jesus, on Thursday morning, instructed His disciples to prepare the place for them to share the Passover meal. John’s gospel is even less revealing, saying only that after talking to the crowds on the first day of the week, after His triumphal entry into the city, “Jesus left and hid from them” (John 12:36). What began to occupy my thoughts, in the absence of specific information about what Jesus did that day, was the idea that as the hours wore on, He knew what was coming. There was no formless dread or anxiety for the unknown; as the Son of God, He knew exactly what would happen, moment by agonizing moment – every mockery, every humiliation, every excruciating pain of the torture of scourging and crucifixion. As the Son of God in fully human form, He knew all that His human body would suffer in all possible intensity of detail. I think of Him going about what should have been an ordinary day, with all of this knowledge churning and churning in His human mind while He considered the divine will that He also carried within Himself. He knew it was going to be bad, and He knew that in the kind of detail that none of us ever knows when we are dreading the events of tomorrow.

And He went on and did it all anyway. He chose to submit Himself to questioning, and mockery, and physical abuse and torture that went on, if I think of it conservatively, from perhaps 9:00 Thursday evening until 3:00 Friday afternoon. Eighteen hours; 1,080 minutes; 64,800 seconds – each spent in the intimate and detailed knowledge of what suffering the next seconds and all of the coming minutes and hours would bring, while suffering in the present moment as well.

He went and did it all anyway. And there it is – there is “the greatest love,” the love with which He loved us. He chose to go through that kind of suffering because He loved the Father’s creation, mankind.

And because He is God, He did it while holding each and every single person ever created in His heart and mind. Personally. And even if we can get some grasp of what that means, it still doesn’t begin to touch the fullness of His infinite love for us.

Forget, for a moment, all of the specifics we know about the tortures Jesus suffered and about His death. What truly astounds me, in my reflection today, is the gut-wrenching, heart-bursting, soul-searing love that Jesus felt in His human self – an echo, no, a full reproduction of the world-filling, all-amazing, eternal love that God carries for His creation. He could have chosen any of a multitude of ways to show this love and to reconcile His sinful, stubborn people to Himself. And He chose a way to do this that was sure to engage us in all of our senses, a way that would create empathy and gratitude in even the hardest of hearts, if they only open themselves to that kind of grace.

As I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary yesterday, I considered how I would feel about someone I know and love being treated so horribly and suffering such pain and indignity. It’s then that I realized just how little I really have progressed in my relationship with Jesus – how great His love is for me, and how small is my own ability to love Him. Knowing what I know about Jesus and His merciful love, I must allow Him to reach me at my center and change me from the core of my heart and my being so that I can begin to love Him in at least some small semblance of the way I ought to love Him.

There is this, in the suffering and passion and death of our Jesus: that the very fact of His pain, His bleeding, His excruciating burden of sin and guilt – the burden that He took on for all of us, the burden that so weighed Him down that Simon of Cyrene had to be forced into carrying His cross so that He could even survive to then be crucified – all of this acted to spur on His tormenters in their viciousness. The act of causing Him pain dragged, even drew them deeper into the pit of sin and depravity.

I think, as I consider the very monstrousness of this idea, that one of the greatest gifts of His merciful suffering and His willing sacrifice for our redemption is that we are given a new lease on our free will. We are given back the ability to fully and wholeheartedly choose Jesus, a choice whose meaning and import are forever affirmed and validated by the choice that Jesus Himself made. Because the choice Jesus Himself made – the choice to suffer and die out of a deep personal love for me and for every person who ever lived or ever will life – was forever affirmed and validated by His Resurrection, everything that I do in service to Him or to “the least of these” has new meaning. My choice and my quest to walk with Jesus, Who is always near and waiting for me to follow Him, has new meaning.

This, to me, is the fullness of Holy Week. It is a matter of seeing what Jesus did in the full context of His humanity and His divinity – this is what brings redemption fully into my soul.

