We are all called to be saints

No, this isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke. Although when I first heard that we – all of us – can be saints…are called, in fact, to be saints, I had a similar reaction: ‘You must be kidding! Me?’

But, what I am slowly coming to appreciate more fully is that God’s most important call to each of us is to be saints – each in our own special way, each in our own individual circumstance. Our only challenge is to learn to say ‘Yes, Lord, I’m willing. Show me how.”

Maybe you won’t have as hard a time as I did hearing these words and taking them seriously, but let me share what some writers who actually know what they’re talking about have to say about our call to sainthood:

In discussing Saints, People Like Us, Henri Nouwen says,

Through baptism we become part of a family much larger than our biological family. It is a family of people “set apart” by God to be light in the darkness. These set-apart people are called saints. Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people. Some of their lives may look quite different, but most of their lives are remarkably similar to our own. The saints are our brothers and sisters, calling us to become like them. (Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 328-9). )

He went on to describe that:

The saints are God’s holy people. The apostle Paul speaks about all those who belong to Christ as “holy people” or “saints.” He directs his letters to “those who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be God’s holy people” (1 Corinthians 1: 2; see also Ephesians 1: 1). This sanctity is the work of the Spirit of Jesus. Paul again says, “All of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3: 18). As saints we belong to that large network of God’s people that shines like a multitude of stars in the dark sky of the universe. (Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 330))

Fr. James Martin S.J. in his book My Life with the Saints, quotes Thomas Merton to say,

“For me to be a saint means to be myself.”

And Merton says in his own book, The Seven Storey Mountain:

And they were saints in that most effective and telling way: sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner, sanctified by obscurity, by usual skills, by common tasks, by routine, but skills, tasks, routine which received a supernatural form from grace within, and from the habitual union of their souls with God in deep faith and charity. (Merton, Thomas (1998-10-04). The Seven Storey Mountain: Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition (p. 62))

So this is my Easter gift to you…the good and joyful news that Christ lived among us, died for us and rose again to be with the Father. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to live within each of us. To be with us in times of trial and triumph. To guide and direct our hearts along our journey. To call us to walk with Him in sainthood, as He shares the truth of His love with the world.

Thomas Merton’s continuing relevance for today’s youth

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. writes recently of the continuing relevance of Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, in America, a Catholic magazine. I’d recommend the entire article to you, here, but was particularly struck by this paragraph mid-way through:

There is much that can be said about the still timely insights Merton presents to us about engaging other religious traditions. Perhaps the most pertinent is the need to live honestly in the tension between maintaining one’s own faith commitments and humbly learning from the experiences of others, all the while holding onto the belief that we are indeed, somehow, “already one.”

How simple and how challenging for so many in today’s world, but how important if we’re all to get through this world together.

If God is everywhere equally present, then…

He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, St Ignasius, and countless others, past and present, tell us how and where to find God, to hear His directions and desires for our lives.

This morning I was reading Nouwen’s book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In today’s passages he was discussing finding God in the books that we read and in nature.  These venues can be especially helpful, often making it easier for us to hear His voice, see His beauty, feel His presence, taste and savor His many blessings on our lives.

Still, another message hit me as I read. As clearly and as demandingly as if it were flashing in neon atop a tall billboard I was struck by the certainty that:

If God is everywhere equally present, then He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

If God is everywhere equally present, as I believe and have been taught, then, simply being conscious of Him in our midst is the key … and the challenge.

No matter where we are, who we’re with, what is occurring, God is there. Walking down the street, on a treadmill at the gym, on a forest path, along the water, in a line at the grocery store, driving down the road.

To be sure, some places are more conducive to feeling our Lord’s presence, but He’s everywhere, just waiting for us to join Him in His holy purpose. Waiting for us to walk with Him along the way He has planned for us. Waiting for us to acknowledge His presence with us.

