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."


  1. While the last part is sobering, the beginning of this post had me rolling! I have never attempted the Saint Bridet prayers. I have thought about them and thought about them. My mom does them almost every year. If I have salvation that will most likely be the reason...MY MOM! I truly know all about that initial zeal and piety that comes with the "First" conversion. Now I feel like I am walking through peanut butter!

  2. Wow! I love this article. Explains a lot to me! Thank you for writing this, Mary!

  3. Hi Monica,
    My dad has done them too! They are beautiful meditations but I've never been able to complete them. Which was good in my case for the reasons I mentioned in my post. For others it may be a different story. I can relate to the feeling of "walking through peanut butter" but this is a good thing even though it doesn't seem very good. I am working on a post on aridity which digs a bit deeper into the whole "peanut butter" thing.

    1. And thanks for that post on aridity! It is good to remember that the aridity is just part of the process! I tend to forget that.

  4. Thank YOU, Mallory! I appreciate the feedback :)

  5. Yeah, I used to be a saint, too, Mary. Nowadays, I don't expect so much of myself;-)
    I did the St. Bridget prayers, early on, but now I find myself more drawn to the Stations, instead. My mind is boggling on how merciful God is to form our hope on mercy, rather than our own efforts - much gentler to travel the path given to us than try to carve our own:-)

  6. This is so good and hilarious and profound Mary!! You make me laugh and enlighten me all at the same time. The image with the caption goes great with this post and cause for more chuckling. Oh the zeal and the peanut butter!!! May God continue to have mercy on us!!! Even a few lightning bolts if we need!!! I have had enough of those!!!

  7. God does not need anything from us. That is He is in no way diminished or found wanting if we do not do certain things; like long repetitive prayers, continuos Rosaries, lighting candles, placing flowers or incense in front of statues. We do these things out of reverence, love and respect. Not as a duty, the lack of which would attract a severe punishment from a vengeful God.

    God asks us to love Him, and to love one another. We should do this as best we can; or at least try to do so.

    God bless.

  8. Hi Vicky,
    I loved your words "my mind is boggling on how merciful God is to form our hope on mercy, rather than our own efforts". That is so profound because there is no hope without mercy, is there? Thank you for your comment!

  9. Hi Cynthia,
    I guess you can tell by my posts that I tend to learn my lessons "the hard way". Lol. Well, I guess they are more likely to stick that way? I appreciate the feedback and I'm glad you liked the post. I never did make it through the St. Bridget prayers but I did come to understand that I was trying to depend on myself too much rather than God so it was a good mini lesson for me!

  10. You are so right, Victor! And this explains the sick feeling I used to get in my stomach when it was bedtime and I realized I had forgotten to do those prayers AGAIN. I was focusing on the prayers instead of my relationship with God. Live and learn!

  11. Just came back to read this for the severalth time. Have I ever told you how much I LOVE the way you write? If that reporter from Fatted Calf Creek ever writes a book (or has?) LET ME KNOW!!!

  12. Hi Nancy,
    Thank you! No book yet but I appreciate the encouraging words! (I, uhm, couldn't resist throwing the "Fatted Calf Creek" and stuff into the mix. But you probably figured that ;) )

  13. Oh Mary, the things we do to get into heaven! If yours was the St Bridget prayers, mine was Luisa Piccaretta's 24 Hours of the Lord's Passion. As I was struggling and choking through it, God spoke to me in the midst of it one day. He said, Blow the Spirit of My Mother into the realms.
    I was pretty puzzled. Why would Jesus interrupt a spiritual exercise? Was it even Jesus?

    It's been some months now, and I can say with certainty, yes, it was Jesus speaking, and no, the Luisa Piccaretta novena was not meant for me back then.

    I'm more cautious about pulling heaven towards me now!!

  14. Hi Caitlynne,
    Oh I can relate! Your words "struggling and choking through it" made me smile - that's what the St. Bridget prayers were like for me! Probably just as well we don't make it through stuff like this sometimes. People often learn more from their failures than their successes. God loves humility.

  15. Hah Mary! I too rolling on the floor and laughing out loud! My to-do was the 54 day novena of rosaries, which after all these years, I have never completed. Something would always happen on like day 49 to make me forget. God is such a loving Father, and we try to make everything so about us. That is what is sweet about the dryness and darkness, you can't do a thing but look at Him in faith, and wait for Him.

    Hey, I want that book...the one you are going to write. You really have a gift, you know? You can teach profoundly without sounding preachy because you are so darn funny��
    Love this, and you!

  16. Hi Patricia,
    Sorry I am so late in responding - my comments are no longer hooked up to my e-mail so if I don't check my blog I don't see them. I am cracking up at your comment! It does seem like these things fail towards the end when we've already put so much effort in it! We DO tend to make things about us. I like your words about waiting for Him in faith.

    Book? Me and what army? You are talking to a phlegmatic you know :)