And I can live with that.


Every. Single. Time.

Here in the final days of the Lenten season of penance and atonement, I tried to watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

I couldn’t do it.

It wasn’t the fact that the dialogue is in (mostly) Aramaic without subtitles. Certainly I know the stories well enough to suss out the dialogue without English subtitles.

It wasn’t the violence. Although I think this movie depicts the violence surrounding Jesus’ suffering and death in a brutally truthful way, and it is hard to watch, the violence had barely started when I had to turn the film off.

It was this: I began watching this movie in a prayerful way, asking the Holy Spirit to let me enter into the redemption story (for that truly is what it is!) with an open mind and heart and learn what He wants me to know as Easter approaches. And as the beginning scenes unfolded on the screen, thoughts began to unfold in my head. You see, I know how it ends – or more accurately, that it doesn’t end! Not here in the garden, not in Pilate’s mock court, not on the road to Golgotha, and certainly not on the Cross or in the tomb. What happens next in God’s salvation story is – well, it’s the salvation!

I sat there for a few more moments with the remote in my hand, as it occurred to me that perhaps God was suggesting that I not dwell too much on the horrors of the events of the Passover Eve and following day; that I must see and know those events in the bright light of where they led; that if I dwell only on His suffering, my sadness might overshadow the complete joy of the redemption His suffering bought; that getting lost in the emotions that His sufferings evoke could actually lead me astray from the beautiful and glorious fact of His Resurrection.

The cycle of Holy Week – the solemnity of Maundy Thursday in remembrance of the first Eucharist, the tragic sorrows of Good Friday, the emptiness of Holy Saturday – can too easily lead to such an indulgence of feelings – feelings that reach their peak in the trumpets and the organ music and the alleluias of Easter Sunday. I contemplated this for a moment, and my finger found the “off” button on my remote as I opted for some quiet time in conversation with Jesus about all this. The conversation has continued, off and on, ever since, and here are some things I’ve learned from it.

Jesus did indeed suffer, beyond what we can imagine, as he stood in for us in atonement for our sins. We need to know that He suffered, because without the suffering, the glory of Resurrection would never have come about.

When we consider and reflect upon God’s story of salvation, we must see and know the whole story rather than getting stuck on just one part of it. Without the Cross there is no empty tomb. Without the empty tomb there is no Easter joy. And without the joy of Easter, we have no context for the suffering that came before it.

The next thing that I learned in this time of reflection is that we celebrate all of these wonderful events as a cycle of anniversaries, partly so that we are reminded of all the parts of the salvation story, but also in large measure because celebrating this cycle over and over again helps us to see the salvation story in its essential integrity as a seamless event that wound its way through history, continues in our lives, and will continue long after we have gone to our hoped-for reward. By celebrating all of these anniversaries, we put our selves on the path toward truth.

The truth – and it is a startling truth! – is that our redemption made mercy and forgiveness and blessings readily available to us because we continue to sin. Jesus’ once-for-all-and-once-for-all-time redemptive act did not remove the free will with which God our Father created us. And that, combined with the effects of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, means we are still sinful creatures.

We sin; we seek and avail ourselves of mercy and forgiveness; we repent, and join our acts of atonement with those of Jesus; and inevitably, we sin again.

And here are the most important things I learned:

He never tires of taking us back.

We sin, we repent, we atone, we sin again – and He waits for us to come back, to repent, to seek out His love and mercy. Every. Single. Time. Jesus is the ultimate Example of His own admonition to forgive without limits.

And He will not be outdone. For every time that temptation lures us back, He waits with yet one more act of forgiveness, if we will only seek it. No matter how many times we fall, or how badly, there He is with outstretched hand to offer not just mercy and forgiveness, but strength.

Does the world abound with thrills and delights and temptations? He waits for us with serenity and joy and peace. He will not be outdone.

