“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end . . . Hope, O my soul, hope. You can know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes away quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain and turns a very short time into a long one.” — St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila)
Words to live by on the Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face:
“If I did not simply live from one moment to the next, it would be impossible for me to keep my patience. I can see only the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to think about the future. We get discouraged and feel despair because we brood about the past and the future. It is such a folly to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus.”
St. Therese, help me always to believe as you did, in God’s great love for me, so that I might imitate your “Little Way” each day.
For more information and resources about St. Therese of Lisieux, click here.
One of the very best books I read this summer — perhaps all year — was Christian McEwan’s lovely World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. I posted an excerpt here that really spoke to me. Christian points true north in her recommendation that we reclaim quiet and slowness, and relearn to savor awareness in lives too often gone awry by speed, haste, and multi-tasking, our creativity and imagination suffocated by the noise that attends these harried, unfocused but increasingly “normal” behaviors. I have an intrinsic horror of chaos and I do not believe it is possible for me to live a truly creative life, in either a spiritual or an artistic sense, in an environment that seeks to encourage chaos instead of order, harmony, and balance.
The truth is, I don’t have to participate in the chaos. I do have a choice, though I may be made to feel as though I don’t, or that in exercising my choice to slow down and swim on my own side of the stream I am somehow “not with it” and need to “get up to speed.” I’ve been struggling with the sense that my life, my mind, my health, and my world have all been unravelling with greater speed and urgency over the last couple of years, so Christian’s book was just what the doctor ordered. I took quite seriously her encouragement to “Choose to refuse,” and have been practicing the simple art of saying “No,” along with the attendant art of not apologizing or feeling guilty for saying it and using the resulting new-found time to be more available to the opportunities God is offering to me in the sacrament of the present moment.
Being more present to what is happening in the moment is necessarily going to look different for each person. It all depends on how plugged in or overextended you are. A good friend of mine is experimenting with unplugging from the Internet each weekend to allow for quiet spaces to process her writing. One thing I’m doing is trying to stay with the task at hand and resist heartily the urge to multi-task — meaning if I’m helping my son with his math lesson and the phone rings, I let it ring. This is extremely difficult to do because as a full-time mother and housewife, full-time home schooler, and part-time high school teacher I’ve got my hands full and there is rarely a moment when someone doesn’t want or need something from me. How do I meet everyone’s needs and still have something left over? Prayer is essential, but so is slowing down and making a place for quiet and a more moderate pace through the day.
One of the things people praise our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for is his ability to make the person with whom he is speaking feel like the only person in the world. This is a tall order. But should it be? Why is it so hard for us to pay attention to who or what is right in front of us, without being distracted by something or someone else? Obviously, prudence and discretion is required: if I’m driving and my son wants me to look at or listen to something that requires too much of my attention, well, he simply has to wait. Keeping us alive and safe in that moment is the most important thing. But in this time of instant gratification and self-centered social interactions, this kind of patience is difficult to acquire and practice, for others and for ourselves. Yet it seems to me essential. Rather than whipping myself and others into higher speed, I must learn to be OK with allowing myself and others to move slow, appreciating the time it takes to be on task and do a job well and thoroughly before moving on to something else, and allowing the person I’m interacting with the gift of my full and undivided attention. Because God is present to me in the moment, not in the next thing on my to-do list, not in what I could be doing instead. But right there, in what I am doing NOW, in who I am with NOW.
Michelle Aldredge at gwarlingo has taken up the clarion call issued in McEwan’s World Enough and Time and has an article today about Christian and her book as part of her new series on creativity, which I highly recommend following — it’s worth every minute you’ll spend reading. You can also hear an interview with Christian on Writer’s Voice with Francesca Rheannon. Christian’s book is worth seeking out and reading slowly. Treat it like a personal retreat, a gift to yourself, a promise to take back some of what you might be allowing to be taken from you. Reading it may be a step towards reclaiming a more creatively aware, spiritually intuitive self. Not everyone is going to be happy with your choosing to refuse and not everyone will understand the grace that will be revealed to you in each moment that you choose to pay attention and focus on what is happening NOW. But you’ll be better for it and the inner change it will work in you will be evidence that you’re on the right path to living a saner, more peaceful, more present life.
