Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Veer Right Off of Ego Central, then Go Straight on Aridity Ave

 Alone and not a drop to drink. The dry, barren desert road of self-love.
(You're kidding, right? RIGHT? This is the CURE?!)

If  Pride is considered the "mother of all sins", it's time to introduce you to a sibling of hers: Self-love. Pride and self-love, are the prime movers of the deadly sins, along with fear. But the reason we have fear is because of pride and self-love.

I mean, let's face it, the ego serves itself. Sometimes we THINK we are doing things for the Lord only to find out later that it was simply a secret supply line to the ego.

And the hard thing is that all these "secret supply lines" that feed self-love have to be cut off. This includes our attachments to spiritual consolations and even our secret attachment to "doing good" if we have it (and which we may not be aware of) - many of these things secretly feed our ego, our pride, and so must be stripped from us for our own good. It's a very painful process but one that helps us direct our hearts to our true end.

Which is God.

Think of it as a purification of our intentions. Of our secret motives. Motives that we aren't even aware of. A purification that will eventually give us that perfect purity of heart which allows us to see God.

You just can't bear good fruit with the water of your own self-love. No, in order to bear good fruit our own water lines must be shut down completely so that the heavenly water lines may open.

The shutting down of our secret supply lines, the ones hidden below the surface, takes a long time. The greater the self-love, the more intense the process will be. Thus we suffer from a great and terrible aridity during these times. There is no longer attraction to the things of the world, nor is there much to things of the spirit when pride and self-love are being stripped from the soul. This isn't even something we can do ourselves because the root of it is beyond our ability to access.

It's like being caught betwixt and between. Our hearts feel like a barren wasteland. No joy in earthly things and nothing but fizzle instead of sizzle when it comes to heavenly things.

Yes, think "desert". A long dry season but one that has a purpose - to bring you out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

(Ooops... I almost wrote "dessert". You know, one of those Lenten Freudian slips. It's a "chocolate" thing in my case.)

At the beginning of the spiritual life we can do a great deal to help shut down the supply lines feeding self-love but eventually you get to a point where your own power is insufficient (and really just gets in the way) and you must rely on God to do the work in your soul.

Though it does seem as if God took a vacation without you and forgot to tell you when he'll be back.

Humility is THE virtue to pray for as we undergo this stripping. The more I learn about humility, the more I realize the importance of praying for it daily.

Without it, we can't make progress spiritually.

Without it, we can't bear fruit.

Without it, we cannot bear our time in the desert and tend to return to the slavery of "Egypt" (read - "slavery to the world").

Perish the thought.

The plus side of the desert is that it's where we become aware of just how strong our attachment is to self and where God weans us from this attachment.

There is a direct correlation between our ability to surrender to God and our humility. Because, in order to surrender to God we need to let go of self.

You can't cling to God if your hands are too busy hugging yourself.

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, You are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, I will love You, O Lord, my strength.       St. Augustine, The City of God        (The bold is mine)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Cutting to the Quick

Hmmm...maybe I should make this Novena perpetual? 

When I first returned to the Lord years ago I made sure I did everything right. I was on a mission to become a saint. On the fast track to success (cough, cough, groan, groan). Mass, the sacraments, many prayers - I took great care to do it all and to do it all well. But it was fear-driven and very performance related. I mean, it bordered on compulsive. I felt like I had to make up for the sins of my past and unfortunately chose quantity over quality, thinking that more was better. After all, we are raised in a culture that focuses on this kind of productivity and I had learned my lesson well. 

Nearly drove the Lord nuts with my verbosity. Drove everyone else nuts too, I'm sure.

Did I ever tell you about my attempts at completing that series of prayers in The Pieta by St.  Bridget? You know, the ones that take a year to complete? Well, God and I wrestled together over these particular prayers for a long time.

 He had determined that I should not complete them. 

I, on the other hand, had determined that I should.

Guess who won? 

Think about it. Page one of the Heavenly Herald almost read:                          

 God Loses Patience and Hurls Lightning Bolt at Woman with Spiritual ADHD. Claims "it was the only way to shut her up!" Woman Survives to Tell the Story. 

