Friday, January 31, 2014

Pain and Suffering

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Handling pain without it handling you isn't easy. I know this from personal experience and I'm sure that many people can relate. It's not too hard to bear when the pain is temporary as from an injury like a broken arm or one that stems from a bad fall - we know it's going to end and seeing that end in sight makes it a lot easier to cope with. But what about pain that has no foreseeable end? What about the millions of people who deal with chronic pain on a daily basis?

This is where life gets a lot more difficult.

I used to dread getting up in the morning. I mean, to the point where my first prayer of the day was, "Lord, please just help me get through it." I cannot count how many days I missed out on because of this disturbing little prayer. How can there be any joy in life when you just want to get each day over with?

Then, to top it off, I made an even worse mistake - I began to focus on my pain and feel sorry for myself.

Big mistake. My entire world closed in on me and pretty soon I could no longer see the world around me.

Why? Because all I could see was me. I focused so intently on what I perceived as "the prison" of pain that surrounded me that I didn't notice that the key to the prison door was in my hand the whole time. Once I did see it, everything changed. I learned to view my life from the perspective of eternity and my interior freedom grew by leaps and bounds. That freedom had been there all along but I was too blind to see it.

Suffering becomes particularly hard to bear when it comes against a great deal of inner resistance. Often this inner resistance comes in the form of self-pity and pride.

We all know that it's a good thing to offer up our sufferings to the Lord - we should give Him everything. However, we have to be careful in the area of pain and suffering. We have to offer it up...and then give it up. By giving it up I mean that once we place it in God's hands we have to let it go and forget about it to the best of our abilities. This doesn't mean we don't feel the pain but rather we transfer our attention away from the pain and onto something else. Or better yet, Someone else. And I don't mean your husband.

Why do we have to let it go? Because focusing on pain doubles, triples, quadruples it. This goes for both physical and emotional pain. It's the same pain but we enlarge it by giving it our full attention. We give ourselves up to it and whenever we give ourselves up to something it tends to take us over. And that's sad because suffering can be a very good teacher. It has a way of setting our priorities straight while at the same time releasing us from the minutiae that can negatively bog down a life. It can also be redemptive when united with Christ's suffering. Christ himself raised the bar on life when He gave our sufferings purpose by transforming our sufferings in his own. Without this transformation suffering would be useless and without purpose. He sanctified suffering by his own sufferings. This is why so many saints tell those who are suffering to look at the Cross of Christ.

That means eyes off yourself and onto Him.

No easy task sometimes.

The good thing about the Catholic viewpoint on offering up suffering is that it helps us avoid a victim mentality. It gives us a choice. We learn that external circumstances cannot compromise the gift of free will that God has blessed us with. We may not be able to avoid painful crosses but we always have the freedom to choose whether we use it for the good or not.  We have the freedom to let it overcome us or we, on the other hand, can transcend it. We do this by allowing God to transform it into something greater. What pain may cause us to lose in our physical freedom is more than made up for by our gain in spiritual freedom.

To avoid a victim mentality during periods of suffering, in some ways we must choose it. We don't choose it by asking for it or because suffering in itself is good, rather, we choose it by consenting to it knowing God will bring a greater good out of it. This is what Jesus did. Though Jesus is called "victim for our sins", He was not a victim in the sense that we define victim in this day and age with all its negative connotations. He chose to lay down his life for us. We see this in Christ's words about his life, "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own." (See also Mt. 26:53)  If we pray for healing and it doesn't happen we should understand that God is asking us to carry this cross, at least for now.  Acceptance allows grace in to do its work.

Here are two excellent links on suffering:
A Pope's Answer to the Problem of Pain
Suffering (It's amazing how much the Bible has to say on this subject.)

