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 July, 2019

Pouring Out, and Veils

July 31, 2019

As the days of July pass into August, and I am reminded – again! – of how quickly time passes, I find myself also more mindful of change. I’ve written about change a lot in the past; it’s a topic that interests me greatly. Regular readers might recall that when I left the convent back in 1965, it was in large measure because I was not convinced that God wanted me to change myself in the ways that my superiors at the time wanted me to change.

Many years later, I understand that God indeed calls us to profound change – to change at the deepest levels and places in ourselves. We are, after all, born into sin, and while we are washed clean at baptism, we remain prone to sinfulness all our lives. It’s in our nature, and the only way we overcome it is to be open to the kind of change that God’s grace can bring about.

The imagery of change that I love best, I think, is that of the water at Cana. There it sits in the six tall jars – obtained by hard work, to be sure, and sufficient in itself to its purpose. In a way, it is everything it needs to be and nothing that it doesn’t need to be. No one looking at it would even think it had the potential to be anything other than it is. Six tall jars of water – not even intended for human consumption, it was instead reserved for ceremonial washings. And Jesus, in the simplest of steps, changes it in its very essence into the best wine any of them have tasted (John 2).

In my vow of celibacy, I expressed a desire to be changed in that same profound way. It seemed to me that as I had come full circle from leaving the convent and even the church, all the way back to fully dedicating my life to the Lord as one of his consecrated people, that I must embrace that kind of change in order to let God work fully in me.

 That willingness, that openness to the kind of change the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish in us, made today’s Old Testament reading come to life for me in a fascinating way. The story in Ex. 34: 29-35 tells of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the commandments in his hands. The people were afraid of him because “the skin of his face had become radiant when he conversed with the Lord”; yet Moses was not even aware that it had occurred. He needed to share with the people what God had told him, so he took to wearing a veil over his face whenever he came back from conversing with God. When he went back into the Lord’s presence, he would remove the veil.

What a beautiful illustration of the way God changes us when we truly allow it – when we put ourselves in his presence and open ourselves to what he has to say. When we belong completely to him, we are indeed changed in profound ways, and those around us do not always find it comfortable. Is it our calling to forge ahead and run roughshod over their discomfort, or is it our calling to be more gentle, as Moses was with his veil? Do we really want to be so brilliant with what we have to offer than we blind our brothers and sisters? Or do we want to shine gently with the reflected light of the spirit, a light veiled, as it were, with kindness and gentleness?

Make no mistake: this kind of gentleness does not mean hiding our light under a bushel, as Jesus describes elsewhere in the gospels. This kind of gentleness means being so tuned into the changes that God is working in us that they become essential to what and who we are. It is perhaps better understood in the context of a homily I heard recently in which the priest told of Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey, who was considered not smart enough to preach; and yet Fr. Casey reached, and ministered to, and reflected God’s love into the hearts of countless numbers of God’s people. He did it by simply living the gospel. He lived out his faith among the people he served, lived humbly in the light of the Holy Spirit, and as God changed him, he wrought great change in the people he served.

The goal is not to have others see and understand how enormously I have been changed, but rather to live out the change in all of the small ways that life brings. The goal is not to conceal God’s workings, but to let them shine on their own merits rather than getting lost in my own identity.

Moses indeed brought back God’s teachings and shared them with the people of Israel, and in his own way he assured that it was all about God and not about him. Similarly, we are called to set aside the distractions of self as we share God’s word by, simply, living the way he taught us to do.

In my silent prayer, I thank God profoundly for the changes he has wrought in me and for his willingness to pour me out like the wine at Cana. In my daily life, as a consecrated person living in the everyday world, I seek to live according to Jesus’ teachings. His teachings, and his way, are my guide. It is the pouring out that serves him – not the vessel, not the change, but the willingness to be poured out in his service.

And I can live with that.

Forgiveness Again — and Again

July 29, 2019

Once again this morning finds me looking back at notes I’ve captured over the past several months. And today, my eye fell on a note about forgiveness that I captured back in March. The day’s Gospel reading, the parable of the prodigal son, is one that I always look forward to because it is one of those “mystery readings” – not “mystery” in the sense, as Fr. Michael Gaitley says, that we can never understand it, but “mystery” in the sense that we continually understand more about it – no matter how much we have taken in, there is always more to learn about it.

My note that morning was brief: Forgiveness leads to re-embrace when the forgiven one undergoes conversion. The story of the prodigal son in the gospel for 3/23 illustrates that. We confuse forgiveness with full reconciliation.

The parable of the prodigal son is one in which Jesus does not tell us the “rest of the story.” We do not find out whether the older son and the younger son reconciled their differences. We never know if the older son gets into the spirit of the welcome-home party; we aren’t told whether the younger son sits down with his older brother to accept responsibility for his actions, or whether the two of them get to hug it out and get on with the business of being brothers.

No, what Jesus taught in the parable was the beauty and healing power of forgiveness, and he taught that through the actions of the father with his younger and indeed, prodigal son. Between those two, there is both forgiveness and conversion, followed by reconciliation.