Mary N., a woman from Fatted Calf Creek, Wyoming, claims God hurled a lightning bolt at her while she sat in the park reading  aloud from a prayer book called "The Pieta". The woman said she was on her 59th day of a year long novena and thinking about making it a perpetual one when lightning shot down from a cloudless sky and set her book on fire. Mrs. N. was taken to Mt Sinai Hospital for observation but was released after doctors determined that the woman was unharmed except for her bruised pride.  

Thus began the first cutting. I have been under the Divine knife ever since. It was (and is) so constant that I began to feel a bit embarrassed by the depths of my "fallenness".

I mean, it was so bad that I started getting witnesses in the spirit every time I read the line "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest!" (A line from one of my favorite poems by Francis Thompson.)

I couldn't even read poetry in peace.

And it was the "fondest, blindest, weakest" part that that would shoot that bolt of Divine electricity through me.

Blindest? Weakest? 


It is so hard for us to see ourselves this way. As blind and weak. There I was thinking I had reached the heights of sanctity after six months of prayer and...

"And whatchoo mean you have to perform more surgery, Lord? I haven't even recovered from the last bout!"

Every area of my life was being inspected by the Divine Eye. Or so it seemed.

"Look, Lord! Over there! See that guy eating an entire bag of Cheetos? You better get right on it!"

And much was found lacking.

"Boy, we don't get a lick of privacy down here, do we Lord?"

(Honestly, I don't speak to the Lord this way, folks. Seriously. Thoughts like these just tend to pop into my head unannounced when I get caught with my hand in the ole cookie jar. Which was constantly back then despite my attempts at mastering pharisaism single-handedly. Or perhaps because of it. But, not to worry, the Lord had a quick cure for that. Painful but quick.)

(That would be: quick in God's eyes. Long and painful in my own.) 

It's so important for God to cut that false piety from us.  A piety that keeps us depending (and focusing) on ourselves instead of the Lord. Sometimes we must see the depths of our weakness before we are able to relinquish control of our lives to the Lord. I see now that my fierce determination to finish those Pieta prayers stemmed from a belief that I could save myself.  We must understand that we need salvation and that salvation comes from outside of ourselves. 

Sometimes the only way this can be made clear to us is by showing us the truth about ourselves. 

Because only by seeing this can we stop relying on ourselves. It's a harsh and painful lesson at times.

(Let's make that "brutal", shall we?)

We cannot receive God's strength if we don't give up our own. When we understand that what we cling to is a phantom strength we can let go more quickly.

God isn't interested in a mere pseudo-transformation. It's not enough for the outside to look good. No, the Holy Spirit cuts deep into our spirits in a surgery so profound that the mere mortal mind cannot grasp its depth. This divine surgery is an amazing miracle of grace and love, imperative to our existence and without which life would cease to exist. Of such gravity is the depths of our fallen nature that only God can infuse life where sin has sown the seed of death. One of the most pitiable, yet endearing quality about the human condition is our naivete when it comes to sin. We truly do not understand how evil it is. We may have an inkling but we don't fully understand it, do we?

Think about the mercy of this.

The pure, unadulterated mercy of it:

"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Your Biggest Cross

Nothing like being caught between a rock and a hard place...of self.

From my archives:

Rumor has it that a newspaper once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, What’s wrong with the world today? And Chesterton responded simply:

“Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

This story about G.K. Chesterton is not substantiated but I sure wish it were true. Why do I wish this?

Because sooner or later every person stumbles upon one of the great truths of life. And "stumbles upon" is the right phrase because this truth sure feels like a huge stumbling block.  God knows this truth, the saints knew it, the souls in Purgatory definitely know it. We may know it as well, but our pride resists it. This truth is:

We are our own heaviest crosses.

There, I said it.

And it's true for all of us.

When I first came upon this realization I thought it was only me. That I, myself, was my own heaviest cross and that this didn't apply straight across the board.

