Life after Epiphany


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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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Sometimes I think my most intense moments are lived in my car… (JGL 6)

Ever heard that song “Woke Up in America” by Matt Maher?

That song has been a little bit of a personal theme song, given my American convent adventure…  and the fact that Australia, as an island nation, is basically a rock in the middle of the ocean (even though technically it is NOT the rock to which Matt Maher was referring!).

So many of the lyrics just truly resonate with me! I really did wake up in America for the love of God, for something bigger than myself!

Tonight as I was driving along and rocking out to the song, though, I was struck by the fact that the preposition TO could also work there… instead of FOR. I woke up in America TO the love of God: my unique encounter with Him woke me up to the reality that His particular and personal love for me is deep beyond my comprehension… I woke up to this reality in such a way that it is far more than “head knowledge” now. Somehow this has become a lived reality for me, something that finally embarked upon that massive journey from my head to my heart, covered the distance and started to take root there.

I woke up in America TO something bigger than myself. I was confronted by the dreadful extent of my own selfishness. In my pride, I was scandalised by my own weakness. But living in community has a way of opening one’s heart to love others… slowly, almost against your will at first… until one sees that there is a world out there of people who need to be loved, people for whom I could be the instrument of God’s own love. Once again, what had been head knowledge started to penetrate my rocky heart.

I guess perhaps the impact of this is lost somewhat in the telling, but I was simply overwhelmed with gratitude for the incredible gift of my time there. Sometimes I get bogged down in the grief of the loss that came with leaving my Community, and the surprising extent to which the adjustment of resettling into lay life has been so very arduous. On this particular occasion, however, I was engulfed with an awareness of what an amazing blessing had been given me.

I think back upon that time, and I realise that it was about as far from “one size fits all” formation that you could get. There were particular experiences and lessons that my peers did not receive – experiences and lessons that were gifted only to me, custom-designed for my formation and salvation. I am sure that the reverse is also true. A gift… a delightfully personal gift… one that continues to form me.

As for Matt Maher – he makes FANTASTIC driving music. I sing, I dance at the traffic lights, I drum-beat the steering wheel… I must look like a lunatic! But the whole thing is a prayer 🙂 Mostly, its just time enjoyed singing praise… but every now and then there is a moment of significance, a moment of discovery, a moment of gratitude.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! His love endures for ever!

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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Don’t let academic hubris hijack theology…

infancyNarrativesJacket

I discovered something very ugly in myself today, as I reflected upon an event in my past.

As a novice, I was writing a paper that involved some exegetical work with the Psalms. During my private prayer and study, I encountered a fairly involved connection between one of the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew that excited me greatly! I added it to my paper as part of the case I was trying to build to support the central thesis of the paper and thought little more of it until the following day.

At the evening meal the following day, I was sitting at table with my sisters in the refectory, and listening to the spiritual reading selection of the evening as is monastic custom. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was hot off the presses and we were hearing it for the first time the very week it was released.

That evening at table, I heard THE VERY SAME EXEGESIS that I had prepared on the day prior, read from the work of the then Holy Father. Exegetical method AND conclusion were almost identical. And here it was, published by the Holy Father! But when I had typed it the day prior, that very same argument had been my own original work. Supposedly original.

So here is where my ugliness crept in.

I started getting all upset about INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY of all things. Can you think of anything more ridiculous than wanting to compete with the Pope over the intellectual property?

An account of my folly: I went to see my superior first thing the following morning. I wanted to know what to do from an academic honesty perspective. I didn’t want to cite the Holy Father. I felt I was justified in claiming the work as my own, given that I HAD arrived at the conclusions before encountering them elsewhere, even though they had existed elsewhere prior to my discovery of them. I wanted to use the electronic timestamp on the document in which I had written my paper to demonstrate that my conclusion was written prior to the night that it had been read to us at table.

PRIDE. How it corrupts the beauty that God created in me.

I write of it now because I refuse to let shame take a hold. Shame is a lie. Of COURSE I’m weak – why be scandalised by that?  Here is an opportunity. Out of the depths I can call upon the Lord. Out of my weakness, I can still witness to the Truth.

What is Truth, here?

I call upon ALL who read, study and pray with Scripture to recall that ANY time we are able to draw something from the Sacred Text, it is RECEIVED. It is a GIFT. It is the Word, GIVEN to us.

The conclusion I reached when working with the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew? It wasn’t mine. It was given to me, by the very same God who gave it to the Holy Father. Instead of resenting that he got there first, what on EARTH am I doing not giving thanks that such a thing was revealed to me, a mere child? (And a spoiled child at that!!) I give thanks now, and offer my very failure to do so earlier to the Lord that He may bring good out of it.

Curious to know what the exegetical conclusion was? Go read Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Benedict XVI. In the meantime, I pray for humility, and I return to my study of the Scriptures… on my knees.


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“Salvation” … a song I wrote about the hope that the Resurrection gives me

Many years ago I was in an awkward situation. It was Easter Sunday and I hadn’t been to confession in a long time. I had been struggling in faith and in life for a little while and here I was at Easter Mass thinking I’d have to miss out on receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist.

My parish was one of those parishes where we were blessed to have more than one priest. As I stood for the Gloria I saw out the side door of the Church one of the other priests of our Parish walking across the carpark to the Parish Office. Amazed at how Providence works, I ran outside and asked him to hear my confession. He heard it on the spot and I returned to Mass before they even got to the Second Reading!!