Do we suffer physical illness or mental illness or addiction? He waits for us with abundant healing, and He smiles when we reach to just touch the hem of His garment. He will not be outdone.

Are we in love with material things and success and the praise of others? He waits for us with rewards that last endlessly longer than these, and He rejoices when we seek them. He will not be outdone.

I love being the child of a God Who never tires of taking me back and Who will not be outdone. The more I learn about how much He loves me, the greater my joy.

I can live with that.

Remember My Joy!

Sometimes it is just astonishing how quickly and easily we can slip into a routine when it comes to our spiritual life. Years ago, a family friend used to say, after slipping up in some way, “Oh well – can’t be Mr. Wonderful all the time.”

It’s true. We aren’t going to sustain high levels of spiritual energy for endless periods of time – not until we get to heaven, where all the earthly distractions and limitations and obstacles are gone. We can move so quickly from moments of ecstasy and joy to a sense of plodding through the “obligations” of our prayer life. We get too reliant, sometimes, on having “the feels” so that when we experience those down times, those days when it all feels like rote and routine and duty, those days when the emotions just don’t rush in when we pray or meditate or even go to Mass and receive Holy Communion – when that happens, we let ourselves slide. Maybe it’s just a tiny bit, but we do it. We back off from our participation in the spiritual life in favor of something that brings a spark of fun and feeling.

We are so fortunate that our God, Who loved us into being, loves us so much that He understands this. Certainly it isn’t where He wants us to be, and He always has a path open for us to return.

What I think He would love for us to understand is that our participation in the spiritual life does not rely on our emotions at all. He welcomes our coming to him in the dialogue of prayer no matter how we are feeling – bored, busy, happy, sad, depressed, excited – and He wants us to sit with Him in that conversation just as we are.

I don’t need to be full of excitement to call a friend and say that I need to talk; likewise, I don’t need to be brimming over with either happy or sad emotion to tell Jesus that I really need Him today.

It’s precisely when we are feeling not much of anything, one way or the other, about our prayer life and our ongoing conversation with our Lord, that we need to take the opportunity for those conversations with Jesus. And the act of reminding ourselves of His presence and beginning to tell Him what is on our hearts and minds will not always bring an immediate burst of emotion. But emotion isn’t what our relationship with Him is all about, any more than it’s what any of our other relationships are all about if we are honest with ourselves.

Our relationship with Jesus is built on faith and trust and love and joy, and none of these are emotions. They are, instead, choices – choices that open our hearts and souls to receive God’s grace. And when I pursue my conversation with Jesus throughout my day, regardless of how I “feel” about my spiritual life or anything else in that moment, I do so knowing that He is here with me, loving me, hearing me, wanting me to invite Him into all the parts of my life. My soul is filled with joy when I choose to be open to grace. This joy is a state of being, not an emotion.

Joy is not so much felt as it is known.

Joy is not so much experienced as it is lived.

Joy is what happens when we know the answer to Peter’s question: Lord, to whom shall we go? Joy is all but inevitable if we allow ourselves the time to remember Jesus’ presence with us and to turn to him, and if we remember, with conscious intent, what He has done for us, continues to do for us, wants to do for us.

Psalm 12 offers a beautiful example of the soul caught in gloom and sadness, wondering if God has forgotten, and then remembering in joy the living, loving God in Whom all hope is well placed:

How long, O Lord, will you forget me? How long will you turn your face from me?

How long must I bear grief in my soul, how long must I carry sadness in my heart by day and night?

How long will my enemy be stronger than me?

Turn to me and hear me, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes and save me from the sleep of death.

Or my enemy will say, “I have prevailed against him!” and those who torment me will rejoice at my stumbling.

But I put my hope in Your loving kindness. My heart will rejoice at Your saving power. I shall sing to the Lord, Who has granted good things to me.

