Category Archives: Vocations

Sell Everything

I began my discernment journey 11 years ago with these two words that kept coming up in prayer, but I wasn’t sure what it really meant.

Months later, I attended a Vocation Discernment Retreat, hoping for God to give me an affirmation that I wasn’t called to the priesthood, so that I could get a confirmation on marrying the girl of my dreams then. But God instead revealed a path that immediately gripped my heart with excitement and joy, even amidst the pain of knowing I would have to leave the one I love with all my heart. I then realized: God was asking me to sell my dreams of marriage, for a higher calling to the priesthood.

Many years later while in my 6th year of seminary formation, I went through a vocation crisis. I was experiencing desolation in prayer, unworthiness in sin, and even an attraction towards someone. I thought God changed His mind, and I was close to calling it quits. That’s when I learnt that just as love is more than a feeling, but a choice, so too is my vocation dependent not just on my feelings, but on a choice to remain faithful regardless of how I was feeling. At this stage, I was asked to sell my need for spiritual consolations.

Recently, after having completed my seminary formation and waiting for my ordination, I went through another round of crisis, feeling frustrated and disappointed with things that seemed to obstruct what I wanted to do in my eventual priesthood. It wasn’t till someone challenged me if I had fully given up my life to Christ that I realize I had placed so much emphasis on my priesthood as the pearl of great price, that I hadn’t really fully given my life to Him who ought to be my pearl of great price. This time, God was asking me to sell my attachment to the vocation of priesthood in order to more fully give my life to Him and really do whatever He tells me. And when I did, all desolation was removed, and I felt immense peace once again.

For now I’ve learnt, that seeking one’s vocation is not about the WHAT, but about WHO am I giving my life entirely to, so that I do whatever He tells me to, even if it means SELLING EVERYTHING.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

My Alabaster Jar

“When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. ‘Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wager and the money given to the poor.’ They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.'” (Mk 14:3-9)

The gift of the woman at Bethany was not small. She came to Jesus with repentance and sincerity of heart; with her broken jar she anointed Him with the best that she had, holding nothing back. She gave to Christ from her heart.

Such sincere gift left her vulnerable in the eyes of others. They were irritated and criticized her gift. Why wasn’t she following convention? Why wasn’t she displaying kindness in the popular way?

Perhaps this woman knew what their reaction would be beforehand. Her actions were somewhat radical… but at the same time, they weren’t. Would one who truly loves hold anything back from the beloved? Nothing is wasted on Christ.

Amid the scoffing of the bystanders, Christ read the woman’s heart. “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me…She has done what she could.” These words must have been a wealth of consolation for the woman. She had the guts to run to Christ and now He was hiding her in His bosom, acknowledging that her actions were beautiful and pleasing.

The woman cared little for human respect and public opinion. She gave glory to God in the best way she knew how, and let the others think what they wanted.

The bystanders thought that she should love God through charity to the poor. But the woman went far beyond mere external actions- she gave God her heart. This woman gave all that was most precious to her to Christ, without bothering about people’s opinions and envious thoughts.

What is in my alabaster jar? What is my gift of priceless worth that I am holding back from God for fear of the opinions of others? Dear Lord, help me to break my alabaster jar and give my heart to You.

My outraged Jesus, / by the weakness You suffered in going to Calvary, / give me enough strength to overcome all human respect / and all my evil passions which have led me to despise Your friendship. / I love You, Jesus my Love, with all my heart; / I am sorry for ever having offended You. / Never permit me to offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will. (The Way of the Cross according to St. Alphonsus Liguori) 

A Lesson for a Chaotic Soul

Recently I learned a hard lesson. It was a concept that I knew was coming, as people close to me had informed me of the changes I needed to make. But because I am basically an infant in the spiritual realm, it took me awhile to really get it. It was worth it though because it could basically change my whole life… hopefully, when I learn to unite with God’s will!

Now I normally don’t like to share my spiritual or life lessons that I encounter because I am very young (23 years old), and I am basically still in the process of learning to walk down the paths that I feel God has set for me. So I always feel that I have little credibility in the words that I write. Even so, I feel that what I have realized is very important for every person, no matter who you are.

In recent years, my life has been pretty hectic. I knowingly chose for things to be this way, but I never anticipated the amount of adjusting that I would have to do. Within the past 20 months, I quit school, got engaged, got married, was blessed with my first child. I’ve adjusted to being far away from any family or friends, and I’ve adjusted to my spouse’s crazy medical school life. I’ve adjusted to being a mother and I’ve taken on all of the changes required for the title. I’ve also adjusted to being in a new and intimate relationship with my husband.

That being said, I may have adjusted but I have not responded to my situations in the holiest way. The way I’ve reacted to my environments and relationships have caused me more anxiety and despondency than I thought possible. It caused me to resent my spouse, have a negative outlook on my life, and worse, it drove a wedge between God and myself. I found myself being overly fearful of the future and I didn’t even want to be open to God’s will. Then I started to be ashamed of myself in front of God, knowing that I was avoiding His gaze. What if God asks me to do something difficult? My spiritual director tells me that her priest says that we can’t reach Jesus unless we climb the cross. Well, the cross freaks me out!