No matter the circumstances of our surroundings — whether beautiful, natural, sanctified and holy; or man-made full of industry and technology, metallic maybe, full of cold hard surfaces, filled with loud noisy people of all sizes and shapes; or even places polluted, foul, and rank with the discarded, the misused, the abused — He’s there, waiting for us to beckon to Him, waiting for us to cry out to Him maybe, that Now is the time we need to draw near to Him.

Our first steps toward Him may be shaky and feeble, but as with any new endeavor, practice helps us remember Him more and more often. We will soon learn to call upon and recall those ways and places where we discovered Him earlier. Deep in our hearts we remember the warm blessing of His love as He showered it upon us. We remember (or maybe realize for the first time) that He was with us no matter where we were or what we were doing. We remember over and over again, if we are searching for Him, that He is constantly sending us messages – through the words of people we encounter, the material we read, the sites and sounds that draw our attention. He’s there loving us, waiting to participate in close relationship with us every minute throughout our day.

How did I deserve such goodness, I wonder?

That’s easy. I didn’t. I don’t.

He is simply there for me – for each of us – waiting to bless us, waiting to take each part of us, no matter how broken, or even fetid it may be, and wash it clean. With His blood He prepares and purifies us to be His, so that we may become a blessing to share with others.

Obedience: Ordinary things are made holy and great when we desire His will

It’s early morning again. I’m reading Merton’s journal for April 1 where he discusses obedience.

Book Cover

I found myself savoring one particular sentence where he wrote,

But in so far as we desire, with Christ, that the Father’s will may be done in us, as it is in heaven and in Christ, then even the smallest and most ordinary things are made holy and great. (highlighting added)

This recent time has been a one of waiting and worry, of deepening concern where I must learn (and relearn it seems with each new day) to trust and have faith, to lean on and submit to Him whose will I desire above all things. As each day has passed, my prayers for what I thought was desirable have gone seemingly unanswered and yet I know He has heard me.

I know this just because. This is our faith. But, I know this, too, because along the way He has sent me many beautiful reassurances – on holy waiting and patience; on the differences between worry and prayer; and here, where Merton goes on to write:

And then in all things the love of God opens and flowers, and our lives are transformed. This transformation is a manifestation and advent of God in the world.

One of the fruits of a solitary life is a sense of the absolute importance of obeying God—a sense of the need to obey and to seek His will, to choose freely to see and accept what comes from Him, not as a last resort, but as one’s “daily super-substantial bread.” Liberation from automatic obedience into the seriousness and gravity of a free choice to submit. (highlighting added)

Accepting what our Lord provides, ‘not as a last resort,’ but as all we need and precisely what we need for that day. And not just passively accepting His will, but actively participating in His plan by making ‘a free choice to submit.’

Then, I almost laughed out loud as I read Merton’s final thought. He wrote:

But it is not easy to see always where and how!

Well, no it’s not. But our Lord loves us – even in our feeble and flawed attempts to do His will.

———————-

Another day has dawned. Another day filled with opportunities to choose first to submit to the wonder He has planned for us, to give thanks, to rejoice and be glad.

 

 

 

 

Compassion

For years, I’ve awakened at 3 and 4 and 5 in the morning, no matter when I go to sleep. I often struggle to get back to sleep.

In recent months I find that this is a most precious time in my day. It’s a time of quiet and an almost holy darkness. For even when I get up and dress and sit here in the half-light to meditate and write (I only turn up the lights enough to cast a dim glow), the daytime details and distractions of my life are obscured.

I can perceive the chair I’m sitting in, the floor nearby, but the light of my laptop screen is so bright as to throw the rest of the room into utter darkness – I can’t even see my feet there at the ends of my legs as they rest on the hassock before me.

During these times, His light seems able to focus on the one part of me that needs illumining this day at this time.

————-

Something I read just now of Merton’s is helping me to understand better what’s going with me right now. I have long wondered and prayed for guidance to be alert to His will for my life; to be aware of what He is calling me to be and to do.

