Sunday, November 4, 2018

Remaining in His Presence


+JMJ+

I had a sobering experience last night, because I allowed myself to lose my focus on Jesus, and mentally live for a few minutes in the stark reality of the present.

I found myself dwelling on the repetitive nature of my life here: the monotonous routine of clearing the breakfast stuff every morning at 9:00am exactly.... going down to help get lunch and supper ready to serve, precisely a half hour prior to each meal.... the washing up afterwards, and always having to put everything back in its assigned place in our large kitchen, and do every little thing exactly the way they do it, with no deviations permitted... in other words, the complete rigidity of it all... and added to that, the Sister in our house who doesn't like me, and finds every word that comes out of my mouth objectionable, no matter how innocent the remark.

I had the dangerous thought:  can I really do this for the rest of my life?  Is this really the right place for me to be?  Should I just go back to my beautiful house in Georgia and my easy life, and not have to put up with these seemingly endless irritations?


Then, thankfully, I realized what I was doing, and raised my eyes to the beautiful picture of the Sacred Heart I have in my room.  I looked at Jesus, offering His Heart to me--and I remembered why I came. My whole plane of existence changed, as my heart united with His, and I overflowed with emotion as I felt His Love surrounding me. God sent me here: when I objectively think about what happened that night at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, that much is totally clear.  And the desire of my heart, my need really, is for a life totally focused on God, and I have that here!  To be able to live this way is a great privilege, perhaps the greatest privilege a person can be given.  

I must never allow myself to be caught up in such trivialities, because that is what daily conditions of life--anyone's life--really are: trivialities.  They are not what matters, ever.  At the end of life, God isn't going to ask me how many dishes I washed or how many meals I assisted with: all He will care about is how much I loved Him, and how much I expressed that love by doing every task set before me as something done for Him, with as much love as I can muster, thinking always of Him, and how I can love and serve Him better each day of my life. 

This was precisely how I got into trouble when I was with the Dominicans: I allowed myself to dwell on the daily annoyances of the life, instead of keeping myself constantly in His Presence--which is why people are drawn to this form of life in the first place.  Please save me, Lord, from making that mistake again!

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Let me be totally one with You.  Live in me, so that Your Kingdom is brought into being in this world through my hands, mind, voice and heart--and let everything I do serve to draw those around me closer to You. Amen.  +


Monday, October 29, 2018

Transitions


+JMJ+

Trying to write about the transition I am going through is hard for me, because I don’t feel that I completely understand it… I have never thought about transition before, I was always too busy just living it, I think… and I have never been aware of an in-between time.

However, I can say this:  I have always been a person who liked change… I have reinvented myself several times in my life, going from one type of life to another completely different type of life—and I found that very engaging and exciting.  I get bored if I do not have challenges, some kind of big project which completely engages me.  Whenever I feel like I am stuck in a situation that is boring, I simply must create some kind of challenge or new goal for myself, or I get depressed, I think.  Fortunately, I have never lacked for new projects and challenges—I have always been able to either change jobs, move, or create some kind of difficult goal for myself.

The goal I have now, though, is one which is inexhaustible and in which it will be impossible to get bored, because it is one which is almost impossible to achieve: becoming a saint.  Yes: I am so much in love, that I want to be completely one in mind, heart and soul with Christ, that I become a saint.  I seriously doubt that I will, because mere human effort is not enough—but I will die trying—and so I know I will never get bored again.  

During times of transition I think I tend to try to remove all traces of my previous situation so I will not mourn or have to feel any pain.  I like to wipe the slate clean, as it were, and try hard not to think about or remember what I have lost, because it’s important to me to think of myself as tough, resilient, and mature—resolute and brave as I face new situations. 

As much as possible, I throw everything away that was part of the old life, especially photographs, and try to pretend it never existed.  I refuse to live in the past (and I think that is a good thing—I know people who do and they are very unhappy), but in my case, it is more about avoidance of painful emotions than the positive value of living in the present—to be more honest, though, I live more in the future than in the present.  

I just try to forget everything, put it behind me, and focus on the future.  I know I try to rush the process of transition, and I realize now that is NOT a good thing. 

So, as I have been thinking about this for the first time ever, I realize that a year--my Canonical year--is really quite a long time… and anything could happen!  So I have decided to just sink into it, and savor it, instead of focusing on the end--the vows I long to make. 

And today, for the first time, I decided to allow myself to feel a loss just to see what it would be like…. I started thinking about my father while I was in the church this afternoon…. And I realized that I miss him, and that the thought of never seeing him again on this earth really hurts, and seems impossible to accept.  I cried for the first time since he left us, because I know I didn’t do enough to make him understand that at the end, I was not rejecting him—I just had to get away from my mother, because her effect on me was so toxic….and I regret that terribly. I didn’t want to feel this, but now I do. And for some reason, this made me start wondering how Jesus felt when Joseph died!  Anyway, I feel like I am reclaiming the humanity I lost because of my mother’s terrible influence. 