When my husband and I would have a conflict, I would panic, shut down, and tell myself that I couldn’t handle his shortcomings. I would use up so much energy trying to change his perspective and then end up angry when I didn’t succeed. In reality, God was teaching us both a lesson in being patient and more aware of each other on our journey through marriage.

When we needed to consider big life decisions, I immediately assumed the worst and panicked. I scrambled to figure out how I could travel down the path of least resistance, even though we really didn’t know what was going to happen yet. In reality, God was probably giving me the opportunity to trust Him.

See a pattern? I was relying on myself and my will because I felt in control. I was also relying on my husband to be perfect and I expected him to respond exactly how I needed him to when in reality, he was learning as much as I was. And who was I not relying on? God the Almighty Father, who basically has the perfect plan for my life.

Here is my main point: If we do not involve God internally, our external reactions will reflect the chaos of our souls.

So how are we supposed to gain internal peace? That may look slightly different for each of us. For me, it entails the need to heal past wounds so that I am okay with myself as God created me. It also will require that I recognize in His infinite and perfect love for me. I have to be able to trust in His ultimate plan, no matter how hard the lessons of the cross will be.

When this happens for each of us, we will be able to carry the crosses and shortcomings of those we love without losing internal peace. No matter what happens, our souls will remain in an undisturbed state while God helps us to grow interiorly and draw into a deeper union with Him.

The Vocation of Motherhood

One of the most insidious and harmful ideas that mothers labor under is the idea that we can raise flawless children. Rationally we know this isn’t true, but emotionally we throw ourselves into this impossible task. It is honorable and understandable to try to always do best by and for your children. But this can become an idol unto itself, an untenable goal, the impossibility of which serves to demoralize us as we pursue our vocation.

In some ways our mothers had it easier. No blogs, no parenting websites, no constant stream of opinion and advice, citing research and various studies. Everyone has an opinion and no qualms about sharing with maximum certitude the absolute correctness of their ideas. With constant, often contradictory messages, frustration and angst build. Did I birth correctly? Should I have breastfed longer? Co-slept? Worn my baby more? Tandem nurse? Did I fail my children; did I harm them by not doing this? By doing that?

Worry and stress are not tools of the Lord. Self-doubt and angst are not part of His call for us. Nothing changes the reality that we are flawed human beings raising flawed human beings. All of our efforts, all of our study, all of our desire to find the perfect method, the path that gives us children with no heartbreak, none of these can eliminate baggage and hurt from our children’s lives.

I used to be much more certain about how I was raising my children. I never thought I had all the answers, but I certainly knew which ways were better. I unabashedly announced my opinion on a certain parenting style, only to discover that a mother I respected actually practiced this particular parenting method. Despite my strongly-held opinions, her children were happy and delightful and loved her fiercely. Maybe, just maybe, this mother knew better how to raise the children God gave her than I did. Maybe what I felt so strongly about simply wasn’t right for my children. Didn’t fit with my personality.

We can try to do everything right. We can try to be the most educated, the most empowered parents out there. We can everything we can to avoid the mistakes our parents made, but it won’t change the fact that we are making our own. The failure in parenting doesn’t come from mistakes made, but the refusal to learn from them. If we learn, improve and grow from our struggles in parenting, then we are doing right by our children. There is no perfect parent, but there is the parent who is perfecting. And this side of Heaven, that’s as good as we can do.

And just as we cannot avoid mistakes along the way, neither can our children. As they grow and mature into the people God has called them to be, they will have struggles. They won’t always make the right choices, despite our best efforts to teach and guide them. We can give them all the “right” tools, all the answers we know, but they won’t always listen. This isn’t necessarily an indication of a failure in parenting. How do I know? Look at the Original Parent. Look at Our Father.

God actually gave His children the world. He gave them everything they could ever want. And He still had to send them to the world’s worst time out. They still ignored Him, still disobeyed, still brought pain and suffering upon themselves. God is both firm and just. He dispenses justice and consequences for sins. But He merciful and quick to forgive. He wants nothing more than His children to be happy, but truly happy not momentarily indulged. So He does deny, when it is appropriate, He does say no, but He always acts in complete love. What better role model can there be? God certainly doesn’t have a universal; one size fits all, approach to care for His children. Rather, He meets them where they are, challenges them individually and wills the best for them always.

Motherhood is one long learning curve. From the different personalities that burst into your life to the different stages that each child grows through, children keep you on your toes. Yesterday’s game plan doesn’t always meet today’s needs. And yet there is one immutable reality, love. Passionate, motivating love.  The one consistent factor in our lives is love, whether it is God’s love for us or our love for our children.

That’s what our vocation is. That’s what the calling of motherhood is. To be a mirror of God’s love. To show our children how much He loves us, for them to begin to experience and recognize that love in their daily lives. It’s not about forming them into the people we think they should be. It’s about forming them into the persons God created them to be. It’s not about raising people who won’t make mistakes, who won’t make choices that we don’t understand. It’s about making sure that through the fog of error they know they are never alone. Never without that love. And that love will always be calling them home.

Dear Future Husband

Dear Future Husband,

I wonder what you are doing at this moment. Are you studying for finals? Maybe you’re chatting with friends, or are laughingly lost in a field of dandelions.  Are you sitting in Adoration? Or are you thinking of me? I have thought of you often over the years, and not a day goes by that I don’t pray for you. Sometimes this makes you feel so close, even though I don’t know you yet.