I was on fire with joy and gratitude at the forgiveness I had received! I could participate fully and receive Our Lord! As I listened to the priest’s homily on Salvation History, ideas started forming. Later that Easter day I wrote a song. Here are the lyrics:

SALVATION

Surely if You could free the Israelites from Egypt, You  free me
from the things that tie me down – the things that keep me far from You
Surely if You could make the world anew after the flood, You could
create a new heart in me – a heart more capable of loving You

Your Resurrection gives me hope
in the power You have to change my life! 
Roll the stone away and pour Your mercy out to heal the world!
Salvation History points to the mystery of how 
You gave Your people life

A man who conquered death: my King, my Saviour
You paid off my debt
Emptied Yourself that I be given life
There had to be a reason why

(Refrain x2 with melodic variation second time)

Surely if You could free the Israelites from Egypt, You could free me…

The hope that I realized that day really helped me to face some of the things in my life that were keeping me from God. He truly DID free me. From time to time I sing it and play it on the guitar to remember and to praise Him for what He did for me. One day I might make a recording of it.


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subverting shame – a symbol of love

goodFridayVenerationCross

Crucifix laid out for Good Friday veneration.

 Shame is a lie.

Likewise, discouragement is a device of the evil one and must be seen for the deception it is.

Shame is our instinctive response to an internal acknowledgement of inadequacy or wrongdoing. Discouragement is a response to an awareness of shame. A spiral of lies.

Before Jesus shouldered our sin upon Himself and died to reconcile the world to Himself, the cross was the instrument of the most shameful death in society. Crucifixion was the execution of choice for criminals and agitators; there was nothing dignified nor heroic about it.

Setting humanity straight in more ways than one, Jesus subverts everything we think we know about the world. The Cross had no power over the Creator of its makers, nor the nails over the Lord of the man who hammered them into place.

A friend of mine wrote a wonderful song, a reflection on this very point. Her song was called “Not by Nails” and it speaks of the Love which held Our Saviour to the Cross. God is love, and Jesus is God. Jesus was physically nailed to the Cross but it was Jesus’ own choice to be bound by that physical reality. Love and obedience carried the day. Jesus did the Will of His Father out of such a pure, personal, particular and preferential love for you, for me, for each individual that ever has or ever will live that we can’t even begin to fathom it.

Horror is juxtaposed with beauty. That Holy Face which was Transfigured has, for a time, become disfigured. (Pope John Paul II writes eloquently on this reality in Vita Consecrata.)

As a child, I understood on some level my complicity in Christ’s death, but rather than solemnly contemplate in silent gratitude the gift of our salvation and the means by which it was wrought, I used to get very upset about the brutal way in which Jesus was executed. It took some time before I started to learn that love was more than a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is the choice symbolized by the Cross.

Before Jesus died for us, shame was the only appropriate response to sinfulness and inadequacy. In dying, Christ won for us the freedom to choose between  continuing to dwell in that shame, or a radically different response: love… and the trust and the gratitude that go along with it. I no longer look to myself and my weakness. Yes – my weakness is there… but I’m not scandalized, I’m not ashamed. No… I no longer look to myself. I have Christ ahead of me and I choose to look to Him, to He who is Love.


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Blessed John XXIII’s Decalogue

Having just moved house this weekend, I find myself in an area with about 3 different Catholic parishes almost equidistant from my new home. Two of the parishes are familiar to me so I thought I’d try the new one this past Sunday. Slipped into the parish bulletin was a document entitled “Decalogue for Daily Living.” It read:

Pope John XXIII wrote a Decalogue for Daily Living, his own commandments for daily life. They reflect his depth, his simplicity and his humility.

  1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
  2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance; I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticise anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
  6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
  7. Only for today, I will do one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices.
  8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself; I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils, hastiness and indecision.
  9. Only for today, despite appearances, I will firmly believe that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in the world.
  10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Some of these sound like they might take a bit of practice to really be able to live them well! But that’s what a virtue is… an acquired habit, a firm disposition to do the good! These practices that Blessed John XXIII established for himself seem to me the kind of goals that, apart from the Lord, are frankly unachievable… but with the Lord? Such practices would surely result in a joyful, grateful person that truly reflects the love of Christ, and finds both his strength and his rest in Him. Way to be a signpost to the Kingdom, JXXIII!!


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give thanks to the Lord for He is good… (JGL 2)

… His love endures forever! I experienced God’s love these past few days:

  • in getting to visit both my maternal and my paternal grandparents all in the same week!
  • in some quality time with my Godmother and my cousin TheChef
  • in a pleasant, sunshiny drive up the north coast
  • in a reunion with old friends from school and the opportunity to see how their families have grown
  • in a suprise visit from my brother, SeminarianA
  • with the good news that my cousin, SeminarianB, is settling well into seminary life

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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give thanks to the Lord for He is good… (JGL 1)

… His love endures forever! I experienced God’s love today:

  • in a wonderful trans-Pacific conversation with a dear friend
  • in the warmth of the cheery sun as I drove along the motorway
  • in the company of another dear friend
  • in a coffee well-made and well-presented
  • in delicious vegetarian fettucine for lunch
  • in a well-poured beer enjoyed outside in a sunny, breezy spot
  • in an exciting idea
  • in a suprise visit from two friends and the opportunity to take them with me to mass and benediction
  • in a cup of tea my dad made for me when he didn’t realize I was hoping for coffee… I enjoyed the tea because dad made it!
  • in the silence I’m enjoying right now
  • in reading and re-reading a beautiful poem written for me by my friend

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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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.