It seems to me that it is not possible to avoid joy when we put our hope in God. Joy is poured into us with the grace that God longs to give us. It is, however, possible to bury our joy in the detritus of our quest for “the feels” and in the doldrums of our willingness to give in to routine rather than open ourselves to a fresh experience of the Spirit with every conversation in prayer.

Our quest, then, should take us not down the path of seeking some new and fleeting experience of feeling or emotion; our quest should take us on the path that Jesus walks – the path of hope, mercy, and joy.

Jesus, let me walk with You each day in my quest for Heaven. Show me the Father, Who created all through You, and send me the Spirit Who renews all of Your creation in love. Instill in my heart the fullness of joy and let it shine from me wherever I go. If I seem inclined to stifle the joy that Your presence brings to my life – and how could it not bring joy? – with routines and useless quests for needless things, whisper in my ear, Lord – whisper to me loudly: Remember your joy! I think, Lord, that if I remember my joy, the joy that comes from You, I cannot help but share it.

Liberation by Charism

This blog has been pretty quiet for a few weeks. That’s because something has been going on in my life that I wasn’t quite ready to write about yet. Now, God has brought a new focus to it all, and I find I need to write about it before I can go on to write about other things in the coming days and weeks.

Two months ago, my life took yet another amazing turn when I participated in a Called and Gifted workshop sponsored by our diocese. When I left the house that morning, I was full of anticipation, but I could not have known what surprises were in store for me! I could not have predicted the joy that was waiting for me. The purpose of this workshop was to lead participants through a prayerful process of identifying the charisms with which God had gifted them and discovering what that would mean for them.

First, a few words about “charisms.” These are gifts of the Holy Spirit – special gifts we receive, in addition to those at Baptism and Confirmation. The gifts of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism and Confirmation are intended for our own spiritual growth and benefit, whereas charisms are given to us for the purpose of fitting us to serve others. Charisms are not necessarily aligned with natural talents, but discerning charisms can begin a life-changing journey of grace, a journey in response to God’s call to all of us to serve Him and His people. To go into greater detail here would stray from my purpose in writing and would ruin the surprise for those who may be inspired to explore further. More information about charisms can be found at https://siena.org/charisms-faq.

On the day of the workshop, I sat with about 80 other people, taking the inventory that would reveal my charisms to me. And what a revelation when I completed the self-scoring process!

It wasn’t particularly surprising to me that “writing” came through loud and clear as one of my strongest charisms. I always have known that this was something God called me to.

What was a surprise was learning that I have the “lifestyle” charism of celibacy – and that it was identified with a resounding emphasis!

At some future point I may write further about the other charisms I identified that day; they will be significant to my life of service to God. But celibacy is the one I want to write about at this moment.

Just to start on a level field, celibacy is defined most simply as abstinence from sexual relationships. Make no mistake – the Catholic Church expects that unmarried persons will remain celibate outside of marriage. In that sense, while I am single, celibacy is the state I am supposed to live in. Beyond the basic definition of abstinence from sexual activity, celibacy also may include voluntary abstinence from marriage, and by extension may include voluntary abstinence from activities that would naturally lead to marriage.

In the context of charisms, celibacy may be simply one’s current state of life – for example, as a widow who has not remarried, I live a celibate life. On the other hand, celibacy may represent a vocation, or calling, that goes far beyond a state of life or even a lifestyle – a calling that liberates someone in a significant and special way for the work to which God further calls them.

With that as a backdrop, what I learned at that workshop put meaning and purpose around what I’d been thinking for some time – that I needed to do something about my single state. Not change it! No, what had been growing in my heart is a need and desire to somehow formalize it.

In the seven years since my husband died, I found that I lacked interest in dating or in any sort of romantic involvement. Oh, I tried dating, but there was never the slightest spark of real attraction; fortunately, each foray into the world of dating and relationships ended naturally, without drama. I’ve thought it was unusual without ever really exploring it. Apparently, my demeanor lets men know – without my being aware of doing so – that I am not interested.