I wonder what you’re like. Are you a sugar-and-cream person, or do you like your coffee tall, dark, and black like I do? Or would you prefer tea? Do you enjoy long car rides with the windows down and the wind in your face? Are you sci-fi or action, a comedy or a musical? Do you make cloud-pictures, and have you ever caught fireflies in a mason jar? Do you like to dance in the rain or watch a lightening storm? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are you sweet or savory? I can hardly wait to discover all the little things that are part of who you are.

Dear sir, I hope you are the man who would help his children build a treehouse wear a baby-pack to keep track of the toddler on daytrips. I hope that you will find a bouquet of sunflowers as beautiful and romantic as I do… or almost as much. I’d find it wonderful if you enjoy all sorts of literature and the writings of St. Augustine, but have a special spot in your heart for Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. I hope that you will understand that sometimes I need to step away from everyone and relish the silence. I hope that our children will have many memories of your voice singing loudly around a campfire or softly as they drift to sleep. Please remember to remember that the value of a dollar isn’t as much as a single Hail Mary or the laugh of a child.

I pray that someday I will see in your eyes the same love that I’ve always seen shining from my parents’ from across the room. But most of all, I pray that you are a man of God who puts Him as his first criteria in choosing a career or buying a house. In our life together, let’s always put the spiritual well-being of the souls entrusted to our care as our highest priority in making decisions.

I know that all of this is years in the future, but I can’t help thinking about it and I can’t stop praying for you. Dearest, I pray that you are not waiting for me. I pray that you are not watching the clock tick away and the calendar roll past the years. Please, don’t wait for me. Rather, actively prepare for me. Use the time you have now to make yourself the man God created you to be. Learn, grow, and deepen your relationship with Christ. Don’t wait. Prepare in joyful expectation for the advent of our love. Prepare for the family we will have together.

Dear one, I have a song in my heart. Now and then I catch an echo of it, but it has never been played loudly enough for me to hear. Or maybe I haven’t been quiet enough to hear it. Dearest, one day- maybe when we meet in the Confession line, or in some small café, or when you ask me to dance the next slow song- maybe our song will be played. The melody of the deepest echoes of our hearts will begin our score. And we will know it is right. We will know it is time. Until then, please- don’t wait. Begin your life. Prepare for me; for us; for God. Run to him as fast as you can. I will run, too. And there we will meet.

I cannot yet say that I love you, as I do not yet know you. But I will be here praying for you and preparing to see your face for the first time. Because the time will be right.

My Chrism Mass Experience

After having been curious for so many years about how it is to experience a Chrism Mass, I finally got a chance to attend one.

From all that I heard about it, I expected that it would be an awesome experience:  the spine-tingling sight of a multitude of priests simultaneously consecrating the bread and wine, the blessing of the oils to be used for the sacraments, the renewal of priestly vows. I imagined I would be in ecstasy witnessing these rituals rich in history and symbolism.

I knew the church would be full so I went there early in hopes of getting a good seat. It turned out I did not arrive early enough. There was already a crowd spilling out into the grounds of the church, and the Monobloc chairs the parish put out were not enough. Grudgingly, I found a place for myself on the steps leading to the church, out in the heat during this hottest time of year in tropical Philippines. “Outside the Church, there is no air condition,” I quipped to myself as I saw those lucky enough to be seated inside.

But from where I was, I could hear the choir singing and it was beautiful. The entrance hymn was longer than usual. I imagined a long entrance procession with all the priests in the diocese. When the door to the church opened slightly, I smelled a whiff of the incense.

I could also hear the liturgy, and it was beautiful too. The first reading was the passage from Isaiah which begins with “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me.”  The responsorial psalm was Psalm 88, which speaks of God finding David and anointing him with oil. The second reading was the passage from the book of Revelation which says that Christ “loves us and has washed away our sins with blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father…”  The Gospel was the passage from Luke about Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth reading aloud the passage from Isaiah.

I heard the homily of the bishop, where he spoke about fidelity to the priestly vocation. I also heard the renewal of commitment to priestly service, the special preface for the Chrism Mass, and the Roman Canon.

As I listened to the liturgy, I thought of all the priests in the world. I thought of all the priests who have accompanied me in my spiritual life:  the priest who baptized me, the bishop who confirmed me, all the priests who gave me communion, all the priests who have absolved me in confession, my past spiritual directors and my present one, the priests who have preached the retreats and recollections I have attended, the priests who led the pilgrimages I have joined…I thought of our parish priest; priests in far-flung provinces and mission territories; priests who serve as chaplains in schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions. I thought of all the saintly priests. I thought of priests who are being persecuted for their faith and their vocation.

I also thought of all the weak priests. I remembered the priests depicted in Grahame Greene’s The Power and the Glory, Shusaku Endo’s Silence, and in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo and realized that there are real life counterparts to these priests who would have to render an account to God for themselves and for the souls they were entrusted with.

I also realized that I could offer up all the inconveniences I was experiencing there and then for all the priests all over the world.

The church grounds became festive after the Mass, as the priests exited the church and crowds greeted them with flowers, streamers, tarps, party poppers, specially composed cheers, drums, whistles, party horns, and vuvuzelas. Some groups gathered in the restaurants close to the church to treat their parish priests for breakfast.