"Suffering borne in the will quietly and patiently is a continual, very powerful prayer before God."
St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Inner Poverty

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf
And say:"This is not dead,"
And fill thee with Himself instead
But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity
That when He comes He says:'This is enow
Unto itself: 'Twere better let it be
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.'
                                T.E. Brown

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Then the eyes  of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.     Genesis 3:7

Our lives are filled with fig leaves, these fig leaves consisting of all the things we use to hide from God, especially the illusion that we can rely on ourselves and don't need anyone else, certainly not God.

In some ways much of this world is a chimera, blinding us to the deeper realities of our existence, an illusion masking the truth of our utter reliance on God. Strip away this illusion, this falseness, and what do you find? Our inner poverty. This is something we must all face at some point in our lives. Yet, in fear of this "unmasking" people hide behind so many things, things that they have convinced themselves reflect the truth of who they are. Their identity is based on what they do or what they have instead of who they are. But what good will it do clinging to these illusions about yourself  when you are confronted with truth itself? What happens when all the lies that we have told ourselves (or others have told us) disintegrate at the time of death and your soul lies bared before the eyes of God, before whom no untruth can stand?

The purpose of seeing our inner poverty isn't so we become shocked at how bereft we are (though this may happen until we realize God has no intention of leaving us empty), it's to point out our dependence on God. When we understand how much we need God we learn to turn to him instead of relying on ourselves. It would be much better if we were to realize this here on earth rather than at the time of our death.

Which begs the question:
Why is death so frightening to us? After all, death is not death, is it? Is it because we are too attached to ourselves and not to He who holds our life in his hands?

Death isn't a bad thing. Death strips away all the falsity, all the lies, all the pettiness in our lives. If we are ill-prepared death disrobes us of the "fig leaves" we have used to cover our nakedness, our great inner poverty is exposed in one great shocking moment. I think this is why there are so many deathbed conversions. It is precisely this recognition of our inner poverty that opens the great door to God's mercy.  On the other hand, those who are "full of themselves" have no room left for God nor does one who has made himself into a god feel the need to seek a mercy that so much depends on this inner poverty. 

Death is the great equalizer. Death is not a bigot; it favors neither the king nor the pauper. Both the rich man and the poor man, the saint and the sinner, the wise and the foolish must submit themselves to death when their time comes. 

Death leaves us stripped bare. There is nothing left to hide behind but the reality of who we are.

Scary thought, isn't it? I know it freaks ME out. This is one of the great truths in life - one day each and every one of us will come face to face with the Lord of all there is. There will be nothing to hide behind in the face of Absolute Truth. This Truth will pierce you to the very depths of your being and your "fig leaves" will mean nothing at all. Your wealth, your education, your country, your talents, your "stuff"... you will find that all these were merely tools along the journey. Good things...but tools nonetheless. The tools don't come to heaven with you.  In death, stripped of all these "lesser things" what will you have left?

This is why it is best to understand our "oh so great" inner poverty here on earth. Sometimes we need to wade through all the outside clutter, the "lesser things", that weigh us down and make us seem so fat and healthy on the surface so that we can face and understand our inner poverty as well as our utter and complete reliance on the Lord. Truly, it's best that we confront this here rather than in the hereafter.

This is no small thing. It is one of the greatest things that we can do in life.

It is God, himself, that is and was our "coat of glory". Without God...we have no glory. God is the glory of a human being.  Often we come to this realization of our complete dependence on God only after he strips away our false dependency on things that are not Him. Like a baby weaned of its pacifier so we too are weaned of what is not lasting, of our dust makers, so that we may receive of the everlasting instead.

When I reflect upon it, it becomes clear to me that everything here is a preparation for that great moment when we see the Lord face to face. He won't ask me whether I have a Master's degree in theology or if I lived in a mansion. He won't ask me whether I was a great athlete or a famous artist. No, all these things are but tools we use on our journeys.  What He WILL ask me is whether I shared the coat of glory, the totality and completeness of His Love that I am encompassed by, with my brothers and sisters. I will be judged on how much I have loved.

