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 May, 2019

Wishful Thinking

A little wishful thinking, this morning….

If only I had understood, much earlier in my life, the joy and peace and that they come from being open to the promptings and urgings of the Holy Spirit and from being open to the grace to follow them.

If only I had known, while I was busy with work and marriage and raising children, that real joy, deep peace, and rich serenity come from allowing myself to be exactly where God wants me, doing what He calls me to do.

If only I had understood, way back then, that what is necessary to experience this joy and peace and serenity is to set aside my own wants and desires and “needs” in favor of what God asks of me.

While I linger in this “if only” way of thinking, I begin to wonder how my life would have been different if only I had understood all of this much sooner, and if only I had acted well on that understanding.

It’s while I’m imagining that life that I begin to realize that my maundering in the realm of “if only” is happening precisely because “if only” – is not. It didn’t happen, and my past life, the life I am trying to see through the lens of “if only,” is full of bells that I can’t unring – that I shouldn’t even try to unring.

And so I shift the lens, and as I am more and more often led to do throughout these days, I ask God what He means for me to learn from what’s going on here. And as He is always, and mercifully, willing to do for me what I cannot do for myself, I begin to see more clearly.

In a world where “if only” simply is not, then what is? The Lord God Himself answered it: He said: “I AM.”

Oh. This thought comes at me with such simple power that if I’d been standing, I’d have dropped to my knees.

When my Father God speaks of His own existence, His own eternal being, He does so always in the present tense. “I AM.” And now I catch a glimmering of what that means for me. He calls me to live in the present – to BE, not to wish. He calls me to do what lies in front of me to be done, rather than grieve the past. He calls me to be led forward, not to keep looking over my shoulder at what lies behind.

We hear a lot about “mindfulness” in our culture, and it’s usually presented in a sort of secular approach to being “spiritual” – live in the moment, think about actions and decisions before moving forward, be aware of how our actions affect others. When God tells me who He is – “I AM” — and calls me to live in the present, He is calling me to a state of profoundly spiritual “mindfulness.” He is reminding me that He has already dealt with all of those past failures. He sent His Son Jesus to die for them, and He raised His Son Jesus from the dead so that I, too, can triumph over those failures. It’s been handled, and He wants me to be free of the lingering doubts that this wishful thinking represents.

Here’s the thing. When I am focused on me, I get all wrapped up in the past and how I should have done it differently. I get all tangled in “what if” and “if only” and I miss the point altogether. Of course my life would be different if I had made different decisions. But where did I come up with the assumption that it would necessarily be better – for me and for others?

When I am focused on God, and when I am focused on living out His calling and His purpose for me, I get outside of all that. I get free of it. God, Who IS, wants me to understand that He was always loving me, always leading me, always bringing good out of my badness. That’s how He continues His work of creation and redemption in my life.

When I am focused on God, I find myself more and more open to His grace, to His Spirit working in me. My energy is liberated for the work He has for me to do NOW. When “if only” is cast forward, it becomes “I will….” He has poured His grace on my life, to forgive and to write straight with those crooked lines I drew and to hold the pen with me as I strive to draw straighter lines for the path ahead.

Why, oh why would I try to limit Him and the way He wants to work in my life by getting all tangled up in “if only”? Today, I belong to God, and I walk with Jesus, Who always seeks me and rejoices when I turn to Him. Today, I set aside “if only” in favor of “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill my heart. Lead me to shine with the Light you bring. Let my joy in You be complete, and guide me to do Your work in the world around me.”

My Father God has taken care of yesterday, He knows exactly where I need to be today, and He has tomorrow planned for me. I just need to listen.

And I can live with that.

Work In Progress

  • You might be God’s work in progress if you keep closer track of when you had your last haircut than of when you last went to confession.
  • You might be God’s work in progress if you sometimes put off prayer time to get other things – “this-world” things – done.
  • You might be God’s work in progress if you steadfastly avoid eye contact with the man at the intersection holding a sign that says, “Will work for food. Anything helps.”
  • You might be God’s work in progress if you found a $20 bill you didn’t know you had and spent it to treat yourself instead of on a charitable cause.
  • You might be God’s work in progress if you sometimes take “me time” or “alone time” instead of volunteering or spending extra time with a family member.
  • You might be God’s work in progress if you sometimes slip with an “Oh, my God!” when you are not actually praying.
  • You might be God’s work in progress if your language sometimes strays into “sailor” territory or involves a four-letter word that is not “Help!”
  • You might be God’s work in progress if the spiritual reading materials you keep meaning to get to are still on top of the bookcase or at the back of your nightstand.
  • You might be God’s work in progress if your intentions to pray the Rosary at least weekly, if not daily, sometimes are not met.
  • You might be God’s work in progress if going to Mass on Sunday sometimes feels like an obligation, and your thoughts wander far and wide as you are fulfilling it.