 

 

Seeing the outpouring of love and support for the priests moved me. At the same time, I also felt bad thinking that some priests have no one to support them.

Some criticize the special treatment given to priests, especially in Philippine society. I acknowledge that it can indeed lead to temptations and abuses. I acknowledge, too, that priests are not impeccable. But considering how much we owe these priests and the weight of the burden entrusted to them, I think we laypeople should ask ourselves if we are helping them enough.

We should ask ourselves if we can perhaps share more of our resources to help our priests in their mission. More importantly, we must offer sacrifices and pray for priests more. We should pray for holy priests that they may remain holy. We should pray for weak priests that they may be strengthened in their weaknesses.

Finally we should thank God for giving us the priesthood, and thank our priests for being shepherds who give their lives for their flocks.

To all priests who may be reading this, I know being a priest is not easy, and I know that I, for one, can do more to support you in your vocations. But I want you to know that I appreciate what you do for souls. Let me tell you this Holy Thursday, from the bottom of my heart: thank you for your perseverance in the priesthood!

Learning to Listen to the Divine Whisper

It has been a crazy past few months here. I have been facing the usual high school senior dilemmas regarding the “afterlife”, so to speak, of high school — whether to go to college or not, whether I should go immediately or postpone it, what I would do in the meantime, and to which colleges I should apply to and visit. All of this on top of my normal activities: finishing up my schoolwork so I DO have a joyful afterlife, working, taking guitar lessons, and the million-other household tasks which are forever regenerating themselves. Ugh. Never before have I been so stressed out about the calendar and fast-approaching deadlines!

In deep waters.

A few weeks ago my dad and I drove to a college here in the Southeast. It was an eight-hour drive, but a comparatively uneventful one. We were attending Scholarship Day at the college. I was excited to be interviewed for a prestigious scholarship, tour campus, attend seminars, and meet students. My dad and I were very impressed with the college.  As we were leaving campus I knew that it was the school I hope to attend.

Over the next couple weeks, I feverishly worked on applications for some outside scholarships. I wrote essays, tracked down signatures, and received letters of recommendation. Yesterday I was informed that I hadn’t received my much sought-for scholarship from the college, although I was eligible for some minor scholarships.

At the end of all this, I just want to laugh the laugh of a treasure-seeker who has searched the world for years for a priceless treasure, beautiful beyond imagination. When he finally finds the treasure, in his exultation he slips on the damp floor of the cave. The treasure slips out of his hands and into the mouth of the volcano. There are only two possible reactions: to weep or to laugh. He begins to laugh.

Perhaps my problem is I am too anxious to discover God’s plan for my life. I stress out too much about what it could be, and the fastest way of obtaining it. Hence, I will run in all directions hoping that I will find a billboard screaming “THIS IS IT”. But of course that is not how God works. I need to remember how God spoke to Elias: not in the wind; not in the earthquake; not in the fire; rather, in the whistling of a gentle air.

Let’s Hear It For The Church!

While I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me. I already know what God’s plan for me in this life is. As a matter of fact, it is what the Church has been telling me my entire life!!

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

—Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 1, Question 6)

That is exactly what I have been looking for, right in front of me the entire time! As long as I truly know God, love Him, and wish to serve Him, everything else will fall into place!! I don’t need to worry about the college I go to, or whether I am to be married or enter a convent. God will tell me in a whisper when I can no longer serve Him in my current situation. He will lead me on the path to Him. All I need to do is to follow. If I know Him, love Him, and serve Him in every “now”, I will forever be living His plan for my life.

I am still looking at my options for this coming year. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. It might very well be that I’ll be working overtime at some job trying to save up for college. But right now I am surprisingly unstressed about it; I know that God has a perfect plan for me, and for right now He wants me to swing along behind Him until He can trust me with knowledge. Until then, if anyone wants to hand me $68,000, that would be all right, too. You’ll know where to find me: just follow the trail of empty coffee mugs, chocolate crumbs, Rosary beads, and Divine Intervention.

The Inescapable Poorness

I remember I was walking down the hall one Sunday afternoon, after a very hectic lunch. On the third floor of the Mullen Home for the Elderly in Denver, Colorado, naptime had commenced for most of the residents. The sisters were most likely at lunch and recreation; a time that was, for them, short and very deserved after a usually busy morning. The nurses were keeping up with their charts at their stations, and the CNAs were making rounds, attending to each resident who had called them.

It was quiet, except for a weak voice calling for help in one of the rooms at the further end of the hall. This didn’t cause for any alarm, however, as the third floor housed those most advanced in age and with mental disabilities. Dementia, paranoia and severe disability present in various residents created a different atmosphere, demanding extra care and virtue from the able-bodied caretakers assigned to the floor.

I sought out the voice and found a lovely little lady (we’ll call her Marisa), whom I had often assisted at mealtimes, in her wheelchair, facing the window overlooking the city. Upon asking how I could help her, she told me her legs hurt due to the muscle spasms she often had. Marisa was also looking for her sister, Katie, who had told her she would stop by after work. Except Katie had been dead for twenty years. Marisa was ninety-four now, with advanced dementia. Due to recurrent confusion and frustration, it was difficult to get along with her unless you could figure out what she needed. Her sons would visit her once or twice a week, but on afternoons like these, she was often left alone.