I think that as between the older son and the younger son, we are meant to understand that sometimes in life, that cycle gets interrupted. Perhaps the older son was not ready to forgive; perhaps he still wished ill upon his brother for the great offense his brother had committed. It occurs to me that even if the older son heeded his father’s words and – in the basic meaning of forgiveness – no longer wished harm to his brother for his actions, at the point where we last see him, there is no conversion. His own heart is not converted, and neither he nor we know for sure whether the younger brother has truly undergone conversion. Conversion is a true “turning around,” a complete change in how we view everything around us and in how we view ourselves. We see its beginnings in the younger son and brother in his admission of sin and his resolve to do better, but we don’t yet see its fruit – only the celebration of his repentance.

In the older son, we see someone at the very beginning of the cycle. He knows that forgiveness is very much on his father’s mind and that it is going to be the first step in any possible reconciliation with his brother. He may not yet understand that a second step, conversion, is going to require him to change both how he sees his brother’s newfound contrition and how he sees himself in relation to his brother. In fact, there also is a breach in the relationship between the older son and his father that is going to require both forgiveness and conversion. And it remains to be seen whether the younger son has fully undergone, or will undergo, the kind of conversion that leads to completing this cycle. And there is yet another facet to the story: What about the younger son forgiving his older brother for his stiff-necked, prideful failure to welcome the younger brother home?

We like to read this parable as demonstrating the completeness and the absolute nature of God’s forgiveness of our sins. And while that certainly isn’t a wrong way to read it, I think we can miss much of the lesson Jesus has for us if we stop there. Certainly our forgiveness, in imitation of God’s, is to be absolute and complete. However, we often mistakenly equate forgiveness with reconciliation, and when we do that, we leave ourselves open to more and greater harm from broken relationships.

The hard part of this lesson is that conversion is necessary for the one forgiven, not just for the one doing the forgiving. The one who forgives undergoes conversion in praying from the heart for the good of the other; the one forgiven requires conversion as well: a new way of thinking and being, arising out of true repentance, which does not automatically arise from being forgiven by another person. It requires both grace and a willing acceptance of grace.

It’s a difficult and painful truth that not everyone we forgive believes that they want or need or will benefit from our forgiveness. Yet Jesus teaches us that we must forgive, in order to be forgiven. This is so, because our own acts of forgiveness are about healing for ourselves. He teaches us that we must forgive, but he does not teach that we are required or expected to fix everything on the other side of the equation. We are to forgive, and in grace to live lives that bear witness to the goodness and holiness of Jesus.

The effects of our living this way depends on the response of others. And the impact of our forgiveness on those we forgive is the enormous variable. We are called to forgive, but full reconciliation can take place only when the one we forgive is open to the grace of conversion – of allowing profound change within themselves and of reflecting that change through changed behavior.

And the greatest grace of forgiveness is that in forgiving, we pray fervently and often for the person we are forgiving – for God’s grace to be alive and at work in them, for good things to come into their lives, for them to have souls filled with the joy of God’s presence. If our prayers for those we forgive are limited to how we want God to punish them or teach them the error of their ways, then we haven’t truly forgiven. We must pray for those we forgive with the hearts of sinners who have been forgiven themselves, desiring for those we forgive the greatest blessings possible in accordance with God’s will.

I do not approach this subject lightly, and I do not mean to suggest that anything about it is painless, easy, or even simple. I have, in my own life, relationships that are broken seemingly beyond repair. I have struggled to forgive, and have finally learned to understand that my acts of forgiveness require my internal will to forgive, my relinquishment of any desire for punishment, and my acts of prayer for those I have forgiven. They do not require that I communicate my forgiveness to the other person; they do not require that the other person accept or even want my forgiveness; and they do not require that I accept another person’s continued and expressed willingness to continue behaving in a harmful way. In other words, my acts of forgiveness are complete when I desire good, and not harm, for the person I am forgiving. And my forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. Reconciliation requires conversion, and I cannot bring about such change in another person; I can only pray, as a forgiven sinner, that God’s grace will be poured out in that person’s life so that good things come their way.

It is then, in that spirit of forgiveness and healing prayer, that one is able to survive the heartbreak of knowing that someone we love does not love us the same.

It is painful, sometimes difficult, sometimes complicated. But with the grace of God, I can live with that.


If you have read some of the earlier posts in this blog, you know that I arrived at the grace of consecrated life and vowed celibacy by a route that seemed to be heading anywhere but here. And that’s where today’s reflection begins…with a story about the “old days.”

My late husband and I met in a bar where I had gone to relax with a couple of drinks after working all day on a Saturday, and where he was hanging out with his sister and another friend. After the whole “eyes meeting across a crowded bar” thing, and enough conversation for each of us to be fairly sure that (a) the attraction was mutual and (b) neither of us was an axe murderer, we decided to head downtown to a night club where I knew the band members and we could dance to some good music.