Friday, August 24, 2018

Scandal in the Church


+JMJ+


I guess maybe I am hoping that if I write something about this, it will be a bit therapeutic--because right now, I am still reeling from all the horrible news that has come out recently about sexual abuse of minors and even seminarians in the Catholic Church.

Although of course the abuse of children is the worst, on some level, the abuse of seminarians by a Prince of the Church shocks me even more.  Everyone I have spoken to about this, even priests, are as horrified as I am, that someone who many people knew was engaging in ongoing sexual sin, could possibly have made it to the top of the hierarchy: an Archbishop, and then a Cardinal!

Has he no fear of God?  Does he even believe in God?  And what about those who knew, and did nothing to stop him?  I certainly understand falling into sin, because I was a very egregious sinner myself before I became Catholic--and of course I still sin every day, although not on the level I once did (mortal sin).  But when one falls hard, as McCarrick apparently did, what you do, if you care about having a holy life, is you go to Confession and you try with all your strength to stop doing whatever evil thing you were doing.  Did he even go to Confession?  I can't imagine that he did, to be honest. 

Despite all this horror, while I was talking to God about this the other night, I had this strong, clear sense, that somehow, this is going to bring about a "new Spring" in the Church--that people who are disgusted and horrified will want to become witnesses to the power of Christ in their lives, and many will flock to the priesthood and religious Orders in numbers we have not seen for decades.  Those of us who love Jesus and are free to do so will, I believe, be moved to offer our lives to make the Church more holy by our own holiness of life, lived within the structure of the Catholic Church.

Years ago, when I was working in the Library at the University of West Georgia, we had a lot of nasty, toxic people working there. One year, I had the idea of making a list of the entire staff, putting them into categories of Good, Mediocre and Bad.  The first time I did this, there was a preponderance of names in the Mediocre and Bad categories, but I often had some input into hiring, and I tried as hard as I could to find people to work for us who were Good--hard-working and competent, to be sure, but mainly kind and compassionate people.

Each Fall as the academic year began, I made my list over again, and the numbers gradually began to shift as some of the Bad and Mediocre people left, and were replaced with Good people--until finally, after several years, the number of Good and Mediocre employees outnumbered the Bad.  And, the morale and general atmosphere of the Library had definitely become better in a subtle way that I could not quantify, but which I could feel.

I believe this same thing can happen in the Catholic Church, as Bad and Mediocre leaders die off or are removed from the clerical state, and are replaced with Good ones.  It will take decades, but I truly believe it can happen, and that it will happen.  I even have the temerity to believe that the fact that I am being allowed by God to re-enter religious life now, at my advanced age, is because of this: with God's help, I am determined to lead a life of great holiness! 

I am praying for that: that I will receive the grace to be a good witness to Christ and spread His Love, and that all those who are not too discouraged, and who love the Church too much to leave, are praying for the renewal of the Church also. A lot of bad things have been done in the name of the Catholic Church, but many more good things have been done and are being done every day--but we mostly hear about the bad, because that is what the media thrive on. May God grant our prayers!  +

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Chosen


+JMJ+


Yesterday, when I arrived very early at St. Theresa's for Confession, there was some kind of charismatic Mass and healing service going on in the Sanctuary.  I have never seen anything like that before, but after reading something a priest wrote about being Baptized in the Holy Spirit, I had always wished that I could be--so I quietly took a seat in the very back of the church near the Reconciliation Room to wait and see what would happen.  I believe that God places people in certain situations deliberately, so I was trying to be open to this experience, to get from it whatever He intended--and I wanted to try to participate spiritually in what was happening there. 

Tried... but could not. At the end of the Mass, the priest and Deacon called people up to the altar to receive Christ, to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit;  both of them were apparently speaking in tongues, because they were making verbal sounds in some language that was definitely not English.  

I hate to say this, but it felt very forced... contrived.... artificial to me, and honestly, it made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it is just a function of my past experience in the Church, plus my personality, but I prefer a much more "interior" and austere participation in worship: still very passionate, but happening within not without--if that makes any sense.  Maybe I am just too self-conscious, I don't know.

But what occurred to me while sitting there, was that the experience I did have so long ago--when God came to me on a MARTA bus taking me home from work on September 11, 1981--may have actually been my Baptism in the Holy Spirit!  I had never thought about that before, but on that day, when I was enveloped with an incredible warmth from head to toe, and knew positively that I was in the Presence of God--I changed from an atheist into a believer in one instant, and was never the same since.  Jesus said it Himself, as reported in the Gospel of John: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them.."--and that is what happened. 