I made conversation with her for a little while, thinking of excuses for why Katie wasn’t showing up.

“She’s probably running late, Marisa. Why don’t you give her a few hours and see if she’ll call?”

Marisa agreed, commenting on how her sister never knew how to be on time. With her frustration still lingering, I tried to distract her by asking about her day. Then we prayed a rosary together. I held her hand for a little while, gave her a compliment on her freshly painted red nails, and then stood up to leave. I would have stayed for longer, but activity time was about to start. The sisters told me we weren’t supposed to pick favorites, but I wished she could be my grandma.

As I was about to reach the elevator, I heard her calling for help again. It broke my heart because I knew I if I went back in, she would ask again who I was and why Katie wasn’t there. This soul was still in her vicious cycle of loneliness, pain, and confusion. But at least she wasn’t alone for the hour I was with her.

Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. In our world of privilege, luxury, opportunity, and comfort, it is easy to forget what it can be like to be in need. But if we think we can escape being poor, our Creator grants us the gift of old age. Each one of us will be robbed of our abilities, independence and in some cases, our mind. Our senses will deteriorate and simple tasks like eating will become a struggle. It is a time that demands patience, humility and a never ending source of love. This applies not only for the elder but also for the caretaker.

One woman knew the extent of this so well. St. Jeanne Jugan of France founded the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1839, after taking in a homeless elderly woman. Today, nearly every country and state in the U.S. has a home specifically for the elderly, especially the poorest of them. A small community of sisters resides in each home, along with the nurses, CNAs, cooks, laundresses, and countless others who come in each day to care for the residents. By the vow of hospitality, the sisters are called to carry on the mission of their foundress to serve the elderly poor in their last years and at their deathbed. As a result, a sense of familial love is created in each home. Within the interactions of everyone in the home, countless virtues reside within each person. The elderly are tended to physically, mentally, and spiritually, because no one should face the end of their life in loneliness, fear, or abandonment.

So I encourage you, if you are seeking to serve, find the elderly poor around you. It could be your family members or neighbor. If you find you have the desire to work at a home of the Little Sisters of the Poor or if you are a young woman discerning a vocation in the religious life, find the nearest home in your state and contact them. There are multiple volunteer and job opportunities that they offer. You can be single, married, consecrated and of any age. No matter who you are, you won’t regret it, because you may be just the one to offer companionship, love, and care to an elder who needs it most.

For more information, you can visit http://littlesistersofthepoor.org

Telos: For This I Was Made

kingfisherI once read an article where the author questioned the social convention of introducing people by their name and occupation. She pointed out that it can be a limiting way of getting to know a person, because you immediately make assumptions about them based on their job. Instead of delineating a friend by their employment, she suggested, we ought to tell others about their best characteristics, or amazing things they have done outside work.

Yes, one is so much more than what one does—but one’s job does make up an important part of one’s identity. That is how some surnames came about—Smith, Taylor, Brisbane even (“break-bone”, probably a surgeon, or a barber who performed surgery). What you spend most of your time doing and thinking about will form your habits and your character. Your job is also part of how you contribute to society, the body politic—engineers, lawyers, road-sweepers, garbage collectors, teachers, etc., are the various organs and limbs of human communities. Each part is specialized and essential to the functioning of the whole.

In Tony Hendra’s book Father Joe, the eponymous Benedictine monk ponders the effects of the satirist’s work on his soul. Hendra confesses: “I’ve trained myself in paths of thought—’ruts’ might be a better word—that reflexively denigrate certain people. People I don’t agree with or have contempt for or whose motives I suspect. I must admit I haven’t considered for years what effect that might have on my own moral state.”[1]

What we do changes who we are, and what we believe; it forms our perception of the world. Those who work in family law tend to be cynical about marriage, because they see the fallout from the worst cases. Prostitutes tend to have a negative view of men, experiencing firsthand how they give in to their animal impulses and treat the human being in front of them as an object for their own pleasure. Soldiers suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from the violence and death they witness and partake in.

Portrait photographers look for the beauty in people, even the lowliest or forgotten. Musicians discipline themselves in order to produce exquisite sounds that bestir the most hardened soul, moving people to tears, expressing the deepest longings of the human heart. Sportsmen too discipline themselves, testing the limits of the human body and willpower. Teachers become experts not only in their subjects but also in drawing out their students’ natural abilities, challenging them to learn and grow as a community that will someday reform the limbs and organs of human society.

A friend asked me if I had a goal in life. I responded that I hoped to get the Catholic media job for which I had applied. He said, “That’s short term, but what about long term?” I realized that to him, as to so many in society today, a job is just a job, interchangeable, disposable, not something to dedicate your life to.

Be that as it may, even if we no longer live in a society where one works for the same company for decades, but move from job to job, we can still offer our work up as prayer, in the Benedictine tradition: Ora et labora. Then, our whole lives, our very being, will be a gift of love, a hymn to God, fulfilling our ultimate telos and giving purpose to everything we do.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

 I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the father through the features of men’s faces.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ

 

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

– William Wordsworth

This article was published in the October 2016 issue of the Melbourne Catholic magazine.


