Life after Epiphany


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when eyes fail to meet…

Doesn’t it drive you nuts when you’re being served by a store assistant or a fast food attendant and they’re saying the words you’d typically expected to hear, but they’re not even LOOKING at you? They’re saying “have a nice day” but they’re already thinking of the next order they’ve got to fill and looking in the direction of their next task.

Have you ever walked into the Church, sat down, stared into space in the general direction of the Tabernacle, and… well… not even engaged with the Lord before you realise that you’re out of time and you need to get on with your day?

So much of my prayer over recent months has been like that. My new years resolution – my ONLY new years resolution – is all about prayer. I intend to be faithful to a daily time of prayer, and I intend to do whatever I can to be truly present to He who is omnipresent during that time.

Whatever happens then isn’t up to me… and I trust Him entirely!


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Sonnet of Self-Dedication

Otherwise entitled: “Prayer of a Postulant.” This was written during my Postulant year – but the themes hold true even out here in lay life. Perhaps even more than at the time of writing.

– – – – –

King of the deep, Lord of the storm
Command mine raging heart be still
To ponder Your Incarnate form
To contemplate Your holy will.

Now stir me up with zeal for souls
and send me out to push the plough
To run t’ward the Eternal Goal
Then live the Everlasting Now.

Yet in my weakness, Lord, I fall
Please help me humbly stand again
Would that for love of You, my all
Be in Your service wholly spent.

Saviour, King, Beloved, Friend:
Totus Tuus, till my life’s end.

– – – – –

(A dusty sketch from October 2011)


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Salvation: my first attempt at recording and sharing my own music

Back in April I blogged about a song I wrote some years ago during a difficult time in my life, a time where I was experiencing a crippling slavery to the things of this world and to certain behaviours that were quite simply destructive to my interior life.

I wrote the song on Easter Sunday of 2009, and it was my first glimmer of hope – grounded in the Resurrection – that the Lord could free me from this slavery and draw me more closely to Himself in love.

When I wrote about the song I posted the lyrics, but did not include an audio version. Since leaving my previous cloistered environment I’ve discovered Soundcloud and this is my first attempt at recording and sharing – so there are a lot of mistakes! In your generosity, please forgive/ignore the mistakes – I’ll clean them up later – but for now, here goes:


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Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux – starts Sunday 22nd September

EWTN as always have proven just to be an awesome Catholic resource, a great contributor to the rebuilding of Catholic Culture.

I’ve mentioned before that St. Therese of Lisieux has a very special significance to me. In anticipation of her upcoming feast day on the Roman Calendar, I’ll be praying the novena that EWTN have published on their website:

http://www.ewtn.com/therese/novena.htm#pray

Please do consider joining me!


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I would so much like to do better!

compline

One of the most confusing things, when one leaves religious life behind, is trying to figure out what a healthy prayer life “on the outside” looks like.

On the one hand, stopping to pray at all the same times and with all the same devotions as I did in the convent is just plain unhealthy. I’m not a religious – I am a lay woman. The prayer life of a religious is not appropriate to the lay state of life. In fact, its actually harmful, as it keeps the lay person from performing the duties proper to the lay state.

Having said that, the opposite extreme would be disastrous. To cease to make prayer a part of my day? Unthinkable. That would be to sever my relationship with the God with whom I have developed an intimate and precious relationship. That would be to lose the spiritual dimension of my life, that life breathed into me at Baptism, that in-dwelling of the Blessed Trinity that I hope and pray I would literally die to preserve.

Well… how about minimalism?

That doesn’t really work either. My relationship with God is founded on love. Minimalism is pretty loveless, pretty self-serving. That would be turning God into what I have heard described in the past as a “Toothbrush God” to be used for ones own health and well-being, and placed back on the shelf until the next time required.

So I know what healthy prayer in lay life is NOT. But what IS it?

I’m still over-correcting one way, and then over-correcting the other, trying to find equilibrium. In 3 days it will have been 8 months since I removed my habit and got on a plane to return home. In that time I’ve done a pretty mixed-up job of trying to maintain a strong and loving relationship with my Heavenly Father. I so much want to do better!