Think of it like one of those magazine quizzes. If you answered yes to more than three or four of these items, then Congratulations! You are a work in progress, ready for God’s hand to shape you!

You see, not one of those things (except possibly #6) is actually sinful. All of them are the behaviors common to good Christians who earnestly want to serve God, who believe that Jesus died for the salvation of us humans, and who believe that God created them, loves them, and wants them to enjoy eternity with Him in heaven.

None of these things, by itself, is a sign that we are seriously flawed in our spiritual life. They all, most assuredly, indicate that our spiritual life can improve. And for me, the number of items I can check on that list is in direct proportion to my need to seek spiritual growth – to actively pursue it in as many forms and ways as I possibly can.

The great blessing of this little exercise is the realization that should come when we finish it: God is not done with us. And even more important, and of greater spiritual benefit: He never gives up His quest for us, and He is infinitely patient as He awaits our openness to His grace. He will not be outdone in His will to lead us to a more blessed and holy life in His service. He will not be outdone in the ways that He seeks us or in the opportunities He places before us to grow in His love.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we all are God’s work in progress. When we give thanks for our blessings, let us include our gratitude for His not being done with us and for His refusal to be outdone in the outpouring of His Spirit, His mercy, His guidance, and His love.


Jesus Will Not Be Outdone!

You know how it’s very exciting to be involved in something that is new, and then the novelty wears off (for lack of a better way to put it) and the new becomes the ordinary every-day way things are? It’s less exciting, because it’s been around for awhile, and now you realize that it’s time to simply get down to the work of perfecting the thing and living it.

As I continue my journey toward a vow of celibacy and a life as a consecrated widow, that oddly distorted process has tangled itself around my feet more than once. My desire and commitment remain, and I am praying that the day of this consecration may come soon. And at the same time, the day-to-day work of this life stands in front of me and puts me at risk of letting it rob me of my joy.

Early on, I knew that the Evil One would try to put stumbling blocks in my way and tempt me from my intentions. I think I might have underestimated how subtle those things can be. I think I was expecting a glaring, obvious, obstreperous approach. Instead, I’ve experienced a barrage of “oh, not just now” and “actually I’m doing something else” and “oh, this feels a lot like work and obligation rather than fun.”

The first step in overcoming these attacks was to recognize them as such; the second was to pray for help to ward them off. It has been a long several weeks of struggle, and while I see light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, I strongly suspect that the battle may continue.

As part of the formation process in my preparation, prayer — regular daily prayer throughout the day — has become increasingly important. It’s important both as a means of formation and as a defense to the attacks that come and will continue to come. I’ve had my own little hourly prayer reminders in place for some months now, and they have been a help in leading me to seek a connection with my Lord throughout the day. At my pastor’s suggestion, I have added to some of these hourly reminders a cue to pray the liturgical hours/divine office. And these are beautiful prayer sequences based largely on the Psalms and the many Canticles that appear in both Old and New Testament writings. They are full of richness and depth. And yet when the alarm would chime, I would suddenly feel a sense of facing an obligation — rather than welcoming the opportunity to pray with the Psalms and other scriptures, it often feels like something that needs to be gotten through just to get done.

Frustrating, and terrifying. And so in my times of free-style prayer, I began to ask for help to strengthen and build my prayer life.

Jesus will not be outdone, and the Holy Spirit stays close just to make sure we know that. Very soon, in the listening time of my prayer, I began to hear that the simple solution is to welcome these times of prayer. Simply stop what I am doing, if at all feasible, and turn to the prayers for the liturgical hour. If that is not feasible — if I’m driving, for example — it’s less important that I pray the Psalms for that hour than it is to connect with Jesus; those become times for freestyle prayer and for listening. If I’m in the midst of an appointment or with other people, I simply look at my prayer reminder and take a brief moment to set my heart on Him and give Him that moment….until later.

Jesus will not be outdone, and so He made sure I became aware of ways to make these times of prayer valuable to our relationship. When I’m by myself, I pray them aloud or use the podcast features of the apps by which I access the Divine Office to pray them interactively. I remind myself that I have nothing but time — there’s no rush to get to the next thing, and there is nothing that is more important or valuable than this time.

