The Death of Innocence

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  It is the day we remember the infants slaughtered by Herod out of fear of the power of Jesus.

Many of my friends commented that this day often goes by without much notice.  This year, the day was given new meaning, though for painful and unfortunate reasons.  For those of us close to the recent tragedy in Newtown, we immediately connected the innocent lives taken by Herod with those taken by Adam Lanza(including his own).  Both are a testament to the destructive forces of fear and hate.

By extremely appropriate coincidence, last night one of my friends held a small prayer service in response to the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  The overarching theme of the night was to remind us of our all important task of bringing hope and light to a world of increasing darkness.  My friend who organized the night wrote a beautiful meditation which can be found here.

We sang a hymn which was new to me, ‘All Hail, Ye Infant Martyr Flowers’.  The song touched me deeply and I wanted to share it here.  I couldn’t find a recording of it, but here are the lyrics:

1. All hail! ye infant Martyr-flowers,the-holy-innocents
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds, snapt in tempest strife,
When Herod sought your Saviour’s life.

2. You, tender flock of lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ your King:
Beneath the Altar’s heav’nly ray
With Martyr-palms and crowns ye play.

3. For their redemption glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee,
With Father, and with Holy Ghost,
For ever from the Martyr-host. Amen.

On December 14th, this verse from the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents was all over Facebook: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”

The Mystery of Vocation

sisters-prayer“O my soul, how can you refrain from plunging yourself ever deeper and deeper into the love of Christ, who did not forget you in life or in death, but who willed to give Himself wholly to you, and to unite you to Himself forever?” –Blessed Angela of Foligno (Third Order Franciscan)

About two weeks ago I was blessed with the opportunity to spend the week with the order of sisters I am discerning with.  Having had time to process the experience (and having more free time), I’d like to share what God put on my heart.

The week brought much-needed refocusing and quieting of my spirit.  Living in an intentional community has been wonderful and is just what I need, but it doesn’t provide much alone time or the contemplation that my soul longs for.  Being thoroughly in the midst of the world has caused my mind to be filled with doubts about my vocation – whether it is the attraction to active ministry, marriage or the seeming freedom of being a single lay person.

Sr. Rita Clare cooking – I got very familiar with this kitchen during my visit!

Yet my week in Ohio left me such a deep sense of peace – one that cannot be ignored.  Describing my visits to others is always interesting, because, frankly, some of what I did doesn’t sound all that exciting.  I cleaned fans, helped cook, made beds and prayed A LOT.

This was my fourth visit and I am beginning to realize it is getting harder and harder to describe my experiences because most of it involves God whispering within the deep depths of my heart.  I have also come to learn that religious life is a mysterious and supernatural way of life, so those who are not called to it often have a hard time understanding the attraction.  The best way I can describe it is simply a deep-rooted sense of “rightness.”  As much as I try to reason my way out of it or argue why I should be doing something else, that sense remains.

“A vocation is so mysterious a gift, a thing so locked in the inner court of the soul, where alone God speaks His wishes, that no one can properly describe or explain it. What can be said is that a true vocation is a call so compelling that a soul must loosen its hold on the dearest and even the holiest of its loves to rise up and follow the summons.”
~Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.

I have always been a big believer in seeing everything as a sign from God.  I also believe that he especially speaks to me through music.  In college, I was introduced to the Jim Cowan song “This is Jesus.”  Since then it has been one of my favorite worship songs.  Although it is a little known song, it is popular in the Steubenville, Ohio area.  Every time I have visited the sisters, without fail, it has been played.  I’ve come to think of it as God’s “green light,” telling me to keep moving forward.

So this last time I visited I wondered when it would be played and apparently God wanted to leave no room for doubt.  The second day I was there, before evening prayer, I was thinking about the song and literally seconds later a sister began singing it.  As everyone joined in, it was impossible to stop the tears of joy that flowed from my eyes.

Later I talked to the sister who started the impromptu singing of “This is Jesus.”  She said she had forgotten to prepare a hymn for evening prayer and was inspired to sing that.  Holy Spirit FTW.

Having been to the convent a few times, it was natural to settle into the rhythm of their life once again.  One new thing I had the chance to do was go to class with the candidates and novices.  Call me a nerd, but this was my favorite part of the week!  The sister who teaches the novices even commented on how eagerly I listened during class and could see what I love learning.

The other part of their life I was able to observe was a day of renewal.  This is like a mini retreat for all the sisters once a month.  They keep complete silence for the day and have a chance for deeper contemplation and private prayer.  They also have talks by the sisters themselves or priests.  The theme for the day of renewal was spiritual motherhood.  Although I, along with the other visitors and candidates, didn’t participate in the day, we were able to sit in on a talk by Sr. Therese Marie, who is an incredibly beautiful and deep bride of Christ.  Her talk on spiritual motherhood brought us all to tears.  Although that particular talk isn’t up yet, you can find others on the website.

What was the one thing I left this week with?  That I need to continue to learn to be completely satisfied by God in order to reach a place where I can freely choose to run after his will.