One thing I know for certain – the Mass is central. I need to get to Mass as often as I can. I need Jesus. I need Him. There’s just no two ways about it! I meet Him in the Eucharist. Whenever I’m tempted not to bother with weekday Mass, THATS when I need to step up my commitment. THAT’s when I need Him most. And not in a self-serving way. I need Him because I know that He is the only way for me to be able to return love for Love.

But outside of the Mass?

I’m a Scripture research student. My research is doomed to fail if I don’t spend time PRAYING with Scripture to support my study. I want my research to be at the service of the Lord – so I need to remember ALWAYS to put it in His hands. Each time I sit down to do any work on this, I need to start by praying with the Text for at least 10 minutes prior to commencing any work with it.

What about mental prayer? I need to set perhaps a more realistic target than the 1.5 hours of time before the Blessed Sacrament that used to be part of my horarium. Perhaps 15 minutes of dedicated time for mental prayer. That’s St. Teresa of Avila’s recommendation, right? They didn’t make HER a Doctor of the Church for nothing! 😉 At the beginning of the day, or perhaps some silence in the car on the way to work if all else fails.

And here is something that I think will REALLY be helpful – I need NOT to let go of the Office. Perhaps praying all the hours that I used to do is maybe a little unrealistic at the moment. But Compline? I can fit Compline in. It takes 10-15 minutes and its just before bed so it’s pretty hard to forget.

OK. These are the concrete goals I’m going to set myself for now. Not as a checklist of daily chores – but as an authentic commitment to a relationship that I want to nurture. If you chance across this blog post, please pray for me!


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Did not our hearts burn as He talked to us on the road? An Eastertide Scripture reflection

This beautiful Emmaus Painting can be purchased as a print from the original artist, who has other work for sale also: http://www.emmauspainting.com/

I LOVE the Emmaus pericope.

Our human experience is so often characterized by our confusion at what is happening to us and around us. We get preoccupied with trying to make sense of it all and without our recognizing it, Jesus draws near.

How often we are oblivious to His presence!

Nevertheless, Jesus walks with us. He is present to us in our pain and confusion. Perhaps He is silent sometimes – but He is there.

Verse 16 tells us that the eyes of Cleopas and his companion (Luke himself?) were kept from recognizing Christ. I wonder if God doesn’t do this sometimes to help us see our need for Him, to help us desire Him more? Just like the lover in the Song of Songs, whose relationship with His beloved is characterized by alternating periods of presence and absence… yet even when He is absent, He leaves behind his fragrance, the rememberance of Him… is He ever TRULY absent?

The question He asks next seems indicative of an invitation to prayer. Jesus knows the answer to the question He asks – He is the Risen Lord, after all! He asks the question to prompt a conversation. Jesus wants us to bring our troubles to Him, even though He already knows about them. He helps us to reflect thoughtfully… and then He asks us to listen to Him.

The thoughtful reflection is important, but the crucial step is the listening, for it is then that our hearts burn. We are made for union with God. God is our ultimate end, our absolute good. It makes sense that as we listen to Him, something inside us starts to sing. “Only the lover sings” as Josef Pieper would say! Yes – something inside us starts to sing, and our deepest desires are revealed to us. The Lord knows our desires – but do we? Really?

The journey on earth is long and arduous at times, and it would perhaps be cruel if the Lord were to heighten our desires but never to satiate them. Whilst our desire for fullness of union with God, and the ability to see Him as He is, can never be realized until the next life, we can receive a foretaste of this union at the Mass, our portal as it were into the heavenly banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb.

This very account is the Scriptural basis for the structure of the Mass. The Mass consists of a celebration of the Word where we allow the Lord to speak to us through Scripture, and the priest in his homily seeks to help us understand the Gospel message by explaining the Scriptures in the broader context of Salvation History such that we can see how it points to Christ. Then we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, a representation (in the Hebrew understanding) of the once and for all Paschal Sacrifice. Time and space diminish in their relevance – all of the angels and saints are truly present at each Mass, where heaven is united with earth, and it is NOT a repetition of the Sacrifice that transpires – rather it is the very same Sacrifice – we become mysteriously present at Calvary.