Off we went, and we danced until the club closed. We danced fast and we danced slow, and sometimes we danced like nobody was watching. We headed out for breakfast, preceded and followed by a couple of pretty heavy makeout sessions, and we talked and talked. And from that day on, for the rest of his life, we either saw each other or talked by phone every single day.

The thing that never happened again was the dancing – the enchanted and enchanting moments of being completely tuned in to each other’s rhythms and cadences went, I supposed, to other parts of our lives, but when it came to going out to places with music, we just couldn’t seem to get it right. We simply couldn’t agree on how to be together on a dance floor, even though everything else in our lives at that time was a great fit.

I don’t think we ever talked about it much, but we were both a little disappointed that what first brought us together and seemed so wonderful just never worked for us again in our lives.

The problem we had was expectations. He expected me to dance the way he did, and I expected him to appreciate my uninhibited style. And neither of us fully realized that most of what had made the dancing so much fun that first night was some combination of the newness of everything, the intensity of a budding relationship and “love at first sight,” and the amount of alcohol we had consumed. Somehow, along the way and through our 20 years together, we figured out how to do the work that made our lives together satisfying and happy.

Sometimes, we let expectations get in the way of our spiritual life as well. How often do we get caught up in the newness of our joyful experiences in prayer, the intensity of emotion, the fulness of joy and peace – and then we expect every experience afterward to be full of the same intensity. When it isn’t, we are disappointed. Drunk on that first experience of completely natural joy, we try to make our future moments of encounter fit that same mold, and we thus limit our experiences. We get so busy trying to find the intensity that we lose sight of the source. And we get so tied up in thinking that the intensity is the goal, when in reality what Jesus wants with us is to do the work – with him! – that makes it all good.

I’m not at all sure Tom and I would have survived together had the intensity of our night of dancing continued. And likewise, I’m not sure our relationship with Jesus can survive if we value and expect only the moments of intensity and fervor. Our relationship with Jesus thrives on walking with him through the ordinary everyday experiences and encounters of our lives, turning to him in each of them to ask: How shall I love you and serve you in this, Jesus? It thrives on walking with him through difficult times, turning to him to say: Jesus, I trust in you. I trust you completely because I know you love me completely. It thrives, to be sure, on thanking him for the moments of ecstasy, but it thrives even more on thanking him for those moments that remind us that we need him.

Am I comparing a human relationship to the relationship I have with Jesus? Yes – because our God-given human context is the way he provides for us to understand a little better those things that He can’t yet reveal fully to us. It is good for me to remember that he wants me to use every circumstance of my life to understand him better, know him better, and love him better.

I can, I must, I will live with that.

Amazed and Not Confused

Amazed and …

Things I find on my way to looking for other things: While I was looking for a specific bit of information in my notes, I came across some items that made me stop and read, and remember, and reflect on how those items got there.

Back on March 27, I wrote: “Everything God is calling me to relies on celibacy to be answered well and fully.” That was the day, I now realize, that I understood celibacy as a vocation to a consecrated life, and not merely the happenstance of my current lifestyle.

The commitment, by vow, to live a celibate life is many things; but it most assuredly is not a burdensome thing, or even a great sacrifice. Yes, I’m forgoing certain earthly delights – but I don’t see this as a loss or as a giving up. It is for me simply the exact right way for me to live and to have the freedom to do all of the other things God calls me to. It is my calling and, therefore, will become exactly as easy and exactly as difficult as the next person’s calling to married life becomes for them.

There will be moments when I see the easy affection between two married people, and miss that feeling. With grace, I will remember that my union is with Jesus, and he is trusting me to look past the need for those moments of physical comfort in this life to the eternal comfort of the place he has for me in heaven.

There are going to be occasions when I’m in a group where everyone but me seems to be part of a couple, and in my humanness that’s going to feel a bit forlorn. But with grace, I will remember that my choice not to be part of a couple in this life is a choice God led me to, and that it’s a choice that frees me to do everything else he calls me to do.

A blessing I often experience, and experience with profound gratitude, is the peace, joy, and serenity that come with being exactly where God wants me to be, doing what he wants me to do. It’s the kind of peace that makes me sigh, the kind of joy that takes in a deep breath and throw my arms wide to take it all in, the kind of serenity that leaves a smile on my face even after the moment has passed. After such a moment, I hold my head a little higher, my shoulders a little straighter; I walk with a sense of purpose and see everything I encounter as a source of joy.

The simple knowledge that God called me, and then gave me the grace to answer with a profound and hearty “Yes!” – that knowledge makes me free.

I don’t know yet all of the things he will ask of me. What I know is that when he asks – through a neighbor who needs help with her children while she goes to the doctor or runs errands, or the family member who suddenly needs a place for both children for the day, or the friend who wants to have lunch and is willing to come over to my house instead of going out – when he asks, there is great joy in having “Yes” be the first word that comes to my mind and pops out of my mouth.

