Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mary the Pharisee

For a period of time after my return to the Church I thought that holiness meant doing tons of what I considered "holy stuff" for the Lord. Being a perfectionist , I really laid it on thick. Daily Mass, Bible reading, spiritual reading, visits to shrines, name it, I did it. You can probably guess where all this eventually led.

Spiritual burnout to the nth degree.

Still, my little foray into pharisaism taught me many lessons and it was probably a good thing that I learned this early on. The spiritual burnout taught me not to depend on outward information and conformity but to seek transformation of the innermost self. I could have spent many, many years walking around thinking that I was fine had the Lord not stopped me in my tracks and showed me that conformity was not enough and that he was seeking to transform my heart.

There are great dangers in settling for a mere pseudo-transformation rather than an authentic one. A pseudo-transformation leaves one thinking that because they look outwardly holy and are performing holy actions that they are indeed holy and pleasing God when, sometimes, nothing could be further from the truth. By far, the greatest obstacle to transformation is thinking that you are holy and the best piece of advice I could ever give to anyone who has recently turned to the Lord is this:

Never, ever, believe that you have reached the "pinnacle" of holiness because all progress stops at this point. The Lord is so merciful that He reveals our sinfulness in "layers" so as not to overwhelm us. We must pray for humility so that we can remain open to what the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to us. If we are proud and resist his conviction it can "stall" our spiritual progress for some time.

Our natures are far more fallen than we realize and it is the sheer mercy of God and his infinite love for us that reveals these "hidden things" slowly rather than all at once. If we open our hearts to his work we can be sure that He will transform us into the image of his Son and welcome us with open arms when we leave this earth. God finishes what He begins in those with goodwill.

I still do the things I mentioned above (Mass, Bible reading, prayer, etc...) but I use prudence and try not to overdo it. My reasons for doing them has changed and this has made all the difference.


  1. Excellent advice Mary, for any of us at any stage of the journey.
    Thanks and God bless!

  2. A friend of mine told me about the "local peak." It's a computer term meaning that you've reached peak efficiency, except that it's not really peak. It's that it's the peak for all the areas around it. So if you have a bunch of numbers, it might look like this:

    0 1 1 1 0 0 3 3 0 0 1 1 2 2 9 1 1 0 0 0 0

    You'd figure the peak is the nine, and you'd keep all your settings pointed so it was operating on or around the 9.

    But if you'd taken a larger sample, you'd have found this:

    0 1 1 1 0 0 3 3 0 0 1 1 2 2 9 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 1 4 5 1 57 1 2 4 5

    Suddenly, WOAH!, you've got a much higher peak.

    You reminded me that spiritually, sometimes we're sitting on a local peak and we recognize that every way around us is downward, so we just sit there. :-) But then God comes with a great big wind and knocks us off the peak and into a valley, and we start climbing again, only to find that when we reach our next local peak, we're a lot higher than we were before. :-) LOL -- computers and God-talk, true sign of a geek.

  3. Karin,
    Yes, I take this advice to heart myself. Once again, I learned this "the hard way" though (lol)! I had to have it pointed out to me by the Lord! Good thing He's patient!

  4. Jane,
    Geekiness used for a higher purpose is good :) I wrote a post a while back that is somewhat similar to your "peak" analogy but don't ask me where it's buried in my archives. I can never find anything (lol)!

    Good point you've made here!

  5. Reading your blog is so refreshing!
    I'm having similar realizations.
    Inner change and natural, honest actions are so much more effective than trying to always do "holy things."

  6. Thanks Jade! I try to be honest about the spiritual obstacles that I have faced in hopes that it saves someone else the time and trouble of going through them. I know that I have learned from what others have shared about their spiritual lives and that sharing aspects of our own journeys may help give others a "leg up" too :)

    Your last sentence is right on the mark! It's all about truth and authenticity!

  7. I am glad He works with us slowly because sometimes growing is painful.

  8. Janna,
    That's for sure :) The good thing is that one of God's greatest attributes is patience!

  9. Hi Mary.

    Yes! Some years ago I used to think I was pretty good. I had everything in order: Mass, Rosary, Chaplet, Bible readings. You name it, I could fit it into my day. Then our baby son died and I fell apart. I learnt that appearing holy is not what it is all about. Sometimes performing all the holy practices is the easy bit. In fact working my way through all the devotions made me feel very satisfied with myself. But accepting what God sent me was far more difficult. Why did God treat me in this way when I was so faithful and devoted? I had lots to learn. And I'm still learning!