It is here, in this place, during the breaking of the bread, that we are able to recognize the Lord and understand what He has spoken to us.

“O Sacred Banquet – in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is recalled and the pledge of future glory is given to us!” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Do you desire intimacy with Christ?
Come to Mass and meet Him there!


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turn on the ignition!

image

A lot of us are sitting in the driveway in beautiful cars, tanks full of gas, oil in the crankshaft, fluid in the radiator… and we’re sitting there saying “I wish I could go places!”

Turn on the ignition!

Listening to a talk on “Fanning the Flame of Faith” by Alex Jones, I was struck by this remark that he made. How impotent we make ourselves!!

We are so blessed in the Catholic Church to have all we need. We have the Truth, revealed to us in the twofold deposit of faith in both Scripture and Tradition. We have the Sacraments. We have the Saints to show us how the Lord can be followed in every circumstance. We have the Blessed Mother to intercede for us to her Son. We have the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us by virtue of our Baptism… but none of us can benefit from these things or help others to benefit from them if we don’t turn on the ignition!

What is the ignition?

Well.. next time you hear one of our Protestant brothers or sisters talking about a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, DO NOT ROLL YOUR EYES and assume that this is buzz-word rhetoric. Our brothers and sisters in other denominations of Christianity differ with us in some very crucial ways, but on this point they are 100% correct.

You and I – each one of us – needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The ENCOUNTER with Christ is the spark that is ignited when the starter engine turns. The starter engine is the movement of Actual Grace – the Holy Spirit at work. Turning on the ignition, then, is surely represented in the action of begging the Lord for receptivity to grace.

The Mother General of the Community to which I used to belong once said to me that the first task of the New Evangelization is RECEPTIVITY TO GRACE. As a religious Novice, cloistered away from what one would generally consider the “mission field” of the New Evangelization, this made a profound impact on me. We need to RECEIVE from the Lord so that we can give to others. We have nothing, NOTHING, without Him. He asks us to give generously, but He first gives that we may then give to others! The life of a Novice is prayer, domestic work and prayer, study and prayer, more prayer. That prayer is less a talkative prayer and more a listening prayer. That prayer is receptivity in action. As a Novice, I was uniquely placed in the privileged position of being able to contribute authentically to the apostolate of my Community by being receptive to grace.

I often think of St. Paul, and the years that passed between his conversion and the beginning of his missionary journeys. Paul needed to be formed and strengthened in the Lord. He needed to receive before He could give.

Now, the Lord has called me away from religious life, but not before teaching me why He called me to that life in the first place. He wanted to give me something precious. The cloistered environment on the other side of the world were precisely the lengths to which He went to enable me to receive the gift He wanted to give to me. Here, out in the world again, I need to concern myself with sharing this with others. Giving myself to others is limited in its usefulness, for I am nothing and He is all. No – I want to give CHRIST to others! Paul tells us “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

Crucial lesson from this: the receptivity cannot stop! My time in cloister is behind me now. But to live a life of effective, authentic service to His People out of love for Him, even as a lay person, requires fidelity to prayer in that inner cell that my patroness, St. Catherine of Siena, teaches us all about. Every day I need to turn on that ignition again, I need to beg the Lord for receptivity to grace and then I need to spend time in prayer with Him, receiving Him that I may share Him with others.

We can really go places. The Lord wants to take us there! So turn on the ignition and see what wonders He works in you!


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an historic day: my solidarity with his holiness, Benedict XVI, as the Church approaches interregnum

Arriving home from an evening out with friends to be told by my father that the Holy Father had resigned was a shock to say the very least… so much so that I haven’t been able to put my thoughts and emotions in order until now.

Two experiences can have a world of difference between them, and yet there can be but a single commonality between them that engenders a spirit of solidarity… I feel this way about the experience of my following God’s call not to make the vows of a religious when I consider it in the light of Benedict XVI’s decision to follow God’s call to step down from the Papacy.

