I certainly would never compare my life to that of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. The memories I have of my childhood are of a little girl who always wanted to be a nun and who was—by my own standards at least—well-behaved. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, however, had a will of steel and a temper that raged into violent outbursts even at the age of four. She was impossible to control. Family and friends recalled how she would lock herself in a room in a rage when she didn’t get what she wanted, kicking the door in her fury. Only when she had spent all her energies and was exhausted could her mother sit down with her and attempt to teach her gentleness and charity.
Though my childhood personality, at least as I remember it, was pretty calm, I have a distinct memory at twenty-one of raging against God. Just a month after suffering a stroke, and a year after my first profession of vows, I was silently before Jesus in the Eucharist one day in the chapel and from somewhere deep inside came words which surprised me, even shocked me. “I hate you,” I said to him. I had lost dreams and ambitions and physical abilities and, what seemed to me as a young adult, my future. And from somewhere within me, this anger and hatred at the one I felt was to blame came raging out. It took me by surprise, for, after all, I had been “well behaved” up to that point. Day after day, in a struggle that stretched to weeks and months and years, I submitted my heart to the transforming action of the Spirit at work in the Eucharist. Each day after receiving Jesus in Communion I prayed, “Help me, for I see now how poor I am, how in need I am of you, Jesus.”
In her diary, Elizabeth herself recorded how her first encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist was a moment of transformation. In fact, she said that it was decisive for the rest of her life. She began to take on from that moment the gentle self-control that would characterize her as an adult.
“In the depths of her soul, she heard his voice…. [The] Master took possession of her heart so completely that thenceforth her one desire was to give her life to Him” (The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth, pg 2)….
Lord, remember not only men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us. Remember the fruits we have borne thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this; and when they come to judgment let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”
~ Written on a piece of wrapping paper found near the body of a dead child in Ravensbruck, the second largest concentration camp for women in the German Reich, where 92,000 women and children died in the Holocaust.
How, O my God, could a woman in this death camp write these words?
How did she find the courage to keep her heart open? To care about the eternal salvation of those at whose hands she suffered and very likely died?
Friends, today we also are living through turbulent and violent times. As we watch the social fabric of our nation disintegrate with mass shootings and watch with horrified anger at what Russia is inflicting on the Ukrainian people and the world, we may find our hearts closing. It could be that our hearts are hardening in fear or anger without our even realizing it. Whatever we are feeling, it is okay. We might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of the future for our children and grandchildren. It is okay. We might feel lost in the midst of everything that is going on around us. It is all okay.
How difficult are you finding it to love and believe in the power of love in these days?
The news cycle overwhelms and incites the fires of anger and fear and hatred in our minds and hearts. It all can feel so righteous, so right. After all, there is a clear bad guy in these incidents, and our hearts immediately take the side of the innocent victims. Today only the bravest can keep lit in their hearts the flame of charity.
O Eucharistic heart of Jesus,
In you I find hope and freedom, truth and belonging, forgiveness and healing, friendship and mercy and life!
In your Eucharistic heart, O Jesus Christ, I experience the greatest love. You make me worthy of love, you make me capable of loving others as you have loved me.
O Jesus, in the Eucharist you rescue me from despair by attaching me to yourself, the Source of all Life. Without you I can do nothing (John 15:5).
The stillness of humility…
Be still. Comforting words that we find in Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.”
For me, these words conjure up quiet moments in a sacred space or beautiful place in nature. To do “be still” I could imagine calming myself down and enjoying a heart at peace, a world at peace, relationships at peace…
Which they are not.
Our world is anything but in peace. Being a fallen human being not every one of my relationships is at peace. And when I try to be quiet my heart struggles to find inner rest, and my mind takes off like wild stallions.
Be still. Our hearts are rocked at times with reactive emotions and deep storms of fear and resentment. Our minds filled with useless, cynical, and angry thoughts that like gnats destroy our peace. I can hold my Father’s hand and bow to what I cannot change, determined nonetheless to care compassionately and see others with God’s eyes, confident that I need not prove, finish, or amount to anything to be his beloved daughter.