Jesus will not be outdone, and so He rejoices and brings joy to my heart when I let myself linger over and reflect on the words in front of me.

And thus my prayer time becomes a source of peace and joy, and just in case that sense of obligation rears its ugly head, it’s a trigger for me to remember that Jesus will not be outdone. He has something far better to offer me in my prayer time than whatever else might be happening around me.

Even as I revel in the sense of peace and joy that come with my times for prayer, there’s an attack from another quarter! It takes the form of a question: Why on earth do you need a vow of celibacy? Just live your life the way you know you should live it. Nothing to be gained by reducing your options, right? Why make a spectacle of yourself? These attacks even go so far as to ask, Who do you think you are? 

Oh, my. These thoughts, these questions, do not carry a trace of peace and joy with them. They are at best troubling, and at worst even more terrifying than the difficulties with prayer. Now, if there is one thing I am getting at least marginally better at, it is recognizing doubts and temptations for what they are and for where they come from, and using them as a trigger for prayer. And once again, I learned, as I listened for answers, that Jesus will not be outdone.

As I explored in my heart what is going on with my desire to vow myself to a life of celibacy, I began to hear the Lord’s call with much greater clarity. The first thing I heard was: Relax. Don’t be so busy making this difficult — relax and enjoy the journey. I have good things in store for you. And then: Just relax, and lean into Me. Don’t worry so much about whether you are doing all the right things. Just do all things in the joy of your calling.  

When I took these words to heart, I realized that I had been doing the same thing that got me in trouble when I was in the convent years ago; I had fallen into the trap of seeing my prayers and devotions as a series of things to get done and move on from. And they are, truly, so much more! The sense of God’s presence that comes from just sinking into one of the liturgical hours of the Divine Office, from prayerfully and slowly reading the Psalms and Canticles and listening quietly for the Holy Spirit’s promptings — this is a path to peace and joy and richness.

The next thing that I began to think about was the way that grace has led me to the point of a vow of celibacy and to seek a life as a consecrated widow. The Holy Spirit will not be outdone, either. He had the answer to the question, Who do you think you are, anyway — making vows and setting yourself in such a special position? 

The answer goes something like this: The person with a charism of celibacy has received a gift — a gift, by definition unearned and even unsought; a gift which enables her to better serve her God and to better serve His people. The person who lives out this charism through a vow of celibacy and a consecration of her life to the service of God in His people is responding to God’s call — to the voice of her Creator, the call of her Redeemer, the urging of her Sanctifier — and responds not for her own sake but out of love and for the glory of God.

The idea that a vow of celibacy is a turning away from the natural order of things is a misnomer. In fact, the idea that celibacy is the giving up of something that is essential to all people is a disservice to the wonderful way that God works in His people. And the concept that vowed celibates cannot understand or counsel those who are called to marriage and family life is a concept that ignores the infinite power of the Spirit and Word of God.

It is true, of course, that God in His infinite wisdom created humanity such that new lives are created through sexual relationships between men and women. And to that end, He fashioned us with the ability and desire to experience these relationships so that—again as God wills—the human race may continue as an expression of God’s love.

God also fashioned us with free will, and by definition this means the freedom to choose among options for goodness as well as to choose sin. What it does not mean is that one way of life is representative of our “needs”—needs which we consider ourselves entitled to fulfill—while another is inherently limiting because the fulfillment of those needs is set aside.

When we put these decisions in such tiny boxes, we seem to limit the power of God.

What if, instead, we saw this range of lifestyles as meaningful responses to the many ways God calls His people to serve Him?

When I consider the whole of my life story and faith journey up to this point, it occurs to me that even my failures to serve Him in the way that I lived previously as a married person serve as a kind of guidebook to this new call. My life has come full circle from those early days when I could not quite grasp the depth of my vocation. Through years of a spiritual struggle that I didn’t really even see was happening, through years of my challenging God with the crooked lines I laid out for Him to write with, He has always been there, waiting patiently, watching out for me, keeping me from doing too much damage, and ultimately writing so very straight with those very crooked lines until I opened my heart to His grace.

Today, I begin anew my journey to a vowed life of celibacy and service. With my Lord’s help, may I turn from each doubt and question to the peace of prayer and grace. With the love of a Lord Who will not be outdone, may I just relax and lean into Him and do all things in the joy of my calling.

Yes. Jesus will not be outdone, and I can live with that.

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