And believe me, this is something I fail at on a regular basis. Yet, I have great hope because even in my failures I am coming to the understanding of my complete dependence on the Lord, including my dependence on his mercy. I know this mercy well, at one point in my life I came face to face with it. By no means was it a fancy moment, either. It was me in my abject misery standing before the mercy of the King of Kings. Even now I struggle to make sense of it. Yet, He loved me anyway. I think I learned more from this great gift, this pulling of the knot which began the unraveling of my false self, than I yet realize as the grace of it unfolds over the years. 

It is not until we let go of our illusions about ourselves, see our immense poverty and walk through the door of God's mercy that we begin to see how rich we really are.

The Weeping Rose

Hiding behind my fig leaf
Cowering in the shame of Eve
I, too, consumed fruit forbidden
Sweet to the lips, bitter to the soul
And mourned outside Eden's gates
An earthen vessel, Adam's seed
Lost in the dust of time
A rose wilted for lack of the sun
"Where are you?" echoed in my soul

At the faintest "here i am"
A broken arrow, a crooked bow
Stood before the Mercy Seat
Unbathed, covered with grime
Unrecognizable to all but you
Your eyes pierced through the filth
And saw the swan in the ugly duckling
You tucked my heart into your side
Two hearts beat as one
And in this Divine chamber
A weeping rose unfurled her first petal

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nominated for a Sheenazing Blogger Award

me funny and smart

Much to my shock I've been nominated for a Sheenazing gesundheit Blogger Award! As soon as I received the e-mail telling me I was nominated I dashed right over to A Knotted Life to check it out. And to make  sure there was no "Ugly Blog"category like a certain other award that we all know about. Then I  remembered that  I spent 6  minutes a few months ago spiffing this blog up and I breathed a quick sigh of relief.

I was even more surprised to find out that I have been nominated in two categories: Funniest Blogger (oh the fierce competition, excuse me for one moment - I have to sit down) and Smartest Blog. I guess this wouldn't be a good time to tell everyone that  I forgot  to stop at the second window of the drive-thru this morning for pick-up after ordering my drink and paying at the first window. This would probably be a good time to delete that ice cream in the cabinet post as well. But it's okay to vote for
me because note that  it says "smartest blog" not "smartest blogger".

I hope you'll head on over to A Knotted Life (harumph, sounds like my life) to vote. So many great blogs to check out! A big "Thank you" goes out to the person who nominated The Beautiful Gate for this award. (I have no idea who this is but I was very touched and I thank you for thinking about me. Free +1ing for you for  the next three months!

The vampires and the dogs will be all over me for this one.

Good thing there's no ugly blogger award. It's bad enough that I'm in a ugly hair  competition with Anabelle over  at Written by the Finger of God. We are  having a hair-off. What
poor Anabelle doesn't seem to understand is that I have that one in the bag since I have no hair to
off since that last unfortunate perm and color.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Face of Joy

Christ and the sinner

Look up, dear one.

Your joy is not in the past that haunts you.

Nor does it lie in the future that confounds you.

Your joy lies here waiting in the present that surrounds you.

I am here. Turn your gaze to Me, the Face of Joy.

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.     Mt 28:20

I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.  Jn 17:13

"Come," says my heart, "seek God's face"; your face, Lord, do I seek.   Psalm 27:8

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2 Beautiful Prayers to the Holy Spirit

A Prayer of abandonment to the Holy Spirit:

Holy Spirit, God of Love, be present to me; accept the offering of myself which I make to you. Receive these hands, these feet, these eyes, this tongue, and all my senses. Receive my memory, my will, my understanding, my desires, my sighs, the longings and the aspirations of my soul. Receive my every hour, my every moment, and all the happenings of my life. Holy Spirit, God of Love, knit my soul to you. Let your love possess my whole being - my senses, my powers, my affections, my very life. Let your love rule my labor and my rest, my going and my staying, and move me as it pleases. Let your love disquiet or comfort me, humble or exalt me, and burn away all my faults. Holy Spirit, God of Love, draw me to yourself. Do with me what you will. Nothing will cause me fear if only your love enfolds me. I ask confidently because your desire to give is greater than mine to receive. Transform me into yourself, so that I may no longer know myself, nor find myself, except in you.              
                                                                                                     Thomas of Jesus