What have you got to lose?
“Each of us is loved by God with a limitless, unconditioned and unconditional love that we can never destroy or even diminish. We are loved into existence; cherished in our existence; affirmed absolutely in death and beyond. This love is independent of our merits or demerits. Nothing whatsoever can separate us from this love. For it is the breadth; it is the length; it is the height and it is the depth — there is nowhere beyond it, above or below it. It is All: the limitless ocean that encompasses our tiny, threatened, fragile yet infinitely precious self. This is not merely impersonal, protective benevolence but a love that gives self, that offers inconceivable intimacy and that seeks reciprocity. We can never define or draw a line around what God will do for each one of us. We are exposed to the infinite. Against this truth what does our sense of impotence matter? In genuine faith — which must, of course, be worked for — and in that surrender of self which is faith in act, we begin to discern that, far from our helplessness being a human misfortune, something that ought not to be, it signals a limitless calling and is the other side of a vocation that goes beyond what can be perceived by mind and sense. To accept it is to assent to our vocation, to becoming who we truly are, to being truly human. We are made for union with the divine, nothing less. We are called to share the life of God. Our restlessness, our insatiable longings, our discontent and experience of helplessness are to be traced to our divine destiny. Commitment in faith to this truth is to destroy existential anxiety. Faith alone can overcome the world and the threat the world imposes. It does not follow that we lose the feeling of anxiety and fear — we would be the poorer for that — but these now play a role that is creative not destructive. Fear can cripple, paralyze, prompt us to shirk and evade life. Faith enables us to live with reality, braving its challenge.”
— From Essence of Prayer, by Ruth Burrows OCD
“In terms of taking back our time, the first essential tool is saying no. No to our own greed and self-importance. No to the extra work we carry home. No to hearing without listening, looking without seeing; no, above all, to the insistent voice of advertising, which thrives on our restlessness and dissatisfaction, and does everything it can to exacerbate them. A Brobdingnagian NO to all those things makes space for an even more gigantic YES.
My private code for this is to refuse and choose.
We . . . can refuse to participate in the ‘mad race of time.’ We can choose to talk face to face with our friends instead of via email or on the telephone; we can play with our children, now, this very afternoon; we can go off for long walks across the hills. We can turn off the television once and for all. In short, we can rejoice in being one of the elite who actually does have the privilege of choice instead of complaining endlessly about our lack of time.
Of course it can feel difficult to drop out of the rat race: to stand at the side of the road while our friends and colleagues race on across the horizon. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. In Matisse’s painting, “The Red Studio,” the clock has no hands. We need to find a ‘red studio’ of our own, the studio of our own insistent heart, perhaps, in which to set up an easel or a writing desk, or pull a dreaming daybed towards a broad, wide-open window. It sounds so simple — almost too simple to be worth saying — but slowing down can be a tremendous source of joy.” (Excerpted from World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwan, pp.30-31)
What would you do if you had more time? Find one thing, and then find the time and make it happen.
Seeds of contemplation on the beauty of the desert on the eve of Lent. . . .