But it does. It applies to all of us. When you read the lives of the saints you see that every single one of them came to this conclusion about themselves. It's a common thread that runs through their writings and one we should take note of.

Those who say, "But my husband (insert person or circumstance of choice here) is my heaviest cross!"

Nope. Not true. You are your heaviest cross. This is a truth about ourselves that we tend to resist in an extraordinary way because pride has taken root in our hearts and we don't want to believe that one of our biggest problems just might be ourselves.

When we believe that others are our "heavy crosses" it may be one of the strongest signs that a virtue we should be praying for in abundance is the virtue of humility and maybe some charity to go with it.

It took me ten years to learn this. And another five to accept it.

It is part and parcel of our fallen human nature.

It's a great lesson though because as soon as we REALLY learn this, as soon as we stop resisting God's efforts to point this oh so hard-to swallow, it's stuck in my throat fact out, we can begin to make quick progress in the spiritual life because our focus is taken off the sins and faults of our neighbor and responsibility is planted squarely on the shoulders to whom it belongs. We stop blaming others for our heavy loads and start seeing that WE are the heavy loads. This is not to say that there are not external circumstances in our lives that do not make our cross heavier. There are. But the reason the *external circumstances* are so "heavy" is because of our *internal circumstances*.

In other words, if you want to lighten your load you have to work on yourself first.

As G.K. Chesterton so bluntly puts it: Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.

Funny how some of the most obvious things in life are the most difficult to see. Not only are we seasick, we are "see sick" as well and our biggest blind spot is ourselves.

~ You cannot escape it, wherever you run. For wherever you go you carry yourself with you, and will always find yourself. Turn upwards or turn downwards, turn inwards or turn outwards: everywhere you will find the cross.                      Thomas A Kempis

~ The greatest cross of all is self.       Archbishop Francois Fenelon

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mortified Musings - The Lenten Special

"A bit of cake with that sprouted grain bread, my lovely?"

Did you ever see a lassie,

Go this way and that way,

Go this way and that way,

Did you ever see a lassie,

Go this way and that?

   Well, you have now.

Lent has the strange knack of bringing out the worst in me. I have these great intentions that slowly but surely DIE as the season goes on. Think fasting, sprouted grain breads, green drinks, brussel sprouts - you know, all those things that taste nasty times two, but are good for you. That's how it starts.

(And, trust me, those foods TRULY mortify the senses. You'll have to grant me this one, folks. No fake mortification going on here. Hair shirts have nothing on certain green drinks. My senses are so mortified after they eat these things that the souls in purgatory are LEAPING into heaven. Yes, leaping.)

( Not that I've ever worn a specific hair shirt, mind you, but when you live in a house with shedding pets they are ALL hair shirts. )

It's tough to be human though. We like give in to ourselves a lot.

 (That "we" is that universal "we" which reads, "I like to give in to myself a lot". But I don't want to    be a post hog on a public blog so I am including you.)

Me, sailing through Lent. Note the brussel sprouts,
sprouted grain, and asparagus tips in the prow. 
I see beautiful mental pictures of myself breezing through Lent, sailing all the way to Easter... only to be caught with my hand in the cookie jar less than a week later.

In other words, instead of being led by love we (oops, sorry, there's that universal "we" again) are driven by our attachments. The mind wants to go one way, the body another:

"It's best not to have that right now."

"But I want it, I want it!"

So, you choose what you want instead of being guided by what's best. I do this all the time, only to regret it a few minutes later.

A common scenario 'round these here parts:

Gluttony moans, "Another piece of chocolate cake, my dear chubs?"

Reason, led by love, whispers, "No, you don't need that second slice. One's enough, two is overkill, my sweet."

Sweet? Who said sweet? My hand edges toward the platter...

"Hee, hee! She's going to blow Lent again!"

I pull back my hand as if it's been burned by Ole Dragonbreath, himself.


Too much information.

I know.

(I don't know WHAT made me bake cinnamon rolls for my daughter as a special treat this morning. I thought Will Power would be staying until Holy Saturday at least. He was certainly invited. But he vacated the premises without a word after that first batch came out of the oven. Hopefully, Grace didn't leave too.)