I’ve known for sometime that my role of mother, wife and friend are my holy callings. But when times get rough and rocky for me or for any of those close to me, I can become so involved in the fear and pain of the moment that I often forget that this is His mission for me, I forget to use each of these periods to grow closer and to help others grow closer to Him.

Not just to remind them of His love for them, and His presence with them in the midst of their anguish, but to love them myself, allowing His love for them to flow through me.

And not just to preach to them of His love from outside the pain of their burden, but to enter into their burdens and help Him to help them carry their load.

And not even that … not just turning to Him for help for them or for me, but in the midst of the turmoil and fear … now, my turmoil and fear and compassion (literally translated to be with (com) or part of another’s pain and suffering (passion)) … to realize and give thanks that He has chosen me for this small task.

To realize that He has allowed me to help shoulder this discrete portion of His burden and thereby, to share in His Passion, to carry a portion of His pain, to lighten some small portion of the burden of His suffering.

All of a sudden this time of consternation, which can verge so closely on despair, seems blessed. It becomes a more holy undertaking where He’s “helping me to make of the lumber of my life not a tavern but a temple, out of the work of my every day not a reproach but a song.” (This whole anonymously written poem, I Love You, is here.)

And just now, as I write this, I’m recalling that I prayed last week to be given a better and deeper understanding of what it is to ‘worship at the foot of the Cross,’ to share in His Passion…how thick I am to just now understand that this sharing in His pain is the true meaning of compassion.

Praise God for His goodness and faithfulness in this and all things.

————

The sun is up outside my window now; the new day is here. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Losing ourselves in God’s plan

Book CoverIn today’s world of blatant self-promotion and scrum to have one’s qualifications stand out from the rest of the crowd, Thomas Merton’s writing resonates. Critiquing his own early fervor, he said he unconsciously sought to have it ‘become spectacular’ and ‘draw attention to itself.’

In much of my world outside this virtual space, where with all of you I’m coming to understand a different way, self-promotion is often a default way of presenting oneself. Advice like, ‘if you don’t sing your own praises, who will?’ and ‘you have to be your own advocate if you want to succeed,’ are standard in many professions.

As we all become increasingly familiar with the mechanics of communicating online through various social media, there are growing numbers of folks seeking to teach us how to maximize our ‘hits’ and grow our network of friends and followers, to get the word out.

Many have worthwhile advice. But I long for there to be greater value placed on humility; for acknowledgement of the shoulders we all stood on to get where we are; for some appreciation of God’s work through each of us; for less grasping to ourselves and more embrace of shared recognition.

Merton described it this way:

The fervor of those days was special and young. It can inspire me to seek a new and different kind of fervor, which is older and deeper. This I must find. But I cannot go back to the earlier fervor or to the asceticism that accompanied it … What has begun now must grow but must never seek to become spectacular or draw attention to itself—which is what I unconsciously did in those days, proclaiming that I was a poet and a mystic. Both are probably true, but not deep enough, because then it was too conscious. I have to write and speak not as an individual who has cut himself off from the world and wants the world to know it, but as the person who has lost himself in the service of the vast wisdom of God’s plan to reveal Himself in the world and in man. How much greater, deeper, nobler, truer, and more hidden. A mysticism that appears no longer transcendent but ordinary. December 11, 1958, III.237–38

Merton, Thomas (2009-10-13). A Year with Thomas Merton (Kindle Locations 5833-5835). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Would that the small seeds of love and appreciation that we share here as witness to God’s transcendent power in our lives were ordinary.

 

How’s your Lent going?

So, how is your Lent going?

As you’ve probably been able to tell, if you’ve been reading my posts each day, I’ve been using Thomas Merton’s meditations for Lent from Seeking God In All Things.

Today’s meditation is beyond me…or maybe I’m just a bit weary of producing a blog post each day. I feel like I’m getting behind.

I posed the question to myself, “Self,” I said, “what’s the problem? What happens if you don’t post a blog meditation each day based on Merton’s meditations?”

Hmmm. I don’t know. Nothing really. Life will continue. The world will continue to turn. God probably understands, too. In fact, He probably already knows the reason I’m feeling a bit blocked today.