[1]   Tony Hendra, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, p. 192. Hamish Hamilton (London, 2004).
Image: Joy-Sorrow

Evie Help!

I am late writing this blog because I have been busy this week. I am almost always busy, but this week is busier than most because I have used 5 weeks of my vacation on essentially one of the dozen or so projects, and I had to finish all the rest of the projects in the last week.

Evie Help 1So I had only a few days to go, and I was fresh out of ideas, and still had a million things to do, and then suddenly, as so often happens, everything worked out. It really was so simple. I wash working at my task list, and my 18-month-old daughter joined in to help.

As she “helped” me roll the garbage pail down the driveway it suddenly occurred to me that this was the perfect picture of the way I relate to God sometimes. Sometimes in my prayers I will beg God to allow me to help Him with some task. I have always wanted to be able to help protect and care for abandoned and neglected children. I have also always wanted to provide medical care for poor people in austere, inhospitable environments. And while I am developing skills that might enable me to work in that direction some day, at the moment that doesn’t seem to be an option.

Still, no matter how grandiose my hopes, and no matter how “ordinary” my actual responsibilities, the Evie Help 2process is (or at least ought to be) much the same as Evie helping me with the garbage, or cleaning up scraps of lumber in the yard. Evie sees something that I am doing and because she wants to be with Daddy (or like Daddy, I am not sure which) she asks if she can help. And because I let her and I want to spend time with her, and also because I want her to learn to love work, I let her help.

There are some points about the process that I would do well to remember in my prayers asking for the chance to be “useful.” First, Evie “only does what she sees her parents doing” to paraphrase the Gospel of John. She likes to brush her teeth with Mommy’s tooth brush, walk around in Mommy’s shoes or Daddy’s combat boots, and help with the dishwasher or the laundry. In the same way, when I ask God to let me undertake some good task, if it really is a good task, I am not coming up with it on my own. I am asking because on some spiritual level I have “seen” that God is already working on that task.

Evie help 3Thus, whatever work He gives me to do is His work, not mine. He was already doing it, just like Kathleen and I were washing dishes and taking out trash long before Evie came along, and will continue to do so (most likely) long after she has moved out. Evie enters into a stream of work that existed before her and continues after her. Only her own part in it is new.

Secondly, God doesn’t need my help. I don’t need Evie’s help to water the plants, or take out the trash. In fact, her grip on the handle of the trash bin or watering can slows me down. I have to adjust to the pace of her little short legs.

In the same way, God doesn’t need my help. If anything, I am more of a hindrance. At best I am a not too deliberately recalcitrant tool, at worst I actually hinder and spoil the work by trying to do it all on my own, or by losing interest part way through. God runs that risk in order to let me help Him because…

Thirdly, God loves it when I ask if I can help. I love it that Evie wants to help me. I love the fact that she just wants to be around Kathleen and I and share in what we are doing. I love her enthusiasm and the fact that chores are still games to her because she hasn’t learned to see them as chores yet. I love the Evie Help 4opportunity to set and example and help her learn by doing how to serve other people, especially in the little, nitty-gritty, day-to-day things.

God loves it when I ask to be allowed to help Him. I means that I want to spend time with Him, and that thrills Him no end. He loves me and enjoys sharing the time with me. He also likes my enthusiasm, such as it is, as fickle and shallow and ignorant as it is. He loves the opportunity to help me learn, by imitation and by action, to care about other people the way He does.

God is a Father. I have learned a lot about Him by watching my own father, and by meditating on his care for my self and my siblings and our mother. I learned more by watching my older brother, and now some of my younger brothers, taking care of their children. Now I have the opportunity to learn more by my own fatherhood.

I have the opportunity to meditate on Evie’s relationship with me, and what that indicates about my relationship to Him. More and more I realize that in spiritual terms I am usually a toddler, but sometimes also a precocious and stuck-up pre-teen who thinks he knows more than he actually does. I also know that God loves me unconditionally and will never abandon me. He will always take care of me. I know this because that is how Evie relates to me. “And if you, being wicked, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Heavenly give good things to those who ask?” Matthew 7:11.

But I also get to meditate on His Fatherhood of me, and to work from that, backwards to how I am called to image that fatherhood towards my children. That alone is mission enough to keep me busy for a lifetime.

But I will keep asking for other missions on top of that. Because I want to help.

Evie Help 5

Veritas and Vocation

dominican order crest
Source

Veritas: this is the latin word for “truth.” It is also among the mottoes of my order, the seemingly simplest motto of the Order of Preachers. On the surface, it is the easiest, in that it is the only of the mottoes without an explicit action behind it: yet it is ultimately the most important, and indeed the most demanding thing.

Indeed, the other two mottoes taken by the Dominicans would seem to exist as subordinate clauses of “veritas.” The second motto, “To praise, to bless, and to preach” implies the existence of some content of one’s preaching—and if that content is to be be a blessing to anyone, or to be worthy praise, then it must be grounded first in truth. And what would we contemplate [1], and which fruits would there be which ought to be passed on, if it is not truth that we reflect upon nor is reflected by us?

Dominicans 800Years
Established 1215. Source.