From that day forward, I have been consumed with a passionate love for God, burning like an unquenchable fire in my heart that just won't go away. Even during those horrible years after I left the convent, when I turned away from God because I blamed Him for the failure of my religious vocation (many years later He revealed to me that it was actually my fault, not His!)--I still was aware of His Presence in and around me, and I kept talking to Him, although in a very disrespectful, angry way.

About a year or so ago, by chance I came across and listened to a Catholic podcast on the web, in which the panel of priests and seminarians discussed the concept of particularity which, as they explained it, means that God works in each one of us individually, not as a group.  He does what He wills, what He wants to do, with each person separately, and thus He has different plans for each one of us.

This seems very mysterious to me, and hard to accept, because it implies that we are not all equal in His Divine Plan, which is an idea which Americans instinctively reject.  In our imaginations at least, we espouse the ideal of democracy and equality in everything--and yet, some people are clearly called to be Saints, evangelists, spouses, martyrs, parents, religious Sisters active in ministry, priests, vowed religious in monasteries, single in the world, consecrated virgins, etc., etc.--an incredible array of different forms of life.

Although I am uncomfortable talking about or even thinking this, if I am completely honest, I can see from examining my past life, that He clearly chose me--first to be Catholic, and then to have a religious vocation.  Read my story of how I got to the Catholic Church, and I think you will see that God actually pursued me until He finally got me into His Church!

I am different from other people, and I always have been.  I am not interested in the things that most people are interested in and never have been.  I always had a sense of "not fitting in," until I discovered religious life, which was the only state in which I was ever happy.  If I choose, I can remain in an almost constant state of prayer, which is God's Gift--people can't "make that happen," He has to give it to you. When I am driving to Mass, I have a sense of excitement, because I am on my way to meet my Lover. When I come into the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, I experience an incredible sense of comfort, like coming home, and I never want to leave.

I was miserable for more than 25 years after I left religious life in 1990 at the age of 43--and when, in a seemingly "chance" encounter, a priest suggested to me that I had been wrong not to try again--and against all odds, I begged God to allow me to have a consecrated life again--He provided the way for this to happen within a matter of days. 

So yes, I am going to say it: He chose me.  I don't know why.  I am incredibly grateful.  And I pray only that I can become so immersed in Him, so surrendered to Him, so completely faithful to Him and His Will, that "I" disappear, and become one with God right here on earth. +


Thursday, August 9, 2018

How Fast Things Are Changing!


+JMJ+

Wow: I haven't written anything in a while, but so much is happening!  

I returned slightly early from my visit to Concordia, because of my father's unexpected death on July 15th.  Even though he had not been in good health for many years, it still came as a shock.  I hate that I was not here, but I am grateful that I had been sending him frequent postcards with little notes, so he knew I was thinking about him... and so glad that he died at home in his own bed, and that he never had to go to a nursing home, which would have been devastating.  Although he was an avowed atheist, he was a very good man, upright and moral in every way--and he loved me so much!  Fr. Flaherty told me once that he believes there is room in Heaven for everyone, even atheists--so I am taking comfort in the thought that although he seemed to disavow Jesus, Jesus never disavowed him.  He is in this picture at a time when he was in his prime, the day I made my First Profession in the Dominicans in August 1987--so handsome, I always thought he looked like the actor, James Garner:


After I arrived home, I finally got my "official"letter from Sr. Jean Rosemarynoski, the President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, inviting me to enter the Canonical Novitiate on October 15, 2018.  This is absolutely huge! While I was there, they gave me every indication that I was welcome and expected to return:  they showed me my room and invited me to rearrange the furniture--and gave me a mailbox in the office downstairs... but I knew that I still had to have my entrance voted on by the Leadership Council, and I was very nervous about that--especially since I had managed to alienate one of the LC members during the Lace Retreat.  Long story, but she was trying to teach me how to make bobbin lace, a CSJ tradition--but I was not a quick learner, and as I perceived that she was getting irritated with my slowness, I froze up (as I wrote in my previous post), and got even worse!  I hope I will find an opportunity to get to know her better--and she me--so she can find out that I'm really a very nice person after all!

Here are some pictures of my room-to-be, prior to my rearranging it.  I will post some updated pictures when I get there, and have everything unpacked!  This is from the hallway outside, looking into the room


Then, some pictures inside the room--again, before I moved all the furniture around:





And last, two pictures showing what I see outside my two windows. My room is in the back of the house, right by the fire escape.  In the 2nd picture, right beyond that red shed, is the train track! It is astonishingly close to the convent, and very loud, too!  But I love trains, and so I am sure it won't bother me one bit.




Currently, my plan is to leave Carrollton no later than October 13th, so I can be there by October 15th.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

What Lifelong Bullying Can Do


+JMJ+

I had a very unpleasant experience during the Lace Retreat I attended a few weeks ago, which has led me to a great deal of reflection--and insight!