There are so many ways for me to serve my Lord’s people; I haven’t begun to find them all. But I will keep looking and I will keep listening, and I have absolutely no doubt that he will continue to show me and to tell me. And my commitment to remain celibate, to be his alone even while I live a full life in this world he has given me – this commitment makes it possible to extend my “Yes!” to all the ways he shows me and tells me.

And oh, my, yes – I can live with that.

What’s It All About?

July 24, 2019

Things do change over time, and thinking about that reminds me how wrapped up in myself I can get, what tiny things in life can get me in a state of impatience that sometimes borders on rage.

For most of my life, I was always too warm. I craved winter weather when I could at least enjoy the feeling of a sweater without perspiring and feeling prickly from the warmth of it. And then it changed. Not suddenly, really, but fairly quickly. Instead of being too warm all the time, for awhile I was pretty comfortable, and then I got cold. Instead of craving winter, I wanted summer so I could feel the sun, and sweaters became a way of life instead of a cherished exception.

This summer’s weather has been variable and mainly on the cool side. After a brief stretch of very hot weather, we’ve gone back to very cool nights and mornings. This morning, I needed a sweater to brave the 55-degree air on my way to Mass. And when I got to the chapel, the big blower was running and blowing cold air down, seemingly focused right on my usual seat.

Having learned in my recent retreat the value of accepting all things with thanks and praise, I began looking for something in this to be thankful and praiseful about (whilst sitting on my hands to keep them warm). And as my beloved Father is inclined so often to do, he sent me an answer – also as often happens, not quite the one I was expecting, but certainly the one I needed to hear.

Here is what I heard this morning, in the quiet chapel where that blower was the only sound and that cold air was the only sensation: That cool breeze is, for someone else, exactly what they need to be comfortable. Can you be grateful for that person’s comfort, instead of complaining about your own minor discomfort? Who is this all about, after all?

The beauty of that moment, the wonder of that small revelation, is that it showed me a way to truly accept everything that happens in a spirit of joy and praise. If I could give thanks and be happy for the person who is feeling comfortable – even wonderfully relieved – in that cool air, that was a perfect step away from self-centeredness to really loving my neighbor. If I could praise God that someone else found and received what he or she needed, wouldn’t that be a wonderful way of praising Him?

I stopped sitting on my hands and offered up the small chill I was feeling, and I thought about how many other things in my day could be sources of joy and praise and gratitude rather than sources of complaint and impatience. What if, instead of venting with road rage at the driver who didn’t move quickly enough when the light turned green, I could praise God for that person keeping me from being in a rush? Or just be grateful that I don’t need to be in such a hurry? Or pray for that person to have a relaxed and blessed day?

What if, instead of thinking about how everything and everyone I encounter during my day is affecting me, I could praise God and find joy in knowing that with each encounter I am where God wants me to be? What if I could see each encounter as a way to be a blessing to someone else? What if each encounter was not about me, but about my neighbor – an opportunity to love my neighbor?

What if I were to be full of praise and thanksgiving because God is showing me who my neighbor is and giving me a chance to love? What if this is the answer to my prayer that Jesus would so fill my heart with love that it must overflow on everyone I meet?

What if none of this is about me? Wouldn’t that be a relief? Wouldn’t it be great to go through the day without worrying about whether everything was going to go the way I wanted it to – and with the certainty that everything would be as God planned it?

Yes. I can live with that.

Grace I Can Live With

July 23, 2019

This morning, I am thinking about joy and consolation.

While the time leading up to the profession of my vow of celibacy was marked by frequent questions and doubts, it was the underlying sense of impending joy that carried my very human heart forward. It is an odd perversity of the workings of grace that kept me informed of the false nature of those questions and doubts, while also keeping the joy just a touch out of easy reach.

The time of preparation was a time of glimpses and hints of what was good and true and beautiful about what I was doing, and I had those to fall back on whenever the whispers of “Who do you think you are? Why would God want you, of all people, to promise yourself to him? What makes you so special?”

Grace was there in the constant reminder that each time such questions and doubts raised themselves, what I needed was prayer.

Grace was there in the inevitable peace and calm that descended when I remembered to pray.

Grace was there in the readings and homilies and little events that left little gems in my path, gems of wisdom and confirmation and hope.

And it is grace that, from the moment of professing my vow, filled my heart with joy and song and that offered the most beautiful consolations with every event of my days. I wish I could describe it, and I wish I could give it to everyone I meet. It seems like I went for such a long time without this sense of consolation. Never was my faith in question, nor my commitment. But I do remember thinking that if the rest of my life of commitment to my Lord had to be lived without it, I would find a way to make do with the promise of eternal joy and consolation in heaven.

The wonder that fills me as I experience each moment of each day as a way to serve and walk with Jesus – that wonder is a powerful confirmation that my vow was exactly what God called me to do. That he, in his infinite love and compassion and wisdom, saw fit to reward my journey in this way – it fills me with joy. And it reminds me, when I think about it in the context of the months that went before, that these consolations and this joy and this peace – these are not emotions, not mere feelings, but blessings from my Father who loves me.