So, today I’m going to spend this time chatting and being with Him. We’ll be back tomorrow. In the meantime I thought I’d share a poem I wrote a while ago; it’s at the bottom of this post.

I’d love to hear how your Lenten exercises are going. What are you learning?

———————-

Fixed on You

Keep my heart fixed on You, Lord,

As I go about my day;

Help me maintain my focus in which

All my thoughts and actions are offered to You as a gift.

My thoughts, especially, so easily fall prey

To impatience and cynicism and indifference.

Help me cleanse my mind each day, Father,

Of all but those thoughts worthy of You and your love.

Build in me an internal workroom, if it is Your Will,

Full of all the tools just at hand;

Where I can go to build a stronger faith, a more loving spirit,

A being through which Your love may flow more freely like a river.

Keep my eyes fixed on You, O Lord,

Help me to find Your face in all those I see;

Help me to see beyond others’ weakness and misfortune

To find Your light pouring through their eyes into my heart.

Fix the words of my mouth to Your holy purpose,

That they might bring comfort and joy to those they touch;

Cleanse them of sarcasm and worldliness and

Bind them up in Your golden yoke, enslaving them each day to Your will.

Make my actions and my words acceptable, Father,

That those who know me to be Your child may see Your good work;

Take Your truth and breathe it deep into my heart,

Fill me…So fill me with Your essence

That all that I am, wherever I am is pleasing in Your sight.

Keep my mind fixed on You, Lord.

That all that I am, all that I say and do may

Be offered to You each day as a gift

In deep appreciation for Your Love

Which flows like a river into my heart

Enslaving me constantly to Your will

That I may be pleasing in Your sight.

Be a FROG – Fully Rely On God

FROG-Fully Rely On God

FROG-Fully Rely On God

Merton speaks today of  “paradox”…of wisdom manifest and yet hidden. He says

The words God utters are words full of silence, and they are bait to draw us into silence…If we hide the precepts of God’s wisdom in our heart — precepts of humility, meekness, charity, renunciation, faith, prayer — they themselves will hide us in God.

I can just barely relate to these words. I read them and I understand them intellectually (I think), but they kind of make my eyes glaze over.

I figure that Merton was at a different place on his journey than I am…further along, surely. And that these words, the concepts that they communicate, require a greater understanding that I have currently.

What they remind me of is the story of Martha and Mary when Jesus is visiting. Martha is busy cleaning and cooking, while Mary is sitting at His feet listening to Him, fully captured by His presence. Jesus told us that Mary has chosen the better part.

Luke 10:38-42 tells the story:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I’m still more like Martha than Mary. I’m still making preparations for Our Lord to live fully in me (Editor Angel: Probably suggesting that He direct everyone around me to do what I think they should be doing, too! …Ouch!).

I think it’s why peace rests beside me rather than within me. It’s why I still feel such excitement when I discover some lost aspect of my true self — the perfect self that God created — which I’ve bound up in fear or insecurity or bitterness over the years.

When I discover one of these nasty bits hiding in a back corner of my being, it’s like finding a tarnished piece of fine silver. I want to clean it up, polish it, find it’s original beauty. I want everything cleaned out and perfect for my Lord’s presence (Editor Angel: Fully relying on yourself still? What’s left for the Lord to perfect?).

What all my Martha-like busy-ness misses is that just as my close friends and family probably prefer my complete attention to my clean house, Our Father longs to just be with me. He wants me to rely totally on Him, to surrender to Him, to be cleansed and set free by the Light of His grace.

Hmmmm. What do you think? Are you putting off letting the Lord past the doorstep of your house until you’ve made everything perfect? Or, do you greet Him, invite Him into the mess of your life, and allow Him to help sort it…allow Him to shine His light on the you that He most wants you to become.