A lifelong problem for me, is that whenever I perceive that someone is angry with me, I become absolutely paralyzedwith fear--completely non-functional, unable to think or act rationally. Unfortunately, I was not a "natural" when it came to making bobbin lace, and the Sister who was trying to teach me to do it, became understandably exasperated with my
slowness and seeming incapacity to learn the stitches as quickly as others.

I became so terrified when this happened, I could not control my emotional reaction.  I was unable to tell her what was wrong, and unable to follow her directions, because I was too frightened to hear and act on what she was trying to tell me.

What I came to realize however, is that this is the direct result of how my mother controlled me for my entire life!  She is a cold, unloving person, extremely domineering, who required total, unquestioning obedience in all things; if I ever dared not to comply in the smallest way, her anger was so awful, that I learned to “go limp” mentally and emotionally, as a way to cope and keep her from getting even more angry.  She is a classic bully: she has no respect for anyone, especially me and my father--we are very much alike, both very gentle people--because we cannot stand up to her, which leads her to feel nothing but contempt for us. She truly believes that everyone else is stupid, and she is the only smart one.

Until now, I had never been able to see or understand this, until I thought deeply about what happened between myself and the Sister who was trying to teach me, as I tried to figure out why I was so completely helpless under those circumstances. My perception that she was angry, caused in me the same reaction that my mother knows so well how to create--and so instead of being able to listen to what she was telling me and do it, instead I just froze, and actually got worse instead of better.

As unpleasant as this experience was, God brought some good out of it, by giving me this new insight into the root cause of my problem. In this suffering which has dominated my life, I have come to cling to these words:

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

I really never understood until now, how deeply my mother damaged me. I blossom when treated with kindness and love, and shrivel up without it. All my life, I constantly looked for love, but never found the kind I needed until I found God.

This morning, as I was preparing to go up for Communion, it occurred to me for the first time (I am so slow!) that the Body and Blood of Christ could heal me! So I went up, thinking about the woman in the Bible who touched His cloak in order to be healed, begging to be healed by His touch. I am going to keep asking this every day, and perhaps He will choose to do it, I don’t know. It could be that this is just something I was destined to endure, because of what it has taught me about how to treat others.

This prayer by Cardinal Newman, is one I have made my own, because this is how I want to be…


Radiating Christ

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise You the way You love best, 

by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

Amen



Wednesday, June 27, 2018

2018 Retreat Notes


I am in a Lace Retreat at Manna House in Concordia this week, and in addition to learning to make bobbin lace--which is a long-standing tradition in the Sisters of St. Joseph--the retreat theme is "Contemplating Our Stories."

Each day, we have been provided with a set of questions on which to reflect and write, if we choose to do so, and at the end, we will share some of our reflections with the group (again, if we wish to.)

Monday, June 25:  Stories around your birth, naming, Baptism, personal characteristics, uniqueness, God's imprint on you. 

I know that I was conceived shortly after my parents married (May 10, 1946), while they were both still in the Navy.  Mom told me that she tried to get out on a medical discharge, because Dad was due to be discharged before she was, and she knew she was pregnant so she wanted to leave with him.  However, in those days, pregnancy tests were not very accurate, and they kept coming back negative, so she had to stay!  I was born in Mom's home town of Detroit, Michigan, at Harper Hospital, which no longer exists.  I was not baptized, however, until I was about 7, because my parents were not practicing any religion. I remember my mother telling me that my father really wanted a girl, and how happy he was when I was born, and that as soon as he got home from work, he always wanted to see me right away and pick me up--waking me--which aggravated my mother.

Tuesday, June 26: Stories around the kind of family you grew up in, what were the rules/expectations and how did they shape you? Birth order, are you like either of your parents?  What did you like to do as a child, and has this affected your life?  How did you know you belonged (or did not), and where is God in all of this?

There were just the 4 of us, and we were always very close, and had a lot of fun together. My parents were very strict, however, especially my mother, and we got spanked regularly when we got out of line... my mother had quite a bad temper, but we were never allowed to display any anger whatsoever.  My mother was also very controlling and manipulative, and I was not given any freedom--but it was not until I sought therapy very late in life, that I recognized this and saw it as the problem it was... I always hated being so completely dominated by my mother, but it never occurred to me (until therapy) that I was actually free to resist her--until then, I really thought that I was not strong enough to ever say NO to her!  --so I spend nearly my entire life under her emotional control.  Although she seems very sweet to people who don't know her, she is actually capable of great cruelty and emotional abuse. I personally believe she is mentally ill, although she has never been diagnosed, because she knows how to act around strangers.

The way in which I believe God was in all of this, was that I can look back and see that from my earliest childhood, God pursued me... He wanted me for some reason I cannot understand.  And it was not until September 11, 1981, when I became a believer, that I experienced unconditional love.





This is my first bobbin lace project, a snake... lot of mistakes, but not horrible for a first attempt!