Most important is to understand that the times of question and doubt, the days that pass without the sense of consolation and without the direct experience of joy – those times and those days are just as much blessings from my Father who loves me. Those times and those days will be my call to prayer, my call to trust in Jesus fully, my call to ask him to fill me with love that makes me overflow and share with others. Those times and those days will be my call to perseverance and my call to hope, my reminder that the reward is not here and now, but in heaven when I join him forever.

And I can live with that.

Jesus, let me find you today in everyone I meet. Let me serve you in everyone I meet. Let me share your blessings, and let me remember that you are the Word that speaks in my heart and soul – not in feelings and emotions, but in truth and goodness which are their own beauty. Let me, in grace, accept all that comes my way with thanksgiving and joy. Let me walk with you, and constantly ask you, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to stay with me – for I have much to learn about our new life together.

Oh, Mary….

This seems to be a week for the Marys of Scripture. A few days ago we celebrated Our Lady of Mt. Carmel; Sunday’s gospel reading told of Mary and Martha and their different ways of receiving Jesus; and today is the new feast of St. Mary Magdalene. And since I named my younger daughter Mary, it should be obvious that the name is special to me.

I wrote yesterday about the magnolia tree in my Mary Garden blooming for a second time this season. Research suggests this is, if not unique, at least fairly unusual — but not unheard of. Certainly it caught my attention, coming as it did the day before I professed my vow of celibacy. The Mary Garden also has a new and beloved planting, a “shooting star hydrangea,” which was a special gift from a dear friend in celebration of my vow. As I planted and tended this new beauty, I thought of how Our Lady is always ready to lead us to her Son, to help us make ourselves better for him, and to show us new ways in which to love him. Recently, I received the brown scapular, with its accompanying promises and prayers, and found that the beauty of wearing it is all wrapped up in how it helps me think of Mary, the Mother Jesus gave us at the foot of the Cross, and turn to her often throughout the day.

The story of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, in Sunday’s gospel has always been a difficult reading for me. Although no one will ever accuse me of being a whiz in the kitchen or at housekeeping or entertaining, I’ve always felt a little miffed on Martha’s behalf, and I’ve puzzled over the meaning of the story. Of course, I’ve heard dozens of homilies over the years based on this story; finally, the one I heard yesterday led me to a deeper understanding of its meaning.

The issue with Martha is not the “busy.” The issue is her focus. She has let her busy-ness make the whole thing about her, and thus she lets it make her impatient with anyone and anything not lining up with that focus. At the heart of it, both Martha’s bustling activity and Mary’s reflective sitting at Jesus’ feet are ways of serving Jesus, honoring him, and loving him. The “better part” that Mary has chosen is to focus on, indeed be absorbed in, Jesus as the source and purpose. Martha’s activity is necessary, and it is her role; its merit is in focusing on and being absorbed in Jesus as its source and purpose, and that’s what she has missed. As the priest said in his homily yesterday, we don’t get to hear the rest of the story — whether and how the sisters made up, whether and how they were changed by Jesus’ words, whether and how Jesus might have further explained his meaning. What we do know is that Jesus held them as dear friends and returned to their home, and I think that suggests that Martha learned to focus her response to her own calling on Jesus rather than on herself.

That’s an important lesson for anyone who is striving to hear and learn what God calls them to in life, who is striving to live out that calling. Focus on oneself and the message gets muddled. Focus on Jesus, the source and purpose of it all, and the message gets clearer day by day.

And then there’s the feast of Mary Magdalene. If I identify in part with Martha and in part with her sister Mary, I find a soul sister in Mary Magdalene. I identify with her life before she encountered Jesus, and I identify with her need for forgiveness and cleansing, and I aspire to her unflagging love for and devotion to Jesus after he cleansed and forgave her and opened up for her a whole new path in life. With the grace that came from this healing, she became an amazing witness to Jesus’ ministry and his glorious resurrection. If she, a great sinner who was once in the thrall of her demons, became such a champion of her risen Savior, then there is also great hope for me.

At one time in my life, I walked away from what Jesus was calling me to do…walked away because I was unwilling to change, or to be changed by him and his grace. This day, I pledge and commit myself to walk with him, not away from him; to be fully open to how he wants to change me; to let him have his way with my heart, my soul, my mind, my life, so that perhaps in some small way, through me, he can have his way with the world around me.

As I offer myself in this way, I’m remembering the beautiful words of St. Therese of Lisieux (my confirmation saint) as underscored by Fr. Michael Gaitley in Consoling the Heart of Jesus: We are little, and being little, we begin to understand how completely we must depend on Jesus. St. Therese writes that when we embrace being little, “Jesus will come to look for us [and] He will transform us in flames of love.”

Jesus, teach me to be little — to rely not on my own talents and abilities but on your grace, to be wholly dependent on you for all the good things you bring to my life. Only when I strip away my self-importance and self-centeredness can I find the small soul who needs you and cannot survive without you. All in life has meaning when there is nothing between you and me but love. I pray, with St. Therese, that you would fill me with your love, fill me so full that I can’t help but overflow with it and freely give it to others. Jesus, teach me to be little. Amen.