Daily Prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Creator Spirit, come and visit the souls that are Yours; fill with heavenly grace the hearts that You created. You are called by the name of Paraclete, gift of God most high, spring of life, fire, love and the soul's anointing. Seven gifts are Yours to give. You are the finger of the Father's right hand. You, the clear promise of the Father, give men's tongues the grace of speech. Kindle a light in our minds, pour love into our hearts and uphold with Your unfailing strength the frailty of our human nature.
Drive our enemy far from us and give us always the grace of peace; so may it be that, with Your grace ever guiding us in this way, we may avoid all that is sinful. Grant that through You we may know the Father and the Son, and may we ever believe You to be the Spirit of both the Father and the Son. Glory be to God the Father, and to the Son, who rose from the dead, and to the Paraclete for ever and ever. Amen

You know you have been slacking on your blog when...

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

.... the majority of your "bites" come from vampires and dogs.

Anyone game for a few "mercy hits"?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you

Your name is engraved in God's heart.

At his birth, your name was there.

During his childhood your name was there.

At his baptism your name was there.

During the last supper your name was there.

In the Garden of Gethsemane your name was there.

On Calvary, your name was there, enclosed in the secret chambers of a dying heart.

He carried you with him from death to new life.

When He descended into hell your name was there.

When He ascended into heaven your name was there.

He has carried you within him always.

Jesus is true God and true man. In his divinity you were always present to Him because time is not linear to God, it is all present. When we realize the truth of this it is only a small step further to the understanding that when God looks upon us He doesn't just see billions of broken human beings but rather billions of people whole and healed in Him as well. It is hard for us to see ourselves as already healed in Christ since time IS linear to us. And yet, we should know, that in God's eyes we are already healed in Him  since He can see outside of time. Padre Pio understood this view from eternity well, praying for a happy death for his mother after she had died.

Weird, like something out of a science fiction movie.

But true, nonetheless. If we threw out this picture as being too far-fetched  we'd also have to throw out any idea of God's omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence.

It's a great mystery but a beautiful one as well.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.     Jer 1:5

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Sticky" notes

Ice cream goes in the freezer

Ice cream goes in the freezer

Ice cream goes in the freezer

Note to self: clean the cabinet

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Invitation

Everything you do has meaning including those things in life that we tend to think of as minute or inconsequential. Life is fraught with meaning in ways we just can't comprehend because we often don't get to see the results of our actions (or our inaction for that matter). Small decisions that we make now can and do affect the generations that follow.

 I am reminded of this truth whenever I think about a story my husband told me about a teenager who had recently moved to the small town he lived in when he was young. My husband lived on a farm at the time and decided to go horseback riding one day. While passing the new girl's house he decided to stop and invite her to come along with him. She agreed and that's exactly what they did.

Simple right? No big deal...two teenagers riding a horse.

Roll forward 25 years.

My husband gets a friend request on Facebook from this woman that he befriended all those years ago and accepts the request. She is now married and has children. Not long after this he gets an e-mail from her.

She sent the e-mail to thank him:

Twenty-five years ago a young woman was about to commit suicide when a knock on the door and an invitation to go horseback riding changed the course of her life forever.

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that our lives affect the lives of others in ways we cannot even imagine. Because of a simple invitation a woman lived and went on to give life to others. They too will likely have children.

Hmmm...I wonder if my husband realizes that his invite affected all future generations of this woman's line.

This story inspires me when I feel as if the smallness of my life cannot make a difference in this crazy, upside down world. It is an invitation to me as well. It is an invitation to me to look beyond myself and my own little world and see the infinite possibilities that lie within God. To see that no person is insignificant and that the small acts of kindness that we do each day have effects that ripple into eternity.