(Feel free to scroll down to other posts so I don't leave you with a bad taste in your mouth...)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Penny for your thoughts? Or not.

William Holbrook Beard: For What was I Created?

For after the four books which have been composed on the customs of the monasteries, we now propose, being strengthened by God through your prayers, to approach the struggle against the eight principal faults, i.e. first, Gluttony or the pleasures of the palate; secondly, Fornication; thirdly, Covetousness, which means Avarice, or, as it may more properly be called, the love of money, fourthly, Anger; fifthly, Dejection; sixthly, Accidie, which is heaviness or weariness of heart; seventhly, Vain glory; eighthly, Pride.

                              St. John Cassian, Institutes (Book V)

St. John Cassian was a student of Evagrius Ponticus. Evagrius was a monk in the 4th century who was the first to write about the "eight bad thoughts" and who coined the term "Noonday Demon", which refers to the acedia (now called sloth) which plagued The Desert Fathers toward the middle of the day. These eight tempting thoughts are the precursors to the seven deadly sins. Pope Gregory the Great revised the list of eight bad thoughts by combining acedia with sorrow, calling the combination the sin of sloth, and vainglory with pride. He also added envy to the list. St. Thomas Aquinas questions vainglory and pride being lumped together since St. Gregory called pride the "mother" of the deadly sins and says St. Gregory did not lump these two together. Either way, this is where we received our current list of the seven deadly sins.

In this post, I want to briefly address the deadly sins as those "bad thoughts" because it gets to the bottom of what the deadly sins are and how they operate.

The deadly sins start as temptations and temptations always begin with thoughts.

In the case of vainglory, the temptation to sin comes through our vanity. We want people to like us and sometimes we will do terrible things to avoid their displeasure. "Pilate, wanting to please the crowd, released to them Barabbas."  We get an example here of how dangerous vainglory can be.

When we are subject to vainglorious thoughts (which we are NOT subject to), and if we give into them regularly, we become bound to those we are attempting to please. Yes, we become bound to others instead of God. Can you imagine being bound to what others think of us? Yet, this is what can happen. All the deadly sins create a type of bondage to something or someone who is not God. This creates huge problems for us. Using the example of vainglory, when we constantly do things to please people instead of God our souls become filled with a deep confusion since it opposes our relationship with the Lord as his children. It opposes the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. We create idols for ourselves that are not God. We serve that which we give ourselves over to.

How can you follow the Shepherd when you are trailing the pack of wolves? The heart is divided within itself.

And all of this begins with a thought.

What a mess. No wonder the deadly sins are so deadly.

It's scary when we first see how much of a part the deadly sins play in our lives. When I first recognized it, it paralyzed me. I couldn't believe I had let this happen. And I had no idea which deadly sin to tackle first.

The seven deadly sins poison your thought life. When you give in to the "bad thoughts" and sin, more come crowding their way in. Over time, our minds can become a cesspool of vice. Confusion reigns because a person is pulled in so many directions and it becomes hard to sort through the morass. Imagine a series of ropes tied to you and pulling you every which way. Your mind has difficulty focusing on the "one thing necessary" to obtain eternal life because it is not yet detached from its idols and these "gods" are constantly clamoring for the soul's attention.

So, it can become overwhelming. Until we remember that the reason Jesus came is to save us from our sins. None of this is new to Him. Recognizing the seven deadly sins is the first step to overcoming them. And God helps us do so. One of the best ways to begin to battle the deadly sins is to pray for the virtue of humility. Humility allows us to see the truth about ourselves and our great need for a redeemer. Humility protects the soul and is the foundation of the virtues, which further protect the soul. It is impossible to know God without a certain degree of humility and humility opens the door of the soul to receive God's help and mercy. The more humility a person has, the more light comes in.

Every person on this earth struggles with the seven deadly sins.

Think of humility as the beginning of the deadly sins' end.