The day of the most amazing grace finally arrived! On July 20, 2019, in the presence of pastor, family, friends, and my faith community, I professed my permanent vow of celibacy with a commitment to serve God wherever and however he sends me, to find and serve him in his people. During the time I was preparing for this day and for this step, I didn’t write at all, although I took many notes during times of prayer and meditation that I’m sure will find their way here in the future.

Here and now, my intent is to write about my time of preparation and about some very interesting – and incredibly beautiful – moments along the way. My Father God has an amazing way of using the present moment to get my attention and, if I’ll listen, lead me where he wants me to go.

A couple of weeks ago, with 12 days remaining until the day of my vow of celibacy to my Jesus, and in the midst of a fast-paced life (even in retirement!), I received the grace of spending time a long weekend in a sort of modified retreat, with Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley as my retreat guide. I am taking some time now to write down what this retreat has brought me.

Since I began to hear the call to a vow of celibacy late last winter, I have reflected often on the way such a vow will free me into greater service to God. With these reflections has come deeper grace and love than I could have imagined, in the form of new and expanded opportunities for service both within and outside my family. I can still remember thinking, when I first retired, that I didn’t want to be one of those grandparents/great-grandparents whose time was all taken up with caring for the children – I had other plans, and I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of!

What a narrow and blighted view that was. By grace, I find the greatest joy in having the little ones around. I find myself led to offer, rather than waiting to be asked, to take care of them. And I am constantly amazed at the relationships that are growing.

The other calls to service that I am hearing involve volunteering at Mother Teresa House, a Catholic hospice facility, and joining with the Companions of Pauline, a lay apostolate of the Sisters of Christian Charity. Both of these are “works in progress,” and I eagerly await the Holy Spirit’s lead in seeing how they will come to fruition. I feel these calls strongly. I have not been as sure about teaching catechism this coming year; after praying for guidance and light in that regard, I’ve discerned that teaching is definitely a part of how I will serve.

Once I had discerned that God was calling me to a personal vow of celibacy, I began to take steps toward making it a reality. Father Gordon, my pastor, heard my story and agreed that my discernment was proper and complete. He then suggested that there were three areas where I would benefit from focusing as I moved forward: prayer, as a defense against doubt and temptation; community, as a way of maintaining the strength and focus of my commitment; and ministry, as a way of spreading the love that Jesus pours into my life. And to these ends, I have returned to the very simple prayer that I repeated so often in the first days and weeks and months after I returned to the church in 2012: Jesus, by your Holy Spirit, lead me and teach me to do what you want me to do. Somehow, over time, I had mistakenly come to think that my prayer must become more complex and somehow sophisticated. Much comfort and consolation has come from returning to a simple conversation with my Lord and King.

As the month of June began to wind down, and I received Father Gordon’s approval to proceed with my vow, I began to think about preparations. It quickly became apparent that the idea of getting away for a silent retreat was not feasible at this time; still, I felt that a retreat was one of the best and most important ways I could prepare for this important step. That’s when the idea came to me to take the long holiday weekend as an opportunity to use Fr. Gaitley’s book, which I’ve had for four years but barely opened, as my retreat guide. The more I thought about it, the more drawn I was to making this kind of retreat. After all, the purpose of my vow is to make me a “consecrated person” who is pledged to God’s service, forsaking marriage and all that leads to it in favor of the love of Jesus, while living still in the world as a lay person. Making my retreat in my own home, according to the schedule that my life in the world would allow, seemed like a good thing – and it has been. I did not manage to finish the entire book over the long weekend, so I am going to continue spending a couple of hours of each day reading and following and praying with this book as I continue to prepare for my vow.

As I began to think about the retreat itself and how I will live out this vow, I became more and more aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in me – sometimes, in fact, with a layer of humor that vividly caught my attention.

For example, on the Saturday before the long holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to get out for a long walk, and I took along my iPhone with earbuds so I could listen to music. I selected the shuffle function to play from all the music I have collected over the years. And after a couple of classical pieces, which I enjoyed greatly, I started hearing some of the popular vocal selections – and a pattern began to emerge. The random selections I heard were these:

  • Bob Seger, Turn the Page
  • Bob Seger, Someday, Lady, You’ll Accompany Me
  • John Mayer, Am I Livin’ It Right
  • ELO, You Shed a Little Light on My Life (and let me see)
  • John Mayer, I’m Tired of Being Alone (So hurry up and get here)

Secular music, to be sure – but the Holy Spirit was using it, as He loves to use everyday things, to highlight the call that Jesus was giving me. And the most profound sense of joy and peace came with the realization that he had chosen this way to communicate with me. He uses the things of everyday life to lead me to consecrate my everyday life to him.