Peace Within, Peace Without

Finding our own selves — the unique and perfect selves that Our Father intended us to be — is necessary before we can participate successfully in community or in relationship with others. Merton says, in his meditation for Wednesday of the first week of Lent, that:

A man who is not at peace with himself necessarily projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with, and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him.

He goes on:

Even when he tries to do good to others his efforts are hopeless, since he does not know how to do good to himself.

In trying to make other people happy, Merton says,

he will overwhelm them with his own unhappiness.

I spent most of my early years thinking I had to please others…most especially my first husband (yes, I’m one of those divorced and remarried Catholic converts watching closely the church’s current discussion.)  I never viewed my need to please my husband so much as a product of my own insecurity or sense of unworthiness (although there was probably some of that). Rather, it always seemed to be more a product of the way I was raised.

I was taught that a wife’s main job was pleasing her husband and suborning her interests to his. It was just what women did. My mother modeled this behavior. My father expected it. My older sister fully embraced it.

By the time I came along though, women were just beginning to come into their own — in college, in the workplace, at home. In those early years of cognitive dissonance, I was a working professional during the day. Then at night, I’d bend myself in a pretzel trying to be whatever my husband wanted me to be.

“Oh, you want me to ask first for permission to go to lunch with friends from work? Okay, I can do that.”

“So I shouldn’t bother asking permission to go to lunch, if there are male co-workers going to lunch with us?” I guess I get that.

“You enjoy having a wife with an education. You just don’t want me to use it to have a career? Did I get that right?” Hmmmmm.

By the time we’d been together the better part of a decade, I’d so altered everything about myself to accommodate his expectations, that I no longer knew who I was. It was, to put it mildly, uncomfortable.

I’d become so bound up in being who I wasn’t, that there didn’t seem to be any room to move to a new understanding…any flexibility for us to unwind the snarl of do’s and don’t’s and why’s and wherefore’s.

I left.

But not before fulfilling Merton’s description of the person who’s “not at peace with himself.” He described him this way:

…he gets out of the work all that he put into it: his own confusion, his own disintegration, his own unhappiness.

All that was a long time ago now. I give thanks each day for God’s grace that has allowed me to re-collect much of the girl He intended me to be…the woman He intended me to become.

Amazingly though, I’m still finding corners of myself that got lost along the way. With His continued grace, peace and quiet may yet come to rest not just beside me, but within me.

I pray so.

No matter where I am, He is with me

Merton’s meditation for this first Tuesday in Lent discusses books and how we can be blessed by others’ words and experiences…or not.

It struck home for me. I am just finishing my first mystery novel, since reading Fr. James Martin’s, Jesuit Guide last year. I wrote about the effect the Jesuit Guide had on me and on my walk a while back. I described there how it prompted me to begin this blog.

Martin’s writing (since the Jesuit Guide, I’ve read just about everything he’s written) falls into Merton’s category of writing by “good men.” He says these type of writers “hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them.”

Brother Lawrence’s writing and Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Merton’s own writing and so many of you who share your stories and insights in our virtual world all fall into this category, this place where I ‘find myself’ by reading them.

Merton describes two other categories of writing: “Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us,” he says. Amen to that.

On the other end of the spectrum he cautions that “Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfill.”

The particular mystery novel I’m currently reading falls into the latter category. Still, the quality of desolation associated with the story — the despair of the characters, their fear at having long-held secrets exposed, the unlikeable nature of even the central character, and, therefore, of the writer, who speaks through her — all provide their own negative lessons. It does nothing to uplift one’s spirit. On the contrary, it makes vivid why we weep for so much of our world — for the anger and fear and violence and deceit and impotence felt by so many, who feed and encourage the evil-doers among us.

I guess I don’t feel a need to eschew all mystery novels forevermore. The attitude and spirit we bring to our reading, I think, has as much to do with their effect on us as any of the meta-messages of the writer.

The take-away for me, especially during Lent, is to remember to include Our Father in all my activities — even when I’m reading otherwise vacuous fiction — to ask for His blessing and His grace and His Light — His presence with me — in even my most mundane activities.