A decision not to proceed with making vows, but rather to leave religious life, can be rash, or it can be prayerfully discerned after a great deal of deliberation on one’s knees. Thanks be to God, mine was the latter.  I feel convinced that in my case, my leaving was a lovingly compliant response to the direction of the Holy Spirit. In the announcement that the Holy Father made on 11 February, he indicated that much careful discernment had gone into his decision to renounce the chair and retire to a life of prayer. Certainly in the case of the Holy Father, one whom we have known to be a man of deep prayer, I cannot believe that his decision could have been anything other than a similarly loving act of obedience to the direction of the Spirit.

The Holy Father’s decision has been subject to a great deal of public scrutiny and criticism, on a massive scale. For me, the scale is very different, but within my own sphere of family, friends and acquaintances, I have likewise been subject to scrutiny and criticism. In both cases, the criticism is coming from people who don’t understand, who have no concept of the conversation with God that has transpired and led to the decision, and certainly no concept of the weight of responsibility that the decision involves, nor the emotional impact of such a decision and its aftermath.

I know what a difficult thing my own decision was. I feel blessed and supported by my Saviour and know that I could not have had the strength to follow through were it not for the grace that came with the prompting. Inspired by St. Augustine, I had long been praying “accomplish in me what You command!” Even with grace and the knowledge that I am infinitely loved by Him, this decision and the monumental changes it has involved have been the most difficult time of my life. Amidst it all has come both joy and peace… and yet at the same time it has involved much trial and suffering, and what feels like God’s absence, even though I know that is only a feeling, and that He is there with me all the time. This is a challenging time, and yet it is a time of hope and of growth. I feel quite certain that the Lord is drawing me closer to Himself… on the Cross.

Knowing what I now know through this experience, I am in AWE of the soon-to-be Emeritus Bishop of Rome, His Holiness Benedict XVI.

My decision was small potatoes by comparison. The enormity of what he has done, and the courage, obedience and love that it must have taken, along with the humility that has been exhibited in the manner of its execution… I just can’t get my head around it! We are witnessing history, and we are witnessing authentic greatness.

Many scare-mongerers have speculated in the news frenzy and on the blogosphere about potential conspiracy theories and power-plays that could be going on behind the scenes, motivating this unexpected move from the Holy Father. I guess this is to be expected, particularly from non-believers and from cynics. This act is outside the norm, even if both precedent and canonical provision exist for it. Without an understanding of, an experience of or a belief in the workings of grace, who wouldn’t think that there was more afoot than meets the eye?

Then there is the bookmaking circus – the bets on the outcome of the upcoming Conclave. Lucky for those involved that Canon Law is more lenient than it used to be!

Despite all of this, I really do believe sincerely that this is exactly what the Holy Father says it is. And I believe that, rather than interpreting these reasons that he has given us as a retreat from responsibility, what we are really witnessing is a call to deeper sacrifice, a yet weightier role. Benedict XVI is being invited up to the mountain, as the Peter of our time, to contemplate the transfigured Face of Christ, and in so doing, is interceding ceaselessly for the needs of a suffering Church as it seeks to more deeply understand the disfigured Face of Christ on the Cross. In a way perhaps chiastically, the Face of Christ does not remain disfigured, but again becomes radiant in the glorified, Resurrected Body.

If anyone feels the need to look for a deeper significance to the Holy Father’s act than that which he has explained to us himself, I would suggest that one need look no farther than the reality that the Holy Father is both a theologian and a teacher. I think it is fair to say that this is the deliberate act of an intelligent man, an act designed to have a teaching significance that will form a significant part of the Holy Father’s legacy to the faithful. His renunciation of the Chair, rather than standing in contradiction to the witness of John Paul the Great’s heroic teaching on the dignity of the elderly and the sick, rather complements it beautifully.

John Paul the Great taught us that a person’s dignity resides in the reality of who they are, not in any utilitarian value that can be placed on their capacity for output or productivity. He taught us that the sick and the elderly are people to be loved, and that loving is never a burden. These facts should be self-evident, yet our society has become blind, unable to apprehend this objective reality without guidance from one who can see. And boy, could John Paul the Great see!!