All three of the mottoes of the Order of Preachers are tied in some way to the order’s charism, which in turn is tied to the order’s reason for being. Among various religious orders (and congregations, etc) within the Church, each has some special charism or gift which the order’s members are especially called to develop, and which is tied to the Church’s mission or to some aspect of her character. Thus, there are the contemplative orders which have built the great monasteries of the world; or the Franciscans (or Sisters of Divine Mercy, for that matter) who focus upon being or serving the poor; or the Salesians who teach and otherwise serve children, or the Jesuits who arose to become missionaries for the Church with special obedience to the pope [2]. For the Dominicans, the special charism is to preach.

francis-and-dominic
Saint Francis meeting Saint Dominic. Source.

The order was actually founded at about the same time as the Franciscans, which was during the height of one of the “great” heresies to plague the Church. Saints Dominic de Guzman and Francis of Assisi established their respective orders in part to combat the laxity (and yes, even corruption) which was rampant in the Church at the time—but also to fight the Cathar heresy which was gaining traction in response to this. This particular heresy had a few forms (a common occurrence among heresies) and factions (the most notable being the Albigenses), and indeed appeared as a re-packaging of an older heresy (another common occurrence) known as Manichaenism.

The old Manichaens taught against the flesh in general, and forbid any number of earthly pleasures to their followers. According to these, man possesses a good spirit which is corrupted by being imprisoned in sinful flesh: a distortion of the traditional Christian view, and (as again is common for heresies) one which could even find some support in the Bible, if only certain passages are read out of context [3]. Certain foods were considered especially to be bad (in particular meat), as was sexual intercourse (which could lead to reproduction and thus the imprisonment of yet another soul in a material body). The new Manichaens resuscitated this old heresy and took it further, perhaps indeed to its logical conclusions, forbidding marriage and especially procreation, and indeed encouraging many of its members to “purify” themselves to the point of starvation. Although the new Manichaenism was extreme in its deprivations, it attracted many new followers because of the apparent holiness-in-poverty of its adherents [4], and because of the apparent Biblical support of its message, and the skill at oratory of those who proclaimed it.

Cathars
Cathars rejected the material world. This also meant rejecting the sacraments established by Christ and continued by His Church for the salvation of souls. Source.

Saint Dominic recognized it as a threat not only to the Church but to civilization and indeed to mankind [5]. He also recognized that the Church of his day was ill-equipped to combat this latest threat, both because of the apparent wealth of her prelates and because of the poor training of many of her priests. They were often poor preachers, not only because they were poorly educated and poorly formed for their vocations, but because they were often weighted down by the worldly concerns of their offices. Their preaching often overlooked the Gospels, and because they  became too focused on their worldly trappings, they often overlooked the importance of preaching Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Therefore, Saint Dominic found that he had to combat two different problems. The first was that of the actual heresy which had sprung up; and the second was the worldly and even sinful tendencies of many in the Church (including clergy) which made this heresy seem so attractive [6]. This he did by using the vehicle of a new order dedicated especially to preaching, one whose members took as vows the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience [7]. The order was dedicated to preaching truth, but also to spending time in contemplation to reflect upon the truth, to understand it, to internalize it, and indeed to discern truth from falsehood (or half-truth). It takes especially seriously two important passages about the truth, namely John 14:6 and John 8:32. The former has Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the light,” and the latter has Him telling his disciples, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

Jesus is God’s definitive revelation of Himself to us (CCC 73), and apart from Him there is no revelation which is “the truth” [8]. This was indeed the answer to the Manichees (both old and new). They condemned meat, but Christ multiplied fish on a few occasions (Mark 6:31-44 and Mark 8:1-9), to say nothing of eating lamb [9]. The Cathars condemned marriage, but He praised it—and even (through St. Paul) spoke against condemning it (1 Timothy 4:3). The Albigensians rejected the flesh, the body—but He resurrected it, and indeed went so far as to offer proof that His body was risen (John 2:24-27, Luke 24:36-43), to say nothing of teaching (through His apostles) that we are His body (1 Corinthians 12:27), the Church.

DominicanSeal
Seal of the Order of Preachers. Image source.

We are constantly teaching others about ourselves (and by extension, our beliefs). We are all in a sense “preaching” something as long as we are observed by others, as any parent whose loose lips let slip the wrong word might assure. We all give our testimonies, if not in words then in actions or even attitudes.

If we are to preach Truth, then we must first come to know it (Him). To some extent, we do this through studying: there is some “head knowledge” involved, after all. Truth is the intelligibility of reality, of existence, and so we therefore must employ and form and strengthen our intellects to know the truth. There are some obvious points of departure for this endeavor, foremost written and Oral Tradition (e.g. Scriptures, the creeds, the Liturgy, etc.) and the Church’s magisterial teachings in her Catechisms and councils. We can be further helped in understanding these through the interpretations of the Fathers and the commentaries of the Doctors and the teachings other saints and pontiffs.

To perhaps a greater extent, we come to know the truth through prayer, because beyond the “head knowledge” there is also some “heart knowledge,” which we gain through relationship with Christ and with His Church. In particular, meditative and contemplative prayer is important to the order of preachers: time spent contemplating the crucifix, from which St. Thomas Aquinas could justly claim to have learned more than all the books ever written; time spent contemplating the Eucharist; and time spent reflecting on the words of Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and even the lives of the saints.