Then, one morning during the week as I was heading out for Mass, a hymn popped into my head. The tune was almost all there, but I couldn’t remember all of the words. As I awaited the beginning of Mass, I picked up the hymnal, initially thinking to be ready when the gathering hymn was announced. (Any other day, I wouldn’t reach for it until I heard the lector’s “Good morning!” from the back of the church.) That day, I picked up the hymnal and (randomly, I thought) opened it. And there in front of me was the hymn that had been running through my head earlier. I know a sign when I see one (I think!), so I quickly scanned the refrain: Lead me, guide me, along the way; for if you lead me, I cannot stray.

OK, Jesus, I think I’m beginning to see where you are going with this.

On Sunday, June 30, I had the opportunity to spend time with the Lectio Divina provided in the Magnificat publication for that day’s readings, and once more I found beautiful guidance. In reflecting on the words of Luke’s gospel (9:57-62) regarding those who professed a desire to follow Jesus but put obstacles in their own paths, these points stood out for me:

  • Where will Jesus lead us? The first man in this story sees Jesus as a means to recognition, fame, sainthood – whatever he thinks his destination might be; but Jesus is telling us that he himself is our destination, our place.
  • Jesus tells us to stop living in the past – dwelling on our history of sin, failure, and problems and continually trying to “bury” them as the second man wanted to bury his father. Jesus wants us to see that we have no need to bury our past, that “he is the one who raises our dead past to life” (Magnificat, June 2019, p. 445).
  • The third man sought to take leave of his connections to family and friends in order to follow Jesus. Jesus assures us that our life in this world and our human experiences and joys are not to be set aside by our relationship with him, but rather made better and stronger by his love. When we are united to others by only our own strength, the bond is tenuous at best; when we are united to others through Jesus, the bond is stronger than we can ever imagine.

So, from all of this, I learned (again, in a new way) that Jesus wants to be the center of everything for me. And then, on page 454 of the same issue of Magnificat, I found great consolation in the words of St. Claude La Colombière: “…God has loved me too well for me to spare myself henceforth in his service….I am ashamed at the mere thought of depriving him of anything.” St. Claude goes on to say that “in order to do much for God one must be completely his….in this state one maintains a lively faith and a firm hope, one asks God confidently and one obtains infallibly.”

A tall order? Absolutely. Why did it give me such consolation? Because I am sure this is what God calls me to, and with his call he includes the grace to hear and answer. “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phillippians 4:13).

At the beginning of my retreat, it occurred to me that it feels like everything in faith is about change. I saw great irony in this insight: The eternal God constantly calls on his people to change – to go against what they are used to, to leave behind what is comforting and comfortable, and to change. And because change is all about risk and growth, that call really should not surprise us. It started with creation itself – God changed the universe from the emptiness that he alone filled, to the fullness of his creations, and he declared it good.

When I talk to people about faith, I like to say that the questions we bring are so very complex, but faith itself is very, very simple. And that’s a mystery in itself. But as Fr. Gaitley says, in Consoling the Heart of Jesus, the meaning of mystery is not that nobody can understand it, but rather that we can never exhaust the meaning of it. And so I find myself daily contemplating the idea of faith, both as the gift of the Holy Spirit and as a response to God’s call, and I never get to the end. I never get to the end, and I never run out of beauty and grace in the contemplation of it.

So, if faith is a crutch, as many people believe, then please Lord, let me be a cripple.

And as my retreat and preparation time continued, I was struck by these words of St. Anthony Zachariah: “Let us run like fools not only to God, but also to our neighbor, who is the intermediary to whom we give what we cannot give to God. And this, from my own rambling thoughts: when we deal in forgiveness, we must ask ourselves how the forgiven must participate. That seems to me to be the missing link when we compare God’s forgiveness to our own forgiveness. When God forgives us, he offers us the grace to participate in it – to accept it and build it into our lives. It’s up to us how we accept that gift. When we forgive others, extending that same offer is necessary; and sometimes, the person we forgive will choose not to participate in the grace that comes with forgiveness. That’s when we turn to prayer. Another insight on forgiveness, from a homily based on the readings for July 7: Jesus, in sending out the 72 disciples, told them (and us), that there will be situations and people we cannot resolve or fix, and when that happens we have to walk away. He doesn’t tell us we are to keep hammering away at people until we change them. We must forgive, yes; but that does not necessarily change the other side of the equation.

Shortly after these insights, I read a section in Consoling the Heart of Jesus that opened my soul and my heart like nothing else has done. Fr. Gaitley writes (p.89):

Go to Jesus as you are. Open your heart to him as it is (not as you wish it to be) And know that Jesus loves sincerity, that he loves it when we’re completely open with him. Why does he love this? Because the more open we are with him, the more deeply he can heal us—and this especially applies to his being able to heal us of our attachments.

And then Fr. Gaitley says: “What hurts Jesus most is the sin of lack of trust in him. The greatest consolation we can offer him is to trust him completely.” Living this kind of trust daily means accepting everything that happens with praise and thanksgiving – living in a state of joyful, trustful acceptance. Fr. Gaitley goes on to suggest that instead of trying to choose our own crosses, we will benefit from accepting well the crosses that God chooses for us, which in his wisdom and compassion he will assure are not too heavy…and not too light.