Awhile a go I posted a poem by St. Anthony of Padua.  It is meant for those called to marriage, but the fact is, you cannot truly embrace your vocation, “until you are satisfied, Fulfilled and content with being loved by me alone,  With giving yourself totally and unreservedly to me. With having an intensely personal and unique relationship with me alone.”

“Your life is not a series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.”Blessed John Paul II

Rejoice in the Lord Always

Happy Gaudete Sunday!  Today we light the pink candle of the advent wreath and rejoice in expectation of the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us.”

But, this Gaudete Sunday many are asking whether rejoicing is appropriate.  This past Friday, half an hour away from where I teach my own rambunctious kindergarten class, 20 innocent lives were senselessly taken.

In the aftermath of any tragedy, we must ask ourselves what our response, as Christians should be.  The second Mass reading for today, from Philippians, gives the perfect answer:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

As I observed the responses of the teachers I work with and the many Facebook posts concerning the shooting, I began to ask, why are we shocked and surprised when things like this happen?

We have to face the reality that we live in a fallen and broken world.  People are sinful and are not perfect – that is the simple truth.  Realizing this does not lessen the pain and sorrow caused when great evils are committed, but we should look at every tragedy as a sign of our utter need for Christ’s saving mercy.

I think the normal response to anything like this is to ask the recurring question of the human condition: why does suffering exist?  Books upon books have been written on this subject and it has often been pointed out that Christianity is the only religion that gives true meaning to suffering.  One of the most famous is C.S. Lewis‘s The Problem of Pain.  In it he writes, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Since sin entered the world, suffering has become an essential part of life.  Some of the best things in life, such as having a child, come with a great amount of suffering.  The cross is the ultimate sign of this – our redemption came through the excruciating suffering of the passion.  Pain within our lives reminds us of the disconnect with God which will only be healed in the great and perfect union of heaven.  Sometimes God has to strip away everything else to remind us of our utter need for Him.

In the midst of tragedy we often hear of people whose “faith is shaken.”  I was pondering the idea of having your faith shaken and realized that if this is occurring then we need to examine what we are really placing our faith in.  God is faithful and unchanging.  If we truly place our trust in him, the actions of one misguided, imperfect human being should not shake our faith in His love.

The meditation for today in Magnificat reminds us to be a joyful people, full of hope, for we know that Christ is coming once again to save us all:  “do not grieve the Holy Spirit within you by letting the world’s miseries depress you. Child of God, friend of Christ, bearer of the Spirit, live by the joy of your God.”

The homily at the Mass I went to this morning was all about facing the truth that only God can heal us, satisfy us, and make us whole.  The priest challenged us to reach into the depths of our loneliness, emptiness and pain and realize that only God can fill the void we all feel at the end of the day.  Although the season of Advent often gets the short end of the stick, it is meant to be a season of preparation – preparing our hearts for the unknown day and hour when they will be bared before the great merciful judge.  And being filled with hope and expectation, we are called to “rejoice in the Lord always.”

Driven By Love

Spending my days with children has caused me to contemplate the motivation to do good.  In case you haven’t noticed, the ways we motivate and punish students are inane and arbitrary.  Trouble makers are sent to the principal’s office or suspended for major offenses.  What kind of punishment is getting to miss class?  Last time I checked, most children don’t actually want to be in school.

With this in mind, I’ve been struggling to explain to my students why they should be good.  It also occurs to me that many adults haven’t even grasped this concept.  The goal of Christian morality is to reach a place where you are doing good simply because it is good, out of a motive of pure love.  Love always looks to the good of the beloved and so, our motivation to do anything should be the good of the other.  Getting to this point takes great conversion of heart and the mastery of our selfish desires and inclinations.

John 14:15 says, “if you love me, you will obey my commands.”  This is just one example of the many scripture passages with a similar message: a motivation of love should be driving all that we do, especially obeying God.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the rules and forget our motivation for obeying them.  We also fall into a minimalistic attitude – we wonder what is the minimum we can do to please God and still go to heaven.  If we really love God and want to please him, we will obey all his commands, not just some of them.  Our obedience should stem from our love of God, and not be to prove our love.  Because we love Him, we should desire to avoid all that will hurt our relationship with Him.  If we avoid hurting those we love on Earth, how much more should we avoid wounding His Most Sacred Heart?

I recently came across a beautiful prayer originally written by St. Francis Xavier and translated into English by Gerard Manley Hopkins, about simply loving for the sake of Love.

0 GOD, I love thee, I love thee-
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails, and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven’s sake;
not to be out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my king and God. Amen.

The lines: “Not for heaven’s sake; not to be out of hell by loving thee; Not for any gains I see;  But just the way that thou didst me I do love and I will love thee,” especially stuck out to me.  Is our motivation for obeying God simply to avoid the fires of Hell?  Recently I’ve been trying to learn more about the Jewish faith, since it informs all of Christianity.  I realized that the Jewish people have no hope of heaven, and, of all people, obey God simply because He is God.  They do not foresee any reward in the afterlife, since they do not believe a savior has appeared yet to open the gates of Heaven.  If you have had no hope of heaven, would you still live in accordance with God’s will?

Search your heart today and don’t be afraid to examine where your true motivation lies.