Now, Benedict XVI teaches us that humility, obedience, love and trust are necessary in the encounter with the person of Christ, and that our responsibility to live in a way that reflects these virtues extends into our senior years. Benedict XVI doesn’t get off the hook just because he’s living the last years of his life – no, massive life changes and suprising commands from God happen even when one is an octagenarian! It is still our duty, in justice to our Creator, to freely choose to obey in love. Benedict teaches us about the freedom there is in obedience. He teaches us that life is a struggle, right up until we breathe our last, but that continuing to struggle is possible, even when one is old and tired! He teaches us that courage is not simply a virtue of the young and the strong.

Most of all, the contrast between these two holy servants of God show us that holiness looks different on different people. No one person’s path to heaven is the same as that of any other.

Thanks be to God! We are living in a time of great saints!

In approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, the Chair of St. Peter will be vacant. (To correspond with 8pm 28 Feb ROME time). Mary, Mediatrix of Graces and Mother of the Church – pray for us.


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journal of God’s Love

In 2009, bouncing about the blogosphere, I read that the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI recommended to all the faithful the idea of an interior “Journal of God’s Love,” i.e. the frequent recollection of ones experiences of God’s Love in daily life.

tugwell_livingwithGod_bookjacketThe notion seems in keeping with an idea discussed by Fr. Simon Tugwell O.P. in his book Prayer:Living With God (1975). Tugwell speaks of the need to build a sense of “Catholic Memory” to facilitate an interior attitude of prayer; it was one of a few key ingredients to a healthy prayer life that he proposed, along with creating ‘space’ to pray.

The problem, as Tugwell presents it:

Somehow we must find a way of remembering God that does not work in fits and starts, but that will actually last through the day; kind of fundamental rememberance of God that will affect our heart, and allow our most unpremeditated and spontaneous behaviour to be transformed, as it were, at the root…

In his discussion, he presents as helpful a consideration of the sin of our first parents that led to the Fall as the misappropriation of knowledge. Tugwell’s aim is not to oversimplify the fall, simply to examine one aspect from which he then seeks to draw some conclusions that are useful to fostering the relationship with God that Christ restored through His Incarnation and Paschal Mystery.

Tugwell goes on to caution that “our minds are at least as capable of running away with us as our legs and emotions are,” proposing that the way to prevent this from sabotaging our relationship with God is to seek knowledge that is good, knowledge that is wholesome, to…

…allow the Lord to get hold of us at the level of what the Bible calls the heart, below the level of contrivance…We shall become involved with God in spite of ourselves, there will be something in us undermining our self-built edifice of conceit and self-will, so that it will not be quite so easy for us to go on forgetting God and His commands and promises at every critical moment.

We need to allow the knowledge that God wants to give us to penetrate, to be absorbed and made a part of our very deepest selves. The tool that He has given us with which to accomplish this is the memory – an impressionable power of the faculty of the intellect that can be shaped for good or ill.

What shapes our memory? Our experiences, both real and imagined, sensory and emotional.

For a sanguine like me, experiences are intense, but in many cases the impressions left in my memory tend to be short-lived. For someone like me to build “Catholic Memory” requires  sustained exposure and absorbption of the works of the great contributors to Catholic culture over the centuries – the likes of Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Aquinas, More, Erasmus, Dante, Teresa of Avila, Newman, Chesterton, John Paul II, Benedict XVI… and so many more.

Yet none of this takes the place of the effort of the repetitive exercise of pondering God’s works, God’s goodness, God’s providence. The Scripture is the primary source of God’s work in the history of His people, and the lives of the saints complement this nicely, demonstrating the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our midst now that the Son has returned to the Father. Time to sit and meditate upon these things is a must.

But what about me? Isn’t this about my personal relationship with God?

Let’s add to Scripture, then, God’s work in MY life. How often do I stop to consider that, to thank Him for it? Keeping a “Journal of God’s Love”, to record and revisit God’s goodness in my everyday interactions and duties… I think the Holy Father might be onto something!

I’m going to try it.