Thus, preaching may be thought of as a sort of contraction of “prayer” and “teaching.” Hence, to contemplate and to pass on the fruits of contemplation. Indeed, this joining of prayer to teaching in preaching has been with the Order of Preachers since its founding: before he established the Friars to go out and preach, St. Dominic established the sisters to pray for them.

DominicanCross
A Dominican cross. Image source.

What is especially present in the prayer behind the preaching is that in preaching we will be serving truth, and indeed the Truth. Therefore, while we may in our contemplation reflect upon the truths revealed and entrusted to us, and while we may ask God for the wisdom, the understanding, and the knowledge to preach truly—it is equally important, above all, for us to ask for humility.

We must remember above all that all truth is God’s truth, and not our own. “Your truth” and “my truth” are not nearly so interesting as the Truth, and while we ought to internalize truth, it is not ours in the sense that we cannot own it as a private possession. When we contemplate on some revealed or reasoned knowledge, and then that contemplation bears fruit, we must share that fruit with others. Moreover, these fruits of contemplation ought to be shared freely, and they ought, indeed, to be shared

—–Footnotes—–
[1] The third motto of the Order of Preachers—commonly called Dominicans—is “To contemplate and then pass on the fruits of contemplation.”

[2] At least in theory

[3] “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41), for example.

[4] It also gave encouragement to seize and despoil the land of those who would not embrace it

[5] But I repeat myself.

[6] Sadly, this is also an all-too-common occurrence.

[7] The Dominicans are not unique in doing this. Also, the lay members are not required to take these vows—but of course, we generally obey them in the form of trying to live within our means, living generally chastely within the bound of our state in life, and being obedient to the Magisterial authority of the Church.

[8] Even the revelations of the Old testament which predated Him point forward to Him. And the various other revelations about (for example) Mary and the Saints and the Church, or Man and the World and Sin, are still “about” Christ and hence God in some way.

[9] This much is implicit by reading about what the Jews were to eat for passover (Exodus 12:1-28), that Christ participated in passover (Luke 22 7-23). To say nothing of His own references to our need to eat of His flesh and Drink of His blood (John 6:53-59).

My Calling: To Live Like the Samaritan

“A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.” ~Lk 10:30

With intrigue and suspense, Jesus narrates the story of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. I cannot count how many times I have heard this tale. In storybooks for children, in the Gospel reading at Mass, and in motivational talks, it seems that people frequently discuss the merits of the Samaritan man who stepped out of his comfort zone to help someone in need. Often, I hear this story referenced as an encouragement to participate in issues related to social justice. We, the Christian faithful, are encouraged to be like the Good Samaritan. We are encouraged to go out and help others, providing for the needs of the poor.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about this story in a slightly different way.

I am a stay-at-home mom with a baby, so I do not often have the opportunity to travel to the poor areas of my city to give material goods to the needy. Yet I can still actively imitate the Samaritan from the Gospel. Quite frequently, especially since I gave birth to my child, various people will approach and begin chatting with me. Sometimes, our conversations will not dip beyond superficial topics, but at other times, people will speak of struggles or harsh realities that they deal with. I’ve come to find that even though I may not come across a physically “half-dead” person like the man in the Gospel reading, I meet many people who are emotionally or spiritually beaten. As in the story of the Good Samaritan, I have a choice. Before the Samaritan approached and helped the man, both a priest and a Levite walked by. Instead of stopping to help the beaten man, they moved on the opposite side of the path. I can easily behave like the priest and Levite. I have very valid reasons to avoid the “half-dead” man on the road: I am very occupied caring for a baby, I have many chores to accomplish around our home, and my free time is very limited. When I am trying to complete items from my daily “To Do” list or am grocery shopping with a fussy baby in my arms, stopping to listen to another person is not the first thing that I want to do.

Recently, when my son was cranky, I took him outside for a walk. As I breathed in the fresh air, I saw a middle-aged man outside with his dog. I greeted him, but even though this man responded and started talking, I kept walking by slowly, not intending to stop. I didn’t particularly want to pause my stroll, because I wanted to focus on having some peace and quiet by myself as I rocked my baby to sleep. Well, this man kept making small talk, and I reluctantly stopped walking so that we could chat for a moment. As he talked, I realized why God moved me to walk outside with my cranky baby that day.

On the surface, this man looked like he had it all: adult children, a wife, a steady job, a roof over his head. On a deeper level, he was broken and half-dead as he looked towards a bleak future and a possible divorce on the horizon. I could not fix his marriage, and I could not tell him how to save it. In fact, all I could do at the moment was listen and offer him my best smile, encourage him, and assure him of my prayers.

God calls each of us to serve others and to imitate the selflessness of the Good Samaritan. In my life, I believe that God desires me to be fully present to others, so that I may listen to and pray for the beaten and broken people who come across my path. I may not provide for their material needs, but like the Good Samaritan, I can offer a few moments of my time to smile, talk, and share the joy of Christ. Although I may never see these people again after a brief encounter, I can continue to pray for them, lifting up their unique situations and struggles to God. The story of the Good Samaritan should not simply be a piece of inspirational Scripture that we hear in our parishes and never put into practice; instead, we need to live it out in our daily lives. Whether God calls you to minister to the materially poor or the spiritually broken, God is beckoning you to love and serve others each day. How will you respond?