* “I will allure her into the desert and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:16
* “In silence and hope will your strength be.” Isaiah 30:15
* “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
* “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make of myself a torrent.” — Words of Christ to Blessed Angela of Foligno
* ” She lived in solitude, and now in solitude has built her nest; and in solitude he guides her, he alone, who also bears in solitude the wounds of love.” — St. John of the Cross
* “Solitude is not emptiness for we are walking toward an oasis where someone we love is waiting.” — St. Therese of Lisieux
“God does not have a fixed plan that He must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways… The feast of Christ the King is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.” — Pope Benedict XVI
Today, as the Church closes out the year in preparation for the beginning of the new liturgical year next Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent, it is only fitting that we celebrate the truth that Christ is Lord: of all on earth and above the earth, of all people and of all concerning them, of all life and of victory over death. This is true regardless of whether people believe He is or not, whether they acknowledge His existence or not. As we prepare to spend the next four weeks reflecting on the meaning and purpose of the Incarnation and Birth of the Lord of All, this feast is a comforting and blessed reminder that when all is said and done, Christ is the one and only King, present now and forever, until the end of time.
Perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that I only just found out the circumstances surrounding the induction of this beautiful feast by Pope Pius XI as a way to combat the rising tide of secularism and hostility towards the Church that was beginning to flourish in the last century and continues on to today. If this is news to you, or if you need a refresher, you might like to read this mindful and enlightening article by Dan Burke.
Remember to Pray For Priests
Sadly, this week I also learned a wonderful and truly gifted priest from a nearby parish has left the priesthood. This was a devastating and sober reminder to me of the great need and responsibility we have to pray for our priests. While it is true that one of the duties of a priest is to be a model of holiness in leading the people in his care to Christ, it is also true that we are all indelibly marked as “priests, prophets, and kings” through our Baptism. It is not just the job of a priest to be holy so that the people he serves may be holy; it is also the job of the people to make every effort to grow in holiness and to support the priest in his service to the people of God and in the gift of his entire life in service to the Church. The priest is like a soldier on the front lines of a very great battle. To leave him to fight alone, without prayer and the individual effort to grow in holiness in response to God’s universal call, is to leave him prey to the enemy and many evils.
It is true that many are reeling from the abuse crisis in the Church, and rightfully so. But we cannot forget or abandon the many, many priests who continue to fight each day for the people of God, who continue to sacrifice unfailingly even in a climate that has made it extremely difficult to do their jobs with any dignity. St. Therese, in her autobiography Story of a Soul, reminds us of both the humanity of the priest and of his special need of prayer:
“I understood my vocation in Italy . . . I lived in the company of many saintly priests for a month and I learned that, though their dignity raises them above the angels, they are nevertheless weak and fragile men. If holy priests, whom Jesus in His Gospel calls the “salt of the earth,” show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid? Didn’t Jesus say too: “If the salt loses its savor, wherewith will it be salted? How beautiful is the vocation, O Mother, which has as its aim the preservation of the salt destined for souls! This is Carmel’s vocation since the sole purpose of our prayers and sacrifices is to be the apostle of the apostles. We are to pray for them while they are preaching to souls through their words and especially their example.” [Emphasis in the saint’s original text]
St. Therese mentions the great need priests have of prayer, those who are holy, those who are lukewarm, but what of those who have walked away and are lost? She was no stranger to this experience: all of the nuns in her Carmel grieved over a French Carmelite priest who left the priesthood. St. Therese especially offered many prayers and sacrifices for his conversion. She teaches us emphatically that all priests need our prayers, desperately. As one Body in Christ, each one of us is affected by the actions — good and bad — of all the rest. But we also all share in the graces each receives through prayer and sacrifice. This is the beautiful treasure of the communion of saints which we share in even now.
As we celebrate this great feast of Christ the King, it would be well if we remembered in a special way those who have given their lives to ensure that we are able to receive the graces God intends for each one of us through the sacraments instituted for the Church through His Son, Jesus Christ. It would be well if we remembered to pray in a special way for those who have given their lives to ensure that each and every day, in every Church throughout the world, Christ is able to become truly and really present — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — in the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, to be present to each one of us in the most special way. By His own design, Christ can only be present in the Eucharist through the anointed hands of the priest. It would be well if we remembered and prayed for these men, and if we were mindful of our own responsibility to grow in holiness so that through our own example others may see that Christ is the Light of the World.