The revelation that came out of this workshop was that my lack of interest in relationships, and the fact that men are not swarming to ask me out, are actually huge blessings from God. As I gained understanding of the charism of celibacy, I gained clarity. By removing these urges and temptations from my path, and by making it easy for me to get past them when they arise, my Lord is making me a clear path to devoting my life to His service in all the ways He calls me.

This realization has led me on a path of discernment and has had me seeking, in prayer, the counsel of the Holy Spirit as to whether I should in some manner formalize my celibate state. Although I had wondered about this, vaguely, in the past, I didn’t have a clue what form that might take. Now I began to see it as something He wanted me to explore.

I see in celibacy, with this new infusion of grace, a fertile ground for deepening the roots of my personal relationship with Jesus. Celibacy brings liberation, a freedom that lifts my soul.

I needed this liberation. At first, there was this idea that if I accepted in a formal way that I am called to celibacy, and began to live that out in my life, that would be the exact moment that the guys would start beating down my door for dates and romance, and oh, oops, I already made this promise to God. And this notion tended to get in the way of my discernment, even though I know rationally that I don’t want such relationships and do not have space in my life for such complications.

I realized, then, just how much I had regarded each trip out of the house, to church or out to eat or shopping or any number of activities, as an opportunity to meet “the right guy.” This realization brought reality to my liberation, and a weight lifted from my heart. Even before I began a more formal discernment, I began to feel a new strength that lets me know that I can (a) turn down invitations without drama, (b) offer friendship with a clear understanding that this is all I offer; (c) know that in doing so, I embrace what is already mine rather than avoiding or losing something else and (d) constantly pray that God, in His Holy Spirit, will guide me.

Over a period of two months of prayer and discernment, I’ve prayed daily for guidance, and I’ve met with several individuals (including my spiritual director and my pastor). I’ve talked with family members and shared my thoughts with them, and their support is beyond value! Out of all this has come the firm conviction that in grace, and for the greater glory of God, I am called to make a formal commitment of my celibacy – to become, as the early church often practiced, a “consecrated widow.”

To that end, I am preparing to make a formal private vow of celibacy sometime in the next few months. My preparation involves three main pursuits: First, intense prayer, establishing a daily schedule that makes formal and informal prayer a priority. My pastor called this, when he advised it, a “spiritual defense system,” essential both for spiritual growth and for that inevitable time when the Evil One, seeing the good I intend, will tempt me to stray from it. Second, identification of ministry – for while it’s all well and good to understand that I am called to celibacy, at its heart the purpose of this call is to liberate me from other potential priorities to make God’s purpose my top priority. And third, identification of community – finding and connecting with others who are living in a similar way, a community in which all gain and give strength from and to one another.

While this will be a “private” vow – that is, a vow given to God rather than being accepted by a religious superior in the name of the Church – my plan is to make this vow in the setting of a weekday Mass, as a means of witness, evangelization, and discipleship. Along my path of discernment, I realized that doing so is a way to glorify and praise God to the benefit of others. I will give public witness to my commitment to answering God’s call to service and to my intentional choice for living out that commitment.

My heart is ready. My soul is eager.This is a way that I have lived, intentionally and voluntarily, for several years without fully understanding the import of it. In those years, one of my most frequent prayers has taken the form, “Jesus, lead me. Jesus, guide me on the path You want me to walk. Please help me to know what You want me to do in life, and give me the grace and strength to hear you and to follow You.” It has been the most wonderful surprise to see where He is leading me, and I am eager to know what He has in store next.

This path to a consecrated life – to be sure, one lived in the world and in active service to family and others to whom God may send me – fills me with joy. I’ve written before that I had come to understand that I had a vocation to religious life and that I walked away from it when I was younger; God found many ways to write straight with the crooked lines I drew over the years, and now He has called me back to a new and fresh version of that life.

I can live with that.

Thanks be to God!

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