    Lots to think about with your post, Mary. Thank you!

  10. My personal peak has a decimal point just after the first 0 on the left! (Jane's comment).

    Oh ... I'm now so tired !!!

    God bless.

  11. Sue,
    Yes, this is exactly what I meant. I felt very satisfied working my way through my devotions, too. Little did I know about the trials soon to come my way that would uproot this complacency.

    I was deeply moved when I read your post about your son, Thomas, and I am very sorry for your loss. Losing a child is the greatest pain a woman can suffer and my heart goes out to you. You (and your family) are in my prayers.

    I was thrilled to find your sister's site, too! I love to sketch and I enjoyed how she showed the progression of her work! You have a very talented family!

  12. Oh Victor! You make me smile!!

  13. Mary, your comment on my blog cracked me up.

  14. Great words of wisdom Mary!

  15. Janna,
    Well, Angelina is certainly beautiful and despite my practice of saying no lately the only thing I've noticed is little wrinkles forming around my lips ;)

  16. Anne,
    Thank you! I hope your family is well! I love reading about them because I think your family is quite unique for the days we live in. I keep you all in my daily prayers. God bless!

  17. Thank you Mary for your kind words. Losing a child is a great pain but I survive because of God's grace which He gives despite my unworthiness.

    Thank you also for visiting my sister's blog. She will be so thrilled to find you have been reading her posts. I am in awe of her talent. I love seeing the different stages of her work. I'd love to know more about your own artwork. What do you like to sketch? God bless!

  18. Sue,
    I may eventually put some of my artwork up on my poetry blog. Not yet though - I took many years off from drawing due to an illness I had that affected my hands and the muscles throughout my body. I was actually healed at a healing Mass of a disease called Myasthenia Gravis. It's in my archives - either April or May of 2010 if you are interested in reading about it. I just recently got back to sketching about 6 months ago. Unlike your sister, I'm not very good at portraits. But I'm working on it! I like drawing things from nature and religious symbols the best!

  19. Oh sweet Mary I knew this would happen, but it is something you had to go through. I only know as I went through the same thing only I thought I was a Canadian Mother Theresa....Wrong! When my husband died, then my son then the cancer diagnoses well I was knocked me too my knees, oh yes I was humbled all right. Looking back I am so thankful for all that was, is and will be. So many blessings Mary, we are both so blessed. Happy Mother's Day....:-) Hugs

  20. Hi Mary, I am back yet again! I have been absorbed in some of your old posts. I'm supposed to be making dinner so I will have to stop reading but I know I shall enjoy looking at yur archives again another day. Your healing: God is so good! To get back the gift of your hands! I look forward to seeing some of your art work. God bless!

  21. Bernie,
    You have been through some overwhelming trials in your life but you always get up again and you keep your sweet, joyful nature despite everything! God bless you, my friend!

    You know what's funny, Bernie? At the time I was doing all these "holy things" I really didn't know how "yucky" I still was inside! So, yes, it's something I definitely had to go through and I guess this humbling continues throughout a person's life :)

    Hugs to you too, my friend! Happy Mother's Day - I'm sure your son is smiling down at you from heaven!

  22. Sue,
    Yes, God is good! I used to feel like a very old woman but now I feel much better! God has blessed me in many ways and I am very thankful :)

    I hope I get up the courage to share my artwork. It's nowhere near as good as your sister's but it brings me joy!

  23. Wise words, Mary. Also, I think we should be careful not to compare ourselves with others we may think are doing all the right things. Jesus just wants our full attention. Comparisons lead to discouragement which means we are thinking of ourselves and not Him!

    I especially like that you noted the trap of counting on a multiplicity of vocal prayers - rosaries and chaplets - as proof we are holy. A dear old Benedictine once said to me that he never worries if he gets all the prayers of the rosary said as long as he has a good meditation on the mystery. On the other hand, St. Teresa of Avila said that a person who is capable only of vocal prayers can be much holier than one who is gifted with the ability to meditate. It is the devotion of the heart that counts as you so wisely wrote here.