In his unpublished manuscript The Wound of Existence, James Moran talks about the game we adults play, the game of “happy ever endings,” overcoming every challenge, “blasting” through every obstacle. We find our consolations in the crutches of ego, predictable order and reliable control, measurements, outcomes, neat and tidy boxes where we label everything to keep it safe.
We are all in this game that is stretched out on the surface of reality and only by remaining on the surface, contrary to every heart’s call to the deep, can we stay in the game.
But life’s purpose isn’t fulfilled by games of child’s play. It is that uncontrollable twist of our life’s story that brings shipwreck to the games, casts our hearts into the nothingness of a future that we cannot control, and ultimately puts us into the arms of God. These twists and turns of our life can be dramatic or simple, but they are there to free us from illusion and deepen our joy in life…..
There are times when we have to deal with big questions. And then there are times when big questions sear deeply into our identity, shake our consciousness, tear our hearts with guilt. They toss us about with fear, doubt, and loneliness. The big questions seem to be dealing with us. We might stay up at night wondering where we fit in God’s plan. Questions haunt us: Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? How will I go on from here?
When we’re haunted by these big questions, we are like the apostles after Calvary’s sorrow and the collapse of their hope, when rumors suddenly swirled around that some of them had seen Jesus alive. How they must have longed to see once again the face of their Beloved Master, and yet also perhaps felt their hearts shrink in the uncertainty of what his eyes would say to them.
The forty days of Easter before the Ascension are like an educative process. After the resurrection, Jesus doesn’t engage the apostles on the level of emotion. He becomes their guide through the complexities of their hearts and the events that left them fearing what God’s plan might be. To them, Jesus asserts the authority and gentle power of his presence: Do not be afraid. It is I.
These past two weeks I have spent from 3 to 5 hours most evenings or early mornings sitting beside a dear sister-friend who was making her last great ascent. That final walk. The ultimate journey. The loving return.
Each breath of hers was precious and on that last night before she died God helped me to realize that in the end, really, that is all we have…our breath…our current breath. We are not promised our next breath. We already have kissed the last breath goodbye. We cannot cling to it, as we cannot hold onto the past.
And even that breath is a gift. A gift of total gratuitously glorious love from a divine Lover who is supporting us in his arms even as we breath.
On that last ascent, it will not matter what we have created or achieved or known or acquired. The fact that I have written a book, or started a company, or sold an astounding number of widgets, or even loved will not be mine as a monument to me..
I will have only this breath that is a gift to me right now at this moment.
As we journey into the new year I’ve been thinking a lot about St Joseph. He is a “star” in the Christmas narrative, leading Mary to Bethlehem for the census. He protected her on that blessed night when the Savior of the world was born in a stable in the midnight dark. Joseph stands out again as he saves the day, whisking Mary and Jesus off to Egypt and safely out of the clutches of Herod, who attempted to kill the baby.
Perhaps from the perspective of our eternal reward we’ll see how we too were the amazing actors in a moment of history—large or small—upon which the future of others rested.
But as Joseph trudged away from Nazareth I think he wasn’t imagining himself in any saintly celebrity status.
He was leaving his plans, his preparations for the Messiah’s birth, his workshop and place in Nazareth as the village carpenter. He was leaving behind his family, his support, his home, his synagogue. He left everything he had known, built, and shared for so many years of his life: the self he knew, the role he played in the community, his place in the larger family.
He walked into silence, mystery, glory…
This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Kingdom of Christ within me, how I surrender to the power of the King, how I turn my life over entirely to the reign of the Kingdom. As we close this year, it is a perfect liturgical Feast to prepare us for Advent and Christmas. Both an end and a beginning.
Today I share a dream that I had so long ago, but which has directed my life ever since. It points in the direction of loss and worship. Right now we are experiencing so much uncertainty and fear and isolation. May this biblical invitation to worship be a blessing for you.