"They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD.                         Jeremiah 1:19

Monday, February 22, 2016

Stage Fright

John Singer Sargent: Marionettes

All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players                                                          
                                       William Shakespeare

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.
                                                                                                                                                  William Shakespeare, King Lear

Vainglory gets very little press these days despite its large presence in the world around us. Like the deadly sin of sloth it has been relegated to the dusty archives of "what used to be considered sin but is sin no more". While pride still has negative connotations associated with it, pride's deadly "daughter" is usually unobtrusive and overlooked.

Which makes vainglory deadlier than ever. When you can no longer see your enemy it gives your enemy a great advantage over you.

Why IS vainglory so deadly?

As I mentioned in The Seven Deadly Sins in the Moral Decline of America, each of the deadly sins makes an idol of something other than God. For instance, pride makes a god of self while greed makes money its idol. In the case of vainglory, its idol is other people.

Vainglory is very much tied up with the negative trait of people pleasing. While this is not as overbearing as pride, it can be dangerous because it can get to the point where we are more concerned with pleasing people than God. It's important to remember that we are bound to that which we love and in the case of vainglory this can leave us tied to another's opinion of us and who we are. I've written about this many times on my blog because this was such a problem for me for so many years and is still something I battle against. It's one thing to love a person, another thing altogether, their opinions.

The problem with vainglory is that it can make you feel as if you are a puppet while others are the puppeteers. Whenever we are bound to something other than God we are giving the reins of our lives over to something other than God.

And the last thing we want is to be enslaved to other people whose nature is fallen just as our own is. Especially since vainglory uses fear of others as its shackles. We act a certain way because we fear what people think about us. We follow the crowd because we fear that we will end up alone and rejected. We want to look good before man because we fear others will speak ill of us. Fear, fear, fear. We end up driven by fear.

All the deadly sins use fear as their fetters in some way or another and only perfect love casts out fear. We could say that "perfect love" casts out the seven deadly sins and as long as we do not have perfect love we will be troubled by them to some extent. Do you want to know your idols? Look at your greatest fears. When we fear others won't approve of us and we do things to garner this approval instead of doing it for the right reason, we have gained our reward.

Man, sometimes after writing about the seven deadly sins I feel sick to my stomach.


(In my next post I speak about the deadly sins, our thoughts, and the importance of humility in our battle against them.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dust Makers

 A post from my archives. Enjoy!

Do I HAVE to take a bath?!

Do I really trust God?  Do I have total faith in Him and in his love for me?

As much as I'd like to answer those questions with a big fat YES, I can't do that. I WANT this total faith and perfect love... but I just don't have it yet. I have faith and love but it's not perfected yet.

"Perfect love casts out fear."

Simply put ... I have fears. And what are fears but little pockets of despair that need casting out?

Fears that I fear "Perfect Love" has not yet rid me of.

Mostly I fear my own obstinacy. I see certain attachments so clearly and still procrastinate in ridding myself of them.  I'm afraid I'll get caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Or  worse. What if my time comes while I'm trying to down a heaping bowl of Dana's Double Delite Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge Swirl Brownie Ice Cream? 

 Because, as St. Augustine so bluntly eloquently puts it, "Having You, I might have naught besides."

Naught. Nothing. A big fat zero of nothingness. And that I'll have to wait for years in this state of nothingness until the Lord sees fit to end the nothing period and fill me so full of Himself that the nothing disperses into everything.I wonder if I'm the only person on the planet with this fear? I hope nobody answers that.

So I cling to my "somethings". I call them my little "dust makers".

Because that is what they'll eventually be, right?

 Dust. I cling to dust. Though I must admit that chocolate flavored dust is especially yummy. If I graciously thank the Lord for it often enough I wonder if He'll excuse my over consumption of this very fine dust product.

A bigger fear?

That I won't detach myself from all these little dust makers in time and I'll go before the Lord and clouds of lingering dust will surround AND trail my soul.

Kind of like Pigpen from Peanuts.

And my biggest fear?

The Lord will cough and choke out, "Let's get you off into Purgatory and give you a nice bath!"

And that the "bath" water will be too hot.

Just sayin'.

Okay! Nice and clean! You can come out now!