In reading these sections and reflecting on them, I realized that my trust in Jesus had a big gap. I have, for a long time, found my trust in him to be tempered by a fear that he would test me beyond what I thought was my endurance, perhaps by taking Mary or Claire from me in this world. This gap in my trust would have me praying for God’s will to be done in my life – but don’t do this, or that, or some other thing to me that I think would be too hard.

As I read and reflected, I found that I needed to return to praying the Litany of Trust regularly, and I needed to pray for an increase in my trust, so that I would live in a state of complete trust. I saw that this kind of trust is rooted in God’s mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness – that instead of expecting God to treat me as my sins surely deserve, I was being called to expect him to treat me like one of his beloved and redeemed children. This journey to trust will be a lifelong journey, one with daily renewals, and I am filled with gratitude for these insights.

During the time of my retreat, and often throughout the preceding weeks, I found myself in a state of a kind of discontent. I wasn’t getting a lot of consolation through prayer and meditation, and even my attendance at daily Mass was feeling fraught with effort rather than feelings of peace and serenity and joy. It occurred to me that I was having difficulty making Jesus seem real to me, and I came to understand that perhaps I needed to slow down a bit and simply put myself in his presence without all the busy-ness I seemed to want to put in the process. And, as he often does, the Holy Spirit handed me an answer: another homily, this time on the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. Fr. Jerry said that he thinks St. Thomas gets a bad rap when we refer to him as “Doubting Thomas.” He pointed out that Thomas was not really doubting, but questioning, in the way that we all do with the rational minds that God gave us, and that his questioning (not doubting) gave Jesus opportunities to make himself real to Thomas.

As the day of my vow approached, I sat in prayer one day before Mass, and I felt like I was being distracted by thoughts of exactly how the ceremony might go. I sort of shook myself, mentally, and prayed for grace to come closer to Jesus and hear him. That’s when he asked me a crucial question: Once you take this vow, how are you going to live our life together?

This seems to me to have been the most important moment of all my preparations. After all the plans to pray regularly, to seek community, and to find ministry in my daily life, after writing my vow and planning its profession as a witness to others, wasn’t that really the heart of it all?

“How are you going to live our life together?” When I wrote my vow, I included the statement that I desire to be changed – profoundly, at the core of my being – and then poured out in love. If I truly mean that statement, and if my vow is truly intended as a seal binding my soul most intimately to Jesus, then how I live my life must change, now and every day hereafter. And as if to underscore this fact, God led me to witness a sight so unusual that this truth is written on my heart forever.

Friday evening, the night before my vow, my sweet granddaughter Claire and I were watching the rain from the back door. Claire told me she wanted to go out on the deck and stand in the rain, and get some rain in her mouth. So we opened the door, and stepped out. I looked back at my Mary Garden, and saw that the huge magnolia tree there was in bloom – for the second time this season! This is a tree that blooms in late April or early May, before the leaves come out – and here it was in a second bloom just when I was pledging my life to a new way of living for Jesus!

On Saturday, July 20, I went with a happy heart and a joyful soul to make this offering of myself at the 9:00 Mass in our parish’s Cana chapel. Fr. Gordon conducted the small ceremony and blessed for me the ring I will wear forever as an outward sign of my vow, and I’d like to think my voice was strong and true as I recited my vow. Family and friends were there with their love and support, and Mary put together the most wonderful brunch as we celebrated afterward. I was surprised to receive gifts – a lovely little plaque and a gift card from one friend, and a beautiful shooting star hydrangea for my Mary Garden from another; I treasure the cards and the sentiments they carried; and I loved getting both a card and an email from Sr. Mary Ann, SCC, to congratulate me and assure me of prayers.

And going back to the question Jesus asked, “How are you going to live our life together?” One of the first things I did was to recreate the hourly prayer reminders on my phone, which had been lost when I had to reset the phone a few weeks ago. These already have helped me with a renewed focus on my life’s true purpose.

I want to continue by focusing on regular formal prayer as well as “ad lib” prayer and meditation and also to focus on spiritual reading. Beginning studies with the Catholic Biblical School of Michigan will give me the frequent immersion in spiritual study that is essential. I hope soon to be installed in the Companions of Pauline, the lay apostolate of the Sisters of Christian Charity, and to begin working at Mother Teresa House; and I have plans for a ministry of knitting that is meant to put warmth and love in the way of those in need, by making hats, scarves, and mittens to donate to shelters and charities. And above all, I am focused on listening for God, for the voice of Jesus in my heart, not just on busying myself with all kinds of formalities.

The beautiful part of all this is that I sensed, very clearly and very joyfully, a profound shift in my soul upon pronouncing and professing my vow. There is no way to describe it other than to say I feel the difference, and it is a good difference.

Yes. I can live with that.

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